As summer continues at the speed of light, it’s easy to slip into a daydream when you’re actually supposed to be organizing that never-ending pile of papers or reply to 20 emails. It’s normal to anticipate your vacation and have restless feet as soon as you liberate them from winter shoes and let them feel the sun. Apart from making plans on how to get to your destination, where to stay and what to do, your planning should be a bit playful, too.
Think about how you can take your travel experience to the next level. We’ve got a few ideas.
Greet and thank in the local language
Let’s be honest: learning a language takes a lot of time and determination, and you probably lack both if you’re going somewhere in two weeks—for two weeks. But don’t be completely lazy, and learn the basics like saying hello, thank you, goodbye, reading the menu and ordering, saying where you’re from. Yes, nowadays almost everybody speaks English so there’s no real need for that, but that’s the exact reason to give it a try. There are tons of apps and learning websites at your disposal, so learning the basics has never been easier. I promise, even if people you’re buying coffee from speak fluent English, and even though your attempts to make a sentence in their language could be aptly described as a struggle, they will respect you way more and appreciate your effort. Plus, it’s a great feeling! Last year in Belgium I uttered my first ever bonjour while entering a restaurant, and I was in awe to see that the waitress understood and replied. Of course I knew what bonjour meant before, but it’s a completely new thing to see a language coming alive.
Look like a local
We’re not talking a complete style shift, but do you really want your clothes to scream TOURIST? While you might not care, other people will—and they will charge you more than others if you’re an easy target. So leave your sorority T-shirts and sweats at home! If you’re traveling to a Muslim country with regulations on public appearance, be respectful and don’t run around in shorts and tanks. But even if you’re going somewhere with no rules (or so it seems), playing with your looks can be so much fun. Going to Paris? Don’t forget to take your striped shirt and red lipstick. Berlin? The messier, the better. Scandinavia? Think simple lines, black and white. Who knows; maybe you’ll get inspired to experiment further and introduce new items into your style.
Avoid McDonalds and KFC
Not only is this a way to be sure you don’t overpay for food, eating locally can bring your trip to a whole new level! Trying local food is one of the best things you can do when traveling. A few months ago, I met my cousin on the third day of his stay in Berlin, and to my complete shock, he told me that he’d been eating at a popular Italian restaurant chain. Now, if anyone in the world loves Italian food, that would be me—but while this chain offers gorgeous food, you can get it anywhere—the same can’t be said for most of Berlin’s delicacies. Google local eateries before you go, and promise yourself to try as much as possible! Even if they sound gross, because usually they taste much better. In China, for example, I ate scorpions and frog legs. How were they? I’m not telling. Try it yourself.
Visit a farmers’/flea market
Without a doubt, this is as local as it gets in any town in the world! The food, the smells, the people, the crowds…I always find markets very exciting. And don’t worry if it doesn’t sound like a perfect way to spend a morning abroad—just test it once, and you’ll probably get hooked, because there’s something in the air there! Usually the people you could meet there are very nice, and while a lot of them will try and sell you something, they will also often offer you to taste the food or something else for free. Be careful, though, because the whole experience can get quite addictive and you could find yourself accidentally emptying your wallet there!
Meet the locals
Last but not least, the best way possible to move around an unknown place is to have a local guide. Whether you’re into museums, street food or bar hopping, a local is your survival kit and a golden ticket to the best trip ever. It makes sense and is quite intuitive, yet, too often we rely on experience of other people who just visited the place. Don’t! It is easier today to find info online about spots to visit than it was 15 years ago, but only a local knows where the best coffee is, and they know that it doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive. They know all the wonderful hidden places, and it would be a pity to miss them. Find them via your friends, or make a coffee date with someone on CouchSurfing or Meetup.