Warning: this post is a little on the philosophical side, but it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. One thing I have noticed as I mature and gain experience is that I am continually evolving as a traveler. There were ways I preferred to travel in my 20s that I do not even consider in my 30s. I anticipate that this evolution will continue for the rest of my life.
The beauty of travel is its ability to change who you are. Every place I have visited has left its mark on me and I am a better person for it. I have discovered that how I travel is not nearly as important as the traveling itself. The lesson here is to embrace the season of travel you are in and to keep an open mind about other travelers and their preferred travel style.
There are no right or wrong ways to travel. You determine your style of travel and guess what? Your style may change. Below I share a few of the ways I have evolved as a traveler over the past 20 years. I am curious what from this list will change in the next 20 years…
I was discussing travel with a newer coworker of mine and she asked me this question: do you usually stay in hostels? My response was immediate and short: no! I quickly realized that my response may have been a bit too abrupt and portrayed a disdain for hostels that I do not have. I went on to explain that at one point in my life, I only stayed in hostels. In fact, I loved staying in hostels. They were unique, affordable and I met the most fascinating people. But by the time I hit 30, the novelty had worn off and I was over shower shoes, weird smells and strangers who snore right next to me. At that point, I had a good job and could afford something a little nicer than a bunk bed in a hostel.
So I said goodbye to hostels and embraced the newest trend in travel: Airbnb. It was a pretty smooth transition and Airbnb is still my lodging of choice when I travel these days. Maybe that too will change in the future. But for now, I think back on my hostel days with fondness while looking for unique Airbnbs to rent.
Employ a two-night minimum rule
The days of packing up my bag after only one night are gone…and good riddance! That kind of traveling is exhausting and I prefer a less-frantic pace if I can help it. For that reason, I implemented a two-night minimum rule. I prefer to stay at least two nights in any one location. More nights are actually better.
On a recent trip to Eastern Europe, this rule saved us. The countries we explored came with challenges we were not expecting and our travel days were an ordeal. Thankfully, we always had at least two nights to recover. If we had had to move everyday, I would not remember that trip and those countries with fondness. These days, I need recovery time!
Of course, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. A late night or early morning flight may necessitate a one-night stay near an airport. And road trips often entail getting on down the road after only one night. However, in general I do my best to stick to a two-night minimum. Thankfully, R agrees.
Invest in a rolling backpack
I never set out to be a “backpacker.” However, I found it very convenient to carry everything on my back and my carry-on sized backpack forced me to pack light. So I became a backpacking kind of traveler and that worked very well for me for 15 years.
Now days, I still find a backpack convenient and I still prefer to pack light. However, I am no longer 22 and carrying around all of my possessions all of the time is painful. Enter the rolling backpack. If I need to put it on my back, I can. But for the most part, I roll it around and it is a lot easier on my body. Given that I have a good job, I was able to invest in a quality rolling backpack that should last many years…or at least until I evolve into the kind of traveler that needs a different kind of luggage.
Purchase quality souvenirs
Because we have had the opportunity to travel to fun and unique spots around the world, our house is full of interesting treasures. At this point, there is no reason for me to come home with cheap or cheesy trinkets. I prefer quality over quantity and I rarely pick up items with the name of the country I am visiting. R enjoys splurging on a special souvenir. I sometimes splurge and I sometimes don’t. But I find it interesting that my souvenir shopping reflects the traveler I have become in terms of style, country reflection and price (mostly price).
Ah the internet. It has changed the way we all travel. You no longer have to rely on an expensive guidebook from the bookstore or outdated copy from the library. There is a wealth of information available at your fingertips. I love it. I love the research and I love the planning. Back when I first began traveling, the internet was new and research opportunities were limited.
Now I can spend hours and hours researching a specific location on YouTube, blog posts, WikiTravel, government sites, etc. I can find best practices, insider tips and places to avoid. I can reserve someone’s home, make a dinner reservation and change my flight. And I can do this all from my phone! Technology has probably been the biggest contributor to my evolution as a traveler. And most likely it will continue to be.
Avoid red-eye flights
I avoid red-eye flights if at all possible. I do not sleep well on airplanes. Technically, I have never slept well on airplanes but since getting quality sleep has become more of a priority as I have gotten older, I do my best to get quality sleep. There is nothing I can do about an overnight flight to Europe. But there is something I can do about a red-eye across the county: not take it.
Red-eye flights are great if you are short on time and/or cash since they fly through the night and are often more affordable. I thought they were the greatest thing in my 20s and the only real price to pay was a good night’s sleep. However, that good night of sleep is a steep price to pay these days and I prefer to fly during my waking hours. I’m willing to pay more for that experience in both time and money.
Consider paying more for a flight
Speaking of paying more for a flight, I am no longer on the hunt for the cheapest ticket price possible. Sure, I still look for a good deal. But I often pay a little more money for a nonstop flight or to leave at a more reasonable hour. My time means more to me than it did a decade ago.
Revisit a destination
I still have a desire to see and experience new places. But I am also starting to be okay with revisiting destinations I have already visited. This past Christmas, R and I decided to visit the Christmas markets in Germany. We have both already traveled to Germany and although this Christmas trip took us to new places in Deutschland, I did not check any new countries off my bucket list (a first for me).
The sense of urgency I felt when I was younger to travel as far and as fast as possible has faded. I still feel an urge to roam, but the urgency is gone. I’ve got more years ahead of me to travel than I have behind me. It is okay to slow down and go somewhere I have been before.
A vacation does not have to be go, go, go! For the Christmas trip I mentioned above, we actually planned a relaxing vacation. It was another first for us and it has already changed the way we plan trips. For me, evolving as a traveler means relaxing just a bit more than I used to.
Pre-book and plan
A noticeable trend in travel the past 10 years has been the amount of people traveling. There is not as much opportunity to be flexible in my opinion. The days of showing up and seeing what you want to see when you want to see it are gone. Reservations for things like museums, hotels, ferries, etc. have gone from recommended to necessary if you want to be sure you have a spot.
I am a planner at heart. I like having my vacation pretty well buttoned up before I go, so this shift in travel has not been a hard one for me to adjust to. But for those who enjoy flexibility and spontaneity, the need to prebook is a bitter pill to swallow. There are ways to work around it, but I prefer to do my research, make a plan and get things taken care of before I go.
Evolving as a traveler is natural. As you mature and gain valuable travel experience, your travel style and preferences may change. My best advice: go with it and embrace the change. As long as you keep traveling, that is all that matters.