Making the Most of Your Trip

The people you meet as you travel are more than photo subjects — and they might even be new friends.

On the road, you get out of your comfort zone and meet people you would never encounter at home. You immerse in a place where people do things — and see things — differently. That’s what distinguishes cultures, and it’s what makes travel exhilarating. By being open to differences and staying flexible, you have a better time. Be mentally braced for some surprises, good and bad. Much of the success of your trip will depend on the attitude you pack.

Expect problems, and tackle them creatively. Travel is exciting and rewarding because it requires you to ad-lib, to be imaginative and spontaneous while conquering surprise challenges. Make an art out of taking the unexpected in stride. No trip is without its disappointments: If your must-see cathedral isn’t covered with scaffolding, or your must-visit museum isn’t closed for restoration, your favorite artist’s masterpiece is out on loan. Be a good sport, enjoy the uncertainty, and frolic in the pits.

Your richest travel experiences will be the result of seemingly terrible mishaps: a lost passport, having to find a doctor, the blowout, or the moped accident.

Most of the time, the worst result is a missed museum or two, and maybe a blown budget for the week. But you may well make some friends and stack up some fond memories. This is the essence of travel that you’ll enjoy long after your journal is shelved and your photos are archived in your mind.

Head off screw-ups before they happen. You make a rental-car reservation six weeks early, have everything in careful order, show up to pick up your car…and it’s not there. The rental agency’s fault? Sure. But if you’d called a day ahead to confirm — even though you shouldn’t have had to — you could have avoided that annoying hiccup in your travel plans. Double-checking things along the way will minimize the chances of having your trip marred by other people’s mistakes.

Don’t be a creative worrier. Some travelers actively cultivate pre-trip anxiety, coming up with all kinds of reasons to be stressed. The news is always full of air-controller strikes, train wrecks, terrorist threats, small problems turning into large problems, and old problems becoming new again…and yet millions of people travel every year and enjoy fun, richly rewarding trips. Expect things to go wrong at some point — no one’s trip is ever perfectly smooth — but don’t sweat stuff that hasn’t happened (and is very unlikely to happen) to you.

 

Don’t let one unpleasant interaction ruin a travel day that’s otherwise full of exciting new sights, sounds, and flavors. When I catch a merchant shortchanging me, I correct the bill, smile, and say “Adiós.” If a hotel receptionist gets angry with your question, wait, smile, and try again. Assume that it’s a misunderstanding. With a focus on solving (instead of “winning”) any dispute you may find yourself in, you’ll be on your way faster — and with your good mood intact.

Turning the other cheek is essential to anyone riding magic carousel. If you slap back, the ride is over. 

Ask questions. If you are too proud to ask questions, your dignity will stay nicely intact…until you realize you’ve hopped the wrong train, ordered the one dish you didn’t want, or led your travel partner in circles searching for that one gelato place. Many tourists are too timid (or embarrassed about the language barrier) to ask questions, even though doing so can prevent the kind of easy mistakes that cost precious time and money. Local sources are a wealth of information, and most people are happy to help a traveler. Hurdle the language barrier. Use a paper and pencil, charades, or whatever it takes to be understood. Don’t be afraid to butcher the language.

Ask questions — or be lost. If you are lost, get help. Perceive friendliness and you’ll find it.

Make yourself an extrovert, even if you’re not. The meek may inherit the earth, but they make lousy travelers. Be a catalyst for adventure and excitement. Meet people. Don’t wait passively for cultural experiences — reach out and make them happen. The casual-and-friendly social style is charming to those who are raised to respect social formalities. While our slap-on-the-back friendliness can be overplayed and obnoxious, it can also be a great asset for interested in meeting locals. Consider that cultural trait a plus. Enjoy it. Take advantage of it.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to make meaningful contact with local people. When an opportunity presents itself, jump on it. Driving by a random cheese festival? Stop the car, get out, and eat cheese. Hiking through a Lake District and popping into a pub for a drink? Don’t sit alone at a table — take a spot at the bar, where locals hang out to talk. Dinnertime? Turn away from the cutesy Old Town and be the first tourist to take a seat in a new eatery.

