Travel can carry a lot of weight, especially if you don’t get to do it very often. Once we’ve selected our destination, paid good money for flights and hotels, and finally arrived, the question tends to be: how do I make this worthwhile?!
The odd thing about travel is that it’s a leisure activity that can induce a lot of stress. Vacation time and resources are precious; in the meantime, being in unfamiliar territory can be scary.
Traveling with other people can also be a pressure cooker, because everyone wants to get the most out of their vacation. The truth is, all of us (even within the same family) move at different paces and have unique interests. This can end in conflict if we’re not prepared!
So how do we go about making the most of our travels?
More specifically, how do we travel with depth and vision? Because the greatest value in travel is allowing that new place to change us: to give us a new perspective, to refresh our tired soul, to inspire our thirsty minds.
Most of us do not want to be the tourist that comes back with hundreds of photographs but not a single ounce of inspiration. We want our travels to have an impact– we want this rare opportunity to carry meaning. Whether it’s 3 days in a new city or 3 months overseas, here are 8 ways to get as much as you can out of your adventure!
8 Ways to Make the Most of Your Travels
1) Prioritize your hobbies and interests.
Presumably you’ve selected a destination based on your interests. But even within that destination are likely numerous options, so you’ll still have to pick and choose. I like to delineate my vision for a trip before I get to planning. Am I interested in the history? Architecture? Food? Hiking? Art museums? Gardens? Choosing a few of these to focus on makes the process easier; and it’s good for all travelers in your group to understand each other’s priorities and interests too!
2) Read, read, read (with a grain of salt).
Oh, the resources available to us! It’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? There are traditional travel guides, travel memoirs, history books, online resources, podcasts, TripAdvisor, YouTube videos, blogs, and the list goes on and on.
Here’s the thing: the more you know about your destination, the better off you’ll be. However, this does not mean you should allow someone else’s experience to set your expectations. Being an informed traveler includes knowing which places you want to visit and how to do that, but it also means knowing the culture well enough to conduct yourself respectfully. Once you’re well-prepared, then let your destination surprise you!
3) Get up at 6AM.
This is generally a good idea for most destinations. Getting up early means beating the crowds, finding great light for photos, and having enough time to enjoy a location. Of course, certain places aren’t open this early, but there’s usually something amazing to be found. Then, when the area is hot and crowded in the afternoon, you can take a nap!
4) Talk to the locals (that are willing to talk to you).
Not everyone is interested in chatting up a tourist, and we must respect that. However, your tour guide, hotel hosts, coffee barista and other local friends might be willing to answer questions! It’s so much fun to hear the perspective of people who actually live in the area you’re visiting (even if it’s within your own country); I always try to take advantage of any locals who are willing to chat with me. I’ve learned so much by doing this!
5) Visit an open market.
Markets are the best places to be immersed in the local culture! Whether it’s a farmer’s market or an artisanal market, there’s lots to see. When we were in Paris, we decided to go out to a market that is rarely frequented by tourists. It was an absolutely amazing time, just watching people buy and sell, and getting to wander through without anyone really noticing us. In Taiwan the night markets are famous (and becoming more of a tourist hub), but many locals still visit regardless. Drink in the noise, commotion and good vibes!
6) Put down the camera (occasionally).
Boy do I struggle with this one. Photography has grown on me this past year and it’s hard for me to not respond to something exciting by picking up my camera. But sometimes we forget to soak in our surroundings and enjoy the moment when we’re so busy capturing it on (digital) film. We care so much about how our trip will be represented that we forget to look, listen, smell, taste and feel.
One thing that helps me slow down is to close my eyes for just a few seconds (more is not a good idea in some locations!). I don’t want to have to rely on my photos to remember what I did. I want to remember because I was there.
7) Balance rest and activity.
Some people aren’t satisfied until they’ve seen every last thing in their destination of choice. Whether they’re excited about it or not, they need to check off that list to feel fulfilled. I think there’s a point at which an additional site or activity is not beneficial. We need to rest in order to fully observe and absorb our surroundings. Sleeping early is generally a good idea when traveling (so you can get up at 6AM!), and slowing down to appreciate a favorite location is sometimes the best decision we can make.
8) Blend in.
It’s ok to be a tourist (and look like one); none of us should be in denial of that. But for a more authentic experience, I usually try to blend in. If the locals don’t wear shorts, then I don’t wear shorts. If the locals linger at dinner, then I’ll linger too. By behaving like the locals, I become more aware of how their ways are different from my own. I get to, in a sense, try certain elements of a lifestyle that is new for me. I’ve never been a fan of transplanting my American preferences to my international destination; the point of traveling is to experience something different, even if that means a bit of discomfort or awkwardness. It’s worth it.