One of the single most important lessons I’ve learned in all of my years of travel is to ensure there is plenty of diversity in your travel plan. Thailand has hundreds of temples. Do you FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) out and try to see them all, or do you hand pick the ones that look the best? Are you choosing items for your itinerary because they genuinely interest you, or because you’ve been told they are important to see?
FOMO can seriously drain the energy and life from your vacation. Choose only a few of the major touristy highlights and then chalk the rest full with a vast spectrum of unique activities. Leave downtime to enjoy your environment. Don’t visit every single castle on the Castle Trail in Scotland. Don’t try and see every city park. Don’t try and hike every mountain in New Zealand. Don’t visit every museum in Central Canada.
Make it Unique
Choose activities and see attractions that you would never be able to do back home. That’s Wai-O-Tapu thermal park in New Zealand, that’s horse surfing in Sarasota, Florida, that’s the burning of the bodies on the ghats in Varanasi, India, and that’s laying in a sarcophagus inside a pyramid in Egypt.
You’re going to get a lot more intrigue for your photos if you avoid the cliché and find activities that are off the beaten path. Including photos of yourself with locals will be a lot more engaging than countless photos of busy city streets, or vistas of the valley.
When meeting these new “friends” as you go be wary how much personal information you share. While it can be temping to share your itinerary and life story, giving out too much information can work against your safety.
Be Aware of the Dangers
Challenge, scare, and grow yourself. Pick activities that when you look back on years from now, you are amazed that you managed to push yourself to do it! But, always be aware of your environment.
In northern France there are still tons of undiscovered landmines resting peacefully in mountain passes. When getting off the beaten path, talk to a local first, and make sure you’re not treading through dangerous territory.
There are too many stories of social media influencers becoming reckless with their lives for the perfect shot, and it cost them just that. Ryker Gamble, Alexey Lyakh and Megan Scraper (moderately famous YouTubers) plunged to their death in the summer of 2018 when visiting Shannon Falls in BC, Canada. It can happen to absolutely anyone. This is not how you want to make the news.
While TripAdvisor, LonelyPlanet, PlanetWare and travel blogs are excellent resources to begin researching the highlights of a country, don’t negate the power of Pinterest and Google Image Search! Stop being hand-fed what you’re told you should see, and search the grand world of experiences through travel photography online.
Try search queries like, “Quirky rooftop restaurant in Vietnam” or “Haunted hotel in Brazil” (without the quotes, of course). Use your imagination and get creative with keywords. You’ll be surprised how many hidden gems you find that didn’t make “the list.”
Check out Viator, ToursByLocals, WithLocals, GetYourGuide, and TourRadar for pre-planned tours. Then, steal it! So many sightseeing tours are what they call “panoramic” tours. This means that you’ll do a drive-by the highlights without actually going inside or visiting the attraction. How many photos of the outside of buildings do you really need and what story will you tell? These tour companies have already done the research on the sights most people want to see. They’re great sources to pull from.
Plot your favourites on Google Maps to see their distance in relation to one another. Then, open Uber and go, go, go! Don’t speak the language and don’t want to miss out on the important narrative from a guide? That’s what Wikipedia is for. That’s what Google Translate is for. You have all of the resources at your disposal to educate yourself, so use them! Ditch traditional travel conventions and you’ll save a fortune and see so much more.
Forget Your Expectations
Okay, so you’ve just finished building your perfect vacation based on the amazing photos you have seen online. You get there. It’s raining. You can’t get the same incredible angle you saw online. The light isn’t right. It’s swarming with tourists, even though it looked to serene online! You’re stressed, disappointed, and maybe even feel a bit ripped off. Where’s that National Geographic-style photo you hoped to snap?
The internet does an incredible job at making every spot on the planet look amazing. There are a lot of blogs these days that highlight the hilarious differences between a travel grammer’s feed and reality.
Learn how to forget your expectations and live for the experience and the moment that was made for you. No one else will be able to have the same experience that you’re having right now — that is what you need to cherish!
Book Direct & Save
So many tour companies are forced to list with places like Viator to advertise their tours because their SEO and exposure, quite frankly, sucks! Copy some of the text from the tour description, put it in quotes, and search for it on Google. Now, without booking through a third party, you’ll be able to find that exact tour and call the company directly. Mention that you’d prefer not to book using a directory site like Viator, and would rather book directly with them. Viator takes 20% commission on bookings. You should be able to save at least 10% or 15%, if not the entire amount.
Driving Times & Rush Hour
Waze and Google Maps are godsends. You can input the time of day you plan to depart and it will give approximate driving times with traffic. While these aren’t perfect, they’re pretty damn close to as accurate as you can get. For error, I’ll always add an extra 10% + 15 minutes for traffic and finding parking.
After downloading your offline maps, view them on Satellite view and see if the routes make sense. Google in Jamaica is absolutely horrendous. I spent an entire night driving around in the dark in and SUV on what felt like 4x4ing roads. Then, in Costa Rica, wound up driving through grass as tall as the Jeep before coming to a locked gate. The owner then demanded payment for entry to the highway I was paralleling the entire way. Always prepare for inaccuracies and get a copy of written directions as well as the automated ones.
Live in the Moment
In a world consumed by social media, likes, shares, and pseudo popularity, so many of us have forgotten how to simply enjoy the moment. Absolutely, yes, grant yourself a few moments to get that perfect selfie, capture the moment the shadows are just right over the valley, or sure, go “Live” on social media and share with your friends back home.
Then, sit back and observe. Put the phone down. Don’t snap and then disappear off to the next attraction. You may only be here once in your life; make it an experience and not just a photo stop.
Forget the tripod at home and there’s a ton of people around who can instantly become your personal photographer? That may not be the best decision. Thieves prey on people like this and will run off with your phone once its in their hands! Always bring enough gear to be completely self-sufficient or pick another tourist looking tacky to be your photographer.
The Cloud & File Naming
Sync with the cloud as often as possible. Be this iCloud, DropBox, or so on. In the event that you lose your phone, these will be the only copies left of your experiences.
Generally speaking, most photos taken with mobile phones these days are GPS tagged. You’ll be able to easily go back and see on a map where the photo was taken. One of my personal, additional, aids to memory is downloading all of the photos to my laptop and adding a description of what’s in the photo right to the file name. This makes them a lot easier to find in the future. Never again forget the name of that weird berry, that tour guide’s name or the bizarre spelling of that chapel.