It’s not bad, this getting older. And aside from the alternative being officially Not A Good Idea, age brings knowledge about how to best enjoy the loves of your life. So let me share with you my favourite travel hacks from 50 years on road, rail, sea and air.
Hacks: Before You Go
- First, know yourself. Travel is meant to be pleasure and not pain if you’re doing it right. So plan somewhere that fits with your preferences.
- No matter how well you do your research, you won’t like every single place. That’s fine. Just use it to redefine what you want next time. And share a good story or two afterwards.
- It’s ok to have favourites. It doesn’t mean that you are unadventurous or boring. It means that some place hit an inner bell that is ringing sweet. Celebrate that by going back.
- Keep your eyes and ears open about other people’s trips. Read travelogues. Spend too long on Pinterest. Enjoy feeding that travel lover inside you with new ideas.
- Take opportunities. Book that cheap flight or the last minute deal.
Hacks: Attitude of mind
- It’s your trip, not someone else’s. Do what makes you happy.
- Don’t get sucked in to arrangements that you know don’t suit you. Don’t be afraid to say it’s not for you.
- Your perfect trip doesn’t have to culminate in a tailored Insta feed. Unless that’s what makes you happy.
- Beauty’s where you find it. Travel to make your heart glad, even if that’s in the least likely places.
Hacks: Alone or Together
- Traveling alone can bring your best self to the table. Try it if you can. You’ll learn a lot about your own resourcefulness, and it builds confidence and self-esteem.
- Don’t be afraid to have some fear of traveling alone. It will keep you alert and focused. But if it becomes overwhelming, reconsider.
- One is fun, but so’s two. You see a place differently through someone else’s eyes. And a shared love of travel can cement the joy in your relationship.
- Don’t forget the delights of traveling with your family either. I was lucky to travel to many, many places with my mum (I blame her for all this wanderlust).
- If you have doubts about traveling with someone, listen to the bat squeaks in your head. They happen for a reason.
Hacks: Practical Preparations
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t control everything as part of the travel experience. Plan what you can, and leave the rest to chance.
- Travel as light as possible. Expending emotional and physical energy on hauling your stuff can mean missing out on some of the experience.
- If you’re on the move regularly, keep essential supplies ready and packed. It’ll make taking the next trip a breeze.
- Have a routine for packing up and sorting out your life before you go. Travel is much more fun when you don’t arrive at the airport with a big clump of post-its stuck to your phone celebrating stuff you still have to do before you take off. I have been that person. Don’t do it.
- On which note, keep packing lists by types of destination. And then you can be ready to run at the sniff of a bargain fare.
Hacks: Maximising Your funds
- Set yourself some priorities. It’s easy to get sucked in to life’s little gratifications. But if you commit to a trip, and fund it from sheer hard labour, there’s little that’s so gratifying. So ditch the small treats, and turn them into the much larger treat of time away.
- If you have a goal, find a way of recording your progress in saving. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve already paid for 1782 miles of your 6000 mile trip.
- Book early or book late. Early if you are constrained by time and destination, late if you’re flexible. In the middle lies an expensive trip.
- Don’t be afraid to invest in your dreams. When it came to household stuff or our bucket list trip to the Delta Blues last year, there really was no choice. And a year later it’s still making me happier than new furnishings ever could.
- If funds are tight, go adventuring close to home. There are so many beautiful places to see within two hours of where I live. I know I’m lucky. Go find your local adventures too.
Hacks: Traveling for business
- If you get the opportunity to travel for work, take it. There’s nearly always a chance to take a little time to see the place for yourself.
- Don’t be scared of taking opportunities to work overseas. People I know who have done it have massively enjoyed the experience, although everyone has struggled to some degree with culture shock and homesickness.
- If you have the skills and the flexibility in your home life, travel can be your business. From dancing to cooking to simply having a profession that’s in short supply elsewhere, keep your eyes and your options open.
Hacks: Getting the most out of the experience
- Breathe deep. Take time to stop and see. Really see. And listen and taste and touch and all that good stuff. You’ll associate places with colours and smells and tastes.
- Quit while you’re still having fun. And this isn’t just because I’m cracking on a bit. Wanting a little bit more is to my mind always better than wishing you’d left a half hour earlier before things turned sour.
- Learn tactics to avoid homesickness. Sometimes the culture shock’s a bit too much, whether you’re alone or with friends. Find the things that give you a safe space to get past that, whether comfort is found in your journal, a familiar playlist or a good read.
- Travel light mentally too. If you burden yourself with worries, what-ifs and concerns, you’ll find that anxiety can overtake the trip. Park home worries if you can, or find a way of dealing with them the best you can before you go.
- Cut your losses. If it’s not working out, move on.
Hacks: Staying Safe
- Trust your own judgement, and do only the things that are both comfortable and ethical.
- Buy the travel insurance. Whether it’s a perforated eardrum (Bilbao) or palpitations requiring cardiac monitoring (Chicago, brought on by caffeine), you’ll be glad you have it.
- Trust your instincts too. On a dark path in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona my now-husband heard someone approaching us a bit too fast, and turned around in time to thwart someone hoping to rob him.
- Keep your wits about you. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it on a trip.
- You will laugh about it. Eventually. Although it took a couple of years before my lactose-intolerant self forgave whoever slipped me a roll made with milk before I boarded for 14 hours of connecting flights. And Delta, I’m sorry. Really sorry.
- Take the road less traveled. Find the places that make your heart glad and enjoy them to their fullest.
- Push your comfort zone a bit. If you don’t try something different, you’ll never know if you have a passion for deserts, life at altitude or frenetic city living.
- Try fast travel. Pick a destination and absolutely wring the last drops of experience out of the brief trip.
- Try slow travel. Allow yourself time to step back and absorb the experience. Get under the skin of the destination and see its seasons change.
- Never stop adventuring. It’s all an attitude of mind. My grandad went to New York to run a security team in his fifties. At the same age my mum went to Adelaide to work in cable tv. Me? I’ve got seven years left to find someone to make me an offer…
- Find people who share your passion and talk with them. You’ll find destinations you’d never have considered, and experiences you didn’t know you could have.
- Talk to people along the way. You get to know so much more about a place through the eyes of those who live there. And you’ll remember those moments vividly. Find out what makes this lovely world turn for them.
- Accept invitations along the way. As a child, I remember attending a French wedding by random chance. And my stepfather going sailing with a former steward from the Ile de France.
- Try and learn even a little of any languages involved. And when that runs out, never ever be afraid to try mime and drawings; they’ll get you a surprisingly long way.
Hacks: Making Memories
- Please think about keeping a travel journal. It doesn’t have to be a narrative: pictures, lists and artwork all convey that sense of time and place. Or else use your blog or Instagram feed.
- Think about the things you experience through all your senses. Ice cold red pears roadside on the Col De Tende in the snow. Boston smelling constantly of cinnamon. The silkiness of the desert at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, and the sound of the burners at Albuquerque Balloon Festival.
- Treasure those memories and keep them safe. When you read them again, it’ll be like meeting an old friend.
- When you plan your next adventure, see what your journals can tell you about the things you loved and want to do again.
Enjoy treading very gently on this beautiful world. If you’ve got more hacks to add, I’d love to hear them.
Don’t forget to check out more of our travel hacks for getting under the skin of your destination and having a great Airbnb experience, packing for a road trip or packing for a week in a carry-on bag.