Travel Must-Do List? More than packing wisely and saving a copy of your passport on the cloud? Yes.
Every trip gifts you with opportunities for personal growth and new experiences. But you have to do your part, too. You’re asked to bring your own travel must-do list and find ways to check off each item during your explorations. Unless you’re stuck on a bus with 70 other tourists (notice I didn’t say “travelers”…) with a non-negotiable itinerary–in which case, we need to have a serious discussion about what travel really means–you should be able to return home with pride, satisfaction, and happy memories.
Ready? The list is short–only ten things!–so it’s achievable, even on a short trip. Plan ahead and allow for serendipity: a savvy traveler always does both.
Travel Must-Do List for ___________________ (Name of destination)
- Learn how to say Hello, Good-bye, Please, and Thank You in the local language. Also helpful: Toilets? Water/Beer/Wine, and Do You Have a Menu? If you’re terrible at foreign languages, at least carry a list with phonetic pronunciations. Don’t worry if you sound like a fool–people will love you for just trying…and you’ll make their day.
- Book a tour or excursion to help you learn more about the destination. Extra points if it’s led by a local, but take time to understand the culture, food, art, or history at a deeper level. Don’t just say you’ve been to the Forum…get to know how and why it was important to the Romans.
- Take public transportation at least once. Sure, it can be intimidating. Your hotel can explain it and give you a map and directions. Watch how the locals do it. Ask! Don’t worry if you make a mistake; you’re clearly a tourist. Then relax…this is people-watching at its finest. Plus, it’s inexpensive!
- Purchase a souvenir from a shop that doesn’t sell t-shirts/magnets/mugs/shot glasses. This means wandering around and finding the perfect item that represents your trip. How about a gorgeous silk scarf? Placemats or napkins? A piece of jewelry? Ceramics? Whatever you choose, you’ll have it forever and remember the trip each time you use it.
- Get off the beaten path. By this, I mean just wander in a new area. We often stick with the same routes when we’re in a new city because it makes us feel secure. Every place has hidden gems: a cool neighborhood, an unusual museum, or a less-popular site. (The sewer tour in Paris comes to mind.) Use your guidebook or ask the concierge.
- Go a day without a map. Maybe not the first day or two after you arrive, but give yourself the chance to have an unexpected adventure. Turn down a different street. Flip a coin at each corner: heads, go right–tails, go left. You’ll see things you’d never have found if you stuck with a set course. If you get lost–and I hope you do–ask for help. Keep a landmark in mind, so the locals can point you in the proper direction.
- Eat at a restaurant that locals love. Do this by skipping the hotel concierge and asking the maid. Or the cabbie. Or the barber. Or the grocer. These folks are not dining at Michelin-star restaurants. They have a favorite place, and if you’re lucky, they’ll tell you. If you’re even luckier, the menu will have absolutely no English. Just go and enjoy.
- Do something brave. This may vary by where you are or what your particular fears happen to be. Maybe it’s having a glass of wine alone. Or perhaps you really want to experience an authentic Turkish hamam (steam bath) but find it a bit intimidating to be naked in a room of strangers. Take a deep breath. Do it. Remember that these people won’t see you again, if that helps. But do it.
- Write it down. Some people are natural journalists. They lovingly purchase Moleskine books, faithfully record everything, then proudly line them up on their shelves. If you’re one of those people, I’m jealous. At the very least, bring a spiral notebook and make a list of the things you did and saw each day. You think you’ll remember what you had for lunch at that amazing bistro, but you won’t. You won’t even remember the name of the bistro. Give up 15 minutes to write it down.
- Save a momento. I advise you to bring back something and start a “memory jar.” A coffee stirrer, a gelato spoon, the cork from that great bottle of wine, a matchbook, a seashell. Anything non-perishable–it can be different for each trip. Just collect them in a clear vase or jar. Voila! An instant conversation piece.
Ten things that will improve your trip, make you wiser, and create better memories. Bon voyage!