1. Define your top destination choices, but don’t feel the need to stick to them. We all do it: we get bored, we start googling, we end up with a whole new list of gorgeous cities that we haven’t been to yet. Then when it is time to book a trip, we get very excited to check another one off the list. However, sometimes opportunities come up to go to places that we hadn’t considered yet. Go for it! The world is too big to be limited to a list.
2. Modify travel dates for local events. Of course, this one is not for everyone, since this requires a flexible travel schedule, but if you’re planning to go someplace, why not wait and go when there is a local festival or exciting show to go to? One thing I like to do is keep a list of street festivals and local celebrations of certain cities that I am passionate about visiting. This way I can make sure I don’t miss something that could have enhanced the experience.
3. Focus on what you actually want to do. Ok, so you have decided on where you are traveling to. Now make sure you plan around your taste. It makes me uncomfortable when people or articles mention something around the lines of ‘you haven’t been to [insert city] if you didn’t go to [insert popular attraction].’ It is your trip. You are the one spending time and money on discovering this city. Make it whatever you want to make it, and focus on visiting spots that you will fully enjoy. If you love museums, that’s great! Go and hunt down museums that focus on the type of art that you enjoy seeing. And if you get bored in museums, that’s also great! Go to a park, a bookshop, or a good pub instead. No one decides what you do but yourself.
4. Research your options. This sounds like a given. Of course you will make some sort of google search and/or talk to people who have been there previous to traveling somewhere. But when I say research your options, I mean it in a specific way, targeting those types of attractions that you enjoy doing. For example, some of my previous posts may give this away, but I love finding great pubs with great traditional local music, especially live music. Instead of typing in the search bar ‘Top Things to Do In [insert city]’, I type ‘Top Pubs With Live Music In [insert city]’. Target your research to your interests.
5. Familiarize yourself with the language. It is no surprise that people like feeling appreciated. When a local notices that you are at least trying to immerse yourself in their culture beyond a “touristy” level, they are more likely to want to give you the best possible advice they can provide. Put yourself in the local’s shoes. Would you prefer to talk to someone who speaks to you in a foreign language assuming that you know it, or someone who at least took the time to learn the phrases ‘Hello,‘ ‘Where is the toilet?‘ and ‘Thank you‘ in your native language?
6. Save money on transportation and accommodation. Transportation has the sole purpose of getting you from point A to point B. The local metro/subway/train system or busses will get you to that point just as efficiently as a taxi. Besides, the best way to get to know a city is walking everywhere. As for accommodation, unless the purpose of your trip is to have a relaxing, luxury experience, chances are that your accommodation has the sole purpose of a place to leave your bags, take a shower and sleep. I am a huge fan of hostels. They are a fantastic affordable option and with proper research, you are sure to find one that will enhance your experience. Plus the more social environment is a great way to meet people who may become friends, travel buddies, or at least teach you something new about another country. I stay in hostels almost exclusively, and I have made friends this way that I still keep in touch with.
7. Make plans, but don’t marry them. I am a fan of making lists. Once I make that google search mentioned on point #4, I make lists of the places that I would definitely love to try out. However, if I suddenly meet someone who swears by this other spot that I’ve never heard of or get an impromptu opportunity to take a day trip, I go for it! Uncertainty is what makes traveling exciting. Take advantage of those unscripted choices.
8. Listen to the locals. As much research as you think you may have done, nothing beats discovering a fantastic place that the lady who works in the convenience store next to your hostel recommended you to go to. There are amazing hidden gems that are not found in your average travel guide or article. It takes living somewhere to know what those special spots are.
9. Keep a journal. “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” That is one of my favorite quotes by Oscar Wilde. We travel because we are curious. We travel for the adrenaline. We travel for the freedom and we travel for the independence. Whatever is your reason for travel, we can’t help it but feel a sense of inspiration when we encounter a stunning sight or sit in an exquisite venue. Whether you prefer to fill your journal with words, stories, poems, drawings or pictures, it is important to take a record of those moments of inspiration. You will thank yourself later.
10. Talk to people! It doesn’t matter how many pubs I have a pint in, how many museums I wander, or how many dishes I delight from, when I look back to my travels, what I remember the most and what makes me smile every time is the collection of wonderfully interesting people that I have encountered and done those things with. To me, getting to know people is a passion. There is nothing more interesting in this world that what lies within the human mind. There are so many stories contained in each person that avoiding conversation with someone is just missing out on it. Talk to those people who you are lucky enough to bump into. There is a good chance that they will make your day.