The first part covered how you can prepare for a blissful trip, in part two I wrote about physical and mental aspects, and this part will deal with how you can influence your trip to have many moments of bliss while traveling.
Travel on Your Terms
Are you backpacking, flashpacking, jetsetting or gypsetting? Traveler or tourist?
I feel travel is less about how you or others label you and more about your own values. While there’s nothing wrong with calling yourself a backpacker, hipster (although, who does?) or minimalist, you don’t need to fit into a box.
Labels can only confine. Aspire to be undefinable. – Colin Wright
Where’s the fun in always limiting yourself to one group of people or one form of accommodation or mode of transportation or type of food or way of recreation? Or never blazing your own trail?
While the crowd do know best sometimes, it can pay off in more than one way to make your own rules for travel without following the herd.
Labels limit you, because they limit your possibilities.” – Myrna Loy
Lara Dunston and Terence Carter of GranTourismo is one example of travelers who does their own thing. They choose to make travel more meaningful, memorable and authentic through sustainable travel (when possible), living like locals in apartments, doing and learning things, and giving back.
More What You Make Of It Than How, Where & What
So far I have traveled by plane, train, bus, car, pickup truck, tuk-tuk, motorbike, bicycle and boat. I have slept in tents, quiet hostels, party hostels, private hostel rooms, female dorms, mixed 12-bed dorms, apartments, vacation rentals, budget hotels, luxury hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs. Eaten street food, vegetarian, vegan, raw food, gourmet dishes, fast food and slow food.
Variety can make a trip much more entertaining, exciting and enriching. If you’d rather stick to your preferences, by all means do. Personally I love to travel by train and have yet to find bliss up in the air (or heard anyone mentioning middle seat in coach and blissful in the same sentence). Although first class or your favorite seat may result in more moments of bliss, it’s not necessarily how you travel but rather what you make of it. Likewise for your choice of accommodation and food, although there are exceptions (for instance, tourist trap restaurants versus family-owned places where locals eat).
Regardless of how you get there, where you stay and what you eat I believe the key lies in savoring the experience.
During a visit to Paris in my teens I went up to the Eiffel Tower late in the evening. Instead of taking the metro back to my hotel near Place de la République I walked alone along the Seine and through empty neighborhoods in the darkness. While a man near the Eiffel Tower began following me, asking for my name and where I came from (ignoring him worked) I walked undisturbed from then on.
I later realized however much you love to see cities at night and even though a neighborhood is considered safe, it’s foolish to walk alone in dark, empty areas. Earlier this year in Phuket Town I made an exception for a short, empty stretch between two lit up streets in the old town and half-way across two boys on a motorbike tried to steal my handbag. Lesson learned.
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During previous trips in Europe I have aimed to give the impression of being a local – even if I arrived an hour ago or visited for the second time. I pretended to have lived in the city for years and acted as if I knew exactly where I was going and what I was doing. As if I belonged there. I knew I did okay when people asked me for directions.
Even if you don’t feel confident somewhere, fake it until you make it. The longer you travel, the more your confidence will increase. For places where you don’t look like the locals, an expat is your best bet.
If you travel solo it’s especially important to put safety first. I rather stay somewhere central in a well-lit part of town and pay a bit more than choose the cheapest option that’s located further away. Even better if the place has 24-hour front desk.
There are plenty of ways to stay safe while traveling. You can dress more like locals than tourists to blend in, learn as much of the language as possible, and read up on common scams and which areas are unsafe in the place you’re visiting.
Travel For People and Places
I’ve read more times than I remember that travel is about people, not places. I get that. How can you compare spending time with someone who lives where you visit and getting to see a new place from a local’s perspective with walking around on your own accompanied by a map? Whether you make meaningful, lasting connections or have superficial, short-lived friendships, hanging out with locals, expats or other travelers can give you awesome experiences no guidebook could have led you to.
At the same time, while I’ve enjoyed making friends abroad, I also travel for places. Only places. To discover a city alone, without feeling lonely, and stroll through neighborhoods with no end destination in mind. When you travel on your own, your perspective changes, you see things you might not have noticed in the company of others, and you gain other lessons.
While traveling for people have pros that traveling for places hasn’t and vice versa, one can find both equally blissful.
