I once heard that the average American spends more time planning a vacation than the actual duration of the getaway. And perhaps, I too was part of this statistic in my youth. But today, after 33 years and 33 countries visited, I have developed a rough-but-yummy recipe for travel success:
The journey begins at home. If you’re like most people, you stress about needing items ‘A through Z’ while abroad. But, also like many people, you probably won’t be using most of your clothes, toiletries, and other tchotchkes that you stuffed into your now-bulging luggage.
I challenged myself to packing at most half of my normal haul. It wasn’t easy the first time around, but once it was done, it felt like a milestone achieved. And once I enjoyed how carefree it was to travel with fewer pieces of luggage, I doubt I’ll ever go back to my old ways.
I don’t overstuff my schedule, either. While abroad, things happen. Planes experience mechanical troubles. Trains are late (okay, maybe not in Germany or Japan). Travel companions fall ill, tired, or moody. Weather does not cooperate. Plans change. If my itinerary were ever jam-packed, I was constantly anxious and running on adrenaline the entire time with little chance of unwinding or de-stressing. And wasn’t that the whole point of the getaway?
Spend an Afternoon Like a Local
In between my planned adventures, I always carve some time to do… nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I’ll spend an afternoon meandering the lesser-known neighborhoods, usually away from other tourist hordes. I’ll often sit at a café and people-watch or go see a movie (subtitles or not). In the evening, I’ll attend a comedy show or music/jazz club, or whatever the local flavor of entertainment might be. In essence, I do everything to NOT feel like a tourist. And it makes the entire trip that much more pleasant and memorable.
Resist Over-posting on Social Media
This is a tough one. Especially for me, a former semi-pro photographer (my Instagram is @itakemanyphotos, which I hope one day becomes a misnomer). Whenever I go on an international adventure, I usually wait a few days before posting about my adventures. This helps me process, and more fully cherish, my own experience instead of worrying about social validation, likes, or retweets from my friends back home. It reminds me to spend less time taking photos, and more time using my eyes to enjoy the beautiful scenes in front of me (although, in my defense, I take a lot of photos back home, so when I travel, it feels natural to continue doing the same). To get my social fix, I talk to as many locals as I can. Not in a speed-dating sort of way, but to a degree that makes me forget I miss home, even if for just a few days.
When I do post photos online, rather than posting 18 photos of that amazing sunset, I pick my best one or two—especially if they’re wildly different. I think about curating the experience for the person on the other end. Who wants to see fourteen videos and ten pictures of the same one-eyed lizard, cute as he may be? No one. Less is more.
Realize the Obvious
None of the above is rocket science. It’s common knowledge, but like all common sense, it’s rarely practiced. So next time you’re planning your next adventure, consider carrying less, doing less, worrying less… and experiencing a whole lot more.