I got to visit about 17 new countries between 2014 and 2017. By no means am I the wealthiest person, nor do I work for some major consulting firm. I was a teacher. Travel is something I always wanted to do. Seeing pictures posted on Facebook by my friends on their lavish trips admittedly made me really jealous. So I went off to get my own pictures to make other people jealous! Ha!
What I found out when booking my first vacation to the Philippines is that I had been thinking about travel all wrong! I used to think I needed to have a lot of money on hand to see anything. In some cases, that is true. I have seen some destinations charge nearly 10 times what I found to be a reasonable price. I'm sure you have heard the stories of your friends or colleagues saying that they didn't feel any different being in that new country they were so excited to go to or that they didn't find anything special. However, if you look closer and take the path less traveled (pun), you will find yourself having an even better time than you could hope for.
The aim of this article is not to necessarily divert you from what I call mainstream destinations. If you want to go take that trip to Madrid and Rome and the Great Wall in Beijing, go for it by all means. I just want to give some insight into a different approach which could make your next vacation a little more unique. So here it is. If you want to take a trip somewhere and really enjoy yourself, try these approaches!
1. Choose wisely
As I've mentioned, Paris, New York, Hawaii, and the like are what I call mainstream destinations. These destinations are great but you will likely break the bank and not have that new or authentic an experience you were really looking for. Mainstream destinations tend to be overpriced and worse, overcrowded. The problem also is that, if you chose a very mainstream place to visit you don't feel as surprised or impressed. For example, when I visited Paris, France, I thought it was going to be the highlight of my Euro tour. I saw the Eiffel Tower and was underwhelmed. The same when I saw Buckingham Palace. Keep an eye out for a city you have never heard of before, or know very little about. Try Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe for instance.
2. Travel light
"Aww man, what about my bag? I cant leave my bag here...we need to drop it off...it won't fit...I can't go there with my bag...wahhh". Don't be this person. Honestly, leaving your laptop at home won't kill you, especially if you have a smartphone. Take the bare necessities. Fit everything into one single backpack. Leave a little extra room if you plan on shopping. Depending on the length of your trip, you should determine how big of a bag you wanna take. In my experience, not having to worry about not going somewhere spontaneously because you brought two suitcases and a purse is great. I enjoy mobility when traveling somewhere new because you never know what is going to happen.
3. Don't overbook your trip!
Do your research, of course, find all the cool things you could do. Get all the info you will need, however, don't book your entire vacation week with tours and appointments. Find a must do thing and commit. For the most part, once you arrive, you may become more interested in doing something else at some different time. You could meet some really cool people at your hostel and everyone is going to a great escape room and boat ride, but oops..you can't go because you booked that kind of interesting wine tour (I'm just pulling out broad examples). Now, having an open and flexible schedule leaves you available to do these spontaneous things which turn out to be really fun! Also, you get to do something cool and random with some cool and random people!
Disclaimer: always be safe and use your best judgment when meeting new people when traveling. There are lots of really kind-hearted souls out there who would be great as a new best friend, travel buddy or someone to add to your network, but still use your best judgment.
4. Be a local
Part of your experience in a different country is to try to live the way locals do. Eat what they eat, travel how they travel. Take the bus instead of a taxi, maybe a motorcycle taxi, or tuk-tuk. Riding the subway around a major city is also a pretty neat way to get around and save your money. You would be surprised how much you can spend on transportation. The local vendors are also great. In Bangkok, I would get a full plate of food for about $2 on average. Why spend ten times that in a McDonalds? Don't be afraid to try new things! Rule of thumb: live like a local wherever you are.
5. Don't be afraid of hostels!
It is nothing like the movies! Hostels amongst my pre-travel friends have a bad rep. It is not all bunk beds and creeps. If you don't know anyone you can crash with, there are some amazing hostels and guest houses you can stay in that are as comfortable as staying in a hotel. If you are traveling solo, or even with a friend, hostels are a great place to meet other travelers. You meet people, hear some fun stories and even get really good travel advice. I have also met engineers, lawyers, teachers and even programmers who stay at hostels. What I am saying is, don't spend so much money to isolate yourself in a fancy room, when you could spend a fraction of that and get a lot more value than just having room service available. Think about it, unless you plan on staying at an all exclusive resort and don't have any wishes of venturing out, then you are literally just looking for a place to sleep.
There are a lot more things I would add to this article but I will go into further details in other future posts. Hopefully, you find some of what I said here useful or insightful to help you think about how you want to take your next trip!