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Keep a Flexible Itinerary
Although scheduled tours and detailed itineraries are great (when there’s need for them), making space for spontaneity can lead to more bliss. Except for during long-term travels, this is especially true if you work (abroad or not) with limited free time. If you’re not a traveler with plenty of time for flexibility, why not set aside a day or weekend?
When I worked 50-hour weeks as a nanny in Zurich, I usually left weekends unplanned until the last minute. One Sunday I decided to take the train to nearby St. Gallen. Once I saw the town’s proximity to Boden See (Lake Constance), I bought a train ticket to Rorschach. Once I got there and saw the beautiful lake I thought, “wonder if it’s possible to travel by train around the whole lake”. I gave it a shot and hopped on the next train to Bregenz. After wandering around Lindau, Friedrichshafen and Ludwigshafen I reached Konstanz 9pm and made it back to Zurich 11pm.
Heath Ledger once said:
I’m not good at future planning. I don’t plan at all. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t have a day planner and I don’t have a diary. I completely live in the now, not in the past, not in the future.
Although you don’t need to take it that far, I’m a firm believer in traveling with an adjustable itinerary (or none at all). Hence, my reluctance to go on press trips that are scheduled down to the hour. When there’s room for pauses to smell the roses, spur-of-the-moment decisions and change of plans, you can return to that spontaneous and light-hearted state children live in.
Reminds me of something comedian Kyle Cease said about kids and playgrounds. Kids don’t plan their playtime. They don’t think “first I go to the swings, then the jungle gym, and I may need a coach before I go on the slide”. They’re just playing. They live in the now.
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Be Spontaneous Rather Than Impulsive
While spontaneous actions make life fun and interesting, impulsive actions often have a negative connotation and can lead to trouble. On my trip to Thailand in January my impulsiveness didn’t result in any serious consequences but more consideration and reflection couldn’t have hurt.
At Phuket Airport I took a taxi to Bang Rong Pier at once. From there I traveled via longtail boat to Koh Yao Yai, speedboat to Koh Yao Noi, speedboat to Nopparat Thara Pier, tuk-tuk to Ao Nang, another tuk-tuk to Krabi Town, motorbike taxi to Thalen Pier, ferry to Koh Phi Phi, speedboat to Rassada Pier on Phuket, van to Phuket Town, and taxi to Nai Yang Beach – all within about 48 hours.
Before I reached Nai Yang Beach, where I ended up staying for six nights, I didn’t give any place a real chance. Why was I in such a hurry? I don’t know. I let my impulses rule. For example, instead of checking out Railay and Tonsai before leaving the Krabi mainland, I impulsively headed to Phi Phi, left with the next departing boat five minutes after I arrived and ended up back in Phuket.
Explore With Childlike Wonder
While working at a summer camp in Michigan a couple of co-workers were nice enough to let me stay in their house one night on my day off. I spent the morning reading in the backyard garden’s hammock, with sunshine warming my face and bird twitter from trees above.
Before lunch I looked up the closest village on my map and borrowed their bike. When I reached the open road surrounded by yellow sunflower fields, I began my cycling excursion in 100°F (one of the hottest days that summer).
Once I passed the village limit, red-faced and sticky, I paused on a spot of grass and emptied my water bottle. I dropped into a café across the road and treated myself to an omelette for lunch and a piece of apple pie with vanilla sauce, just because, for dessert. On the way back I checked out a roadside bar (as taken out of a road trip movie) and cycling “home” felt much easier.
Although nothing extreme in the sense of exploration, it was a pleasant excursion somewhere new. Had I stayed in the hammock all day, however peaceful setting, I would have missed out on the challenging bike ride, magical moments along the way, and joy from hours of discovering the unfamiliar.
Next summer on Lanzarote, my sister and I found a lagoon beach popular among locals, Caleton Blanco (the white beach) near Orzola, thanks to a taxi driver. There I tip-toed across an inlet of water, balanced on large stones, and stopped to gaze at the ocean as a feeling of pure joy washed over me. Felt like the explorations by the sea we did growing up.
No matter if you’re a control-freak who plan everything or travel with a carefree take-things-as-they-come attitude, or fall somewhere in between, there will always come opportunities to embrace your inner child and marvel over the beauty in the world.