The Truth About Travel

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I need to take a pause in recapping our Europe adventure to “get real” with our experiences while traveling. Because it wasn’t always an adventure and it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. I was chasing after a Nepal 2.0 and the experience of our trip didn’t necessarily meet those expectations. Even now as I process the trip through blog recaps – it’s being distilled down to a few words and some pretty pictures that make it all look like quite a beautiful time.

But the truth is that traveling can be scary, exhausting and sometimes even boring. Sometimes I felt like we were spending hours just trying to figure out where to go, what to eat and which train to get on for only minutes of payoff. I felt like when I was chilling out, taking advantage of free wifi over a cup of cappuccino or glass of wine, that I was missing out on meeting interesting locals or having stimulating conversations with Jeremy or good people watching or falling in love with the world.

Here are some of my expectations and challenges I came against. If you have any advice on how to overcome some of these I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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The Desire: To Experience a Place Like A Local. The expectation was to go off the beaten path and eat at the local dives and make friends with the people who frequent them.

The Reality: We’re Not Locals. We’re Tourists. Veering off the beaten path is a bit scary and you just don’t know what you’re going to get beyond boiled potatoes topped with a fried egg in a place that smells like mold. The truth is that cities that are set up to handle tourists make you feel like you’re not squandering the precious and limited time you have abroad because there is lots to see. That’s why tourists visit. Also, when you’re traveling in a couple it’s hard to make friends with locals (especially if you’re in a city full of tourists). People think you’re on a date so they leave you alone.

The Solution (A): Travel Where You Have Friends. I’m lucky in that I have this blog and enough people reading it that I have friends (and friends-to-be) all over the world. I didn’t take advantage of that during this trip because I wanted to spend time reconnecting and adventuring with Jeremy. But we were both spending so much time figuring shit out that we didn’t have much energy left for falling in love with each other all over again. It would’ve been nice to make friends with people we already have things in common with. People who could safely take us off the beaten path and share their favorite places with us.

The Solution (B): Spend More Time In One Place. Because I work for myself, I’m location independent and can work from anywhere. I think to truly live like a local I should rent a flat in a city for 3 months or more and not cram every touristy thing possible into two days. Instead of just being on vacation I could balance work and play (just like at home) in another city. I would get the satisfaction of being productive with my work while also taking my time to really explore the ins and outs of a place. Jeremy’s not quite so location independent yet with his job but maybe one day.

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The Desire: To Drink Lots of Coffee and Wine. And stare dreamily into each others eyes while doing so.

The Reality: This is All Good and Fun Until You’re Jittery, Drunk and/or Hungover – all at the same time. We actually got really good at drinking lots of coffee and lots of wine. But at the same time we were usually taking advantage of free wifi to figure out how to use the public transportation, post Instagram photos, read up on TripAdvisor and organize and book our next move. There were no dreamy staring contests.

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The Desire: Be Spontaneous! Go wherever! Whenever!

The Reality: Travel Takes Planning. If we had booked everything in advance from home we wouldn’t be having to do it from our iPhones on the road.

The Solution: Research ahead of time. The idea of being spontaneous was more romantic than the reality of it. I think we would’ve been happier and would’ve spent a little less time with our faces in our phones if we had planned in advance and had a little more structure.

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Without the risk of coming across like a spoiled brat who had a horrible time I should reiterate here that I learned and saw a LOT and will continue to focus on the positive and share more of those insights with you throughout my recaps.

So let me hear it – what’s your advice for having a kickass time while traveling? How do you balance being a tourist with true local experiences?

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  1. Jen

    I don’t necessarily have advice, I think you solved a lot of your problems already :), but I did want to say that it’s really refreshing to hear this side of “traveling the world” because oh do we ever fantasize about it… and while I’m still quite envious that you got to see and experience all of those places, the truth of the matter is that I guess we really do have to learn how to enjoy and plan and see and BE in every moment, every place, as often as we can. Whether it’s in your own backyard or across the world.

    I just want to say thank you for the healthy does of perspective, and for keeping things real πŸ™‚ as always.

