Travel Karma: 6 Tips to Make the Most of Your Adventures
By: Justin Waldman and Chelsea Swenson
#1. Check the Weather. This might sound like a no-brainer, but having even minimal knowledge of the seasons and weather patterns can make or break a trip. First, know the season. You can’t expect to show up in Hawaii in spring and not get rained on. Am I right? Second, check the weekly weather forecast before you leave. Rain jackets are super lightweight and take up virtually no luggage space, but can be instrumental in improving your comfort level on a rainy day. Plan beach days or other outdoor excursions for the nicest days of the trip and do museums and indoor activities when it’s overcast. Third, alway expect a curveball. My brother and I got hit with an off-season hurricane on our trip to El Salvador last summer but, the length of our trip (and Rum and a Pitbull puppy) saved us. Even with a 4 day hurricane we still had two beautiful days on the front and tail ends of the trip to hit the surf and score moments like these…
#2. Don’t Expect to Conquer an Entire Country. Bali had always been a dream destination for Chelsea, but we only had our week long spring break for traveling. Despite the distance, we decided to go for it and accept that we just wouldn’t be able to see it all. Bali is known for its abundance of beautiful temples, but instead of trying to see as many as possible, we chose one we knew would be a unique and special experience. Besakih Temple was a little further away from our villa in Ubud then many other temples, but the sunrise drive through local villages and rice paddies was stunning. Upon arrival, we were dressed head to toe in traditional temple garb prior to blending into a crowd of hundreds of Balinese ascending multiple flights of ancient stone steps. We gathered in a large courtyard and joined a brief meditation, listening to the gentle rhythm of traditional Balinese music as the high priest sprinkled coconut water on our heads. There were no other tourists present.
For the rest of our week, we immersed ourselves in the local cuisine, took scooter rides to check out the action around our neighborhood, and hunted down secluded beaches to lounge under our Neso Tent beach shade. While much of the island may have gone unexplored for us, we managed to avoid hours of sitting in traffic, mobs of tourists and an overwhelming blur of too many sights. Instead we found fulfillment and pleasure in the experiences we had time for.
#3. Embrace Culture Shock. Stepping off a plane in certain places can render you pretty useless. With no way of communicating, getting around, or having your primary needs met, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated. Traveling is about letting go! The first tip in embracing culture shock is to adjust to a new pace. In the comfort of your own country, you are capable of accomplishing a variety of tasks in mere minutes. But in many international destinations, this is almost impossible. Feed your senses, take walks, and observe. Chickens in airports, BBQ’d insects on sticks, illegible subway maps, 500% humidity, relieving yourself over a hole in the ground; the world is beautiful place if you don’t try and change it to your liking. Accept that your meals may not always be satisfying, worse you may not get what you thought you ordered and instead find yourself staring down at something totally revolting and possibly still moving. Don’t let it spoil your mood! Go back to your hotel, eat a granola bar, and laugh about the experience later on. Remember, discomfort can lead to growth, but only if you let it.
#4. Learn a Few Key Phrases. Step 1, Google popular phrases in the language. Step 2, practice them. Step 3, swallow your pride and actually use them. Step 4, watch the smiles radiate from people’s faces as you give them the easiest and most meaningful compliment you can… speaking their language. Literally! We usually take a screenshot of important phrases on my smartphone, so they are accessible to either read from or practice regardless of internet access. While it can be intimidating to look a stranger in the eyes and stumble through a few phrases of Polish, the results are overwhelming positive, and worst case scenario your butchering of their native tongue will make them laugh.
On a recent health retreat to Southern Poland, I took my own advice to heart, and practiced my Polish phrases as much as possible with the friendly hotel staff. The others in the group teased me at length for being the clear favorite of the gang of sweet old Polish ladies, who gave me frequent winks and spontaneously delivered hot ginger lemon tea to me alone.
#5. Strike Up a Conversation. You’re not just there to get a new Insta photo in front of the Eiffel Tower. The world is full of beautiful people and the best way to meet them is to start talking. You’ll stand out in the sea of tourists if you make an effort to ask questions, express interest in your surroundings, and engage locals in meaningful conversations. One of the most memorable experiences we’ve had traveling, was befriending a restaurant staff at a very traditional taberna (tavern or cafe) in Valencia. La Pilareta exudes 1920’s grandeur; immaculate wood trimming stemmed from wall to wall, brass bars hugged the floor and counters and above the bar dusty bottles of brandy lined 20 yards of glass cabinets. Even the formally-clad staff seemed stuck in another era. In the excitement of stumbling across such a treasure, we immediately began chatting with the bar keeps. Flattered by our enthusiasm for the restaurant, Valencia and Spain as a whole, we became fast friends. We returned the very next night and they were clearly surprised and delighted to see us again. We told them about our plans to do a road trip around southern spain and they enthusiastically proceeded to neglect their other customers, and write out an entire itinerary for us on bar napkins. We still have those napkins and it all started with us just sincerely asking how they were doing.
#6. Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard. International Travel isn’t always in the cards. For one, its expensive. It’s also not the greatest career move to get on a plane and bail for weeks at a time. But, that’s not stopping you from finding a fulfilling adventure closer to home. Feeling fatigued and uninspired from your day job? Get outside! In The United States we’re lucky enough to have The National Park Service, who manage millions of acres land you can explore. Two summers ago, international travel wasn’t in our budget, but we were still craving an adventure. We stuffed the Prius with as much REI camping gear as we could afford and we headed north. Chelsea and I both grew up on the east coast, but we now call San Diego our home and it was high time we explored more of what the state of California had to offer. During those blissful three weeks, we slept outside, made campfires with snow capped peaks in the distance, and reconnected with nature and each other. We explored the Redwoods, day-hiked meadows in Yosemite, pitched a Neso Tent on the rocky shoreline of Lake Tahoe, and I even got barked at by a huge elephant seal surfing a remote beach in Humboldt. Regardless of where your backyard is located, a walk in nature is accessible to everyone. Get out there and enjoy it!