Like anyone acquiring a new a skill, we learned more than a couple travel lessons during our trip around the world. Some came the easy way, several the hard way, a few in English and most in dozens of other languages.
Two years ago we stepped away from desirable careers, ones that we had schooled for and built over more than a decade. Following a calling, we realized there was plenty to experience in life that couldn’t be fit into a short vacation.
We had the money but didn’t have the time to spend. To quote The Avengers: End Game (an ironically long movie), “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” We grabbed our backpacks, hopped on a plane and started traveling long term.
We lived with foreign cultures, survived an earthquake, saw heartwarming beauty and incredible suffering, trekked the Himalayas, broke through ice in Antarctica, camped on the Serengeti, learned a new language, saw incalculable environmental destruction and infinitely abundant wildlife.
Now, seven continents later, we can reflect and offer our key takeaways to other inspired explorers and aspiring travelers.
1) Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist
Being a tourist is easy. Follow the crowds, go to the same places with all the other tourists, get some pictures, buy a mass produced souvenir, and leave with forgettable memories. But a little extra effort can transform the experience.
Do Internet research beforehand, reading articles, blogs and recommendations from other travelers to find less famous spots. Avoid joining tour groups and try to do it yourself. You will hit some roadblocks and stumble along the way, but this method creates some of the most unforgettable journeys.
2) Pack Light
Leave the luggage burden behind and pack like a minimalist. Dress in layers, bring clothes that convert, carry items with double purpose and leave the just-in-case stuff behind. Reducing your bag size will save a heap of hassle during your travels. Try to shrink your bag enough to carry onto the plane. This will ensure that you never lose your luggage and can get through the airport without standing in the bag check in line.
The reduced size makes it easier to move from place to place, helps you pack quickly and allows for more walking. This small step will give you less to worry about and more freedom to enjoy your vacation.
3) Do It the Local Way
Instead of following the other foreigners, do what the locals do. Places geared towards tourists typically have higher prices and lower quality or authenticity. Search out spots frequented by locals to get a true taste of the culture.
Venture away from the tourist streets to find original restaurants and shops. Opt for home stays over hotels and take public transport to immerse yourself and get tips from people who live there. Learn some words in the language (or use Google Translate) and ask local people where they recommend to eat or visit. This will lead to a better adventure and save a lot of money in the process.
4) Slow Down, Don’t Over Plan
Take a slower approach to travel. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Leave a cushion when planning and allow room for spontaneity and diversions. Jumping around and packing in the highlights leads to stress and damages the experience.
Slow travel lets you soak up your surroundings and have time to follow advice from locals and other travelers. You are less likely to miss connections or have your main event ruined by weather, and the flexibility lets you find cheaper and better options. Overall, your trip will be more enjoyable and less expensive.
5) Protect Against Avoidable Risks
Overall, the world is a very safe place to visit, but there are some risks which can easily be minimized. Be a prudent traveler and take precautions to keep from being a target for pickpockets, theft or other scams which seek out clueless tourists. Deter theft by wearing clothing with secure pockets and carrying your daypack or bag in the front.
Don’t carelessly hold or stare at your phone on the street, instead make eye contact with the people around you and always be aware of your surroundings. Use an offline GPS map to discretely confirm locations and directions before walking or while in taxis. Be wary of unrequested advice. Listen to your instincts, if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
6) Embrace the Bumps
Travel is not perfect. Cultures have different customs, countries vary in comfort standards, flights get delayed, things happen. Learn to expect and embrace the unexpected. Many of the most uncomfortable experiences are the most memorable encounters, and make the best stories.
Remember, money can buy experience, but not time. Use both wisely.
Grant and Megan