One of the more entertaining debates that seems to pop up from time to time is the discussion of who is and who is not “doing it right” when it comes to travel. It’s funny to me, because so many people seem to view travel as some sort of contest that they need to “win” vs. other people: It’s all about flying a more premium airline product, scoring a bigger suite, visiting more countries, getting a better bargain, etc, etc, etc. Saverocity just had a great post on this subject. There are a lot of ways to travel, and while I’m not arrogant enough to say which are “right” and which are “wrong”, I will put a stake in the ground and say that if you’re traveling just to try to one-up the next guy/gal, then you’re doing it wrong. Oh, and you’re all probably missing out anyway.
What do I mean by “missing out”? I mean that you could be having richer experience if you’d only try doing things a little differently once in a while. Let’s look at a few different types of travelers to expand on that point:
The Points / Miles Junkie
I love the points and miles game. I like getting upgraded to suites, flying in a seat that converts into a bed, and getting special treatment because of my elite status with various hotels and airlines. But I also try to keep that all in perspective. There’s a whole wide world out there beyond the luxury hotels, the airport lounges, and the first class suites. If the highlight of your trip is “trying out a new product” or that there was a handwritten note from the hotel GM waiting for you in your suite, you might want to try getting out a bit more. If you’ve been to more Park Hyatts / St. Regises / Conrads than you have UNESCO World Heritage sites, you might want to try mixing things up a little bit on your next trip. Take a break from moving hotels every night and spend some more time seeing the sights!
The Points / Miles Phobic
Are points and miles too confusing / frustrating / much of a hassle for you? Are you “all about the destination” rather than the way you get there, or the hotel you stay in? If so, I applaud your desire to not be bound by where you can get to and/or stay with points / miles… but you’re still leaving a lot on the table. With just a little bit of time and effort, you can save a lot of money by playing this game. And while there are a lot of places on earth that those miles won’t take you, there are more places than you can possibly see in a lifetime that they will. Being able to fly and sleep for free (or almost free) could easily mean getting to see and experience more places than you otherwise would be able to. Personally, I play the game because it allows me to travel more often and more comfortably than I could otherwise afford. Fancy hotels and premium airline cabins might not be “your thing”, but it’s certainly better than a slap in the face! It’s ok to indulge every once in a while – why not mix it up and try something new? You might find that you actually do like sitting in an airline seat that retails for more than your annual rent / mortgage, or staying in a hotel suite that’s bigger than your apartment for pennies on the dollar!
The Tourist Trap Tracer
Have you ever traced out your sightseeing game plan on a folded map? Have you overlayed that map with a map from the local tour bus operator? Do the two routes overlap almost perfectly? If so, you might want to try getting off the beaten path for a change. Look, I get it – how can you visit New York and not see the Statue of Liberty? How can you visit Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower? I’m not saying don’t do the “must dos”, but there’s a lot more to see and do than the top 10 activities listed on TripAdvisor. It might take a bit more effort and planning. but I promise that you will get to know the destination and culture of the people who live there much better. And you don’t have to wander around aimlessly, trying to find that “hidden gem” all by yourself either. There are plenty of guides and tour operators who cater especially to this type of travel. In fact, one of the best parts of my trip to South Africa was a tour that allowed us to share a few meals with local families in different Cape Town neighborhoods.
The “Off the Beaten Path” Obsessive
Do you avoid the tourist traps because they’re too crowded, too expensive, and “over done”? I hear you, I really do. I used to live a few blocks away from Times Square in NYC, and it was especially painful during peak tourism seasons. I hate crowds, I hate waiting in lines, and I hate overpaying for things… but sometimes it really is just a necessary evil you have to deal with. Some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen could be considered tourist traps, and while they didn’t all have long lines and high prices, many of them did. I sucked it up and dealt with it, and the experiences were absolutely worth it. I love “off the beaten path” experiences (see above), but if you’re cutting the “obvious” places out of your itinerary, you’ll be missing some pretty amazing experiences as well. Don’t be too cool for school and skip the Colosseum or the Great Wall – there’s a reason they’ve become so popular, and if you’re traveling in a group, they’re bound to be crowd-pleasers!
The Fanatical Foodie
If you’re a regular reader of this blog – thank you, by the way – it should be pretty obvious how much I like food. I love food, and I love trying new cuisines, new restaurants, and new dining experiences. When I’m visiting a new place for the first time, one of the things I get most excited about is figuring out the best places to eat. Once again though, I try to keep it in balance with other considerations. Part of me is tempted to plan the entire trip around truly great meals. I’m equal opportunity: Fine dining to hole in the wall joints. But doing so would get in the way of other things I want to make sure are part of my trip. So I resign myself to having a few crappy meals from time to time, because I’m going to be on an all-day tour, or because I’m leaving early in the morning and I just want to grab something quick before I go, or because I’m exhausted after being out all day, and all I want at that point is to crash and order some room service. I’ve even been known to eat crappy hotel food while spending a day on the beach (gasp!), or refueling at a McDonalds in a foreign country (double gasp!!). I’m 100% in favor of trying out the local cuisine, but if you obsess over it, you’re probably not going to have enough time to do much else!
The Funky Food Fearers
When you travel, do you tend to eat the exact same places as you do at home? Are your go-to dining spots familiar names like Subway, Starbucks, McDonalds, and TGI Fridays because you’re afraid that the “weird local food” might upset your stomach (or worse)? Or do you not even bother leaving the hotel for your meals because you get free breakfast and “the lounge has snacks at night, so that’s basically dinner”? Well (you probably know where this is going by now), I promise you the wide world of food isn’t nearly as scary as you think. Sure, you might try some things you don’t end up liking. It’s bound to happen, so be prepared. But food is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new culture – and you might find that you actually like something you’ve never had before! Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that. I realize that you may not be as food-crazed as I am, but there’s just so much great food out there and it’d be a real shame to pass it up for yet another Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki.
I’m not trying to pass judgment on the way you like to travel. I generally think that just about any kind of travel is better than no travel. All I’m saying is that if you’re willing to try something a little different, put in just a little bit of effort, there’s a whole range of amazing experiences out there just waiting to be experienced. You don’t have to do it all in every single trip you take, in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.
I’m trying to see, do, and taste as much as I possibly can, and I play the points / miles game to make that a little easier / more affordable / more comfortable. This blog is a journal of sorts, and I hope it inspires you to do the same. Follow along via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, or RSS