  2. Jen – A great thing that came from this trip abroad is that it made me realize that I don’t have to go across the world to enjoy coffee, wine and great conversations with friends.

  3. True story, Jen.

    I’m definitely one of those spontaneous-type people, but with a smidge of planning thrown in.

    Before we go anywhere, I do a bit of googling and make a list of the top places I want to visit/see, then a list of things that might be fun if we were in the neighborhood or just had some free time. That way, you know your priorities and have the flexibility to be spontaneous.

    And as far as food goes, we usually have good luck by eyeing outdoor menus or by asking a hotel/hostel employee/guest. When you can explain that you don’t want McDonald’s and what kind of food you like, you get a HUGE difference in recommendations.

  4. Jilly

    It happens–I just got back from a trip to Puerto Rico that I spent months planning, only to have it end with a forced evacuation of the town we were in because of Hurricane Isaac. It was a costly & frustrating experience.

    Although it can be frustrating, I think my favorite part of travel is that it’s a learning experience. Even with a bad experience, I’m not going to throw my hands in the air and say, “That’s it! I’m never leaving the U.S. again.” When I get back and I have time to think about it, I try to come up with a better way to travel, and adjust my expectations for each trip.

  5. Kathleen – Yes – local recommendations are key. I think we were always talking to people who didn’t value a kickass meal quite like we do. Also, Eastern Europe isn’t the most vegetarian friendly. But more on that later!

    Jilly – Yowsa! So sorry to hear about the evacuation!

    When it comes to traveling Jeremy and I aren’t the most experienced – so yes, this was absolutely a learning experience that leaves me itching to get back out there! But at the same time it’s given me a new appreciation for the kinds of experiences I can have on my own turf too.

  6. je9601

    I don’t know if you’re this way, but when traveling, the stuff I’ve been wanting to see in advance and really researching never quite lives up to the expectations I have in mind. I build it up so much before that there’s no way it could live up to my expectations. It’s the places and things I discover or hadn’t thought about that always become more memorable and enjoyable.
    Jenan

  7. You’re so funny. And what’s wrong with being jittery, drunk, and hungover all at the same time?

    I’m an over-planner, but am really good at letting go of plans. I do tons of research, take notes of addresses and hours of everywhere I want to go, and keep a little notebook of all that stuff with me. Then, when we travel, I just go with the flow, but have all the information I need to fill in the blanks. I never do half of what I jot down, but I’m well-prepared to do something if needed. Works for this travel rat.

  8. Sara

    I started enjoying travel more when I gave myself permission to do less in a day. Instead of trying to see a million sites, picking one or two, taking the time for an afternoon nap. Or silly things like wandering around the grocery store in a new country.
    My husband and I also have different styles so we learned to split up for an hour or more and each do our own thing for a bit. It feels strange at first but is really fun.
    As for the local thing, I never really tried, hell – I could barely make friends with the locals after years as an expat in some places! Instead we tried for places where we knew some people, or lots of Internet/blog research beforehand.

    Of course now with kids this is all out the window.

  9. Sara

    And as far as on your own turf, both living here and when we were abroad, we found some of the most enjoyable vacations are a night or two somewhere nearby but new.
    Less pressure, less hassle with flights, and often there are cool things that are really quite close.

  10. nicole

    I love how you keep it real, girl! Thanks for that! YES. While traveling, I can be a bit irritable when it comes to things like reading maps/getting lost, language barriers, transportation, being hungry or hungover, etc. But it’s best to just take it all in stride and travel with someone who will put up with me – even at my most irritable. πŸ˜‰

  11. Jess

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. There are so many elephants in the room of travel and blogging about travel, and you’re rad for addressing this one.

    I agree – Eastern Europe is not very veg friendly (neither is any alpine region in Europe).

    (Disclaimer – I’m no expert – but) I think renting an apartment for a semi-extended period of time is definitely the best place to experience things like a local. However, be warned: I live abroad, and even living in another country doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever really feel like a local or experience things like a local. (Try as you might, you can’t erase your North American accent!)

