One of the many idiosyncrasies of life is how the word travel literally translates to “to toil, to work hard” when in our heads the word travel is linked to the absence of work. Except for the ridiculously rich, before the lying in the sand, basking in the sun or hopping from one museum to another happens, the “behind the scenes” of every trip isn’t always pretty. Every traveler knows that in order to party hard, one has to work hard.
Once you reach your destination, without any delay from missed planes or perhaps simply upon feeling the Egyptian cotton sheets in your hotel bed, you will know everything is worth it. Plus you get the satisfaction and pride of a job well done. For the strong and gutsy who would gladly take on the “chore” of working hard on traveling, here are tips based on 7 Habits of effective travelers you should work on.
1. Be well informed
Be more than well-informed, read, research, ask around and jot down notes. Nowadays, information is literally at everyone’s fingertips that being anything less is a crime. Check and analyze options on airfares, routes, accommodation and itineraries. Do not rely merely on group buying sites or a travel agency. Sometimes, better and cheaper alternatives are a next-click away. Other important facts you should know about are passport/visa requirements. Some countries grant visit visa upon arrival while some do not. And you do not want to waste time and money on a travel adventure that does not let you get pass the airport. Also, read on vaccines or immunizations that you must get before going to a certain place – travelers’ diarrhea and other traveler’s diseases do not sound appealing even if they have the word travel attached to them.
2. Plan and Review
As much as I want to hate them for living the ”dream life”, experienced travel journalists and bloggers give very useful comments and observations. It is not imperative that you do as they do and go where they go. Instead, learn from their experiences. Take note of their remarks like “wear extra sunscreen” or “get in early to avoid long lines”. Make a list out of their lists. Create your own top 5 picturesque gardens in Cambridge or top 7 street foods to try in Bangkok. You can also download a map and plot out places in the same area so you can see them in one day. This will ensure that you don’t waste time going back and forth and gives you more opportunities to rest or even see more places. I also recommend knowing where markets are and where you can buy souvenirs beforehand. I often assume that I can get items on the next corner or on the next destination, only to realize that they are not available or they are priced higher. That is a lesson I took for you so you don’t have to learn the hard way.
3. Ditch your plan
I admit this is a bit peculiar. If you’ll really think about it – you can’t go outside the box, if you don’t know where the box is. (I hope I am making sense here)After a day or two of following the tourist map, get off the paved road and create your own path. Unforgettable experiences warrant unforgettable actions. It is rarely the predictable and conventional moments that we remember. Sneak away from your tour guide; throw away your “a tourist’s guide to (fill in the city’s name)”. Eat grass in North Korea, create your own trail in East Timor or check in a haunted hotel in Paris. You do not only avoid the crowds, you also get to feel like a pioneer.
4. Walk the walk, and talk the talk
As the saying goes “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. And that applies beyond Rome. Discover the place and get to know the people. There’s a lot more to admire about a place’s architecture than your hotel interiors. Forget about the pool, make splashes in “hidden” falls and dive in “virgin” islands. Know a couple of phrases and greetings so you can start conversations with locals. Watch them as they go about their daily chores, try out foods with names you can’t even pronounce, take part of their festivities. If you act like a tourist, you will feel like a tourist. But if you want to get a true sense of the people, their place and culture, leave your sightseeing pass at the door and get your hands dirty.
5. Shoot, write and create
Document your trip in creative ways – take snapshots, doodle on your tablet or carry a sketchpad – the more personal, the better. Avoid the famous and overly used tourist photo spots. Okay, take one or two shots of the Eiffel Tower or Lady Liberty Statue or Great Wall of China. Then move along to capturing places, people or things that make you smile, laugh or remember home – like a store sign, a kite caught up in trees, a warm greeting from a stranger or an unpaired shoe left on the road. You would want to remember the big picture and the little details. One day when you look back, these are the things that will help your relive the moment. Every second spent or every step taken towards the perfect angle, or prose or page will be worth it.
Share your experience and give back to the travel community. Post on blogs. Give honest reviews of hotels and restaurants. Reveal to fellow travelers which bar serves the best smoothies or where to get the best massages. Share tips you initially thought were weird but eventually became thankful for. Your story will be helpful, just as much as someone else’s story as helped you. Everyone you meet along the road has something to share, something to give. Gather from them and at the same time, impart what you have learned along the way too. Travel guides can save time, money, and even lives, and there is nothing more rewarding than knowing you play a part in it.
These are called habits for a reason. Go right back to step 1 and plan a new adventure. You can even squeeze this step in between the other steps. You don’t have to wait to get back home. You don’t even have to go home, before you take on a new trip.
These tips will help make an effective traveler. But I think the best way to travel is to travel in style, your style. Each trip is not only a journey to discovering a new place, it is also about discovering something about yourself, about how you think on your feet, how you react and adapt to your surroundings. The good thing about traveling, the more you see and the more you learn, the more you desire to travel again. And that hunger for knowledge, experience and sensibility is more than enough to get you on your feet.