If you want to live a bold and passionate life, regular travel is essential.
At least that's my philosophy, and I'm sticking to it!
I'm talking about the kind of travel where you are transported from your every day life and plopped into an environment that is completely new and unfamiliar to you — where the sights and the sounds and the smells and the noises and the people are totally different from your norm.
This can occur in your own country, but most often it happens when you travel outside of your country, where you don't speak the same language.
My dad had a bad joke about why he didn't want to go to Europe. He'd say, “It looks really nice, but it's full of foreigners.” The sad part is — he meant it. He didn't want his world rocked by strangeness or strange people.
But if you truly wish to grow and evolve as a person, you must hop out of your little nest and rock your world. And travel is a lovely way to do just that. It's one of those experiences where you don't fully recognize the impact until you've done it and returned home.
Many studies on happiness have shown that memorable experiences almost always trump material things when it comes to long-term happiness.
The memories and life-changing after-effects of travel will stay with you long after the pleasure of a new car or house upgrade have worn off. I can attest to that from personal experience.
If you are one who dreams of travel but never does it, please make it a priority. I know the economy is bad, money is tight, life is busy. But with the right planning, you can make it happen if you're determined to do so. It is definitely possible to take wonderful vacations abroad on a budget.
So that's my little rant on why you MUST travel.
Now here's a simple guide on how to travel well.
These thoughts are merely my opinion on what constitutes the best kind of travel. But perhaps you will find them beneficial as you are planning your next journey of a lifetime.
1. Go Deep and Narrow
When Katie and I were first planning our trip to Italy (see my previous post), we had a jam-packed itinerary so we could experience several wonderful Italian cities. Fortunately Diana (the owner of the b&b where we stayed) gently steered us in a different direction. I can't say it any better than she did in a comment on my last post:
The type of holiday that you chose to do is the type I recommend to all of the people who email me not just for reservations, but also for travel advice. I am fully convinced that giving ourselves time to immerse in less stops (rather than expending all of our energy and time getting from one place to another) allows for a more complete understanding of the culture.
It’s not about all the stuff we “miss” when we travel. We miss nothing if we limit the scope, going deeper rather than geographically further, because we “see” so much more – people, interactions, precious moments.
Italy is such an intense country, full of art and history and food and wine. If you try to take it all in, you end up with a bunch of photos and a case of exhaustion. Instead, small precious bites of the land, like the ones you and Katie savored, leave such a more lasting impression.
This is so true — wherever you travel. Don't cram in every possible city and site. Pick one or two places and savor them. You will learn more, enjoy the time more, and feel more relaxed.
2. Know Your Travel Companion
So much of the experience of travel is impacted by who you are traveling with. Traveling with a friend is an entirely different experience than traveling with a spouse or romantic partner. But either way, knowing what to expect and ironing out potential issues before you leave is imperative — so you can avoid clawing each others eyes out when the going gets rough.
Ask yourself (and your travel partner) these questions:
- What are the priority sights or experiences for both of you? How will you decide what to see/do?
- What gets you really agitated, irritated, or frustrated?
- How do you react when things get off track?
- How much down time do you need each day?
- How can we resolve a conflict about a choice or decision?
- How can we arrange time apart if we need it?
- How are we going to handle finances and paying for things along the way?
- Are we both committed to the same kind of travel?
- Are we both committed to resolving conflicts calmly so we both feel heard?
If you are traveling with someone you know to be difficult or demanding, or who has less than an easy-going temperament, I would advise reconsidering — or at least figuring out a way to spend some time apart during the trip.
You don't want to spend a lot of money, energy, and enthusiasm on a trip, only to spend it angry or frustrated. It just won't be fun.
3. Pack Light
I will be the first to admit that I'm not good at this at all. I keep thinking that I might need this or that article of clothing, so I throw it in the suitcase. Bad idea. I would have been fine with half of the items I took on my recent trip.
What you wear really doesn't matter so much as long as you are comfortable and appropriate for the situation. You can wear things twice or even three times, and if necessary, hand wash some things or find a laundry. You will be so happy not to lug around a big suitcase.
Most decent hotels and b&b's have hair dryers. You don't need a pair of shoes for every occasion. If you need outerwear, find a jacket that is lightweight and waterproof. Ladies, take a small purse (to hold money, passport, etc.) to use while walking around that can go across your shoulder for safety.
Leave room in your suitcase for things you might want to bring home. (I brought home 6 bottles of wine from my recent trip to Italy, but I had to pay a hefty weight overage fee which I could have avoided if I'd packed lighter.)
4. Have Connections
One of the best aspects of my recent European trip was meeting up with people we knew while in Paris and Italy. It was so much fun spending time with friends who knew the area and could guide us to some of the best places to eat and visit.
If you don't know someone personally in the place you intend to travel, put the word out to family and friends. Ask if anyone has friends in your destination city with whom you could connect and have a lunch or dinner.
With the internet, the world is getting smaller, and someone always knows someone! Reach out and make a connections with new people wherever you travel. It will make you feel less like a tourist and more like a visitor.
5. Ditch the Itinerary (or at Least Be Flexible)
No doubt, there are some situations where following a strict itinerary is good. If you have to make a reservation to see something or arrive early to beat the crowds, then you may want to stick to your plan.
But in general, don't over plan your trip. Allow enough time and flexibility so that you can explore, go off the beaten path, or change your mind about what you want to do.
If you are committed to a rigid sightseeing or travel schedule, you might miss some of the best opportunities or have to rush through something you would rather linger over.
Make plans, but make them loosely.
6. Rent a Car
If you want the flexibility to get where you want to go and the freedom to go when you are ready, then rent a car (if possible in your destination). We rented a car in Italy and found it to be easy and fun.
This allowed us to take a couple of fun side trips to the Italian Riviera and the countryside. We didn't have to worry about getting to a train or bus station on time. There are many lovely European road trips that could constitute a full vacation with a few beautiful stops along the way.
There are some countries where car travel is more difficult than bus or train travel. Be sure you read up on the best way to get around wherever you might travel.
7. Go with the Flow
Rarely do trips occur without any disruptions or problems. Planes are late. Credit cards are stolen. The food seems strange. The hotel isn't what you thought it would be.
Expect that these things will happen, and try not to get your panties in a wad when they do. Just go with the flow of what is happening and make the best of it.
If you let them, these issues can sour an entire trip. But they don't have to. Sometimes you can adjust your plans, change the situation, or simply cut bait and move on.
Even these negative situations can create funny memories and great stories as part of the fabric of your entire experience.
Manage your expectations, and then you won't feel as frustrated or let down if things don't go exactly as hope for.
What constitutes the very best kind of travel for you? What have you learned from your travel experiences that you can share with all of us in the comments?