Traveling is easy, right? You pack your suitcase, hop on a plane, get to your hotel and start enjoying the sights and sounds of your chosen destination. Actually, that’s only half of what goes into a successful trip. There are many other things to consider, whether you’re spending a week sipping margaritas by the sea, museum-hopping in Paris or going farther afield. Traveling is an amazing experience, but it can also be frustrating and filled with the unexpected. Here’s how to make the most of your next trip and be a better traveller – no matter what the vacation gods throw at you.
Consider the language
Knowing at least a few words (basic greetings, please and thank you) in the language of the country you’re visiting can go a long way toward making your stay more pleasant. We’re not suggesting you take a crash course in Spanish before heading to Barcelona, but having a few basic “politeness” phrases (as well as useful phrases!) makes everything from asking for directions to ordering food a lot easier. Plus most locals appreciate when tourists at least try to speak a few words of their language.
Delays, cancellations and lost luggage are just part of the travel experience, so freaking out about problems that arise is not going to make things happen any faster. Although it may be tempting to yell at the taxi driver or get angry at the airline ticket agent, doing so won’t make your connecting flight come any faster or your luggage magically appear. Being patient is really your only option. Everything will work out – even if you have to make alternate arrangements.
Respect the culture
Do some reading about the culture and customs of where you’re going before you arrive. Doing so will help you integrate more easily into your new, temporary home and will ensure you don’t do anything that offends the locals. Plus the more you know about your vacation spot (beyond what kind of bars and restaurants it offers), the more enjoyment you’ll get out of your time there.
Go with the flow
Things inevitably go wrong on a trip, but the key to enjoying yourself anyway is to relax and go with the flow. Having a sense of humor about whatever unexpected issues pop is a great way to avoid getting stressed when you have no control over the situation. If something doesn’t work out how you wanted it to (food was bad, tour was overbooked) just move on and make sure you don’t let one bump in the road ruin the rest of your trip.
Keep an open mind
If you’re vacationing in place where the culture and customs are different from what you’re used to, it can be tempting to be skeptical or simply dismiss this new and different way of doing things. But this type of close-minded attitude won’t do you any favors. One of the best things about traveling is what it can teach you about the world, so keeping an open mind is essential if you really want to embrace your experience.
Try new things
We’re not suggesting you do anything you’re not comfortable with – we won’t be jumping off any cliffs or getting too close to the wildlife either – but if you’re going to leave your familiar world, you might as well make the most of it. This means trying new foods, learning local customs and doing things you don’t get to do at home. Whether you like it or not isn’t the point – it’s to immerse yourself and take full advantage of where you are.
Remember you’re not at home
This might seem obvious, but we get so used to how things are done “back home” that it can be easy to expect the same while we’re away. Every country does things differently and most likely they aren’t going to look, taste or feel like they do where you come from. Even going to popular American fast-food chains abroad, though similar, will still be slightly different from what you’re used to. But having everything familiar isn’t what travel is about. In fact, the more different things are, the more you’ll learn and, ideally, the more fun you’ll have.
Be courteous and polite
This should go without saying but in case you need a friendly reminder: Being a good traveler means being polite and courteous and showing respect to others wherever you go – to locals and fellow travelers. Being nice ensures everyone stays calm in even stressful situations, and you are much more likely to get what you want if you keep the snarky comments and sarcasm to yourself.
You don’t need to see everything in one day, or even cross off everything on your itinerary while you’re away. It’s so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of wanting to see everything there is to see in a particular place that it all becomes a blur. Avoid anxiety by slowing down and making a much shorter list of must-dos that won’t have you running around in a blind panic. Use the rest of the time to relax and go at a much easier pace.
Most important, if you want to be a better traveler, focus on having fun and keeping a positive attitude. If you can do that, you’ll enjoy yourself so much more and come back with only fabulous memories. Even the setbacks will become entertaining stories if you ended up remaining positive and having a great time despite the glitches.