Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Make most of your travels: 10 best tips

There are a few things I've learned while traveling.... like never ask for "spicy" food in Mexico or Thailand and don't fall asleep on the beach without 50+ sunscreen. Well, you probably know these already, don't you? Below some a bit substantial life lessons I've picked up along the way: my tried and true notes to make the most of your travels!

If you are planning a long tip, feel free to read the summary of my round-the-world trip with the FAQs and my favorite spots, or take a look at the Travel index page!

1. There's no perfect time.

Life is here and now. The last thing you should do is to put back something important because "it's not the best time to do it". Most likely it never will be the best time. You think you're too old? Really, it's never too late. You don't have two years to spare on your trip around the world or a month to see all of Buenos Aires? Well, what I've noticed there's never "enough time". No matter if you have two weeks or two decades for your trip you'll end up wanting more, not seeing it all. Hey, there's still tons of things I haven't seen or done even in my home town! Just make use of the time you have in stead of making excuses.

Machu Picchu - wasn't the perfect time for a visit but no reason not to go!

2. Make plans. And resolve to not following them.

First rule of thumb in planning: You don't need to plan everything. Disclaimer: I love planning everything. But I used to think I need to plan everything. There's a big difference; you honestly don't need to. There's always a way from A to B, always a place to stay. Things may not go exactly as you had imagined - but, in fact, sometimes they can go even better (well, sometimes.. not all the time).

Second rule of thumb in planning: Prioritize. At times you do need to do a bit of planning - at least that way can save yourself from a lot of trouble. Want to see the #1 Broadway show on your one night in New York? Want to stay in the best hotel of Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval? Plan ahead - sometimes waaaay ahead. That's especially the case if you don't want to compromise (and also don't have all the time and money in the world). Think what are the places you want to see or things you want to do the most and start from there. Remember also that some places are most enjoyable or simply only accessible at certain times of the year. Do your research and enjoy the planning phase, but don't let it contain you.

You might not always know where the road takes you.... no big deal! The road from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes.

3. Enjoy the small things. "Best things in life are free".

First of all, you don’t need to be rich to travel the world. To travel the world with a high level of comfort; yes, you do need some money. To visit every single country of the world within one year; yes, you do need to be rich. But to travel almost anywhere and to have super-interesting experiences, you don't. And even if you do have the money to book first-class flights and five-star hotels, is that what will make you the most happy?

Life is not something you can buy. We decorate our homes with all the possible knick-knacks and more or less useless "comforts of life". The more things we own, the more the things start to own us. There's no shame in surrounding yourself with things and material objects if that's what you enjoy, I do that too! But when you travel, some of the most memorable moments might not come with the expensive gadgets and at the all-inclusive resorts. Take joy in the simple thing of soaking your toes in warm water, tasting a fresh forest berries, sliding down a snow-covered hill or making a new friend. Don't be afraid to give more than you receive. It's a known fact that the more you give, the better you feel. Do something good for the people around you! Just by making a small everyday gesture or a smile can brighten someone's day. 

Enjoying the moment at Campeche beach in Floripa

4. Immerse yourself in different cultures. Be open.

The best thing about traveling for me is to experience a different kind of life than what I have at home. If you really want to make the most of your trip take a deep breath and totally dive into the local culture. Converse with the locals. If there's a total language barrier then just enjoy observing the daily life outside your normal surroundings! Eat the local food, assume the local pace of life. Don't try to imitate your life at home when you're out traveling - you'll most likely be disappointed of not having things go like you'd expect, and will certainly miss out on some fantastic experiences! Keep an open mind. There's no one right way to live and do things - be ready to try something new every day.

Full immerse of Japanese culture & cuisine in Tokyo

5. Alone doesn't mean lonely.

Many people worry about traveling alone - for no good reason. I agree that life is better when you share it but don't confuse being and traveling alone with being lonely before you try it. Traveling alone can be a blessing (or a lesson) to one that is used to being surrounded by people they know. Enjoy making your own decision. Enjoy your own company. And enjoy meeting new people (as you will meet plenty!). Btw: hostels are one of the best places to meet people - avoid hotels unless you really want to be all by yourself.

Enjoying some 'me time' at the scenic Queenstown

6. Being safe is an illusion. 

"Better safe than sorry" they say. And I say that too. In fact, matters of safety are what I get asked about a lot - is it safe (for a girl traveling by herself) to travel here or there? I can tell a) yes it is safe and b) with utmost certainty there's no 100% safe place in this world. You may get mugged or hit by a car in front of your house or half-way across the world.

