Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” has inspired countless individuals to pack up and start driving. While we may not be able to steal a car and drive down to Mexico at the drop of a hat like Dean Moriarty, we can still pack our bags and hit the road without breaking the bank.
Fifteen years ago, travel meant booking flights through an airline and hotels through a travel broker. Hostels were a godsend for those of us rolling into town and asking for directions to the nearest cheap place to crash for the night.
But today, our opportunities have grown exponentially.
Most of us have a few good friends living on the opposite coast or making a life in some far-flung exotic locale, and keeping in touch with them has never been easier. Then, there’s the increasingly disruptive travel economy that offers services that can save us a ton of money.
With these and more conveniences at our fingertips, there’s a whole new world of travel options available to us.
Getting Along In The World
There are also new ways to support ourselves when we’re globetrotting that don’t involve smuggling illicit substances. Traveling nurses, for example, can sign up with agencies that will pair them with hospitals in need and offer stipends to help them find a great place to live.
However, journalists, photographers, and videographers may not be so lucky, especially if they don’t have a good network of connections. A friend of mine ran a mobile film company and traveled all over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for a decade. He ended up staying in everything from yurts to five-star hotels.
Of course, these professionals still have the rare luxury of earning an income while traveling. But what about those of us who faint at the mere sight of blood and couldn’t even frame a photo?
Preparing For Travel
We have to plan ahead. When I’m traveling, I always pack what I need — and then pack some more. Rips and spills happen, and you never want to be left without a spare pair of pants. I always pack about 50 percent more clothes than I need — and spare phone and laptop chargers, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed those extras.
I also try to travel with friends who complement my language skills. There are three core languages for travel: English, French, and Arabic. Knowing all three can help you navigate almost any country on the globe, but even knowing two goes a long way.
Getting The Most From Your Life On The Road
Armed with extra pairs of underwear and a multilingual buddy, there are a few ways to ensure you get the most from your travels:
1. Set aside time to explore.
When I travel for work, I like to arrive a few days early to get acclimated to my new surroundings. My friends call me crazy, but it’s a habit of mine. I even arrive a few days before friends when we take vacations. You always want to see the highlights of a city — such as the Eiffel Tower, the Sagrada Família, or the Dome of the Rock — but you won’t truly experience a place unless you’re willing to explore the quieter corners.
2. Meet the locals.
The more you explore, the more locals you’ll meet. No website can offer the kind of insider perspective you’ll get from talking to the people who live there. Websites such as TripAdvisor are great if you’re sticking to the tourist hot spots, but if you want to go farther afield, you’re not likely to find places that make the top 10 lists. Nobody knows the East Bay like a San Francisco local, and nobody knows the best tapas in Barcelona like a proud Catalan.
3. Find a vibrant local bar.
Skip the chain bars and hotel recommendations. Drinking with locals is one of the greatest ways to experience a city’s culture. Nothing kills that holiday vibe like finding yourself stuck next to a family from the next town over that’s complaining because nobody speaks English and there isn’t enough ice in the drinks. The must-eats of the city are never the most prominent places. Make friends with the locals, drink with them, and skip the tourist traps for the hidden treasures.
The more time you spend off the beaten path, the better you’ll get to know a place and the more fun you’ll have. If you’re looking to get away soon, one of the best places to start is Matador’s culture guides on “Lies Guidebooks Are Telling You.” These will help you ditch the stereotypes of the American tourist and ensure your life on the road is as fulfilling as it can be.
So overpack, set out early, and get to the adventure you’ve always dreamed of.