Saturday, December 28, 2013

Some Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Your Travels

I’ve loved to travel ever since I can remember. Even if it was just going an hour out of town, I could turn a short trip like that into a grand adventure. And than when I started going on much grander adventures, travel started meaning more to me than just getting out of town.

Most people think of travel as an escape from the mundane everyday of work and home obligations, a break to just do nothing and relax on the beach of some all-inclusive resort somewhere down south. They know when there vacation will take place and when they will get the time off work, they plan months in advance and have everything organized down to a system that they try their hardest to stick to. Not there is anything wrong with this; I’ve taken the odd all-inclusive vacation down south myself but my favorite way to travel will always be independently, at the last minute, with no expectations on what will or should happen while I am away. I have traveled enough to know that the unexpected happens and there is nothing that can be done about it except to just sit back and let things fall into place…or turn into a wild adventure to be written about later! I’ve also traveled enough to know that the best memories and the best times are the ones that just happen, the ones that are not planned and take me beyond the walls of a fancy resort on the beach. I’ve learned that just letting go is the only way to get the most out of a trip to any foreign country.

When I first started traveling, I wasn’t used to the “process” involved. The bookings, the planning, the unexpected hiccups, the packing, the airport security. I admit, I over-planned, I expected everything to go smoothly, I panicked when they didn’t and I always over-packed. And when I say over-packed, I mean I packed for every type of scenario possible and packed things I never used and knew deep down inside I wouldn’t need. I have come a long way since I took my first trip on my own. Today, there really isn’t a process involved. I just book my flights, get some vague idea on what accommodations are available at my destination, pack a few necessary items and show up at the airport on time. Everything else just falls into place. Sometimes everything goes smoothly, other times, not so much. Truth be told, some of the most interesting (and funny-but-not-so-funny-at-the-time stories) came from those unexpected near-disasters. No wasted time planning only to have everything fall apart, no expectations, no over-thinking – That’s how I roll now. This more laid-back approach to traveling has helped me enjoy my trips more and get the most out of my travels. Below are some more of my tips on how you can get the most out of your travels too!

Learn About Where you are Going - Although I recommend you do not spend too much time planning, I do recommend you at least do a little bit of research into the destination you are traveling to. Some key things you should look into include:
-Public transit
-Embassy Locations
-General information about the place such as the language spoken, the religion and any cultural taboos you should avoid in order to blend in with the locals and not offend anyone.
-Vaccination and health requirements
-A general idea on what to see and do while you are there

Don’t Fuss Over Travel Woes – Have a 12-hour layover? Flight delayed or cancelled? Missed your bus or train? Why fuss over something you cannot control! Make the most out of the situation and think of delays as “extended vacations”. This especially applies if you are delayed on the way home after a trip; you will get some extra time away from home. Whenever I have a long layover, I try to get out of the airport for a little while and explore the city I am in, even if it is just to go down the road to get something to eat.

Escape Your Comfort Zone – Believe it or not, this is easier when you are traveling because you will be out of your element. You will be away from family and friends and tend to care less when its strangers judging you. Go ahead and try to sweet-talk your way into that posh airport lounge. You won’t know if you’ll get in if you don’t try! Talk to strangers, eat in a restaurant alone and invite other people to join you. Go to a bar alone (just don’t drink too much!). Talk more, dance more, sing more, laugh more and make a fool out of yourself more than you would at home and by the time you get home, you won’t care what the people there think anymore either! Life (and traveling) is more fun and spontaneous this way.

Don’t Turn Down Invitations – Unless, of course, you sense danger. One of the biggest things that holds us back in life is fear. It is important to try and let go of some of the unwarranted fears you have but, at the time, always be aware of your surroundings and trust your intuition if you sense danger. I’ve learned from my travels that the world is really not as scary as we are led to believe. I’ve taken drives on motorcycles and in cars with strangers, I’ve accepted invitations to dinners at restaurants and in people’s homes, I’ve attended parties and have been invited to go on various excursions with complete and total strangers all over North and Central America and never had any problems. That being said, things do occasionally happen and that is why you need to assess every situation. Things can happen at home too, not just on the road. So if someone invites you out for dinner or coffee or to accompany them on an outing to the beach, do it…but be vigilant and know how to protect yourself against any potential danger. Embarking on impromptu outings like this can open up a whole array of experiences. You’ll meet new people, see new things that you would not normally see and you will learn more about the culture, the people and the place.