Accept that today’s World is changing. The world is a complex, mixed bag of the very old, the very new, and everything in between. Hoping for an everything-in-its-place, fairy-tale land, romantic tourists grope for a place’s past while finding them among a living civilization grasping for its future.

This presents us with a sometimes painful dose of truth. The world can be crowded, tense, seedy, polluted, industrialized, and, increasingly, hamburgerized.

The world is alive and in motion. Keep up! Savor the differences. On town squares, tattooed violinists play Vivaldi while statue-mime Napoleons jerk into action at the drop of a coin. The latest government tax or protest march has everyone talking. Today’s problems will fill tomorrow’s museums. Feel privileged to walk the vibrant streets of a place as a student — not as a judge. Be open-minded. Absorb, accept, and learn.

If you can think positively, travel smartly, adapt well, and connect with the culture, you’ll have a truly rich trip.

Be patient.

Things will work out in the end. No need to rush. You’ll get to where you are going in due time. Travel is about the journey, not the destination.

Be respectful.

Locals are willing to help you out, but there’s probably a language barrier, so keep your cool when something doesn’t go your way. If you don’t, you’ll end up just looking like an asshole tourist.

Always have an extra USB charger.

Batteries die. Your good mood shouldn’t.

Take photos of and with people.

Take lots of photos. Years from now, you’ll want to look back on those nights you can’t remember and the people who made them memorable.

Don’t Forget an Extra Camera Battery (or Two)

 

Put Your Room Number & Hotel Address in Your Phone

 

Once you arrive, grab one of the hotel’s business cards, so you’ll always know where you are staying, and can show it to locals to ask for help with finding your way back.

Let Someone at Home Know Your Plans

This is extremely important when traveling. From a safety perspective, it’s good to have several people back home who know where you’ll be. Forward any flight or accommodation confirmations to your family and Skype with them several times a week to let them know what you are up to. That way, if you ever disappear for a few days, your family will know immediately and will be able to know where you were staying at that time. It takes just a few minutes but really improves your safety.

When you check in to the hotel, don’t be afraid to ask for an upgrade.

They have a lot of flexibility when it comes to assigning upgrades at check-in. It never hurts to ask. Often times they can accommodate you if the hotel isn’t full. Just be super nice!

Invest in a good camera

Your photos will be some of your best memories, so invest in a good camera. And, of course, take the time to understand how it works before you leave.

Keep a journal

You think you won’t forget anything, but you will. You won’t remember the name of that lovely girl you hung out with for a day, you won’t remember the name of the hostel you loved, and you won’t remember the conversation you had with that dude in a pub. Keep a journal to remember those small details because you’ll treasure them in a few years.

Don’t forget about your friends back home

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of your travels and forget about the friends you have back home. Let people know you’re thinking of them: arrange Skype dates, send postcards, chat on Facebook, and buy them gifts from the places you visit.

 

Charge your devices whenever you have the chance

Whenever you see a spare power socket, charge your tech. You’ll wish you’d taken the opportunity to when you eventually run out of battery. And you’ll always run out of battery. Pack a portable battery for your phone

 

Protect your technology

It’s worth getting a shell for your laptop, a keyboard cover for accidental spills, a sturdy case for your Kindle, and a waterproof case for your phone. Replacing tech is expensive and spending a day trying to figure out which island you need to fly to in, in order to get your laptop repaired is frustrating.

Step out of your comfort zone

Travel and vacations are your time to do something spontaneous that you’d never dream of doing at home.

Whenever you step out of our comfort zone and tried new things, new and exciting things happened in your lives too. It just takes a small step to make great change.

If it feels wrong it probably is

Don’t be afraid to talk to people

Don’t keep your nose in your book or in your phone looking at silly SnapChats. Look around, start a conversation and make new friends.

When on a safari or a hike, get to know your fellow travelers and engage in conversation with your guide. You’ll not only make new friends, but you’ll also probably learn a lot.

You will get some of the best tips from talking to fellow travelers and the locals. You can’t read about most of the great stuff to do in a guide book or on a travel blog.

You’ll get the best travel tips from the people you meet. So do not be afraid to talk to people.

You will have had some of your best conversations on buses, in restaurants, or on a train. So Engage!