You may ask, how is this list different than my Top 50 Travel Tips? My Travel Tips are quick, easily digestible, general ideas. My Travel Lessons are more specific and complex things that I’ve learned over the years. Pearls of wisdom, if you will. These lessons are things that not only make for a better traveling experience, but make us better travelers all around. I still add to this list when something new comes up so check back now and again!
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #1 – Never, ever trust someone else to take care of your travel accommodations.
You can read about what happened to me when I trusted my friend to take care of my accommodations in Israel. Since that trip, I’ve always made sure that I have eyes on my travel arrangements even if someone else is involved. I actually prefer to make my own travel plans, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s cool to learn how to navigate the modern on-line travel booking systems and another very important skill for self-reliance.
A caveat to this rule is if you have wealthy friends and they’ve booked amazing housing and provided you with links to the places you’re going so you can verify for yourself that things are indeed good to go, then by all means, sit back, relax, and enjoy. But I’d still double-check. 🙂
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #1.1 – Re-read Travel Lesson #1.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #2 – If traveling with other people, make sure you discuss ahead of time what your expectations are.
This is crucial because what one person’s idea of vacation is may be completely different from another. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down with whoever you’re going to be traveling with, whether it’s a family member or friend, and saying hey what are you hoping to see and do on this trip? What are your expectations? Do you like to eat out a lot or cook in? Or both? You’re only going to have a better trip if you discuss some of these things ahead of time. A real-life example for me was that on a long road trip I neglected to ask the other people about their music tastes ahead of time. This led to what I would consider a torturous experience of being forced to listen to four hours of ear bleeding noise that I think would be hard-pressed to fit the definition of “music.”
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #2.1 – If someone else is picking the sightseeing location, make sure you’ve double checked the details.
This is all about having someone’s back. I talk about this in my post about the Louvre. It’s important to do the research ahead of time and find out when things are open and if there are any exceptions going on. I’ve heard some people talk about how planning this much can take some of the freedom or wind out of your sails and I’m here to tell you that that statement is just complete nonsense. They’re going to be plenty of opportunities when traveling for you to “fly by the seat of your pants” and do things spontaneously. However, if you want to go see one the world’s most famous museums or a place that is simply subject to specific hours of operation, there’s nothing wrong with knowing ahead of time whether you’re wasting your time by going there on day when they’re closed or not.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #3 – If you’re the one picking the sightseeing location, make sure you’ve double checked the details.
Read Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #4, and remember that if you’re the one responsible for picking a place, make sure you get all the details ahead of time. People are relying on you and trusting you. Don’t be the one that messes up people’s plans because you simply didn’t pop on the Internet and look up some details that only take 60 seconds to find out.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #4 – Take Your Destiny Into Your Own Hands and Seize the Unexpected Opportunities.
The inspiration for this lesson, which you can read all about here, was our trip to Milford Sound in New Zealand. Sometimes you run into snags or snafus, the proverbial bumps in the road. A really successful trip can often mean understanding the quote, “when fate shuts the door, come in through the window.” That idea, that sometimes you have to find an alternate way of doing what you want, can mean the difference between a great trip and a very disappointing trip.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #5 – Pack what you need, not what you want.
This one can take travelers a little while to figure out. You’re going to think you want to bring a lot of different options with you when you first start traveling. You’ll quickly learn that it’s all about striking the balance between that and wanting to be as unencumbered as possible. If you’re taking a leisure vacation where you’re going to be in one place (like a resort, hotel, or Airbnb) for two weeks, then you can pack a couple of suitcases and unpack them when you get there. But if want to go to a couple of different destinations or want to be out and about every day experiencing the different things and sights to see… you’re not going want to have a bunch of crap with you.
Trust me, you don’t need four pairs of jeans, twelve pairs of shoes, and seven different styles of hats. You can do laundry when you travel and that makes packing less a lot easier. I also firmly believe that checking the weather and planning some outfits ahead of time is a great way to enjoy your trip, enjoy what you’re wearing, be comfortable, and not have to deal with overweight bags (which bring fees from the airlines) and hauling a bunch of stuff here and there and everywhere.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #6 – Be comfortable with new technologies that make travel and life better.
In other words, don’t be a curmudgeon lost in the days of yore. technology is incredible. We live in an age unparalleled by any time before. Take advantage of that. There are limitless resources online to learn how to do most of the things you want to do. In my personal opinion, the most essential of these is learning how to take a decent photograph. I say this because no matter whether technologies you employ on your trip, at the end of your life you’re going to want to look back at the photographs and videos, not the app that you used to plan your plane tickets.
This is not to say that there aren’t other awesome technologies you should be using as well. There are! There are apps for just about anything you want to do, including: tickets for museums and other exhibits, subways and public transportation, food, airline tickets, bus tickets, train tickets, maps, travel books, language translators, unit converters from metric to imperial or Fahrenheit to Celsius, flight trackers, currency translators, rental cars, and more. In addition to apps, there are wonderful accessories like gimbals for your smart phone so you can have smooth videos, and lenses for your smart phone to take your pictures even further. There are now smart suitcases, electronic tags for your valuables, anti-theft backpacks, wicking fabrics to help with moisture, the list goes on and on.
So you can sit around complaining about the technology or you can embrace it. I would encourage you to embrace it. It’ll bring you travel experiences and life experiences far better and more convenient than you knew before. Most of these technologies exist to make things easier and faster so we have more time for the things we love to do, like hanging out with loved ones in a really cool place.