    I’m leaving tomorrow for a 17 day road trip through western Europe (now I sound like a spoiled brat). It sounded so romantic to just hop in a car and go where the wind might take my partner and I. But you’re right, a little pre-planning means more time to enjoy travelling (so does turning off our phones, and checking out of the blogosphere for a few weeks). Like kathleen above, I also make a shortlist of cool things to see, neat parks to hang out in, and affordable restaurants recommended by friends and/or locals. It’s not a commitment-list, just a back up in case wandering seems like more of a chore than actually knowing what we’re doing.

    This is much more long winded than I intended it to be!

    p.s. Useful iPhone apps (I also love TripIt!) http://venturevillage.eu/10-apps-that-will-change-the-way-we-travel

    p.p.s. Travelling at home is awesome too.

  12. I can relate to #1: wanting to connect with locals, etc. after my experience studying abroad.

    In France, this is a huge issue for most expats because the French culture is such that they are – by nature – not a terribly friendly people on the surface. Foreigners who live in France might be on a speaking basis with a French person but not ever be invited to their home for years after they’ve first met. It’s a stark contrast to the American culture that is typically friendly and outgoing. However, once that French person makes friends with you, you’re kind of in for life.

    As a student in France, I found myself only hanging out with Americans. But this is not entirely a bad situation; it’s a learning experience in and of itself because you’re getting an insight to a culture that is different than your own. You probably won’t make friends on a quick trip or even a study abroad thing with locals. And that’s ok too.

  13. Erin

    Oh man, there is so much good stuff in this post – I just couldn’t not comment.

    Years ago, I spent about 10 months traveling around central and eastern Europe – solo. Friends from the states met up with me in a few choice locales, and I did meet lots of other travelers – most of whom were going it alone like me, and now – 9 years on, I do still look back on that time as one of the very best in my life.

    But the truth is, it was really, really HARD a lot of the time too. There is an incredible freedom in long-term travel, but there is also a lot of loneliness and many, many moments of ‘what the fuck am I doing?’

    I think my low-point came in Krakow, Poland on a cold, rainy October day. I was camped out in a cafe, waiting out the weather after a sleepless night in a hostel where EVERYONE was a snorer. I was exhausted, bored, a little sick, and listening to David Gray on my diskman (yes this all took place before the advent of iPods). The song ‘Gathering Dust’ came on and the line ‘there’s no meaning in clothes and coffee cups, cheap hotel furniture, the silence never stops,’ just about made me lose my marbles. Because at that precise moment, pretty much the ONLY things populating my life were the clothes on my back, the coffee cup in my hand, and an endless stream of hostels behind and before me. And silence. So, SO much silence, which was unbearable for me at times because while I’m wildly independent, I’m also incredibly sociable.

    Man, that was a tough day. And it’s the kind of thing that I (and most people) never imagined while planning a grand, international adventure.

  14. sarah

    omg i love this post. agree completely with all of it. i have so much anxiety about trying to experience things ‘authentically’ that i lose track of what that even means. thanks for keeping it real….you guys obviously had a rad time despite all the normal travails of travel. i think the only trick is to just keep doing it….

  15. There was a study done a few years ago that the act of planning a vacation and vacation anticipation boosted happiness for people for nearly eight weeks before a trip, while that happiness never carries over after the trip, or if it does, only for a very short time. It sounds like you need to start planning your next trip!

  16. One of the best trips I ever took was to Verona. We went with no ideas of what to expect and no ideas of what we wanted out of the trip. We bought two pocket travel guides which we leafed through on the flight over and when we got there it was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined, because we hadn’t.
    We stumbled in to local eateries (where we ended up remembered each night by the waiter) where families were having their nightly catch-up because we stayed on the outskirts rather than in the town and every night would walk back through the most beautiful places (because we were not in the centre of town) with locals doing their thing rather than past a lot of people with similar accents to ours and cameras.
    We went for a walk on our second to last day there and ended up lost and in a coffee shop where we were “reading” the local Sunday paper and found an exhibition we would like to see in “neighbouring” Venice so hopped on a train and found ourselves in St Marks Square. It was the best trip I think we’ve ever had (one of at least) and we had planned nothing other than flights and camping. I think sometimes things are just serendipitous, you can’t script the most perfect moments, they just happen. Wabi sabi perhaps?

