A year and a half ago (yikes how time flies!) I wrote a post detailing five things I think everyone should do when they travel; here’s the original. They’re simple recommendations that I think transform a trip from something prosaic into a truly memorable experience. Since then I’ve been mentally taking notes of additional items for the list and am now ready to share some more ways to make your next trip one for the scrapbooks.
1. Visit grocery stores – This may be one of my favorite travel activities, as silly as it sounds. Whether I’m in Milwaukee or Dubrovnik, there is nothing better than visiting a grocery store for two main reasons. The first is cost. Buying snacks, drinks and even souvenirs at a grocery store is the most cost effective way to travel. I love Diet Coke, a lot, but refuse to pay the crazy prices some convenience stores around the world charge. Instead I stop at a local grocery store, buy a large bottle or pack of cans and I’m set for the duration of my trip. The second main reason I love grocery stores is for the sociological overview they provide. Every grocery store, no matter where they are reflect the local community and what they value when it comes to food. Whether it is Moxie cola in Maine or the three rows of olive oil in Madrid, what lines the shelves of the local store does in fact say something about the location. It’s the fastest way to learn about local food and eating habits, which I think is the best way to learn about a new area. Plus, it really is a lot of fun to wander around a new store, looking at prices and just taking it all in.
2. Research – This is something I have been guilty of not doing enough of, and it’s only been through trial and error (mostly error) that I have once again embraced the importance of researching a destination before leaving home. Back in my 20s, I was a horrendous overplanner. I recently found a travel binder (yes, binder) from that time period that was tabbed, color coded and expansive. In reaction to my overplanning ways, I stopped researching all together. I still bought travel guides, but I rarely read them and I did very little research before leaving home. Instead I thought I could wake up in a new place and just intuit what to do. This was wrong; very wrong. It has led to some travel disasters and missed opportunities that otherwise could have been avoided. Now I’m back to conducting some modest research, and you should do the same. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just read up a little on local history and more importantly look for things to do that aren’t in every single guidebook. Do a Google search on blogs and newspapers, find interesting perspectives that may be hard to find. That’s how I knew I wanted to visit the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb and it turned out to be a highlight of my time in the Croatian capital.
3. Don’t be afraid to be corny – I’ve said this before, I’m saying this now and I will most likely say it again – don’t be afraid to be a corny tourist. None of us are Anthony Bourdain or Rick Steves and we shouldn’t try to be. We’re on vacation, traveling and we need to make sure we enjoy the experience. This means that it is in fact OK to be a camera toting, crepe eating, Colosseum watching tourist. Don’t let the hipsters and egocentric travelers tell you to always get off the beaten path and to go local. Sure, this is good once in a while as I just wrote in item #2, but on the whole don’t be afraid to embrace your inner tourist. There’s a reason why everyone who visits Paris goes to the Eiffel Tower, in London Westminster Abbey and in Rome the Forum. They’re awesome! They have always been awesome, they will always be awesome and you should see them. So ignore those nay-sayers and instead go, see the famous sites and enjoy yourself. What you don’t want to do is become a touron.
4. Avoid stereotypes – I mean this in a couple of different ways. First, don’t be an ugly tourist, or touron. I was just in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a city that welcomes 1 million cruise visitors a year and nearly 1 million visitors who stay the night. The result is a massive crush of tourists, especially in the peak months. Walking around I saw and heard a lot of tourists being tourons, something everyone needs to avoid. Very few attempted even the first word in Croatian, instead just rattling off something in English without thought to the local language. Yes, many Croatians speak excellent English but that’s not the point. The point is the tourist should start off by saying hi in Croatian (Dobar dan) and then trying to ascertain what the lingua franca is. The fact is that it’s easier to fall into the trap of being a stereotype than it is to be a good tourist, so many people become stereotypes. They treat new cities like they’re additions to EPCOT Center instead of, you know, actual places with actual people living there.
On the other side of the coin (sort of) don’t let your perceptions of a new place cloud your stay. Don’t assume that people can’t understand you, don’t assume everyone is grumpy or rude, in fact, don’t assume anything. My preconceptions of new destinations have almost always been proven completely and utterly wrong, but I let myself be flexible enough to accept that. Some don’t. Be open-minded, talk to people, learn from them and enjoy your time. If you don’t know how to say hello, ask someone! They’ll be thrilled to teach you and equally thrilled that you care about more than finding the nearest gelato shop.
