“You should start a travel agency,” said my travel companion as I navigated two apps and three websites to book our next hotel. It’s been fun planning each leg of the trip, but it’s not something I want to do full-time. Maybe I’ll dabble in it someday, but I think I’d have to find the right clients first.
Today, I start a series of posts about my travel tips. I thought it would be one post, but it has grown into at least three already. I’ll occasionally post more specific information, but for now here are a few of my secrets for a great trip, reinforced by lessons I’ve learned from others.
Tim’s Tips – Part One
I’m down to one medium (40-liter) backpack and one smaller day backpack for this trip, and I still feel like it’s too much. I read somewhere, “The lighter your bag, the happier you’ll be.” It’s true. I feel great every time I see someone with a bigger backpack or suitcase! Most people bring a lot of “just-in-case” items on their trips. One thing I’ve learned is that you never need those things, and even if you did, you can buy them almost anywhere in the world at a cheaper price than at home. I still have too many plaid shirts and pairs of underwear, but I did leave some in Hanoi. Hoping to continue to reduce my load as I travel.
Know Your Purpose
My friend and fellow Fulbrighter, Jeffrey Lam, published a post about the purpose of travel. I loved his description of a recent trip he took:
I was socially overloaded and then lonely. I was ecstatic and then miserable. I felt lost and then . . . less lost.
In his post, he discusses the reasons people travel, based on interviews he conducted. For me (as with Jeff) travel is not about pure enjoyment, luxury resorts, being pampered and crossing off sites on a checklist. It’s about learning. Learning is sometimes messy and uncomfortable. Learning requires taking risks and stepping outside your comfort zone. I like a comfortable bed and a fancy meal now and then, but my most memorable experiences come from when I ventured into unfamiliar territory and learned something new.
I like to use several sites and apps and read a variety of reviews before booking a room, dining at a restaurant or choosing a cafe. Vicky Ann and I learned the hard way that not reading reviews carefully can lead to disappointment. We checked out of our first hotel in Nha Trang after one night of suffering in the room that smelled like a smoky bar and had a window almost touching the high-rise under construction next door. More on researching in an upcoming post!
This contradicts my previous tip, but it’s important. I can’t research everything or I’d never have time to enjoy myself. Sometimes you have to just take a chance and eat at a place that feels right or looks interesting. I might find an undiscovered gem, or leave with a stomach ache. Either way, I’ve learned something.
Remember, you are a guest wherever you are traveling. Isn’t it nice when you have a guest at your home and they do something to express their appreciation? Yes, spending your dollars does contribute to the local economy, but I like to do more than that. It’s not just to be a good person, but it makes you feel good if you do something for others while on your journey. There are many ways to do this, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Some travelers contribute by writing reviews on TripAdvisor or Google so that others can learn about where to sleep, what to eat and what to see. Others contribute by donating their time and talents to a local organization. Contributing can be as simple as picking up some trash or buying someone a cup of coffee. Still others contribute just by taking the time to get to know the local people, learn about their lives, and sharing something about themselves.