Travel is an evolution. Just as we grow and change over the years, so does our travel style and preferences. What I could tolerate as a 25 year old is far different than what I tolerate as a curmudgeonly 40-year old. It’s nothing to be feared or to regret, it’s just a part of life. I have noticed some fairly dramatic shifts though in the way I travel within just the last year or two, and so I thought I’d share them today. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas on how you can grow and evolve your own travel experience and enjoy that next trip all the more.
When public transportation is great, it’s really great. I love subway systems; the intricate design of the routes and the efficiency of the systems are a thing of urban beauty. They’re not always the best choice when I travel though, whether it’s because I’m in a city like Los Angeles with no practical public transportation system or I’m tight on time, which is when in the past I would opt to take a cab. Then Uber came along and brought out into the bright light of day just how awful cabs really are. In the past, it could take forever to even find a cab and then I had to hope that the driver would actually agree to take me to my intended destination. More than once in New York City the driver sped off when learning that my trip wasn’t a long one. Uber changed everything. Able to coordinate every detail from pickup to drop-off even before I see the driver, there are no more unknowns. The mystery is gone and in its place is transparency and efficiency. I can get a car no matter where I am, I don’t have to walk for miles to hail a taxi and most times the Uber trip is even cheaper. A great example of how very quickly Uber has changed everything, I was in LA recently and approached a cab, asking the driver to take me to a popular museum in town. He looked at me blankly and asked me where it was. I politely thanked him and left, pulling out my phone and organizing an Uber trip. She arrived within 3 minutes and I was quickly on my way. In business, those who don’t evolve and adapt tend to fail and disappear and if those old-school cabbies don’t improve the way they do business, they’ll soon go the way of the Betamax.
Travel like it’s a sprint
This is perhaps one of my greatest travel weaknesses – I plan way too much. I remember about nine years ago 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.
Making the shift from checking luggage when I travel to going to what is called “carry-on only,” was a huge shift for me and one that I never thought I’d be able to accomplish. I probably wouldn’t have been able to either, had I not been forced into it. Earlier this year, I joined an Abercrombie & Kent safari in Tanzania and due to weight restrictions on internal flights, I had no choice but to limit my luggage to a carry-on duffel bag. It was challenging and I honestly didn’t know if I could do it but, you now what, I did. That exercise made me rethink the way I pack for trips and how about a third or more of everything I would normally take was completely useless. Clothes I never wore and “just in case” items for which there was never a “case.” It was silly and just like that I went from being an overpacker to an efficient traveler overnight. I’ve maintained that habit and on every trip since then I’ve gone carry-on only. There will be no doubt a few trips when I have to check bags, but not many and I’ve never been happier with my own personal travel experience as a result. It’s so much more efficient to go carry-on only, no longer do I have to spend time waiting for bags as they trundle out at baggage claim, instead I can just walk out and start my trip in earnest. It’s liberating, it’s freeing and it’s one of the best travel changes I’ve ever made.
One of the first international trips I took as a young professional was a Caribbean cruise. It was easy, convenient, the price was right and I really enjoyed the experience. Since then, I’ve taken many more cruises, but as I get older I notice that I’m trending away from the mega-ships towards smaller, more intimate vessels. It’s not an elitist thing either, well sort of, but not entirely. No, it’s the crowds that I mind more than anything else and it’s not relegated to just cruising. While I’ve gone on a few escorted tours, they’ve either been private or very small group trips, which is great. I couldn’t imagine though getting on a coach bus with 40 people and touring Europe. It just doesn’t sit well with me, just as those ships of 4,000 people make me shudder. When I travel I value efficiency, which isn’t possible when a lot of people are involved. I also value personal experiences, another element lost when masses of humanity join you on vacation. I love cruising, but I don’t see myself on a ship of more than 1,000 people again unless it was something truly special and tours are fine, but private or small group is the only way I can handle them. This is just me though, there’s no right or wrong, but for me I need alone time and the comfort that not being just a number provides.
Obligatory travel experiences
When I travel, I like a mix of the normal tourist sights and personal exploration. When it’s my first time in a new place though, I always feel compelled to visit the “famous” places, the sights that everyone has to see. Most of the time that’s fine, they’re worth it – popular experiences are usually popular for a reason. But there are just some things I won’t do anymore, I just don’t want to waste my time visiting places I know I won’t enjoy. I wrote about this a couple of years ago in relation to aquariums and how pointless I find the vast majority of them (but not all) to be unless you’re with a five-year old or if you are in fact a five-year old child. Add to that most zoos (for ethical reasons) but there are more items on my no-go list than just animal related experiences. While I love history and I always enjoy visiting a new castle or palace, touring these ancient places is something I just don’t need to do any more. Visiting royal apartments is one of the great European travel cons out there. While the palaces are amazing and should be seen, admiring them from the outside is more than enough, to go inside is expensive and pointless. None of these formerly royal residences really have anything to offer. In most cases, the items inside didn’t belong to the people who lived there and they may not even be period pieces. Walking through endless rooms where a robe or a small bed is on display is of no interest to me whatsoever. So my new rule is to stop doing things like visiting royal apartments because I feel like I should, because it’s on the list, because everyone says they’re important. Travel advice is great, but it should always be taken with a grain of salt and always adapted to your own travel style. Travel guides aren’t meant to be religious doctrine, they’re guides. As in guiding you, helping you along and not dictating every moment of your trip. So goodbye aquariums and royal apartments, so long art museums with obscure pieces I don’t care about and hello quirky neighborhoods and donut shops. See, that’s how I travel and at the end of my trip I’ll be happier to chow down on a local dish than I would have been staring at a 300-year old bathrobe.
What are some ways your own travel style has changed over the years?