There are countless articles on how to see New York in a day or the best restaurants in Paris, and they‘re generally very helpful. Regardless of where or how you travel though, there are a few things that everyone should do when they visit a new destination.
1. Talk to cabbies – Wherever I travel and happen to be in a cab, I always make sure to strike up a conversation with the driver. Some of the most fascinating people I’ve met around the world have been cab drivers since they are usually outgoing, slightly eccentric and always entertaining. More than just the sociology of the experience, cab drivers are also a fount of information about the local destination. No one has a better grasp on what’s hot or not than a cab driver and they are also the best resource to get the real insider information on where and what to eat. So instead of ignoring the kind individual whisking you across town, always take the time to talk and learn more about them and their lives.
2. Get lost – There’s a lot to be said for having a clear understand of what you’re doing and where you’re going when you travel, but there’s also a lot of value in discarding all of it. Last year I interviewed Pauline Frommer at the DC Travel and Adventure Show and her advice was that everyone should get lost at least once on a trip. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right, not surprisingly. Wandering off on our own in a foreign and alien place is both a little scary and liberating. We discard the comfort of knowing what to expect and instead enjoy a few moments of exploration at its best. It’s usually by getting lost that we find some of the most valued travel treasures, from quirky restaurants to out of the way parks and refuges that transform a trip into a great memory.
3. Be uncomfortable – This is somewhat related to getting lost, but placing yourself in uncomfortable situations while traveling usually produces fantastic results. I’m not talking about unsafe or dangerous travel, I simply mean traveling outside of one’s comfort zone. For some this may mean trying a regional delicacy that is either repugnant or unidentifiable and for others it may mean trying experiences that frighten us a little, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. Travel and vacations are about relaxation and enjoyment, no question there, but they should also expand our horizons and help us grow personally and intellectually. We have to let the destinations do this for us by engaging in activities or experiences that we probably wouldn’t try at home. I promise, whether they are epic successes or failures, you will never forget the attempt.
4. Disconnect – Last year a survey showed that more than 80% of American travelers checked their work email at least once on vacation. That fact at once deeply disturbs and shames me as I am definitely guilty of this inability to disconnect. Earlier this year I was camping in a Bedouin tent in the middle of Wadi Rum desert, which is centrally located in the middle of nowhere, and still I was checking email. Clearly I have a sickness and I’m not alone. I understand the argument that checking in with work while away actually reassures people that there’s nothing awry, but at the same time we all have to make the point to actually disconnect and enjoy our travels. Most of us don’t get a lot of time off from work and we have to ensure that we enjoy our time away and use it as it was intended, to get away from it all and relax. It’s increasingly difficult to actually accomplish this feat, but it should be a goal for which we all strive.
5. Spend a little more for amazing experiences – While I believe it’s smart to save money in certain areas, I am a big proponent of not skimping when it comes to unique experiences. We travel to see and enjoy new places, and sometimes you have to pay a little more to do this. In some cases this may mean hiring a tour guide or joining a day tour to learn more about the destination, in other cases it means the experience itself costs a little more. It doesn’t make any sense to travel far away from home at considerable expense only to skip the activities and experiences that made you want to travel there in the first place. Just make sure you budget for these activities when you’re planning the trip so there aren’t any unexpected surprises.