7 Practical Tips To Own Your Travels
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Ah, the travel bug affliction.
Symptoms include an unquenchable thirst for new adventures, a burning curiosity to experience new cultures, a sudden calling to 'find yourself'… and possibly a desire for a new Facebook profile picture.
Whether it's pre-university inter-railing in Europe, gap-year adventures in South America and South-East Asia, volunteering trips in Africa, or university-organised teaching groups to remote villages in Uzbekistan, each offer a tremendous opportunity for awesome experiences and personal growth.
Unfortunately, for many of us, the prospect of travelling also brings with it a sense of anxiety or apprehension. Whether it's the prospect of 20-hour coach journeys, squat toilets, the lack of laundry facilities or just the fear that things won't go to plan (hint: they won't…) - don't worry! It's natural to feel that sense of unease, and it's absolutely possible to escape its crippling clutches so that you can own your travels and truly get the most out of them!
And to help facilitate this, I've created a set of 3 blog posts - the 'Own Your Travels' series.
In this post, we'll discuss 7 practical tips for travellers based on my experiences.
In the second post, we'll move on to specific advice on travelling with friends/groups in order to minimise the chance of destroying friendships!
And in the final post, we'll finish with mental/emotional advice and lessons that may help you to transform negative situations into a positive travelling experience.
Let's get to it.
1. Find the balance between planning and spontaneity.
Enough so that you know where you’re staying tonight/tomorrow night, not enough such that you’re locked into commitments. For example, for my month-long venture into South America, my travelling partner and I created a rough plan of what we wanted to do and how long each would take, leaving slack between each step that required travelling from one location to another. We also ordered these activities in order of preference, so we were aligned on what we wanted to do most in case of time/money limitations.
However, in terms of hostels, activities and travel, we organised it all whilst we were on the move (aside from our first night, of course!). In our case, this was a real blessing in terms of saving money – my partner's altitude sickness meant we had to cancel our plans for a mountain trek to Machu Picchu, whereas my bout of illness ruined plans for a 3-day Salt Flats tour. Both would have been costly commitments had we booked far in advance , and not being locked-in meant we could adjust our plans as necessary (e.g. doing the jungle trek to Machu Picchu and a 1-day Salt Flats tour). As a note, for a lot of treks and activities, planning ahead is unavoidable – just be aware of (and make peace with) the potential pitfalls/costs if things don’t go to plan!
2. Know your travelling partner.
Anything from their budget preferences, their comfort zone with regards to planning versus spontaneity, their preference between luxury and ‘slumming it’, afflictions that would affect travelling (motion sickness is huge if your travel plans involve lots of buses/trains!), dietary requirements and preferences (anything from vehemently vegan to a mild dislike for mayo), physical fitness levels, etc. This is such a huge area that I’ve dedicated an entire blog post to it…
3. ARRIVE EARLY TO YOUR GATE WHEN YOU FLY WITH BUDGET AIRLINES!
Yes, I have intentionally written that in bold capital letters. Unless you want to be standing by the gate 10 minutes before take-off, wondering why the f**k Aeromexico have given your seat away and over-booked by 15 people whilst simultaneously fidgeting like a monkey on crack cocaine as you wait to discover whether you'll get a seat or have to wait for the next flight (which leaves in 12 hours), heed my advice and don't take a 'power nap' an hour before your flight…
(Fortunately for me, I ended up getting the last seat - having suffered from flight sickness most of my life, I never thought I'd be so ecstatic to be getting on a plane!)
4. Don’t get cocky!
Phones don’t get stolen because you flash them in markets, they get taken because you allow yourself to feel comfortable, leaving you more prone to distraction. It could be somewhere you’ve never been or somewhere you have the illusion of knowing well, it doesn’t matter – it can happen anywhere. It's definitely fair to put these situations down as just being a consequence of bad luck - but you can minimise it by staying focused, aware and humble.
My travelling partner got his phone stolen at El Alto Market in La Paz, Bolivia - he'd been solo-travelling around La Paz for four days, was roaming around town feeling like he belonged there…right up until the moment a man tripped over his leg. He looks down… and in that split second, a second gentleman walks by, gently lifts the phone from his pocket…and runs away faster than Usain Bolt juiced-up on Red Bull and anabolic steroids. Bad luck? Yes. Could it have been prevented? Likely.
5. ‘Bad-luck mitigation’.
Simply put, s**t happens in life. But all s**t seems deeper when you travel. Credit cards go missing, illness overcomes you, bike accidents occur… all away from the sanctuary of home. Take your first-aid kits, medicine bags and spare credit cards - but be prepared for the worst. As my travelling partner and I found out, trying to contact phone companies/ banks/ insurance agencies from foreign countries can be a nightmare.
We highly recommend that prior to your trip, you mitigate the negative impact of bad luck by making arrangements with someone in your home country (family member should do just fine) to carry out instructions (e.g. regarding missing phones, credit cards, insurance etc.) if indeed you do find yourself neck-deep in s**t!
When you’re constantly moving between hostels, keeping track of your belongings can be a nightmare. Mindfulness is a huge asset - and I don’t mean spending 20 minutes in a meditative state! Rather, I’m talking about a state of awareness in the present moment.
For example, when you enter your hotel room with a phone in one hand and a room key in the other, whilst simultaneously talking to your friend… stop! Redirect your attention to the moment and consciously become aware of your actions, even mentally vocalising them if need be; for example, “I’m putting the room keys on the left corner of my bed”. Before you sleep, consciously reinforce the location of your valuables. Before you leave the room, do the same thing. The more you practice, the better you get, and the less you find yourself losing things!
You've fallen ill. It happens. Get your medicine bag out. If you're missing items, find a pharmacy. Ask hostel owners or pharmacists (get someone to translate if needed) for specific treatments based on your symptoms. They're likely familiar with the ailments that afflict travellers and will be able to help. Rest. Recover. And be honest with yourself – if you need a doctor, don’t skimp out.
That’s the practical side of illness…but in all honesty, most of the damage comes from the emotional side. One of the thought patterns you'll encounter is frustration at how much you’re missing out on. You’ve come all the way across the world, only to spend that precious time migrating between hostel beds for elongated time periods. The disheartening nature of illness, especially when it’s significantly painful, leads to negative thoughts. Thoughts like wanting to move your flight back home to an earlier date; feelings like wishing you were home having your loved ones around you.
In my case, I dealt with this using the most powerful tool of our day and age…WiFi. Being able to communicate with loved ones, receiving their advice and experience - even just being told that everything was going to be alright - was more consoling than I could have imagined (especially given I was dealing with an unknown illness which surpassed anything I’d experienced for as long as I could remember). There'll be more on illness in blog post 2 and 3 of this series…
That's all for now - thanks for reading! I hope the practical tips outlined above have been helpful (or at least amusing) - if you've enjoyed them, check out the tips on travelling with friends/groups in the second post of this series, as well as the final post on mental/emotional advice and lessons!
As always, feel free to share, comment or ask any questions. I'll end by wishing you safe travels, amazing experiences and plenty of personal growth!
Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep shining!
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.