It’s the start of a new year and many of us are busy checking out our calendars, planning our adventures for the year. Whether it’s a brief trip or two close to home or an epic jaunt around the world, many of us will travel in 2019, but along the way we will also make plenty of mistakes. That’s ok; travel is about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s what makes us better people. However, there are a few simple ways you can improve your next trip, and I don’t mean just by avoiding common pitfalls. Whether it’s our outlook, daily behavior or something we’re doing wrong, here are a few ways to easily improve your travel experience in 2019.
Don’t be afraid
If you stop to think – really think – about your life, I believe like me you’ll realize that a lot of what we all do is fear based. We’re afraid of making our significant others angry, so we don’t criticize when perhaps we should. We’re afraid of being wrong, so we don’t always speak up at work. We’re afraid of making big decisions, because of the ramifications they could have; and so on. A lot of what we do, from the small stuff to epic, life-changing decisions are all based on fear and that is especially true when it comes to travel. Whether people admit it or not, what keeps many of my fellow Americans from traveling more isn’t budget or time off from work, it’s fear. It’s a fear of the unknown, fear of the other and fear just for the sake of fear. The great thing about the travel experience though is almost immediately you realize how silly all of those fears are, but you have to take that all-important first step. We also fear making mistakes. Travel experiences are an investment, big investments, but investments all the same. We want the vacations we take to be perfect, and it’s this fear of disappointment I think that keeps many folks off the road. They think that a dream trip is too far fetched a concept, when in actuality there really is no such thing. Every trip can be a dream trip if we plan it right. So don’t be afraid, save your money and book those tickets – believe me, you won’t regret those initial baby steps into the wide world of travel.
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, 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 walking 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. Once 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.
Slow down & don’t overplan
This is perhaps one of my greatest travel weaknesses – I plan way too much. I remember about 12 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.
Visit grocery stores
This is a tip I’ve been doling out since I first started my web site, 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.
Stop hurting animals
There’s been an epidemic of sorts in recent years and it has to stop. Around the world tourists have been killing animals for one reason or another. In Yellowstone tourists tried to “rescue” a bison calf because they thought it was cold. Recently tourists in Alaska chased a rare mountain goat into water where it drowned, all in an effort to get iPhone photos of it. There sadly have been many more examples of this sick and demented behavior around the world and it has to stop. When we travel we have a responsibility. We are voyeurs, in a new place to see and observe but never touch or interfere. Think of it like the Prime Directive in Star Trek, our first rule of thumb should be to not interfere and to do no harm. Instead, we’re trying to manipulate the world around us to conform with a view of the world we want to portray in Instagram photos. Animals are dying because some idiots want to impress people they’ve never met in places they’ve never been and I’m tired of it. The world is not your playground; when you travel you need to treat the planet and all of its creatures with respect. End of story, the end, head to print.
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.
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.
What other tips would you add to this list?