I’m addicted to traveling. My mother flew between Germany and the US while she was pregnant with me. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, it seems that ‘wanderlust’ got encoded into my DNA. I mean, what’s not to love about traveling? Think about it – your map of the world expands every time you walk down a new street. Beyond every corner lies something unknown. You feel refreshed. Energized. Hopeful.
But with the sweet comes the sour. Traveling can also be overwhelming. In the past, I carefully planned my travels to avoid being taken off guard – what highlights to see, where to eat, what areas to explore, day-by-day, I had it all figured out. I thought that was the key to an amazing, unforgettable trip. I arrived at my destination feeling ready to roll, but, shockingly, nothing went as planned. Turns out, adhering to a strict itinerary kept me from being fully present and enjoying myself. It actually made my trip more difficult. So I chilled it with the planning and found a better balance (hey, I’m a Libra after all) to guide my adventures.
These days I follow my intuition and just a few simple must-dos that work for any destination. Here are my top five tips to getting the most out of any trip:
1. Speak the language
No matter where I’m going, I make a point to learn basic phrases in the local language. Coffee Break podcasts are my go-to for Spanish, Italian or French, while Google is helpful for others. Before my first Paris trip, I learned some basic French. I had a police officer flirt with me while he was directing traffic, and shop owners treat me like a local Parisian (Je suis désolée’, je ne parle pas français!). It made the trip much more fun and relaxed. Perhaps you’ll love the language so much you decide to study it (I did, oui!).
2. Visit produce markets
One of my favorite things about traveling is visiting regional markets. I wander among the stands of enticing produce and products, taking in all the colors and textures. I feel more connected to where I am staying, as I observe the locals interacting with one another and going about their day. I like to stay in a place with a kitchen, so I can buy fresh fruit and prepare my breakfast in the mornings. It feels more intimate than a hotel buffet. If you don’t have access to a kitchen, enjoy your bounty with a spontaneous picnic in the park. Nothing says ‘holiday vibes’ like breaking bread with resident pigeons.
3. Ask the locals
Traveling is not the time to be shy. Be brave and strike up a casual conversation with a stranger. A great ice breaker is asking for a recommendation for a must-see attraction most tourists miss. Trust me, there are always some. I’ve gotten some of the best tips from a London Tube worker and a server at a tapas bar in Spain. Don’t rely solely on books and Google – ask those around you for inspiration. A friendly smile goes a long way.
4. Download public transportation apps
If you are going to a city, find out the name of the local transportation network before you go. Most of them will have an app you can download for free on your phone. I like to plan out the route from the train station or airport to my accommodation beforehand, so there’s no added stress upon arrival. It’s usually cheaper to buy a day pass than single tickets, and a weekly ticket (if available) is best for longer stays. Frantically figuring out how to get from point A to B when you’re jet-lagged and in desperate need of a shower is for amateurs.
5. Locate lookout points
I always try and get an overview of where I am staying from above. It helps your orientation and results in some perfect photo ops. If there are no hills or mountains you can flock to, look for buildings such as church towers and skyscrapers for the best views. One of the most memorable for me was watching the sun come up over the Haleakalā Crater on Maui. I saw the ocean dance in the distance, as sunlight flooded the ground and the world gently simmered in silence. These are the moments in life that stay with you.