I’ve been taking trips for more decades than I care to recall now. Like most of us, I suspect, I’ve had some less than brilliant experiences. Some of them have made great travelers’ tales, while others are consigned to that memory bin known as forget, and do so quickly. I think I’ve now learned from those mistakes. So here are my tips on how to make the most of your hard earned (in both cash and time) trip.
1. Make time to chill first
Believe me, there is nothing that mars the start of a trip more than arriving panting and sweating (metaphorically or in reality) at the airport or port. I’ve always been someone who has tried to clear their desk before heading out. While that’s a laudable aim, I think we need to accept that it’s not always possible.
Remember to delegate, send apologies, sort out an alternative or just reschedule. Build yourself some time, so you’re not stuffing a load of barely dry and not necessarily suitable washing into your travel bag. The first few days of your break will thank you for it.
2. Do Some Planning
By that, I don’t mean to remove all spontaneity from the experience. Have an idea of what to expect, and be ready for it. If, like me, you have food allergies, take a snack. If they forget to load your special meal on the plane for the eight hour flight, at least you won’t start off hangry.
Think about what you’re likely to be doing and pack accordingly. See my advice about packing light for summer here. Think about some options for what you might do if it’s pouring, blizzarding (hello Chicago on both visits) or simply too hot to be outside. Way easier to do that upfront than while struggling with indifferent wifi.
3. Switch Your Brain To Holiday Mode
It can be challenging to leave your worries behind and switch over into enjoyment mode. If you are concerned that the cat hates his cattery, your mum hasn’t got her shopping in and there’s no one to fetch it, or you think you might not have unplugged the iron, you need to stop.
Do all the practical things you can beforehand to avoid the problems, then switch that brain off. Yes, the cat might treat you to one of those very insulting tail flicks on your return, but if he’s healthy and fed, he’ll get over his cattitude. Remember this is your refuelling time too.
4. Be True To Yourself
If your idea of paradise is to lie in the sun by a pool, breeze in your hair, and frisk Mr Kindle for his trashiest content, then do it. Your trip is depleting your hard earned funds and you need to enjoy it. If your bestie is posting all her fabulous shots of Machu Picchu on her Instagram feed, it doesn’t mean it needs to be your dream too. Plan the trip you want, not someone else’s paradise.
5. Be Prepared to compromise
In the sixteen years I’ve been with my husband, we’ve pushed one another’s travel boundaries more than a little. He’s expanded my love for Italy; I’ve grown his for Spain. He’s absorbed my love for countryside and nature; I’ve been surprised by my love for buzzing bars and late night chats with strangers. Experiences on the margins of your comfort zone can be some of the best.
6. If it’s new: Dabble
I give you our encounter with cruising. For our first time, we took a two day round trip from Southampton to Cherbourg and back. You can read about it here. We weren’t at all sure if we would like it, as we’re normally pretty independent travelers. It was a surprising hit, and we went on to do more, and longer cruises. If we’d hated it, well, it was two days, and an experience.
7. Choose your companions with care
Again, I’d rely on that advice to dabble. You never really know someone until they are both out of their comfort zone and experiencing something that is going pear shaped. If you want to go away with a really good friend, make it a weekend first, not the two week trip to your destination of a lifetime. Have a good sense of what is a deal-breaker for you, and trust your own judgement. You can be really good friends, and really bad travel companions. Been there, done that.
8. Take Time out to do what you want
There are loads of things husband and I like to do together on trips, and our plans will normally involve plenty of those choices. High on our combined list would be wandering the countryside, doing anything that involves sea, river, canal or lake, and live music. But we’re not cloned, and there’s a lot to be said for choosing destinations where we can carve out some time to do our own thing.
I don’t have to wander art galleries or shops while he sits, bored, in a corner, playing on his phone, while he gets to walk cold cobbled city streets late at night carrying his beer guide and a newspaper. Sorted.
9. It’s About People as well as places
We went to Clarksdale, Mississippi, last October. It’s the home of the blues. We’d visited some of the famous places: Highway 61, Dockery Farm, Ground Zero Blues Club. But what I will always remember is the people. The guy who picked us up to take us to Ground Zero, who was painting the back wall when he came to get us, and had finished the front wall by the time we went home. The dignified sweet couple who we thought could be the Obamas thirty years on, and the gentle conversation we shared with them for an age in our hotel lobby.
Even if you’re a bit shy, don’t be scared to engage. The people make the places too.
10. It’s a guidebook, not a rule book
Is what my husband has just said to me. Just because you are lucky enough to be in New York, don’t be afraid to miss some of the sights. Go and see everything that fires you up, but if you’re short on time, don’t forget those other experiences too. There’s the steam rising through the vents, the rumble of the subway, a hot dog from the street cart…
Travel is always going to be a multi-sensory experience, and it’s surprising what sticks with you. From Adelaide, more than twenty years ago now, it’s the little things: seeing the polar exhibition exhibit, and walking through a gateway with an icy blast to get in, the smell of eucalyptus even at the airport, the cat next door and his sunburned ears, a kangaroo casually browsing by the side of the dual carriageway. None of those were the sights. All of them are wonderful memories.
Travel safe, and travel happy.