This is not to say that there aren’t times to put all the technology away. Of course there are. I talk about that often. Yes, the technology is amazing and I wholeheartedly believe we should use it to its full extent. But I also believe we should make time to turn it off, and just be with each other or ourselves. Or both.
In my opinion, life is all about balance. Find yours.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #7 – Share food.
It may seem like a simple idea, but especially if you’re on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to share food. The cost of ordering a small appetizer and one entrée and splitting that with your traveling partner is far less than both of your ordering entrées when you’re eating out repeatedly on a trip. If you purchase some snacks at a grocery store that you can keep in your backpack, you can always nosh on those later if you get hungry between meals.
I highly encourage you to purchase your sodas and drinks at a grocery store and enjoy them on the go in your own portable drink container or at your accommodation, not a restaurant. Sodas and drinks are one of the places that most businesses make a lot of money because they charge you a fortune for them comparatively. For the cost of one drink at most restaurants you can purchase a bottle or two on your own.
In addition to sharing food, I also think it’s really fun to cook at your accommodation. This is why we most often use air B&B and rental place to ourselves. We get to grocery shop in the local town were staying in, meet people, see a piece of their way of life, try new foods and cook some classics we love in our own home away from home. We also make sure to take some leftovers with us to snack on throughout the day which not only cuts back on the expense of food, but also makes it really easy to not get “hangry” (hungry-angry) Because you have food with you and don’t need to be on the hunt for a restaurant if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #8 – Don’t skimp on your gear. Your back and knees will thank you later.
There are a lot of places in life to cut corners and save pennies. Your traveling gear is not one of them. From a suitcase to a backpack and everything in between, having solid, reliable, well-built gear is very, very important. Your luggage is going to get tossed around, thrown, dropped, and beaten up over time. It has to be well-built and durable to withstand those kinds of things. Your backpack is going to be filled and unfilled and put on and taken off thousands of times over its life. It also has to be tough. Not only that, but I stress this every time I can, being fit for a backpack at your local sporting goods store is crucial to not only a good travel experience, but physical health in the long term.
People truly underestimate how important it is to be fit for a backpack. As you get older, you’ll want to be kind to your knees and back so that they last a long time. I’ve seen a lot of people in the world with the wrong size backpack and they don’t realize how that’s going to affect them down the road. Not only does a proper fit help with physical health, but it also distributes the weight of the load so that your experience walking around the world is a much more pleasurable one. Did you ever wonder how those people who carry what looks like 60 pounds of gear still have smiles on their faces? It’s because they’re wearing the proper fit and they packed their stuff well. I wrote a whole post on backpacks which you can read here.
In addition to your luggage and backpack, you also should never skimp on your technology. Can you find a cheap camera and get some halfway decent photos? Sure. Until the thing breaks in the middle of your vacation. Most people have a smart phone these days with a pretty excellent camera in it, so this isn’t as big a concern as it used to be, but if you’re going to invest money into technology I always tell people buy something that’s going to last. As a side note I also think you should always put a screen protector and case on your phone. Protect your investment!
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #9 – Be honest with yourself about what compromises you’re willing to make.
No matter how far ahead you plan or how much money you have, at some point, a little compromise falls into all of our laps. The strength of knowing what’s important to you cannot be stressed enough. as an example, if you’re going to Paris and you know that no matter what you really want to see the Louvre, then if it comes down to scheduling and something has to give, knowing you’re willing to let other parts of the city go so you can spend time at the Louvre is important.
If you’re planning a romantic weekend away for you and your spouse, and you know that having time together to simply walk on the beach or in the woods and be unfettered by technology and people is the most important thing, then you’ll be willing to let go of not necessarily seeing some of the sites.
I mention these things because I haven’t experienced a single trip in all of my life where there wasn’t some kind of compromise that had to be made. That’s not for lack of planning or anything else, it simply the reality of life. So discuss ahead of time with the people you’re traveling with what your expectations are, what your priorities are, and hopefully come to an agreement about the core of your trip and what it’s about for each of you. This way when you’re traveling if things do come up making a compromise… won’t actually feel like making a compromise.
Moonbird’s Travel Lesson #10 – Listen to your instincts.
I saved this one for last because if you only ever believe one thing I write, this would be it. I think the travel tips are important. I think the travel lessons are important. However, all of them pale in comparison to listening to your instincts. There are so many instances I could list where this has come into play. Whether it was having plans to go see another attraction on our list, but feeling like we just wanted to stay where we were because we were having such a good time, taking a random turn when driving somewhere that my heart feels like it wants me to go, or simply ordering that chocolate lava cake because I “just knew” it was going to be good when I saw it on the menu.
In all of my travels, every time I’ve listened to my instincts, it’s been great.
So be honest with yourself. Truly honest. If you’re walking around a city and you had plans to go to a museum but you’re having such a fantastic time and you don’t want that feeling to end, then keep going. The museum will be there another day. When we were in New Zealand, we were driving from one place to another and at some point, came to a fork in the road and weren’t sure which way we were supposed to turn. I listened to my gut and said, “Let’s go this way and see what happens.” That’s when we met the “kune kune,” an awesome story for another time, and one that we never would’ve experienced if we hadn’t trusted our instincts.
So go out there fellow travelers. Go out there and see and experience the world. Wear a good backpack, take sunscreen and a good hat with you, and let your heart guide the way.