Not every trip is going to be the same, but there are a few things each trip that you should remember to do, or try to do, to make your traveling experience that much better:
1. Learn a few key phrases before you go:
On our recent trip to Greece, I learned one word: “Efcharisto.” It means thank you, and is the only Greek word I knew. Now, the nice thing is – pretty much everyone on the the Greek island of Crete spoke perfect English, but every time I checked out of a store or paid in a restaurant, I said, “Efcharisto.” And the reaction was priceless. The clerk’s face would light up and answer in Greece (as I nodded in a confused manner at the prolonged speech), but the point is, even though I’m sure I butchered the word, I tried instead of expecting them to just know English. You don’t have to be fluent, or anywhere close, but even making an effort goes a really long way and can definitely enhance your experience.
2. Visit a grocery store:
This is my new favorite thing to do on vacation. You never know what kinds of foods and drinks you are going to find and more often than not, you find something completely cool and different that you have never seen before. Not all of the new finds are winners of course – the Wasabi Potato Chips in Budapest were incredibly disgusting! But, it’s really fun to see what foods you can find that aren’t offered in the states. Plus, if you are somewhere known for their food, you will find it MUCH cheaper in a local grocery store. In Belgium, known for their yummy waffles and chocolate, I bought all those goodies in the grocery rather than the souvenior shops. Better selection at a better price. You can’t beat it!
3. Get off the beaten path
Sure, it is really helpful to follow travel books and guidebooks as a base for planning your trip, but don’t be afraid (or too rigid) to deviate a bit. Remember, most of the travel books are only going to tell you about the obvious tourist spots or are getting paid/getting perks from suggesting a restaurant/hotel/etc so it’s not entirely smart to only do what a book tells you to do. Be willing to pull off the road if you see something that looks interesting even if you have no idea what it is. When I went to Dresden in northern Germany, I had no idea how close I was to Poland, so I just decided to road trip there one of our days – and it was awesome! Not only that, I saw the coolest castle on the way back to Dresden. Had I stuck completely to the plan, I would never have gone to Poland or seen that castle. Branch out and it makes traveling that much better!
4. Converse with the locals
Be smart, clearly, but don’t be afraid to talk to strangers when you are traveling – especially the locals! They live there, they will tell you what to see and do much better than a book or website could. In Greece, I’m not sure that I would have found the Gyro stand that was right around the corner from our hotel without taking a few extra minutes to talk to the guy at our hotel. I would have missed out on my favorite meal in Greece! One of my favorite memories was on my first trip here in Germany to Munich, when I spent the entire evening talking to a table full of guys from Switzerland that were giving me pointers to Switzerland and Italy. Don’t be afraid to branch out – most everyone I have experienced has been wonderfully friendly and eager to help out. Another great way to see something spectacular that you may have missed!
5. Don’t forget to put down the camera
This is one I have to really force myself to remember. It’s so very easy to get into the picture happy mode – where you go somewhere, take lots and lots of photos and then walk to the next destination while not taking a moment to soak in exactly what you are seeing. I keep thinking back to my wedding day when everyone said to keep taking in moments to remember it because it goes by in a blur. That’s exactly how it can be when you travel. Usually, you have so much crammed into a short amount of time that it just becomes one photo op after another. If you don’t just take a moment, you may not appreciate what you are seeing.