No matter how experienced of a traveler you are, every new adventure you embark on teaches you a lesson. And this can be true about any aspect of life really as we are constantly learning and growing from what we experience. I was talking with a friend the other day about how much has changed in our lives, how I’ve gotten married even though I said I never would, how high school reunions are kind of a thing of the past, and how if we could go back in time to talk to younger versions of ourselves we wouldn’t give away any spoilers. This got me thinking about things I wish I would have known when I was younger particularly in regards to travel.
Lesson 1: Travel more while you can
First and foremost I wish I would have listened to EVERYONE who told me to travel more when I was in high school and college. While I have been incredibly lucky to have traveled as much as I have, my travels have definitely been on the decline since I hit the real world. Summer in the real world is when the weather gets hotter, not when you get 3 months off from life and spring break is no longer a thing. And while paid vacation is great 2 weeks a year does not 3 months make.
Lesson 2: Museums > Bars
Like any young adult who took a trip in high school and was able to drink in Europe, I spent more hung over mornings in museums than I care to openly admit (my mom keeps tabs). I wish 16-17 year old Stephanie would have spent more time looking at the paintings and less for the next pub. Though I did see a lot of the paintings I wanted to, there are a hand few that I regret to this day not looking at a little closer.
Lesson 3: Ask the locals
As I got older and traveled alone more often, I realized that the locals are your best resource to really see the hidden corners of the world. Some of my best tour guides and friends years later have been bus boys, receptionists, and flight attendants I met along the way. There are so many amazing locations that tourists never see when they travel and the trick to seeing them is asking the right people.
Lesson 4: Eat all the local fruits and vegetables
Anyone who has ever traveled with me will tell you that I LOVE open air markets. The colors are always so bright and vibrant while you walk down aisles of foods you’ve never seen before. This is also one of the places you can find a quick, cheap, and delicious lunch! With tropical locations in particular, there are so many exotic fruits and vegetables you will never again get the chance to try! So be adventurous and try everything you’ve never heard of!
Lesson 5: Learn to use public transportation, don’t depend on cabs
It isn’t exactly hard to spot tourists, take it from someone who lives in Florida. Taking the bus or subway is always waaaay cheaper than a cab. And there are numerous tales from beyond about cab drivers raising prices for tourists and taking extra long routes to extend your ride time. So learn to use buses, trains, and subways. Day or week-long passes are also a great way to go if you are in an area for a while. I can proudly save that I haven’t met a public transit system I couldn’t conquer! I paid quite a bit for a cab in Istanbul when I missed the morning bus on a study abroad trip only to realize I could have taken the public transit for about 1/3 of the price.
Lesson 6: Keep a travel journal
When I went to Spain, one of my good friends on the trip (his nickname is Kitchen) was writing on the bus one day about how the landscape we were driving through was “peppered with beauty.” Over 10 years later, I still remember his words and what the Spanish country side looked like that day. And since that day every time I travel I keep a small travelers notebook with me to jot down some of my favorite memories, places I went, or just reflect on the day. Going back and reading them is always something I look forward to doing. I wish I had one for every trip I’ve ever taken!
Lesson 7: Send postcards
Yes, an email is faster. Yes, facebook/IG/twitter will let everyone know where you are. BUT postcards are awesome. My dad’s older brother was in the Peace Corps after college and I still remember the day that I found all of the post cards he had sent my grandparents as he traveled. I was able to see where he was by the photos on the postcards which was the coolest thing ever to a 10 year old being nosy in a cabinet one weekend. Postcards are also a great way to keep track of what you did! I’ve sent myself post cards from my travels with what I did that day, almost like a itinerary sent after the fact. And it is something that is an easy quick memory keeping souvenir you can add to a scarp book later!
Lesson 8: Don’t be scared to explore
Looking back on some of my trips, I was overly cautious. But technology is there to help you if you know how to use it! I can’t tell you what Paris looks like at night, even though I conversationally spoke the language, had a hotel in a great area, and wanted to so badly to take pictures of the eternal city of love at night. But as a 20 year old woman traveling alone, I promised my mom I would be in by 8:30pm every night. In retrospect, I could have gone out and still been smart about my choices, but I let fear bring me in. Now days, pretty much every hotel ever offers some form of wifi so letting your family and friends know your plans for the night is easier and a great way of being cautious without missing out.
Lesson 9: Take ALL the pictures
In the moment it seems annoying to take pictures of every lamp post and stop sign in another country, but as the years go by you will be so glad you did. Lesbehonest, memories fade. But aside from that there are always so many people in my life that get to live through my travels that taking photos has always been as much for them as it has for me. And you don’t even have to pack a camera any more, cell phones are on point with their photography skills now days.
Lesson 10: Just go! And for fuck sake don’t over think it.
Don’t worry about how your best friend will feel, don’t think about what you will miss out on while you are gone, and don’t even begin to worry about the money you don’t have! Go explore and see the world. Kiss strangers, eat from street carts, and experience travel in a way you only can when you are younger. Asia for 20 days? Pack 2 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, and go places you never thought you would adventure in! I promise you that no one you encounter in your travels will care if you only brought one pair of shoes, or if your hair is a frizzy mess because you forgot a converter and your blowdryer exploded. Just go! Pick somewhere you have always wanted to go, and do it. We so often think that travel needs to require a passport, but the truth is that it doesn’t. Take a road trip, eat crappy gas station food, and make the memories that when you look back on them you smile to yourself and think “I can’t believe I did that.” Go travel and don’t look back, you’ll regret it later if you don’t.