  17. Maybe next time plan most of the trip, and then set aside a couple of chunks of time to do something random when you get there? Like once you’re actually there you might stumble on something new to do and can explore it during the reserved block of time. Or something. I don’t know. I’ve been to Canada once. I’m not exactly a seasoned traveler.

  18. I can totally relate. When my fiance and I went to Ireland last fall we had everything planned out (because I’m insane and designed a 40 page book for our trip) but we still had not-so-fun times on the road.

    I’m learning to change my expectations for certain trips. If we’re going to a tropical island to lay on the beach and get drunk, then I expect to feel refreshed (and/or hungover). If we’re traveling around Europe I should expect an “adventure”. That’s how we refer to out Ireland trip: a wild, fun, annoying adventure. It’s all in our expectations. πŸ™‚

  19. YES! This hit the nail on the head for me. Last year my partner and I took a two week vacation to Spain, with a wee bit of France. I’m a researcher by nature and like to plan and hunt for hidden spots to either dine or stay. My partner was all about the spontaneity of it all. So as a compromise we spent half of the trip in planned hotels and locations, and these times we were sans car and staying longer in the cities, and the other half we had a car and decided which city to hit and booked hotels via iphone. We also interspersed the planned portion with the spontaneous portion so it didn’t get boring.

    In the end I think we both got what we wanted but I agree that there was still a ton of time spent navigating roads and maps and metro schedules. I had a mini meltdown the first time we got lost in the car trying to figure out the crazy European streets that never seem to run in a grid and change names without tell you πŸ™‚ but after I got that out of the way I accepted the fact that we were going to get lost and take twice as long as the iphone said to get anywhere.

    And in the end I feel like we ate at a lot of sub par and expensive spots because I didn’t research as much as I wanted because of my partner’s plea for spontaneity. He agreed that, next time, I can research that part πŸ™‚

  20. Reading this was funny to me. When you told me you guys had no plans it made me so nervous. I was excited for you, but knew it was something I could never do. I HATE the time that is often spent on vacation deciding what to do and where to eat. I need to plan out trips…not to the minute, but at least by main events, areas and a few key food spots. Otherwise I am cranky and hungry and that sucks for everyone.

  21. Sky

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. Ironically, I feel like I face these same things. I actually recently moved to Quetzaltenango, but even making friends as a single is hard. Learning to speak and live like a local is hard. And yes, coffee with wine seems like a good idea until your stomach is in knots and your head a bit woozy at the same time. No bueno.

    But, know this- time is your friend. It is just not realistic to expect to fully experience and be completely present when you can only visit for a short time. Living like a local isn’t the epic adventure we make it out to be in our fantasies. Know your limitations and be kind to yourself. Usually before I head out to a new place, I try to find the blog of a resident, and see what they do in their city, although let’s be honest- blogs are not always reality. Also, I’ve stopped worrying about whether or not I am wasting time.

    skylohse.com

  22. Rachel

    All so true. I would say I’ve learned that less is more when it comes to travel. Staying in one country for the entire trip (depending on the size of the country, of course) ups my satisfaction factor at the end of it all because you can really slow down and get immersed in what makes that particular culture unique.

    Like Emmarie Designs, I do lots of research before, looks at maps, and take copious notes to bring with me so I always know my options and can be sure to see the things I absolutely have to, but then go with the flow for the optional once once we get there to adjust for mood and other circumstances.

  23. Jay

    Such a great post Kathleen and completely relatable.

    Our aspirations are always high when we head to a new place. I want to eat really great food and non-touristy places, I want to be relaxed and calm and soak in everything around me, I want great photos, I want my husband and I to feel so connected to each other and while all of that comes in spurts, it’s not the whole story. Sometimes I’m just damn hungry and I don’t want to wander around trying to find the cool little spot – I want food and I need it now and Subway is right there.

