It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I love to travel. For years I didn't go anywhere because I felt that I couldn't afford it; then I started to hit the roads/airways and I realized I could have afforded it all along! There are few experiences as that will fill your soul with bliss like traveling - where ever you decide to go.
I was working with a group today and our discussions turned to travel over lunch. They started asking me all sorts of questions about 'my travel philosophy' . . . this got me thinking. Of course, the two hour drive home afforded me with plenty of opportunities to think as well.
So here goes - some serious, some silly . . . all learned by me over the years (and in no particular order).
If a deal seems too good to be true - it is! Keep looking.
Driving an automatic car IS like riding a bicycle . . . you never forget.
Your interests won't change if you're in a foreign country. If an hour viewing art is pain and punishment for you at home, don't expect to fall in love with the Louvre in Paris. Having said that, it is never to late to expand your interests. Try new things. Life would be boring if you always did exactly the same things all fo the time.
Plan your trip to suit your personality . . . if you don't like other people very much - plan your trip so that you have lots of time for quiet contemplation (a monastery in Tibet springs to mind *smile*). If you want someone else making all the decisions for you - book a package vacation. If you want to be more in control - check out the slow travel movement.
Research, research, research. It is amazing what you will discover when you dig a bit. Read guide books. Utilize google. If you only have one day in Florence and your heart is set on seeing the statue of David make sure the museum is open on the one day you'll be there.
If a stranger offers to assist you with your luggage at the train station - be wary. They may just be a kindly soul. Or, as in our case, they may be trying to drag you into an illegal cab and charge you a ridiculous rate.
Avoid cab drivers who don't turn on the meter.
Plan your trip but keep the plan flexible. Things will come up. If your plan is rigid you'll be so stressed over the fact that you're not 'on the plan' that you won't enjoy yourself. Give yourself the freedom to toss the plan away . . .
Build quiet time into your schedule. Paul and I have had more naps while traveling through Europe than we ever have had at home!
Don't stress about wanting to fit in like a 'local'. It just isn't going to happen. You don't want to be an annoying tourist who offends people but you're still going to look, sound, and dress like a tourist. Embrace it.
Be respectful. You're a guest in a foreign country. I'd be cranky if someone came into my house and was critical of my furniture, complained about the food, and insisted on telling me how things were so much better at their home. Learn to love the differences between home and where ever you are.
Learn a few words of the local language. No one expects you to be fluent. In my experience there are few things that engage a 'local' like a greeting in the local language. If you're not sure how to say something - ask. People will love the fact that you're trying!
It may seem self evident . . . talk to people. Don't be afraid to ask for help (or in my case have your spouse ask for help! LOL) We have found that the people in the areas we've been visiting LOVE visitors and are glad of the opportunity to chat a bit.
If a restaurant menu is ALL in English yet English is NOT the language of the area in which you are visiting you might want to look for another restaurant.
Generally the best restaurant advice comes from local people. Paul and I will look for restaurants that are full of people who AREN'T like us! LOL We ask the local people for their suggestions. We have never been lead astray.
The old adage 'don't judge a book by the cover' is true. Some of our best meals have been in restaurants that we would never have even walked into. Some of our favourite travel experiences have been in places that we never thought we would enjoy based upon a quick glance.
Don't be loud. I think that North American's are far louder than just about any one else on the planet. Of course that is a gross generalization and no doubt YOU are the exception to the rule, but our experience is that the rest of the world is more subtle . . . unless at the opera (where you'll potentially hear patrons yelling out what they think of the performance), a concert, political rally, or sports event. As I used to say to my students 'use your indoor voice' . . .
Have a supply of gifts, small tokens really, that are 'characteristic' of where you come from. They are perfect to hand out to a helpful cab driver, the owner of the apartment you're renting, a really stellar tour guide. Sure, you'll tip many of these folks, but combine a tip with a wee gift and you'll have a friend.
Try to limit the number of changes in transportation. Every change in transportation involves additional stressors - my nightmare day involved a plane, cab, train, and then a water taxi. By the time I arrived at the destination I thought my head would explode. It wasn't fun nor was it fun for people to be around me.
No one cares how spaghetti is made at home. Well, that isn't completely true - you might care. Eat your food the way it is prepared and resist the temptation to tell the server or cook how you think/know it should be served.
Try local delicacies. I was 18 when I traveled to Russia - my friends were all moaning about the lack of a McDonald's. You can get a Big Mac anytime at home. How often can you have borscht prepared by a Russian cook following a traditional recipe?
Hotels by the airport, train station, and bus depot are better avoided. Sure there are exceptions to this rule but generally these are not in the nicest areas of town.
Do not rely on Rick Steves as the sole source of your travel information. Sure Steves has some useful information - our experience has been that it can come across as glib and superficial though (yes, I see the irony of that statement, no need to point it out). I once printed out a guided walk from one of his books to use in a gallery. We were shocked at how he only pointed out or discussed 1 in of the 9 objects d'art. Sure you can whiz through the Uffizi in an hour - ignore most of the collection and only enjoy the art Steves tells you to enjoy. I suspect Steves himself would go nuts over the way some people use his guidebooks as a bible not to be strayed from at any time!
If you're traveling with a group make sure everyone is comfortable enough to speak their minds. You want everyone to enjoy themselves but if they don't tell you they don't like fish they may be upset with the restaurant choice the group makes. Some folks feel an obligation to go along with the group. Not I! I am not never sure that I understand the compulsion . . . however there are lots of lemmings out there who suffer in not so silent a manner.
Most of us aren't independently wealthy. Traveling involves making choices. Yes, I'd like a deck out back but we're going to Greece instead. That being said, try and splurge once in awhile. We generally include one or two splurges (a fine meal, ballooning in Tuscany, a memorable purchase) into every trip . . . it makes things more memorable.
There you go. Once I started my mind kept coming up with more - my stomach is telling me to stop typing and make dinner!
Go forth and travel . . .