Almost every day I’m asked not only about my favorite places to travel, but what I do to make sure my trip is a good one. I’ve always been a little surprised by the second part of that question, I guess I’m just so used to travel that I haven’t thought about best practices for a while. So I thought I’d share a few things that I do to ensure the perfect trip; actions just about anyone can do on their next adventure.
1. Get lost – It sounds counter-intuitive and I don’t mean this should done in an unsafe area, but in general getting a little lost is a great thing. By veering left instead of right you’ll discover places you didn’t know existed, from neighborhood restaurants to quiet little squares that undoubtedly will become favorite finds.
2. Proper use of chopsticks – Chopsticks aren’t just relegated to use in Japan, they’re a popular utensil all over the world thanks to the massive popularity of both sushi and Chinese restaurants. Plus you look cool when you eschew the fork and knife in favor of two wooden sticks
3. Basic first aid – You never know what will happen or where, which is why it’s smart to be prepared. Take a local first aid class or simply research on line how to do simple things like offering CPR or the Heimlich maneuver
4. How to change a tire – Many of us will rent a vehicle of some sort when we travel and the chances of getting a flat tire somewhere, anywhere is pretty likely. Instead of being held hostage to roadside assistance, take some time and learn how to change a tire yourself
5. Sleep anywhere – I wish I could master this skill, but even though I haven’t succeeded yet I know how important it is. So many times we find ourselves in cars, planes, trains or wherever and a few minutes of sleep could mean the difference between sanity and going nuts. If you can tackle this skill, you are on your way to being a travel master
6. Use ATMs to access your cash – Never bring cash to convert or travelers checks, the exchange rates are horrible. Instead use local, bank owned ATMs and withdraw in larger quantities to offset the extra fees. Better yet, get a card that you can use overseas without any extra fees.
7. Always learn basic phrases in foreign languages – One of my favorite ways to learn about a new culture is through language, but even if this doesn’t interest you there’s a more practical reason to learn some simple phrases. Knowing how to say please, thank you, yes and no and I’m sorry will help you more than you realize while traveling. With these building blocks you can get around without hassle and don’t have to revert to pointing and charades at every turn.
8. Talk to other humans – So many times I see people travel without interacting with anyone outside of their little group. I especially see this trait amongst my fellow Americans, a fact that saddens me. Fear is the major reason for this, a fear of stumbling in a foreign language or being ignored. But it’s important to set those fears aside and talk to as many people as possible. You’ll learn a lot more from them than you will from any museum and you’ll have a better time doing it.
9. Be respectful – It’s easy to forget that new places you visit are actual places and not theme parks. Cities around the world have other interests than catering to your needs and it’s important to respect that. I’ve seen many tourists act as if they were the visiting royal monarch, the locals there for their convenience and amusement. Respect the fact that you are no longer at home and do everything to show that your are appreciative to be there. Humility will get you a lot farther in life than pomposity.
10. Drive stick shift (manual) – Many of us have been spoiled by automatic transmissions in cars, a feature hard to find in many parts of the world. Learning how to drive stick shift will open up new travel possibilities and will prepare you to travel anywhere in any kind of car, truck or van.
11. Take a decent photo – Almost everyone takes photos when they travel, but not everyone takes good photos. You don’t have to have a fancy camera or be an expert to come home with quality photos, so take a few minutes to brush up on the basics.
12. Be careful where you eat – From a financial point of view, never eat within a 1-block radius of a major tourist site. Like rings radiating out, the further away from tourist areas you get, the better the food becomes and the cheaper it is. This also means avoiding ‘tourist’ menus and menus in multiple languages that are different from the country you are in. From a health perspective, if eating street food, carefully size up the stalls before choosing one. Make sure that other people are eating there, that way you know the food is being replenished and you’re getting something fresh instead of a dish that has sat outside for a long time.
13. It’s all about the experiences – Traveling can be expensive, whether it’s a theme park 3-hours from home or a new country half-way around the world. While I understand the necessity of being budget conscious, I don’t think it’s smart to travel as a pauper either. You’re there for a reason, to experience new things and to enjoy yourself. This usually means spending money, money that will be returned to you in the quality of the experiences. I’ve spent more to go on food tours, go up in hot air balloons and to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t have to spend any of this money, but my trips were made all the more special for them.
14. Trust your gut – Humans are amazing creatures and we don’t even realize the full extent of our own abilities. One thing that I’ve learned though is that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually not. Listening to our gut, our primal reactions to new situations will keep us safe and make the journey much more enjoyable. Don’t’ stay in uncomfortable situations for the sake of it, get out of there and be smart.
15. Travel light – I can’t say that I’m any great expert in this, but I am getting better. No matter where you go and what you do, learning how to be a more efficient packer is a very valuable skill.
16. Hotel location trumps almost everything – I love a nice hotel, it’s an important part of the travel experience for me. But what I love even more are hotels that are well located in my travel destination. There’s nothing better than being able to walk everywhere or at least easily access public transportation from one’s hotel. Sure, you’ll pay more for the great location, but it’s better than wasting precious time commuting and money on the extra transportation.
17. Art of haggling – Although for many of us the practice of haggling is an alien concept, it’s a vital skill to possess in many corners of the world.
18. How to have fun – This sounds odd, but most people don’t really know how to have fun, especially on a trip. Any vacation is the result of a lot of planning, spending and angst and frankly the stress over having the best vacation usually makes people miserable. So lighten up, you’re on an adventure so be sure to enjoy it.
What are your best tips?