Don’t be Afraid to Try New Things – This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the not turning down invitations. Letting go of fear comes into play here too but when the opportunity arises to go bungee jumping in a remote area of the jungle with some locals who say it’s safe, trust your intuition when it tells you it probably isn’t. But do go bungee jumping with a skilled and certified company that provides proper safety gear. Shark attacks are very rare so when the opportunity arises to take surfing lessons or to become a certified scuba diver or to go snorkeling arises, take these opportunities. If a food you have never tried is placed in front of you, eat it! It could be the tastiest thing you have ever tried. Fried insects sound unappetizing but millions of people around the world enjoy this delicacy so there must be something to it. Besides, what’s the worse that can happen? You gag a little, your eyes may water and you may even lose your last meal but at least you can say you tried it and bragging rights are sometimes better than any other souvenir you bring home to show off. Yes, you can get hurt and even die…but you can also die in a car accident pulling out of your driveway at home or by slipping in the shower.

Mingle with the Locals – There is no better way to learn more about a place you are traveling in than to mingle with the people who live and breath it. Talking to and mingling with locals allows you to learn about places you would not find in tourist books, to learn a bit of the local language and to get a new perspective on the history, culture and politics of a place. Lounges, beaches, cafes and small shops are great places to engage local people in friendly conversation. They want to learn about you as much as you want to learn more about them and simple small-talk could lead to an invite to a beach party, exclusive club gathering or festival.

Sleep Very Little – Yes we need sleep, but we don’t need more than 6 or 7 hours on an average night and when traveling, you can get away with a little less than that! Why? Because, like they say, there’s plenty of time to sleep when you are dead! You want to see as much as possible and wasting a significant portion of your trip sleeping will ensure that you miss out on a number of opportunities. To keep your energy levels up, try to eat as healthy as possible, drink plenty of water and try to get some exercise throughout the day even it is just taking a walk on the beach or doing some stretches first thing in the morning. Set an alarm or request a wake-up call if you have to to ensure that you don’t oversleep. You’ll be surprised by how much more time you have to work with and how much more you can see and do just by cutting out some of your sleep time. You can rest plenty on the flight back home and when you get back in your own bed.

Avoid Drinking too Much – It’s easy to get into a routine of doing a bit of drinking while on the road. You’re on vacation, you’re away from home, you want to relax and have fun and you are out of your element and perhaps want to try new drinks from various places and loosen up more in order to feel comfortable meeting new people. This is fine but overdoing it can ruin a significant portion of your trip. Drinking too much can result in staying up well past your normal bedtime which means sleeping in. And who wants to sleep in when there is so much to see and do. Having a hangover will allow you to convince yourself that the best way to spend your day (or many days if you drink heavily every night) is sleeping by the pool or on the beach. If you do manage to get up and go about your normal activities, you will feel sluggish, tired and under the weather and you won’t have enough energy to do everything you would normally do. Drinking too much can also lead to dangerous situations including crime and injuries, especially if you are traveling alone. Depending on what type of drinker you are, you could find yourself in legal trouble in more conservative countries and who wants to spend a portion of their vacation in jail or in the hospital anyway?

Go Ahead and Get Dirty – You stupidly wear your favorite item of clothing on a jungle trek, beach excursion or other outdoor activity. Everyone else jumps into the salt water to frolic in the waves, scales muddy cliffs to get a better view, enters damp and dirty caverns to explore what is inside. You A) Sit back and watch because you are afraid to ruin your clothes or B) You forget about the clothes and live a little. You can always buy new ones. Always go with option B. Clothing can be replaced, experiences sometimes only come once in a lifetime. So if you are sitting around the pool fully clothed and some fun-loving jerk comes along and throws you in the pool, laugh it off. If you are trekking in the wilderness and come across a river that you must cross in order to go any further, take your shoes off (or leave them on), roll up your pant legs and walk across it. If you come across a waterfall with a crystal clear swimming hole beneath it, jump in. If you are traveling in Spain and walk right into the middle of the Tomato-Throwing Festival, join in! Tide Stick optional. Nothing will get out tomato stains…but who cares if you have fun and make memories that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
And Finally…Let the Wind Take You – Don’t be dependent on your itinerary. Actually, don’t even make an itinerary! You will never stick to it, too many unsuspected things come up while traveling and before you know it, you’ll be tossing it anyway. Nothing ruins the flow of a trip more than having to refer to an itinerary every 5 minutes. If your flight is delayed, wait it out like everyone else and don’t try to change something that cannot be changed. Just accept it and adjust your journey accordingly. If a tour you really wanted to take is not available when you arrive, embark on another adventure. If the hotel you booked is not what you expected, make do with it. Dwelling on things that are beyond your control will only dampen the overall mood of your trip. Move on, enjoy every moment, even the bad ones, and let the wind take you where you are meant to be. Even unexpected travel hiccups can turn into memorable moments and not knowing where you will end up is all part of that journey!

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