    Living overseas has really shown me the best way to get to know a place is to spend a lot of time there and live like a local. You get to see the good and bad at such a deeper level. Hopefully you’ll be able to do that in the future!

  24. Gabe

    I could not agree more with you! I just returned from a trip across Europe with my partner 2 days ago and I experienced the exact same sentiments while traveling of not feeling like I had accomplished everything and had the “best” experience possible.

    Halfway through the trip I began to realize that I had to let go of feeling like I was wasting time, enjoy the subtle things that happened, and also relish the stress/anger/fear as part of the adventure. I remember being at the train station early in the morning in Prague, and I flipped out a little bit at my boyfriend and sobbed on the sidewalk. He gave me my moment to let everything all out, and in a few minutes we had moved on and were laughing about it. Being in each other’s company 24/7 caused us to see sides of each other we had never seen before, and to me that was equally as important as the trip itself.

    I’ve really loved reading your re-cap posts of where you visited, and I’m so glad you followed up with this post. As privileged as we are to be able to travel, it’s important not to neglect how emotionally draining it can be.

  25. Hi Kathleen – I’ve been enjoying your recap posts.

    I think the answer to all of those problems is definately stay in the one place for a period of time. Pete and I learnt that after a couple of crazy paced holidays and now we book one or two cities and stay there for 10-12 days each or longer a s really get stuck into living the experience. Booking an apartment is usually cheaper too and you can cook there which is another fun experience with local ingredients and also means you don’t come home a few kilos heavier!

    I can vouch for how this works with the falling back in love part as this last Christmas we spent 12 days in Paris and Pete was so overcome wih the romance of our time there he went and bought a ring on Christmas eve and proposed to me! That wouldn’t have happeneded if we had breezed through for two days.

    Looking forward to hearing what happened next on your adventure πŸ™‚

  26. I’m surprised only one other person mentioned using a guidebook- maybe I’m more old fashioned than I realized. My husband and I like to hike and see natural wonders, along with cities, so we’ll order a used guidebook online well before going, then use google images to check out parks and hikes to see what looks good. The internet has such a huge amount of information, I think the guidebook helps us to focus. Altough, there are times when it won’t have enough detail, like if you are going to less traveled places. But it’s nice to have guidance when you can’t figure out where to eat or stay or what to see.

    Also, my latest trip, to Peru, including 4 days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was amazing. The Andes Mountains are AMAZING. just in case you’re thinking about where to go next. If you could handle mt everest base camp, you could handle the elevation in the Andes.

  27. picky

    Honestly, after each travel experience, I forget all those bad things. Or, they become funny stories.

    The first time I ever flew anywhere, I went to Italy by myself. 15-hour flight. Dropped my stuff at the hostel, went and stared in awe at the Coliseo, and wham – got groped. I was petrified. But I played it off, and now it’s a funny story.

    Then once went back to Italy with three girlfriends. They all relied on me because I had been there twice, so I planned all the travel. Well, little did we know all government employees were on strike. It took us 9 hours to get to our city (should have taken 2). Everyone was mad at one another. We stopped one stop too far, and we had to walk – with luggage – on a pitch black cliff-side walk. Terrifying. But great memory, in the end.

  28. my man is a bit of a scardy cat when traveling, so when we went on our big European adventure I made sure we had lodging and transportation under control before we left the country. The first day of every city was spent on some sort of touristy tour. That way he could familiarize himself with the city and get his bearings so we could be more comfortable exploring on our own over the next few days. It worked like a charm.

