16 June 2017

Get The Most of Your Vacations

I realised last month after my best friend's anniversary that I had not been abroad for six years. The last time was her wedding in Cyprus. This has been due to a lack of planning as much as a lack of funds.

The thing about travel is that it can be pretty expensive, so it’s best to get as much as you can out of it as you can. In one of my previous posts I talked about wanting to go on a holiday alone next year. This has now progressed into possibly visiting a few different areas (or countries!) during a couple of weeks time period. This is something that I really, really want to go and as such, I have been doing a lot of research.

The thought of travelling alone is both terrifying and exhilarating to me and I want to ensure that I am have the best time possible. Here are some of the tips that I have been picking up to plan a travelling trip in the best way - ensuring that you get the most possible out of it.

Do your research

When people talk about doing research before travelling, they’re usually thinking of the sort of research you do when you’re building an itinerary. Going on Yelp to find local businesses, looking at Google Maps to find the routes you need, et cetera. But the sort of research that really helps you get to know a place on a deeper level can involve reading more about the history of the destination, or even reading fiction from its writers. Visit travel blogs that have odd anecdotes about vacations in the area are worth a read! These things help you get a feel for the culture before you arrive, which can increase your empathy and sensitivity once you’re at the destination.

Don’t build a hectic schedule

One of the most common mistakes with any sort of vacation is the building of a really busy itinerary. People think of all the attractions they’d possible want to see then create a day-by-day, even hour-by-hour schedule to make sure they can fit it all in. But not only are these itineraries pretty hard to stick to most of the time, but it also puts you in a bit of a rush when you’re there. This, of course, is a mistake. To get to know a place much more, you should really slow things down. Less is more when it comes to itineraries; spend more time at your chosen destinations, and allow for some leeway so that you don't see just the touristy things, but nothing about the area or its people.

Interact with the locals more

If you really want to get to know a place as much as possible, then is there really a better way of doing it than by spending more time with the locals. If you’re visiting a foreign country, then this may mean that you have to learn a bit of the local language. (Don’t just assume they’re going to know how to speak English, even if you’re going somewhere like Germany or France!) If you have the time, then see if they’re willing to share interesting stories about their lives in this place. At the very least, you should be able to get recommendations for places to visit that the guidebook doesn’t even mention. Speaking of which…

Don’t rely on the net for all your info

One of the reasons why speaking to the locals is such a good practice is that you’ll get more suggestions of places to visit, or a better feel of where the locals like to eat and drink. A lot of people rely too heavily on the Internet for this sort of information. That five-star review on Yelp tells you a lot less about a given place than you might think - and the same goes for a one-star review! Another reason that the Internet can be a little unreliable is that most people end up going directly to a business’s website to find out more about it. This doesn’t always give you the most balanced and fair view of the place.

Personally I never rely on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp because every single person has different wants, needs and preferences. Someone's version of a perfect place might be another's version of hell!

Get yourself a guide

A lot of people are put off of the idea of getting a guide, or going on tours, because it seems to impose some sort of strict schedule on them. But if you’re going somewhere fairly exotic or adventurous, or even if you’re simply going to a city where you don’t know the language all that well, then hiring a guide might help you see much more of your destination. Don’t assume that guides all work on commission for nearby tourist spots - many of them will be multilingual locals who are pretty much willing to aid you in whatever you fancy doing. There are a lot of other reasons to hire a guide on vacation, but the potential to learn much more about your destination is definitely one of the most important.

For myself, I think that this would be better if there are a few of you travelling together. On a solo holiday you might feel like you had hired a friend for the day!

Go solo

I am told (and I hope) that people really do underestimate how good solo travelling can be. Whether it’s because of a lack of independence, fear of safety, or even financial constrictions, most people simply don’t consider the idea of going to a new destination without a trusted friend or family member.

But a solo adventure actually forces you to come out of your shell and interact more with the place around you. This is what I want. It helps you feel a lot more familiar with the location much faster, because you’re simulating the experience of simply wandering around just like you might do at home.

There are businesses like Just You - Solo Travel that provide packages and plans for those who don’t quite know how to go about it and need a little help. In general, solo adventuring is one of the best ways to get the most out of your vacation - so don’t dismiss it!

Keep the camera in your pocket

Don’t see most of your vacation through a camera lens, or through the screen of your smartphone. I’m not saying don’t take pictures - because you absolutely should - but your first instinct when you see something astonishing shouldn’t be to reach into your pocket. This actually alienates you from the experience somewhat; it forces you out of that immediacy and turns you into a different type of observer. Really take the time to look at things with your naked eyes; this is where the priceless moments of any vacation are found.

As an example of this, last year I saw someone say that they had missed the experience of their child seeing Disneyland for the first time, because she was so concentrated on getting the right photograph to capture the image. In doing that, she missed the moment.

Look first, take photograph later!

*Collaborative piece

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