1. Pack light
“On a long journey, even a straw weighs heavy” –Spanish proverb
I cannot emphasize this enough! Keep. Your. Shit. At. Home. All my ladies out there, this is NOT the time to bring all of your hair products and contraptions that texture and curl and straighten it. Bring a hair tie, bring a few bobby-pins, and bring a comb. Do not bring more than one pair of jeans. Do not bring more than one type of the same shoe. I’m looking at you, girl with Toms in 7 different colors and patterns. You will be packing and repacking that bag so many times, not to mention lugging it around all over—you will want that thing to be light with the least amount of items possible. Every trip I go on, I think I’m packing light, and at the end of the trip there are still things I never even touched or thought about in my bag. Plus, the less you bring, the more space you have for cool souvenirs.
2. Walk as much as possible
I know, I know—you’re on vacation! And while it’s very tempting to take shuttles or taxis around everywhere, you really miss a lot. Ever notice that while you’re in the car you don’t even remember what you drove past? You get in this weird zone of feeling like you’re separate from your surroundings, failing to really pay attention to what’s going on outside. When you walk somewhere, you remember things a lot better. You make mental notes of places you want to go back to and can take your sweet ass time people watching. Ever try to people-watch in a car? Ooh, look at that!—you say as your head whips around and your neck twists up. Aaaand it’s gone. It’s also a lot easier to take some nice pictures on foot. While some areas and cities aren’t the most conducive to walking around, if you have the option, always go with feet over wheels. (Walking also allows you to enjoy a nice calorie-rich treat later without feeling too guilty.)
3. Take pictures but hold your horses with the social media
I am absolutely all about snapping up pictures like there’s no tomorrow. If your memory is like mine, you will find it incredibly difficult to visualize and remember people and places, and these pictures will save your ass when you’re trying to describe your amazing experience to all your friends back home. Pictures are fantastic, and great ways to stay in touch and update people about your journey. But if there’s one thing that will ruin your trip and frustrate everyone around you, it’s trying to tweet, Instagram, or Facebook your pictures as you capture them. I know, I know, you just thought of some really clever hashtags to go with your picture and you don’t want to forget. But don’t be that person, ok? I’ve been that person, it’s not cute. Snap away, but wait until you have some downtime, maybe when the weather sucks, or when everyone else is taking a nap, until you upload everything.
4. Keep a small journal (and pen)
I wish I had a journal entry for every place I’ve been, even if it were only a few sentences long, like: “Stayed in a place that those scary movies about Hostels must have been based on. Note: roaches make a weird noise when stepped on barefoot. Airline restrictions on baklava in suitcase??.” I mean, that’s pretty funny to read now, can you imagine how random and hilarious it would be a few years later? If you are going to be blogging about your adventures, a small notepad or journal is indispensable. If not, it’s still great to have around when you want to make a note about something, jot down someone’s name or Instagram, or play Pictionary with a local when you don’t speak the language.
5. Couch surf at least once
The best place to meet locals who love to hang out with travelers is Couch Surfing. I would recommend doing it at least once on your trip, even if you don’t necessarily need a place to stay, if only to meet some new friends native to the area. Couch Surfing members are constantly posting events in their city on the website that are perfect for meeting up and practicing your Spanish/Italian/Thai or for finding people who speak English if you’re feeling lazy. I know people who have met their best friends couch surfing—so what are you waiting for?
6. Don’t avoid other travelers like the plague
Meeting locals is the best. It is an absolute must if you are wanting any semblance of authentic cultural experience. However, there’s also something really cool about hanging out with other tourists or travelers (go ahead and steer clear of the ones with Hawaiian shirts and fanny-packs, though). This is the time you get to talk about your adventures with people who understand your wanderlust sickness, and the perfect place to bounce some ideas off of one-another. If you aren’t on a very strict itinerary, you can find your next destination by talking with people who have recently been traveling. You have to find the happy-medium between hanging with locals and sharing with fellow travelers, and it can be kind of tough. But like I said, dodge the ones with the fanny-packs and super nice sunglasses… they are probably looking for a different kind of experience than you (5-star hotels and all-inclusive packages).
7. Try one new thing
I have the habit of finding something I like and wearing it out until I can’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of it anymore. It’s incredibly hard for me to order something new off of the menu when there’s something I know I’ll already love (and I’m speaking metaphorically as well). But what’s the fun in that? We need to try new things more often. If you’re like me and struggle with this, make a promise to yourself to try ONE new thing each place you go on your trip. Maybe you’re scared to try the alligator tail over the grilled fish taco, so go wild with a new and different cocktail instead. Allow yourself some things you know you like during your trip, but take the plunge to try at least one new thing. Hey, you might be pleasantly surprised. But if not, you’ll at least have a great story.