Travel blogging is not my domain (for some excellent posts, tips and ideas on travel, check out Hannah’s blog), but I have been a traveller since I was a child. My parents are passionate about travel and made sure to instil a wonder for the world in me. I was lucky enough to be able to travel with them every year over the summer holidays. They took my sister and me to museums and theatres, we went sight-seeing, we met locals – we learnt to really appreciate how big the world is, and how small.
I am filled with wanderlust. My feet itch to explore new ground, my heart hopes to beat to the rhythm of new cities and my list of places ‘To Visit’ grows longer and longer. Living alone and living abroad obviously means my travel budget has become considerably smaller, and most money I have for flights ends up being spent in flights to Malta to visit family and friends.
Luckily for me, my closest friends all adore travelling, and so we plan a trip or two each year to keep the itch scratched. I’ve also come up with a list of ways to make the most of your travels, starting with:
1. Figure out what sort of traveller you are.
So you want to travel the world? Excellent! Welcome aboard. Here’s what you ask yourself now: what kind of traveller am I? Does the idea of spending a week sharing a hostel room with complete strangers fill you with joy or dread? How do you feel about camping? Do the number of stars beside the name of your hotel determine whether you’ll enjoy yourself or not? Because if you’re the outdoorsy type, you won’t feel too great about spending all your dough on a hotel room with little shampoos and soaps. But if you like being comfortable, then the prospect of sharing your tent with an insect or two could be a dealbreaker.
2. Figure out what you expect from your travels.
What do you want to achieve from this experience? You’ll be spending a decent amount of money on this trip, even if you do budget, so it’s only fair that you get what you want in return. What’s the dream? Do you want to mingle with locals? Are you hoping to haunt museums and stately homes? Are you there for the sights? Do you dream of tasting all the cuisine and sampling all the wines? Do you want to be one with nature? Or would you rather lie by the pool and soak up the sun? Having a clear idea of what you want from your trip will help you choose the perfect destination and plan an itinerary which will satisfy your expectations.
3. Keep your budget in mind
Set yourself a limit and try to stick to it as best you can. Do some research to figure out not only how much flights and accommodation will cost you, but also to give you a rough idea of how much money you’ll need each day for food, transport and entertainment, as well as a safety net of emergency money to help you should anything come up. Yes, money is there to be spent, but it’s no fun going abroad if you’re going to be worrying constantly about the debt you ran into to afford the trip.
4. Take out travel insurance
It seems like an unnecessary expense, but accidents do happen sometimes, and it’s better to rest assured that you’re taken care of if your suitcase never makes it to your destination, or your flight gets cancelled, or you fall ill, or get hurt. Trust me on this one.
5. Experience > Things
Think back on the last five years: What are you most fond of – the handbag you bought which perfectly matched your dress, or the memories you made on your last holiday? When you have a set amount of money to spend on yourself, you’ll soon learn that that experiences are worth so much more than objects (except perhaps books; books are brilliant), and once you’ve come to terms with that, you’ll be able to save up so much more money. Do you REALLY need another pretty dress? No, I didn’t think so either.
6. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous
By all means, plan out your trip and have a rough idea of where you want to go and what you want to do. If you’ve always dreamt of seeing the Taj Mahal, and then you go to India and don’t see the Taj Mahal, that’d be a pretty stupid thing. BUT. As you travel, you’ll meet people, and people will suggest things to do and places to go. Don’t be afraid to break the plan and do something impulsive – they’re usually the things you end up remembering after you’ve come home and start to experience the post-travel blues.
7. Be respectful
People are people everywhere, no matter where you are, no matter what the culture. Basic human decency, politeness and manners go a hell of a long way and will ensure a better experience for everyone involved. Don’t get into unnecessary fights. Nobody wants to be that person.
8. Do your research
Learn as much as you can about the place you’re visiting. You should know what the currency exchange rate is, how to say a few basic phrases in the language, what the culture is about. You should also do your research about things like public transport (so you’re not left stranded somewhere), cost of taxis in case you need one, where your country’s embassy is in that place in case you run into trouble, and so on.
9. For the love of all that is good, take photos!
I don’t mean ALL THE TIME, but who doesn’t love looking through photos of their favourite holidays? You don’t even need to invest in a super expensive camers; just use your phone, or go old school and buy a disposable camera. You’ll want to capture the memories, and nothing does that quite like a photo.
Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but I tend to keep a small notebook with me when I travel. In it, I jot down names of restaurants and pubs and places I’ve visited and liked. I write down little thoughts and snippets of conversations I want to remember. Travelling gives you perspective, and when you have that perspective, you may want to grab it and put it down on paper so it doesn’t elude you when you arrive back home.
11. Travel off the beaten path (but realise it’s beaten for a reason)
If you only have one opportunity to go to Paris in your life and you don’t see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, or if you go to Rome without looking at the Colosseum, or you travel to Sydney without gazing at the Opera House then you’re sort of doing it wrong. It’d be pretty boring ONLY to visit the most famous landmarks (and exceptionally expensive!), but there’s nothing wrong with picking two or three must-sees and, well, seeing them. They’re famous for a reason.
12. Hacks! Vouchers! Forums! Pirates!
Ahoy! Internet ahead! In the weeks before your trip, look into available discounts and hacks in the place you’re visiting. You may find really cheap accommodation, discounted flights, half price concert tickets, free entrance to museums. The internet is full of discount and voucher sites and they ARE there to be used, so use them. It’s also a great idea to join some travel forums and ask for advice from fellow travellers. You should also keep an eye on review sites like TripAdvisor when planning your trip to ensure you make the most of your money.
13. Pack light
Yes, you’ve heard it before, I know, but it bears repeating. You don’t want to be lugging kilos upon kilos of STUFF around when you’re supposed to be moving around. What’s more, luggage sometimes gets lost. If you only pack the minimum, then you’ll only have to replace the minimum. Nobody’s really going to care if you wear the same t-shirt twice. Honest. There are some great lists online to help you travel light, and you should definitely look into them before you head off.