Travel can be the greatest thing that we ever do with our lives, or at least one of them. There are many ways that we have learned to make the most out of our travel experiences, so here are a few of them…
We all love that whimsical, fairy tale image of spontaneous travel, where we just drop all commitments, point our finger at a spinning globe with our eyes closed and magically vanish to wherever it stops…and why wouldn’t we? It’s a beautiful image after all! In truth though, without preparation we wouldn’t get much further than spinning the globe. Be it medical, financial, safety, paperwork, visas – or any other less-exciting details we don’t necessarily write about in our journals – if we take some time and effort to prepare for the important things, then we are free to put all of our time, energy and attention into the really good stuff, knowing that the boring (important) stuff is taken care of.
2. Set your travel goals – Travel with purpose!
Travelling can be completely care-free, with little purpose, no agendas and minimal direction, which at first is amazing, as you reset your body and mind and slowly shed your skin of whatever pressures and expectations came with your life back home. After a while though the excitement fades, the days start to blend together, our human tendency for complacency kicks in and our amazing new life starts to feel ‘normal’ again. This is where our goals come in, our sense of purpose and achievement. Having a goal and a purpose gives a direction to our travels – to learn a language; to learn new skills; to climb mountains; to build a school; to become a better person (whatever that means) – when you travel with a goal and sense of purpose, you get something out of every day that you’ll remember forever.
3. Get Local Advice – Burn your guidebook!
Ok, so maybe ‘burn’ is a little strong! The guidebooks have their uses, but the best way to experience a new place is find the little spots that only the locals know, how to travel like a local, where to get the best local food at real prices, where the local parties are, maybe even the best way to talk to local girls or guys! You’re never going to get your hands on this kind of local know-how from a guidebook, because as soon as it’s in a guidebook, it’s simply not local anymore.
These days, more and more travellers are out there in search of the most local experience possible and there are apps and websites springing up everywhere, promising to bypass the tourist traps and connect you with everything local. Most of these are meet-up apps – like Couchsurfing without the couch, or Tinder without the sleaze. But all of these seem based around meeting up with people, which puts an expectation upon you to meet up, when all you really want to do is ask a simple question, like, ‘Where’s the best Phở soup in Hanoi?’ or, ‘Where can I dance real salsa in Medellin?’ The stuff you really want to know.
A new smartphone app called Tripext seems to be different from all the rest, by doing exactly that – connecting you to a network real ‘local experts’ wherever you are, where you can ask and answer questions, either privately or in a public forum. No couches, no sleaze, no meet-ups, just convenient access to real information, wherever you are – Simple! Of course, once you’re talking to locals on Tripext, you could decide to ask to meet up, but there’s no expectation, which brings me to my next travel tip……MEET LOCALS!
4. Meet the locals
If you do want to meet and hang out with local people then you’ll find that it’s the best way to really get involved in a place, its culture and way of life. The beating heart of any place is the people in it, the way they talk, how they socialise, how they interact with everything around them. They know all the best spots to eat, little hidden gems that you only find out about from someone who lives there.
5. Pack your backpack. Leave your baggage.
Travel can be the ultimate escape for all kinds of reasons, but it’s often what we’re escaping from that can cause problems for us down the road – our problems aren’t going to go away just because we do. Unpaid bills, family problems, illnesses and personal issues will all stow themselves away quietly in your backpack, waiting for the perfect moment to jump out and slap you in your smiling, happy-go-lucky, sun-kissed face! Deal with it all before you go and set off with a clear mind and conscience.
6. Ditch your preconceptions and judgements
This is always easier said than done and is one of the greatest challenges while travelling. We’ve all been brought up with the values and norms of the people around us, yet we would all like to think that we could leave our judgment at the door when the time comes. It can be difficult though, especially when you’re faced with a situation that really challenges your values – animal fighting; gender equality; cute puppies as food – the list goes on. As visitors, while we might not agree with something, it’s not our place to tell other people how to live their lives. Instead, observe, understand and try to see the bigger picture of how it fits into their culture and history. At least then, if you do decide that you want to encourage change, you do so in a respectful way, with all the facts at hand.
7. Make a plan, then tear it up!
This is one big contradiction and I don’t apologize for it! It’s always good to have some kind of a plan, a strategy, a course of action, when undertaking any task in life and travel is no different. We know where we’re going, how we’re going to get there and what we’re going to do when we arrive. But one of the best things about a plan, is the satisfaction of throwing it away and changing path completely on a spur of the moment decision. It feels reckless, exciting and reminds us how lucky we are to have the freedom we have to do whatever the hell we want!
8. Find your limits, then break them!
During day-to-day life we get into habits, where we go through the motions day after day, going to the same places, seeing the same people, doing the same things. We get used to a routine and we forget what it’s like to really push ourselves, we forget how it feels to be excited, to be scared of something we’ve never done before, but most importantly, we forget how it feels when we do it any way and we win! Traveling is the perfect opportunity to put yourself out there and rediscover what it feels like to be alive again!
So get out there, bungee jump off a bridge, climb a mountain, raft a terrifying river, cycle the world’s most dangerous road and eat the weirdest food you can find – because these are the travel moments that you will remember for the rest of your life!
9. Record your experiences
Memories are probably the greatest reward we get from travel. The interesting people we meet, the incredible experiences we have, the inspiring sights we see and all the wonderfully stupid things we do. But memories don’t just come flooding back without a little kick to get them started, like a photo taken from some random viewpoint in the mountains of Thailand, or a diary entry written on a noisy, crowded sleeper train in India, even a passport stamp can bring all those old feelings and emotions flooding back as if you were right back in that same place all over again.
10. Learn to say YES!
Over the years, we get cultured into saying, ‘no,’ a lot. Whether it’s out of politeness, fear, apprehension, or just because we’re so used to saying it that it just falls out of our mouths whether we want it to or not. ‘No’ can be the cause of so many missed opportunities on your travels – like saying no when a bunch of people you meet in bar ask if you want to drop your carefully laid out plans to join them to some off-the-beaten-path destination. Or saying no to random local guy on a busy street because you’re fed up of the street sellers and touts so you automatically brush him off assuming that he’s one of them. But that off-the-beaten-path diversion could just be greatest adventure of your life and that local guy might just have turned out to be a great new friend who could show a whole other side to the city. So if you really want to make the most out of your travels, start saying yes!