  29. Jacqui

    I spent 8 months in Europe last year, travelling for most of it. I think more time in each place is key to being more relaxed and into the local vibe. And also accepting that you can’t see everything, prioritising a few key spots is important and then going with the flow after that. I found that time spent just wandering or sitting in a park or square can feel like wasting time initially, but really you have to have breaks to soak it up and process the more full on experiences like museums etc. One of my best days is Paris was spent doing a treasure hunt of sorts – my brother(who I was with) loves street art so he printed a map of Banksy’s and Space Invaders off the net and we spent the day trying to find them and seeing what else we came across as we went. So fun! anyway yes, travel is fun but also challenging and hard work at times, but aren’t most things that are worthwhile??
    I spent some time on a tour that used local guides and while I know group tours aren’t for everyone it was great to have direct access to a local – great tips, conversations and a real chance to get a local perspective and they were all heaps of fun!
    Thanks for sharing Kathleen, I love your honest approach.
    Jacqui

  30. Thanks for keeping it real. When returning from a trip abroad (especially one with an infant in tow)I always feel like I have to romanticize every last detail to my friends and family who don’t travel. When I am honest about the ups and downs of the trip, I get the “Oh, well must be nice to complain about your exotic vacation,” look. So in fear of sounded spoiled and ungrateful, I usually just leave out the reality of everything. I love this final post to your series. BTW, I am a designer in Seattle. I believe you Skyped with my friend Erin a couple weeks ago.

  31. You are so great to be honest about the “other” side of travel, because I feel this way too sometimes and then feel guilty for not being 100% happy.

    I’ve learned that I love visiting coffee shops in other states and countries, just chilling out for an hour or so and taking it all in.

    And I think you are right about finding a local friend to show you around, my best trips have come from visiting someone I knew and having them lead the way!

  32. Kim

    We travel almost every weekend in the fall/early winter for races…upon setting up home base, we usually seek out local like-minded individuals for recommendations on where to eat, etc (so, maybe we’ll ask the mechanic at a bike shop where to get killer pizza and local brews rather than the hotel concierge). This “practice” has served us well on non-racing excursions/adventures, too…We’ll peg a few must-do/must-sees near our destination ahead of time, but just roll with it for the most part when we get there. I also try not to pressure myself into having these revelatory, life-changing moments when adventuring afar…when I let go of those expectations and simply enjoy the change of scenery, the best things seem to happnen.

  33. Kim

    **Oh…when we travel as a couple, we usually split up for a bit, too. Even if it’s just to meander around town solo or sit in a coffee shop for a bit. When we pair up again, one or both of us has something interesting to share or revisit together. It sounds weird, but it’s kind of refreshing.

  34. This was a great post.

    We spend so much time anticipating a trip, it is hard to live up to your own expectations sometimes. I imagine knowing you’ll be sharing your adventures here puts even more pressure on you to make sure your trip is epic. It is nice to read your vacation recaps but also to know that you’ve experienced some of the same frustrating or mundane things I have. I hope it doesn’t keep you from planning more adventures though. It never stops me!

  35. I highly recommend Couchsurfing to experience a place like a local. If your host takes you around, it can be amazing!

  36. Meg

    Fact: 50% of travel is sort of sucky. 10% is downright hellishly awful. But it’s worth it because 50% is good, and 10% (or maybe more) IS THE BEST EVER. And you mostly remember the best stuff.

    Travel is just way more extreme than day to day life, and the more extreme the trip, the more extreme the experiences are, basically.

  37. Your post was so true and sincere, it’s just such a pleasure reading your blog! I have been following you for a year or so now (also an instagram stocker.. not in the creepy way though…) and eastern Europe is a hard destination. very much for vegetarians and for lack of English on the streets.. so way to go for the success of figuring it all out, and if you would someday wish to fly all the way to sunny Israel, i will be sure to make you a list of locale recommendation for restaurants, traveling and “locale secrets” and promise not to get in the way of your Jeremy time :). i think you have here an amazing platform, maybe you should ask for advice from your local readers of the next destination. I’m sure anyone will be happy to try and help

  38. I stumbled across your blog today for the first time and this post was JUST WHAT I NEEDED to feel normal!! Great post!

    My husband and I (and our two kids!) just finished 2 weeks in Thailand and are currently living in China for the next year. Even with four months of planning for China, we feel lost every day. Culture shock is painful and wonderful.

