Everyone travels for different reasons. For many, travel is a means to escape from the everyday stresses induced from work and monotonous schedules. But, it isn’t always as simple as hopping on a plane and leaving your troubles at home. Sometimes, especially for those “type A” personalities who need to be in control and like things just so, stress likes to jump in the backseat and come along for the ride
In everyday life I am over controlling. I love to travel because it allows me to step outside of myself. I am able to let go of the routines and the schedules; I come home rejuvenated and even feel healthier without stress weighing me down. However, this was not always the case. I once traveled with the world’s worst companion: myself.
My first trip to Rome was a disaster. The city was chaotic, sirens wailed down impossibly confusing streets, customer service was non-existent, and transportation was annoyingly slow. I left with the impression that the eternal city was dirty, overrated and Italians were lazy. But, Rome was not the problem, my impulse to control was.
I have compiled a few tips that I believe provide the type A traveler with a “balanced diet” that allows them to maintain control, but at the same time warns them of over planning the experience so they can let go a little and enjoy the trip.
The greatest adventures are those experienced off the beaten path. Try and avoid the tourist traps, there’s nothing I find more stressful. Yes, they are “safe and comfortable,” but I always compare them to theme parks: sure, I had a good time but I leave feeling worn out, unsatisfied, and ripped off. If there’s a touristy spot you really want to see, by all means, see it, but leave a little room in your schedule for just wandering and seeing what you can stumble across. Learn to step outside of your comfort zone, even if it means straying from all of the English-speaking locals. Believe it or not words make up only 7% of your communication, and most people are willing to help you clumsily navigate your way through the native language.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise a little caution as well. Always have a map of the city and the hotel address to find your way back, but until it’s time to return, don’t worry about sticking to a predetermined route.
>> Read how to get lost in Venice
Be flexible and open-minded
It wouldn’t be an adventure without a few detours. Accidents happen, credit cards get eaten and stolen. No matter how much we prepare, we can’t always control events that happen to us, but we are the only ones that can turn them around. Focus on the positive rather than the negative. If something goes wrong (and it probably will) think of it as a speed bump, not the end-all to a vacation. Rather than wasting time complaining and pitying yourself push the anger aside, and take the necessary detour willingly so you can get back to enjoying yourself.
Throughout my travels I have learned to cope with the yin and yang – the pitfalls of a supposed perfect day. Last St. Patrick’s Day, I happened to miss my flight out of Dublin. I would have hopped onto the next flight but fate had another plan in mind – I had missed the last flight bound for London. Rather than spend my night sulking atop suitcase pillows and a bed of my dirty clothes, my friend and I decided to head to a pub and take a cab back to the airport after last call. We happened to meet a British rugby team that was heading back to London in the morning by ferry. They had 2 extra tickets and invited us to return with them. Opportunities such as these don’t always present themselves; however, we are more likely to find a solution when anger and disappointment aren’t there to cloud our judgment.
>> Check out lessons learned from travel disasters
Keep it simple
Don’t try to cram too much sightseeing into one day. You’ll just be frustrated and disappointed if you’re unable to accomplish everything. Make a bucket list of things you absolutely cannot leave without seeing and then visit the websites to check out hours of operation (many sites choose random weekdays to shut down for the day) to help you plan a loose schedule.
Divide sightseeing up into different neighborhoods so you don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to take on an entire city in one day. Before heading to bed each night spend no more than a few minutes making a rough draft of what you would like to accomplish the next day. Remember it’s a rough draft, not an itinerary – so time shouldn’t be a factor.
>> Read more about overplanning your trip vs going with the flow
Leave your problems at home
Avoid Internet cafes – unless you are informing your loved ones that you are safe. You’ve informed your employers that you’re on vacation, so why are you checking your emails? They’re only going to stress you out. Many feel helpless without smart phones and Facebook, but there is plenty of time for that when you return home. Take this time away from your obligations to be selfish. When you learn to let go of all of those distractions you’ll begin to appreciate the beauty in having to answer to no one but yourself.
Airports and train stations are probably one of the most stressful parts of a trip, especially if you’re lugging around heavy suitcases. Save yourself the trouble by packing light. Of course you’ll want to pack for every contingency, but all that extra stuff is just going to weigh you down. Instead bring the bare minimum you’ll need to be happy. Choose one color scheme and plan to rewear outfits or wash your clothes throughout the trip. If you’ve found you’ve forgotten some seemingly vital item, you’ll either be able to buy it on your trip or you’ll discover it wasn’t so important after all.
Packing with only a carryon removes the stress of worrying if your bag will make it to your destination, and if you have a long layover, you can check out the city rather than spending hours sitting in the airport.
>> Get tips on packing light
Ditch the diet
A trip is no time for counting calories, so don’t be afraid to indulge. Food is a very important part of culture; immerse yourself. Try new foods, no matter how unfamiliar they may be to you. Every country has a special cuisine to offer. Countless times I have allowed the waiters to surprise me, and have been delighted at the result. If you’re not willing to put the fate of your taste buds into the hands of your waiter then keep an eye out for what seems to be popular among the locals dining around you.
>> Read how to stay fit on the road without dieting
Make a connection
Many tourists mistakenly treat a foreign land as one big museum, watching life in a foreign city from a safe distance but never getting involved. This is real life for people though, and needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Stop hiding behind your camera and get your head out of the guidebooks. The unfamiliar isn’t meant to be comfortable. But, the more you push yourself to interact, the more comfortable you will feel and the more natural it will become. Don’t be intimidated by locals; you’re more likely to have a negative experience when you appear standoffish. Strike up a conversation – you have so much more to learn from the locals than any guidebook can offer you. You’ll be surprised how far a sense of adventure and a smile can get you.
Memories in front of the Coliseum and Eiffel Tower live on only in photos. They’re great for bragging rights, but I’ve learned it’s about the journey not the destination. My newfound sense of adventure has welcomed me into a Nubian family’s home for dinner in Egypt. I’ve stumbled upon a Bulgarian wedding reception and have been welcomed with open arms – these are the moments that stick with me long after the trip.
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Remember the world is bigger than you
Countries have different customs, cultures, and concepts of time. Don’t waste time measuring their way of life to yours, as you’ll quickly be driven crazy as things fail to meet the standards you have at home. Let go of your expectations and you’ll save yourself the stress of constant comparisons. Not every city is perfect – accept the flaws and even embrace them, or at the very least, learn to laugh at them.
>> Read about ways to ease travel stress
I decided to return to Rome two years after my first miserable trip. Amidst the chaos I found serenity. The Italians I once believed to be lazy simply had other priorities. I found wonders hidden down the cobblestone streets I once thought impossible to navigate. I arbitrarily wandered into churches and found a treasure trove of delights; stumbling upon an altar made of jade, walls adorned with bones, and countless works of art by Bernini, Caravaggio, Raphael. The stench of exhaust was replaced with the fresh, warm scent of bread entering my nose as I passed by the open door of a Roman bakery. Good company, a glass of ruby-red Chianti to unwind, paired with proscuitto and melon were enough to help me forget about the slow service.I couldn’t believe I had missed all that Rome had to offer the first time around. All of the negative qualities I had noticed upon my first visit to Rome were all still present, but this time, I didn’t let them bother me.
If you spend time dwelling on inconveniences and disruptions to your perfect plan, what should be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience will become a time of frustration and anxiety. For those of us less willing to let go, it can be a challenge, but if you let yourself get a little lost, a little out of control, and a little off-track, you may be surprised at how easy and enjoyable the experience can be.
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