4 Things I Do On Every Trip

Mantua, Italy

I get a lot of questions about how I specifically travel, where I go and what I see and do. Mostly people are just curious about my favorite places to go, where I would go if money were no object and so on. But sometimes they’re also curious about the mechanics of travel and as someone who travels a lot, I have also learned a lot over the years and in the process refined my own travel experience. No one is really a travel expert, but there are people who travel more frequently than others and as such have learned a few things along the way. I’m not saying that the way I travel is perfect, far from it. Every trip I take is an opportunity to learn and I’m always changing the way I do things, making plenty of mistakes as I go. There are a few things though that I do on every trip that help me and I hope will help you as well.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Get lost

Granted, given my horrible sense of direction this is pretty easy for me to do, but even if you’re a pro at directions try to ignore them once in a while. When I check into a new hotel, typically the first thing I do is to go for a walk. Principally I’m searching for a convenience store to feed my Diet Coke addiction, but it’s also an opportunity to see where I am, what’s around me and the best way for me to spend my time in the area. Whether it’s on arrival, or later on in the trip this also includes for me getting lost. I put down the map (which just confuses me anyway), turn off Google directions and start walking. Along the way I always discover little things I would never have found otherwise and, more importantly, I start to get a feel for the real city away from the tourist bubble. I love touristy areas, they’re popular for a reason after all, but there’s much to be said for wandering away from them and learning about the new destination on a much more personal level. As a side note, the best food and restaurants I’ve found have always been a result of my random wanderings.

French market

Exercise & eating right

I’m not going to be preachy, but staying in shape when you travel is very important. Several years ago I remember listening to an interview with some CEO who said that no matter where he goes or the length of the trip, he always finds time to work out. I found that curious, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how smart a practice it is. It doesn’t have to be every day, but finding a few opportunities on your trip to spend 30 minutes in the hotel gym will give you more energy, make you feel better and help burn off those huge meals you’re doubtlessly eating. Speaking of huge meals, food is an important part of the travel experience and I definitely not only eat more on the road, but I tend to not eat in a very healthy manner. Delicious pastries, fancy desserts and 3-course dinners suddenly become the norm, whether your body likes it or not. And that’s fine, in moderation. You should still eat all of those things, but not necessarily at every meal. When I travel I have a very light breakfast, maybe a snack for lunch all in the attempt to save room for nicer dinners and random food finds I discover along the way. Filling up midday means I wouldn’t be able to sample some of the regional snacks and delicacies, a part of the travel experience I really enjoy.

Pastries Germany German

Visit grocery stores

This is a tip I’ve been doling out since I started my web site more than five years ago, and it’s still one of my favorites. There are a lot of ways to quickly learn about new cities, countries and cultures but one of the best is to simply visit a local grocery store. You may not always notice them, but they’re always lurking, even in bustling city centers and spending a few minutes in them will teach you not just about the food habits of wherever you’re visiting, but what the locals value as well. Food and travel go hand in hand and it really is the best way to become a part of a new culture, rather than just a voyeur. Whether it’s seemingly endless rows of olive oils in a store in Madrid or the chocolate and dessert options in Australia, grocery store experiences have been very important in my own travels. They’re also a great way to stock up on drinks and snacks at the lowest possible prices or even to grab the ingredients for a fun picnic out on the town. You save money and have a better time in the process than eating at a generic café all the time.

