Travel is my passion, which is great, except that it tends to be the only thing I ever talk about. Well except for my dogs. And doughnuts, I love doughnuts. But there are some positive aspects to my preoccupation with all things travel, I learn a lot about the overall experience, either from mistakes I’ve made or by talking with others. Here I thought I’d share some of the best tips I’ve either learned the hard way or by watching others in the hopes that it will help you as you explore more of the beautiful world around us.
Slow down & Don’t Overplan
This is perhaps one of my greatest travel weaknesses – I plan way too much. I remember about eight years ago my partner and I planned a big trip to Southeast Asia. It was a really big deal and was more than a year in the planning. Travel anticipation is something I really enjoy, so I spent hours and hours researching everything, from flights and hotels to restaurants and activities. The result was a massive, color-coded binder of information covering every possible nuance of the trip, including an hour-by-hour schedule. I wish I were kidding. It was absurd and by the second day, completely disregarded. Preparing for a trip is one thing, but scheduling the fun out of it is more common than you think. We all want the perfect trip and frankly we’re terrified that we won’t get it. So many of us try to control it, to ensure that fun and value for the investment will be had. The result though is the opposite. By overplanning we take all of the enjoyment out of the adventure and prevent spontaneous experiences from happening which, usually, are the best. So the next time you travel, leave the binder at home and be sure to slow down.
I’ve only recently begun to see this from my fellow tourists, but I love it. Instead of holing themselves up in a resort or hotel, more and more people are at least trying to get closer to the communities they visit and to learn more about them. Experiences are the new luxury, and from what I can tell the average tourist has become a quick convert. It doesn’t mean that you have to plan a voluntourism trip to India in order to really go local, it can be almost anything. One of my favorite ways of quickly learning about a new community is by taking a great and hopefully slightly unusual walking tour. While in London I joined the Eating London tour, which took us through some beautiful neighborhoods in the East End. During the 4-hour walk we learned a lot about the food culture, why it’s important, sampled many delicious morsels but we also experienced the neighborhood and local life in a way that would have been hard to do independently. By the end of the tour I walked away full, but I also walked away with a much better understanding and appreciation for London, a city that has taken me a long time to enjoy. No matter what it is you do, be sure to get out into the local communities and learn as much about them as you can.
Don’t do it, even though I know you want to. Resist the temptation to bring everything from Wellington boots to a third coat “just in case.” In almost every situation you won’t need many of the items you pack and if there is an extreme need while you’re there, you can always buy something cheaply to help fill the gap. Overpacking can be expensive, annoying and physically demanding at times so do yourself and everyone traveling with you a favor and only bring the true essentials with you when you travel.
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 visiting tourist. Don’t let the hipsters and egocentric travelers tell you to always get off the beaten path and to only go local. Sure, this is good once in a while as I just wrote about, 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.
Talk to everyone
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 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 an 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.
Don’t lose the moment through technology
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, camera or laptop 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.
Ok, I find myself lapsing into metaphysical travel blogger mode, but I can’t help it. I’ve been through this, I’ve lived a life I wasn’t happy with and through great effort made changes so that I could be happy. I see countless others, many of them my friends, who don’t do this and walk through life with a sack full of regrets. “I wish I could”, “that would be nice,” and “it’s too hard,” are their go-to phrases and each one is a cop-out. I’m a firm believer in the fact that if you want anything in life, if you work hard enough you can make it happen. Most people don’t want to put in that work though. This doesn’t have to mean an epic, around the world quest for self-enlightenment. It’s as simple as visiting any new place, but visit it you must. The benefits are too many and the risks too great to ignore that siren call of travel.