That's not to say it's just as safe everywhere. It's not. Some places ARE NOT SAFE. But basically that's a war-zone or a few odd blocks (where you'd be highly unlike to end up as a tourist/traveler) in every big city. But even in tougher situations you can handle yourself in a manner that doesn't alarm anyone, dress plainly and walk with determination even when you're lost - just to get out of a bad neighborhood. My #1 advice to be safe: Don't get totally intoxicated. #2: Follow your gut - steer away of areas that feel strange and try to avoid those tough situations when possible. Take the locals' advice of where and when you'll be safe. And remember this: don't confuse being brave with being stupid. So don't be stupid! Feeling fear and worry is human. If you feel fear then just listen to it, don't succumb to it. Let fear be the friend that warns you about danger, not the unhappy grand-mother who never wants you to leave the house. 

A road sign in Beijing: Don't light your car roof on fire?

7. Be positive. Be patient.

When you travel a lot one thing you'll need to start being ok with is waiting - and wasting time. You might notice you are quite often in hurry, and just as often you're waiting for something. It's a constant search for the balance between the two which I think you can never reach. It doesn't help to try to rush trough everything or to get annoyed every time you have to wait a little bit. Be ok with it. Enjoy the journey, not only the destination.

The more struggles, the more memories? That's one way to think of it. Why not look for the silver lining in stead? Take a positive attitude on things. You did know that positive attitude leads to longevity, didn't you? And it can affect the people around you. Even just a smile and friendly attitude is always welcome - and can be understood even when languages aren't.

These guys are in no hurry nowhere at Isla Magdalena

8. Don't worry about things you cannot control. Make mistakes!

The one thing I had struggled with the most was not being in control. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. But don't worry: things will go wrong and the unexpected will happen. It's very likely that the more you try to control things, the more it feels they are not going your way. Change and challenges are good, they keep us alive. Learn to roll with the punches. Don't be demotivated by making a mistake or not having things your way. That's just life. "If there's a will, there's a way." And you'll find your way. 

A most definite non-control-freak in Auckland

9. Learn. Learn. Learn.

Wouldn't it be cool just to know everything already and not having to learn anything new? NOT. Learning makes you feel you're alive. Learn the local language - before you travel, if possible; this will totally take your trip to another level. Learn to pack like a pro - don't waste time being unorganised and using hours to get ready to leave. Learn to navigate - don't get yourself lost every time you change the scenery. Learn to travel - don't be clueless at the airports and border crossings, getting visas and sorting out insurances. Learn to dance, learn to dive, learn to ride a camel, learn to kite-board, learn to bake a tarte-tatin, learn to make a sand castle, learn to set-up a tent or learn to charm a snake. Good times guaranteed!

Surfers in Byron Bay

10. Focus on what makes YOU happy.

When you travel you will certainly meet people that tell you the places you just have to visit and what you have to do - and even worse, people that will shoot down even the most awesome plans you've made for yourself. But what does that person know about you? Living life adhering to someone else's idea of what is good and right doesn't make sense. Make your own rules. Nobody can be an expert of your life but you!

"Comparison is the thief of joy" said Theodore Roosevelt. And don't we know it. There's a lot of competition in the world to have the funniest Facebook status, to have the most beautiful photos, to be the most adventurous traveler, the craziest dare-devil or the coolest blogger. But let's face the facts: Pretty much everything that's worth doing has already been done before. You probably won't be the first to climb a mountain or dive an ocean. So don't make it the point. Make your trip look like YOU, include the things YOU want to do, make it go by YOUR schedule. And don't think what you do is not valuable if you are not the first or the best or the fastest to do it. Do the things you enjoy and do them as long as you feel do enjoy them. And what if you get tired of your own trip? Well change plans or take a day off from yourself and your trip - that's completely fine too!

Doing what makes me happy in the Argentine lake country

Bonus tip:

Always, always, always pick the window seat!

Enjoying the in-flight view over Rio de Janeiro and Uluru

Now what are you waiting for? Get out there and see the world!


Round the world:
Around the world in 199 days: summary, FAQ and favorite spots
List of places and links to each blog post on the trip

Trip planning:
All posts about trip planning
Best of travel 2014

Travel topics:
Beach | Cities | Food & wine | Nature | On-a-budget

Share your thoughts

What are your ultimate travel tips or life lessons you've acquired on your travels?

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