Here are 9 travel tips from me to you:
If you’re a planner like me, you’ll want to make the most out of your trip, especially if it’s a big one. While there’s something to be said about reading up on a place, its sights, its history and its culture, procrastinating some of the education until you’re standing on the land does have its benefits. Let yourself be surprised! Your eyes don’t want to take what is in front of them for granted as though you’re standing in a YouTube video or in a Google image.
If you’re planning an itinerary yourself, it’s always difficult to make decisions in advance. How long should you spend in a town? Where do you choose to stop along the way? What excursions do you commit to in advance? It is one of the most annoying and beautiful aspects of planned travel – annoying because each decision made in advance can feel like a shot in the dark, but beautiful because of the opportunity for overturned expectations. Leave yourself enough wiggle room in your itinerary, as you may unexpectedly fall in love with a place or spontaneously stumble upon something you would be sad to leave too soon.
Easier said than done, but quite possibly THE game-changer for your peace of mind. If you can’t completely disconnect from email or social media, then make an honest effort to set limits. Check it once a day. Unsubscribe from a whole bunch of “noise” before you go. Disable notifications. Set an auto-responder that buys you some time. Refrain from keeping completely up to date with your news feeds and inboxes. Think about it: do you want all those people on vacation with you? Your mental space is precious – be selective with it!
Don’t be shy to speak to the people whose country you are a guest in. Make time in your itinerary for conversations and connections. Everyone sees the sights you will see, but chance encounters can make you see things in a new light. Locals are also the best people to ask for recommendations on where to eat. Sometimes, they may even walk you to a bar or a restaurant to make sure that you find it!
Know yourself and do what is best for you. When I travel, I make time for seeing and enjoying, but I also know I need to make time for photographing and documenting. I am a slow photographer. I hate the feeling of someone waiting for me while I compose a shot, while I wait for a wave to hit a cliff, an S-bahn to pass, people to clear the scene, or while I shift angles trying to catch a reflection in a puddle or a window. I am also a sentimental writer, which means that for the direct line to flow from my heart to my pen, I often have to be alone. I make sure that my travel companion(s) know that I need some time to tend to these needs, otherwise I’ll feel constrained. Get to know your own style of travel and shamelessly tend to your needs.
Doing something that you wouldn’t normally do has a strangely exhilarating, confident-boosting effect. You are capable, multi-faceted and alive – don’t deny yourself anything simply to play it safe. Life is too short for that.
Mindfulness is a challenge in an era of hyperconnectivity. I would believe it if you told me the Earth has been spinning faster on its axis. Letting go of the rush and being present is a feat – an exercise worth practicing in an unfamiliar environment. Shutting your analytical mind off will let your senses take over. It will also shut down the complaint department, making you quieter and much less tense. Take time to notice things – really, truly notice things. What you see at the market, how the language sounds, how the light is, how the sea feels. When I was little, my Mom used to urge me to “make a memory” – take a picture with my mind.
It can feel like a daunting task to write in a travel journal, to feel like you have to narrate your journey. Even for a writer like me. I actually prefer to write in bullet points most of the time – observations with no particular order, snippets of conversations, words that have a nice ring to them, funny experiences that make good travel anecdotes to tell, names of places and wines to remember. Often, the bullet points become full paragraphs. That’s when I know the pressure is off.
Start your own collection of “imports” from your travels. Make a point to find something beautiful and local to bring home, to remind you of that piece of you that felt so alive and happy there.