    In Thailand, I had planned and booked all our hotels and transportation from city to city, but activities were more up in the air (flexibility is a must with kids). After the very first day, we learned to plan each day in advance and then change as needed. Plan, plan, and then plan some more . . . and then be spontaneous within the framework of the plan. That’s my travel philosophy. Oh, and then allow for a meltdown every couple of days :).

  39. You guys. Best comments ever. Big XOXO to every single one of you.

    טל – I would love to take you up on Israel!

    Christina – Glad you stumbled my way! I cannot even imagine traveling with children but am inspired that you’re doing it!

    Meg – YES. I’m definitely remembering the best stuff and shaking the moments of boredom and stinky sweat from my experience.

    Ceci Bean – It definitely hasn’t stopped me. If anything I want to get back out there ASAP!

  40. Shelley

    Great discussion!

    @Kim – My husband and I also like to diverge for a while. He usually rents a bike to ride all around exploring, and I take the chance to be by myself, read a book in a park, or walk around taking pictures. I think this is so important.

    Here are my suggestions:

    Yelp, Yelp, Yelp. I am a religious Yelp surfer everywhere I go. It works (almost) anywhere now. Take a quick look at ratings and the reviews – especially from those left by fellow tourists – of a place that was recommended to you by a concierge or waiter. You’ll quickly determine if it’s a tourist trap or not. Bonus: Yelpers tend to be foodies too.

    Eat at the bar. Interacting with the server and the people who rotate next to you is priceless. Even if you want a romantic date, being cute and in love while you’re chatting with everyone around you gives the night a different spin. Kind of like seeing your relationship’s best angle, from a new acquaintance’s perspective. You’ll often meet other couples on a date, and then you get to swap stories (how did you meet? where did you get married? etc.), which always makes me feel warm and fuzzy, being able to relive the mushy moments. In my experience, you can meet a good mix of locals + enlightened tourists at the bar. This works solo too, but takes practice getting over the “OMG i’m drinking alone” feeling.

    Use airbandb.com and lean on your host for tips. In my experience, hosts tend to be extremely straightforward about what’s worthwhile and what to avoid. My theory is that if you’re progressive enough to open your house to strangers on a regular basis, you tend to understand what a cool travel experience should be like. Plus it’s more affordable than hotels and you’re directly financially supporting a local resident.

    Stay put, then go. This is where the American disadvantage of limited PTO really impacts a vacation. My super travel partner and husband tends to overfill our itineraries (he has a big appetite for new experiences) and it’s always a balance to see as much as we can but still feel like we’re relaxed and enjoying ourselves. Our new rule is 3 nights per bed. Day trips are approved but packing and unpacking sucks, so we try to minimize it. If after 3 nights we still like it there, and can extend the stay, we do. If on day 4 we are ambivalent or we’re not digging it, we move on.

    Meditate through the emotions. Traveling is really emotional. When there are travel delays or something you were counting on is closed unexpectedly, it is usually out of your control. This might sound a little hippie dippie, but what helps me is to “get present” and do an inner meditation while standing in the airport security line, or waiting for a late train. Acknowledge the negative emotion, roll it around in your head, and put it aside. You can actually turn a frustrating, potentially enraging circumstance into a little meditation practice. Then when you get to a good place (physically and mentally), you are ready to rock.

  41. Tal

    I will be waiting πŸ™‚
    Oh, and thanks to you, I have just found that my user name is in Hebrew, so, now that I’ve changed that, you can actually read my name…

    Btw, vegetarian heaven here with our “Mediterranean diet”, which is actually funny since it’s our way of enjoying life and fresh food and not such a diet.. but always a pleasure to see someone else enjoy our way of salads and fish, you can have a peak at David Leibovitz: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2012/07/israeli-salad-recipe/

  42. Absolutely agree about the solutions for experiencing places like a local. We’re on a year long trip around the world, and the longer we spend in a single spot, the easier it is to begin setting into the rhythms of the place: grocery store visits and lesser-known walks and seasonal neighborhood events and those precious invitations to spend time with new friends!

