My sister arrived on Friday enroute to the UK, where she has a new job lined up in Oxford. It is a rite of passage amongst Australians to spend a year or two living in the UK, touring Europe and living as a gypsy. I spent 18months and my other sister two years. Now it is the youngest one’s turn.
It is twelve years since I returned home from my stay in London, but it feels like only yesterday. I learned so much and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. But as my sister sets off, it got me thinking – would I do things differently now? Since then, I have travelled around Asia, to Russia, back to Europe several times and lived in North America for two years. You can’t help but pick up a tip or two. So here it is – my “top” trips for the traveller:
1. Be a Traveller not a Tourist
When I did my travelling in Europe, I admit we got preoccupied by a tick-the-box kind of travel. Eiffel Tower – tick; Collesseum – tick. But some of the best memories had nothing to do with the sites we had gone to see. Like the time we got lost and just wandered around the streets of Venice, people watching outside the Notre Dame cathedral and accidently ending up in a men-only gay bar in Salzburg (long story). The best part about travelling is seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Talking to people in cafes, catching public transport, shopping at the local market and just watching how people live in another part of the world is truly fascinating.
2. Downsize the Luggage
Like many things, when it comes to luggage – less is more. You will hear this tip over and over again because it is TRUE! It wasn’t until my bag got stolen in Moscow and I completed the last 10 days of our trip with only a shopping bag full of possessions, that I realised just how little you need. A few changes of clothes, toiletries, camera and passport. After all, there are shops in other countries as well and most hostels/hotels have a laundry. The advantages are too numerous to list but my favourites are: no lost baggage or waiting for bags to come off the plane, public transport is a breeze (as is walking through crowded streets) and you save so much time packing and unpacking. It takes at least 50% of the stress out of travel. Next time you travel, try fitting everything you are taking with you into a daypack (an everyday size one). It is really liberating.
3. Hang out with the Locals
Where ever you live, I bet there is a place that everyone local goes. Not the one you take people when they come to visit from out of town, but where you go to hang out with your friends. It may change from time to time but there is always a place. That is the place you want to go when you travel to a new city. It is not easy to find because most people will assume you want to see all the tourist places and may not think to tell you about it. Talk to the locals and ask where they went last weekend or where they hang out with their friends. You will get to see an entirely different side of town from the usual tourist. It is not entirely without its downside because you may just end up in a dodgy neighbourhood in Battambang eating bat soup and water snake (true story).
4. Get out of the City
When I went to the UK, I based myself in London and spent 95% of my time travelling in large cities. Not that there is anything wrong with large cities but once you travel outside of London, you realise that there is much more to the UK than Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. There is so much character, culture and rich, vibrant history. Not to mention the locals have a bit more time for travellers than the usual tourist weary Londoner. When we lived in the US, we made a conscious effort to see more of small towns (while still enjoying the larger cities) and were well repaid. We came away with a more rounded view of what it means to be an American than we ever could have done by visiting the big cities alone.
5. Never, ever, ever eat a meal in your Hostel
This truly baffled me when we were travelling. I met Australians in Rome who were eating vegemite sandwiches in the hostel and watching TV. Seriously?!? And why do hostels even have TV? You are in Rome – stop watching the Simpsons and go do something! Even if you have no money, go eat your vegemite sandwich in the park. If its raining, head to a museum. Travel time is precious so don’t you dare waste it.
Back when I was travelling, smart phones did not exist and internet was dial-up. Travel review sites (or any websites) were a new idea. Now days, I would never stay anywhere without checking TripAdvisor (or equivalent) first. While it is not fool proof, it certainly helps to make sure I end up staying somewhere that works for me. I prefer TripAdvisor because of the narrative review style – it is more than just numbers. A hotel next to a noisy pub might be a deal breaker for one person but a bonus for the next.
7. Take care of yourself
It is easy to get carried away while on holiday (too much sun, too much sangria, too much everything) but try to take care of yourself. Try and eat sensibly (without depriving yourself). Pop into the local market/grocery store each day and stock up on healthy snacks like fruit, nuts and yoghurt. It will make you feel better if you are eating regularly and healthily as well as being better on the budget. Try to make sure you have a water bottle at all times and keep drinking lots and lots. When travelling bottled or filtered water is always best. If you can, boil water to drink. Take it easy on the alcohol and keep your wits about you. Just because you are on holiday, don’t do things you wouldn’t do at home (like walk back to the hostel at 1am in the morning). Oh, and don’t forget the suncream! Lobster face is not attractive on anyone.
Well, I have to admit that I am wee bit jealous to be putting little sis on the plane. I know that she is going to have a great time and I just hope that she gets as much out of the experience as I did.