Travel should be a time to let go of self-imposed rules that may ordinarily hold you back. Step outside yourself and explore who you really want to be (or who’s inside already, just waiting to come out). Travel should feel free and liberating. While it’s tempting to try and “make the most” of your trip by over-planning and even over-thinking, the real way to get some true benefit from your journey is to let yourself go. That being said, whether you’re a week-long vacationer or a full-time nomad, there ARE some rules that will help you get more from your wanderings.
1. Practice Patience and Respect
When you first arrive at a new destination, it’s normal to see what’s different from home. Depending where you are, these differences can be observed in food, dress, pace and sense of time. Different is not wrong. Avoid the urge to constantly bring up “how we do it at home,” and pay attention to the possible benefits of another way of doing things. If you ordered your meal an hour ago, and you just saw someone go back into the kitchen with the main ingredient, enjoy the conversation of fellow travelers. Have another beer. Ask your server about his or her family. Train late? Flight cancelled? Sounds like a good opportunity for people watching. Ultimately, you’ll be surprised how much more tolerant travel can make you. Learning a few words of the local language, educating yourself on dress, customs and history will greatly enrich your visit. Respecting alternate ways of doing things is naturally part of Rule #2, Keeping and Open Mind.
2. Keep an Open Mind
Learn your own travel rhythm and style. I am admittedly an over-thinker and over-researcher. When I travel, however, I have accepted that over-planning only leads to disappointment. The best plan is to NOT have a plan. Go ahead and make a list of must-sees if you must, but rest assured, your favorite spots are usually not on that list. New ideas are precisely what lead to innovation and development. The more you learn to adapt to unforeseen circumstances the less likely you are to get left behind. Getting off the beaten path (and it it’s already in the guidebook, you’re definitely not there) or at least getting out of your own comfort zone is incredibly rewarding.
3. Get Over Yourself
Getting over yourself means trying new things, going out on a limb and facing your fears. Whether it’s big and bold like skydiving or as simple as ordering a coffee in the few words of Vietnamese you’ve been able to pick up, forcing yourself to embrace what you might initially find to be uncomfortable situations often proves to be very rewarding. Thinking back on those moments will help you at home too. Next time you are nervously preparing for a meeting, reflect on that time you rejected your fear of heights and climbed a tree to get a better look at a sloth or swallowed your pride to ask a shy girl at the birthday party in Venezuela to dance a salsa!
4. Don’t Rush
We find we’ve been moving more and more toward Long-Term Slow Travel as our travel style, or at least our desired travel style. There’s almost nowhere we’ve visited that we didn’t wish we’d had more time. The more we travel, the more we realize it’s not all about checking things off a list. Seeing the tallest, longest, biggest or most well-known sights may give you clout in some circles, but it’s the side-street, hidden gems that stick in your mind as the best discoveries. Ditch those check-off boxes and go where the wind blows you, even if it’s just for the day. We’ve found a much greater sense of accomplishment in uncovering spots that may not be special to anyone but us. When it comes down to it, what we love about travel is not having seen the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower, but how we internalize the experiences we have away from home and integrate them into our developing selves.
That’s right. Appreciate. Appreciate water, appreciate shelter, love, friends, flowers, coffee… Scarcity abounds in the world, but those of us from countries-o-plenty often don’t appreciate the abundance we enjoy and sometimes squander. We’ve been to some incredibly poor countries, but the positive attitudes and welcoming nature of their citizens never fail to amaze us. We’ve spent time, had conversations and shared meals with folks whose annual income is less than the cost of the clothes we were wearing (and we don’t spend much on clothes), but many of those same people are only too happy to share what little they have. While we truly love our own country, the narcissism, self-centeredness and greed we’re all sometimes guilty of leads us to focus on the wrong things in life. Appreciate what you’ve got, and focus on what really matters. Count your blessings and show your gratitude.
Regardless of the destination or length of the trip, travel changes us. Sometimes those changes are immediate and dramatic. Other times they are more gradual, and hit you once you’ve been back home for a while. All of these rules will help you to live in the moment. Trust me, you won’t have the slightest urge to check your email while walking to a waterfall in the jungle in Indonesia or gazing up at the stars in Hawaii, and there’s no amount of checking your Twitter feed or Facebook status that can replace conversation and connections with other humans.
The most important thing is to enjoy yourself each and every day no matter where you are. Enjoy the walk to the bus station, enjoy the roof-top restaurant at a guesthouse. Whatever it may be ENJOY IT!