Travel, in of itself, won’t change your life. You can’t simply pack your bags, fly away to an exotic location and expect to come back a changed person. It doesn’t work like that. Too often, have I come across backpackers and tourists, racing around from one landmark to another. Trying to squeeze as much as they possibly can into each and every day. But they never stop to ask themselves - why? Why are they travelling? What do they stand to gain from the experience?
Travel is not about the number of destinations you visit. It’s not a competition. And even though I’m about to dispense 9 tips to help you enjoy your travels, there is really no right or wrong way to travel. But I do hope, you’ll learn one thing from this article - and that is the true purpose of travel. Travel should improve your life. It should make you a better person. And if it’s not doing that, ask yourself is really worth the thousands of dollars you are spending.
For the past few years, I’ve been travelling all over the world. From the white sands of beaches in South East Asia to the magical cityscapes or Europe and America. I’ve stayed in dirty and cramped hostels in Kuala Lumpur and luxury 5 star hotels in Paris. And I have no doubt that travel has enriched and changed my life. Here are 9 little snippets of advice, most of which I’ve learnt the hard way by making many mistakes along the way, and which I want to share with you.
I can remember my very first trip abroad. It must have been my nerves, as I was unable to slow down. I raced from the airport to a taxi. From the taxi to the hotel. And then from the hotel to the nearest shopping mall. I barely looked up the entire time. You can try and “blend in” like a local, but the reality is, you’re going to stand out. Embrace it. You’re a foreigner in a foreign land. You don’t need to pretend to be a local. It won’t make your travel anymore magical. So slow down. Walk slowly. Look up and take it all in.
You Can Do Nothing At All
This tip continues from my last point - you don’t need to constantly be on the move. You are allowed to spend an afternoon, hell, an entire day, doing absolutely nothing! If you’re staying in a hostel, spend the day chilling out in the common area. You don’t need to see any landmarks or attractions, just enjoy the surroundings. If you’re staying in a hotel, try finding a nice park or cafe to hang out in for the day. One of most memorable travel experiences I had, was spending a week, lounging about in a guesthouse in Bangkok. A couple of other travellers did the same thing, and we would spend the hot days, drinking beer, reading in the common room, and occasionally heading out for food when we felt the urge.
Take One Bag That’s Carry on Sized.
I feel sorry for the backpacker who is lugging a gigantic pack around. They look like they are on the verge of collapsing. I travel with just one, carry on sized bag, which i can throw over one shoulder. This bag has served me well on both short business trips and month long adventures. There are many tricks to packing light, but the best advice I can give is to simply take less. You probably won’t need half the stuff you’re currently packing - so only take the items that you will actually use. Forget about the “what if” situations. They rarely arise and when they do you can simply go shopping!
Take a Book. Or Two.
I travel with an iPad which has my library on it. I also pick up the odd book at airport bookstores and usually end up leaving it in a cafe somewhere. Yes books are heavy (even a kindle will take up a little space), but it’s well worth the compromise. Travel is filled with idle moments; Sitting on a beach, waiting to catch a plane etc. These moments are perfect times to read. Reading in of itself can change your life, but combined with travel it’s a killer combo. Explore the local bookshops and pick out both fiction and non-fiction books that complement your destination. Even if you’re not a big reader, after waiting 12 hours to catch a layover flight, trust me, you’ll quickly learn to love books.
Don’t Be Afraid of Hostels.
My first fear of travelling was of the “hostel”. I simply couldn’t conceive of sleeping in the same room as strangers - even though I had just hopped off a 8 hour flight that I had spent, yes you guessed it, sleeping in the same room as strangers. What I came to discover of hostels was that if you chose correctly, they were clean, comfortable and more importantly forced you to meet other people - one of the great joys of travel. I’ve stayed in plenty of 5 star hotels, yet I still continue to find myself checking into the odd guest house or hostel. I love the community atmosphere. I love hanging out in the common room. I’ve met so many incredible people that I still call friends.
Many hostels have private as well as shared rooms. This means, that even if you’re after a little more privacy, you can still experience the hostel lifestyle in the comfort of your own room.
Remember, a hotel will rarely be the highlight of any trip. So try not to fuss too much over it. I, like everyone else, have stayed in dodgy hotels. But I never let them get me down. I would simply spend the bare minimum of time, before moving on.
My friends call me crazy because I walk everywhere. If I can walk somewhere in an hour, I will most always choose the walking option as opposed to a taxi or public transport - even in the rain. It’s not that I don’t enjoy taking taxis or riding the metro - these are experiences of their own. But I have come to discover that there is no better way to see a city than by foot. It puts you in a vulnerable position. You’re exposed to the world. And that’s a good thing.
Make taking a walk, the very first thing you do when arriving at a destination. Spend an hour walking as far as you can in one direction. Don’t worry too much about getting lost. I’m still alive and I’ve never taken a map - I’ve lost my way occasionally but always managed to find a friendly face to offer directions. Take note of the bars, cafes and restaurants close by your hotel.
Find a Park or Public Space
This is a nice challenge - try to find a nice public park, garden or open space. I’ve yet to find a city that doesn’t have some sort of greenery. These spaces are havens and will let you escape from travelling for a little bit. Because even on the other side of the world in say, Kuala Lumpur, the central park will seem familiar. There are park benches to sit on, trees that offer shade and grass to stretch out on - all familiar elements. If you’re feeling homesick, find a park and sit down. You’ll be feeling better in no time at all.
Be Thoughtful when Taking Pictures
Why are you experiencing your holiday through the 5 inch screen of your iPhone. Trust me, when you put your phone down, it actually looks a lot better. No instagram filter is going to make your holiday special.
Don’t be afraid to take pictures, but use some thought. A picture of you in front of the Eiffel Tower, will be much more valuable a keepsake than just a generic snap of the actual Tower itself with nothing in front - you can download that off the internet!
So there you have it 9 little tips you can take on your next trip. Remember, travel isn’t a silver bullet. It won’t change your life. But if you’re willing to really put yourself outside your comfort zone and actually experience a destination, you might just find that it can.