    My tip for romantic drinking? Ditch the phones and head for wine country (Stellenbosh, South Africa; Dundee, Oregon; Mendoza, Argentina) and/or cooking school where they provide beverages πŸ™‚

  43. Your honesty makes me feel like ‘its okay’ that the last 6 months of living and traveling around Italy were some of the most lonely and frustrating I have ever experienced. The reality of traveling sometimes doesn’t live up to our daydreams, sometimes it surpasses them. Its about being present and patient. I have learnt that you don’t need to squeeze in everything that the guidebook says just to tick it all off, and you don’t need to make excuses for your decisions either. The highlight of a journey may be the view from a small bench or of an unknown artwork.

    You may enjoy Alain de Botton’s book called “The Art of Travel”, that philosophizes about our expectations and experience of traveling from airports to the typography of foreign road signs to the idea of ‘exotic’. A good read!

    Looking forward to the next installment of your travels πŸ™‚

  44. Renting a place as a home base has been most enjoyable for Rachel & I. We usually plan a big event every other day or so and leave the rest up to wondering and leisurely exploring.

    I have always believed that some of the best things of every vacation happen when you walk out the door with no agenda and just wonder. Who cares if I saw every last tourist attraction there was, I got to “just be” with my wife, in a new environment.

    I know you’ll have more awesome travels in the future and will look forward to the recaps.

  45. Kelljo

    Ok, I didn’t see anyone else suggest this but I may have just missed it.Or maybe everyone else shudders at the idea but it worked marvelously for j and I. When we went to India and Nepal we booked a tour, it was run by a sustainable travel company and the guide was guaranteed to be local. There were 8 people in our group so it was great. J and I got to converse with other travelers from all over the world while still spending a lot of time together. I don’t think I would have ever booked a tour anywhere else but india was intimidating to me. We learned so much about the culture and the way things worked during our 3 week tour that by the time we were on our own for the last two weeks of our trip we were much more comfortable navigating the other cities on our own. I also think we actually experienced more that way bc we didnt spend half our time lost or staring at a map. The tour also included lots of free time but also the convenience of asking our guide for advice etc. We ended up enjoying our group so much that we spent most of our free time with them as well. I think the group aspect also helped us make friends with locals easier than we would have if we were on our own because we felt safer doing so. And I also agree with everyone else, stay one place longer or else you’ll later be disappointed that you missed half the cool stuff that location had to offer.

  46. Oh man, I completely agree. I think we all have that fantasy about traveling… going somewhere far-off and REALLY feeling like a local. Doing what they do and seeing what they see. This all-perfect romantic get-away. But that almost never happens… There’s always going to be hiccups when traveling to some other place. There is A LOT of planning that is required… but planning is never fun! And takes up so much time. And keeps us from actually EXPERIENCING the place.

    I actually think your list is some-what positive. It’s a great reflection tool and something you can try differently on your next trip!

  47. I’m so grateful for all the thoughtful comments on this post. You guys are the best!

    Kelljo – GREAT point. The most enjoyable times we had were on tours. As cheesy as they may be it’s nice to be told about the area and not have to think about what’s next.

    Simon – I definitely want to use AirBnB (or something similar) for our next vacation. I think we avoided it this time around just because we didn’t know where we were going to be and when.

    Stefania – Thank you for the recommendation! I’m going to download that to my Kindle ASAP.

    Bethany – YES. My favorite excursions always involve wine. When we were in Colorado we parked ourselves at the Great Divide microbrewery. We took a tour and enjoyed a flight of beers for hours and it was such a good time. Same with the Vienna wine & bike tour.

  48. I love your idea of renting a flat in a city for 3 months, then moving on to the next city. That seems like a very reasonable way to get to know a new city like a local. I’ve actually considered doing that before, but haven’t quite got my freelancing to the level that would support me financially yet. I love the idea though and am definitely going to keep it in mind.

    One question I have about that idea though… where would you put all your stuff in the meanwhile? And would you move all your furniture w/ you to each new city or just live out of a suitcase and rent furnished apartments? How about “stuff” stuff, like high school yearbooks and other memory stuff that usually lives in a house – would those go into storage back home?

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