Oslo Norway

Talk to people

I’m a people watcher. I could sit in the airport for hours just watching folks walk by and be perfectly happy. In watching people, including my fellow tourists, so carefully when I travel I have noticed one thing; very few of them actually talk to anyone else. Whether it’s a family or a couple traveling around, we all tend to stay fixated on our own packs, rarely engaging other travelers or locals. For me, travel is about personal enrichment and growth and to do that I need to talk to people. I’m highly extroverted, so it may be easier for me but even if you’re not, find ways to learn about the people you’re visiting. One of the best ways to do this is to join a tour, either a private one or a free public walk. I nearly always walk alongside the guide, peppering them with questions along the way. “What do you love about your city? Where are your favorite restaurants? Where are you from? what’s your background?” and so on. It’s a friendly interrogation, but a good way to understand how places tick. It’s not just locals I question though, I love chatting with fellow tourists as well. On a recent afternoon boat cruise in Queensland, I was joined by a group of 3 couples, all traveling around Australia. They had all recently retired and were kicking things off with a dream trip around the country. After a few minutes of chatting a gentleman told me that he had watched the movie “The Bucket List” and he said that it changed him. After watching that he decided to go ahead and retire and do the things he really wanted to do while he was still able. It was a wonderful conversation and really drove home the importance of travel in people’s lives and made a significant impression on me. It was a brief, simple moment but one that I know I’ll remember for a very long time.

So there you go, a few things I make sure to do on every trip. There are others, but I thought that this was a good start.

What are some things you make sure to do on every trip?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

11 thoughts on “4 Things I Do On Every Trip”

  1. I love these tips, especially the one about getting out of your shell and talking to people. Similar to a grocery store visit, I love exploring local markets. I also like to bring a good book (besides a guidebook) related to the area I’m visiting to set the mood and fully immerse myself in the place.

  2. Thank you for sharing these tips Matt.

    I ‘m struggling with fitting exercise and gym time into travelling. Those huge meals can easily slow you down though and it’s not nice feeling bloated when on the road.

    — I couldn’t agree more that one of the best things to do is get lost. Just walking around town can be a great introduction to a new place, you will both see what everyday life is like but you can also get a sense of the city, to feel the city’s vibe.

    Chatting to both locals and tourist is also a great idea as well.
    – Chatting to a Vietnam war survivor was definitely the highlight of my trip to Vietnam.
    Hope this helps,

  3. Great list – I agree 100% with the grocery store and with trying to get some exercise (not as easy as it sounds LOL!). I would add take pictures – human memory is remarkably fallible and pics often bring back amazingly quirky memories. Also, find a square/park/open space and just sit. No photos, no journaling, just sit there and try to remember what it felt like to be there in that moment, what the essence of the place felt like. Those are some of my favourite memories to recall later :)

    1. The list Matt gives is great, and your two additions are spot on. Except for the ‘scheduled’ type of exercise (I get mine walking, and walking :) ) I do all of these especially getting lost, which is mostly not intentional. One of the most fun ones is sitting in a park or other open space, or even a bench on the sidewalk. You really get a sense of place and can pretend to be a local. Must work too, as I have been asked several times in my travels (Istanbul, Barcelona, etc) for directions.

  4. I love your comment about grocery stores. On one of our visits to Murano, Venice and we found a grocery store on the island. We gathered panini and salami and sat people watching while having a delicious picnic.

  5. As usual Matt you have nailed it! I have been a farmer all my life and a visit to a locals store start by accident and now something we look to do. There certainly are similarities and differences around the world! Another thing I have done in many places is left something valuable behind by accident! I have always been luck to have honest people help me in recovering purses, camera etc! Never did get my suitcase on arrival from Canada to Africa but not much I could do about that except buy some new clothes! Always pack the bathing suit in the carry on I learned as I hate buying a new one. We will head back to Africa for a month of camping soon so I am sure it will be another great adventure :)

  6. Really loved this post. We do many of the same things- go for a walk, visit the grocery store, though when we get lost, it’s usually an accident! We do eat a big breakfast if we can, but we usually skip lunch and then enjoy a nice dinner. Not the healthiest, but it does keep us energized.

  7. Use your nose! Explore the distinct scents of new countries and cities. The fruit blossom, the market stalls, the coffees and spices, the people, the laundry, the well-handled paper money all create memories of a place, even the drains! New Delhi first thing in the morning has an unforgettable fresh aroma, and even a hint of it anywhere else takes me straight back there.

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