5. Put down the phone, again – This is the only carry-over from my original list and I think it bears repeating, for myself as well. Smartphones are great and tablets even better. In the span of just a few years (hard to believe) we went from being dependent on actual computers to stay in touch to using our phones as mobile workstations. Sadly, our jobs have kept pace and that means we are all always working, all of the time. Even if it’s not your job trying to reach you it’s kids, parents, friends, dogs, cats, neighbors, you name it. Everyone knows that an email or text will reach you within milliseconds and they usually get cranky when you don’t respond fast enough. I sometimes find myself walking around a new town more interested in my next Instagram pic than actually absorbing the scene. That is wrong. So, pledge with me that on your next trip the phone will be put away for at least a few hours a day so that you can vacation in the way God intended, happily and with attention focused entirely on discovery and exploration.
These are a few things I think everyone should do on a trip, what are some others?
12 thoughts on “Five More Things You Should Do On Every Trip”
I find it appalling that travelers refuse to even learn the basic “Hello” and “Thank you” for whatever country they’re traveling. Learning those two things can greatly impact how locals see and treat you, effect the prices you pay, the invitations you receive, everything.
Agreed. It’s good to learn hello and please and thank you in whatever country you’re visiting. Grocery stores are also pretty fascinating. You can find lots of good snacks there.
I don’t use international plans on my phone, though. So when I’m on it, I’m actually using it to take photos. =)
I love going to visit grocery stores! Especially to pick up interesting flavors of chips and candy. I always bring “vacation candy” back for my office candy dish and it’s a great topic of conversation with my co-workers. You’re absolutely right about learning to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you. And the picture of gelato makes me hungry – stopping for ice cream and pastry is one of my favorite things anywhere I go.
As I always say, touristy places are touristy for a reason – skip the attitude and visit them regardless of how uncool it’s supposed to be.
And I looove grocery stores, especially in countries I know little about. Such a fun experience!
Great list, Matt, and spot on.
I love grocery stores, and local markets. I usually spend hours just strolling through them. I still haven’t developed the guts to take many pictures, which I always regret. Why is it when I take pictures in grocery stores in foreign countries I feel like I am betraying some kind of trust? Silly.
Matt, thanks for your great post with tips always worth remembering and recalling and reliving … the reliving part is worth a few laughs and, likely, a few drinks.
Great list and very accurate! Sometimes it’s fun to be play tourist for a day anyways and how can you go to France and NOT see the Eiffel Tower! If you want to see it, go see it whether it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world or it’s the 7 least visited places in the world. I personally like taking a tour once in awhile, sometimes it is just nice to sit back and have someone else tell you what to look for.
I’d say slow down. Overpacking you trip with too many things to see and do can exhaust you and not allow you to really enjoy it. And hydrate. Or maybe thing just seems really important to me since I’m in SE Asia right now :)
HA! The exact same thing has happened to me with the planning thing…I used to be an extremely obsessive planner…got burned out (I think we just went too many places in too short a time and it was just impossible to keep up that level of planning with such a little space of time between trips) and I have gotten lax.
You do really miss out on things when there is NO planning involved (we discovered in Norway that had we researched ahead of time, we could have arranged a car rental to drive to see a really cool glacier, but because we were there on a Sunday and hadn’t arranged ahead of time, it was not possible.)
Planning and researching are half of the fun and what keeps me going in those times between trips, when I am at home feeling like a caged bird :-)
Great list Matt!
Supermarket shopping is always a must to pick up snacks/water for the day, especially when you have a ‘tourist’ site-seeing day planned; guidebook in hand. I wrote a post about the importance of learning a little language before heading to a new country. It was following a trip to Vietnam, and a simple ‘cam on’ (thank you) turned a lady into a beam of light (and a giggling mess!).
When researching, I would suggest taking note of the dos and donts in public space ie. having a drink, a cuddle, appropriate attire etc.
Matt – well chosen ideas about how, in effect, to truly benefit from what is one of the great experiences on the planet…travel.
Thanks Roger, that’s very kind of you to say!
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