Photo by the Author Jacob K Thomas
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The time was coming upon me, I knew my time was short. How short, no idea. I just knew I needed to keep in mind, things were going to be changing.
In late 2018, a lot was going on, my relationship with my long-time girlfriend ended, work was work, and I was kind of lost. I was still being active, I still enjoyed my life in Germany. I mean I’d lived there for over 7 years at that point. I knew though that my time there needed to come to an end.
I wasn’t making any money, my debt wasn’t getting any lighter, even though I loved hanging out with my friends, realistically because of my job, I knew in August of 2019, I had to be back in the states. With all of that being the case, I knew one thing was going to be true. I needed to see a few more places before the European adventure ended.
During all of my trips that happened from about November 2018 to July 2019, I realized and learned things I think I knew years ago, but I guess I just didn’t let the thoughts flow as they should have. In any case, I came to think about the tips and thought. What proceeds are what I think are the 11 best things that will be helpful to some, while some will say, yea, duh, I knew that a long time ago.
1. I was actually OK traveling alone
I’ve done a good number of trips by myself. What I would call my first real vacation was alone. I went to San Diego and Los Angeles by myself. Met some interesting people, saw some cool stuff. Saw two baseball games and a football game. That was in 2008, of course, a lot changed from then. I’ve traveled solo and with people. From a lot of points, traveled with groups, with a friend, and with a girlfriend. Once I started traveling solo by choice. I realized I was fine. I know how to meet people. I was able to stay entertained solo. Not to mention, sometimes you just need that time alone, so you can get to know yourself.
If you ever think, “I can’t travel alone.” Yes, you can travel alone. Countless people do it every year. A survey done by Klook found that 76% said that they have traveled alone already or would consider it regardless of age, gender and nationality. If you are a female, you may think it’s not safe, but a report done by Overseas Adventure Travel found that 60,000 women traveled solo between 2018 and 2019. To go along with that, of the 47% who are registered as solo, 85% of them are women. Also, Pinterest saw a 350% increase in women pinning things that pertained to ‘solo female travel’.
Overall, traveling alone can put you outside of your comfort zone, which isn’t a bad thing. We need to be challenged, it’s cliché, but what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
2. I worried way too much about money
As I’ve mentioned at various times, I’ve always been in a bad financial place. Money was an issue. It stopped me from going out at various times. It stopped me from doing various trips. Heck, I feel like, in some ways, it made my last relationship at times harder than it should’ve been. With that, looking back, it was a mistake.
Now, I’m not saying I should’ve gone out and put myself into more debt, but I should’ve assessed my situation better. I could’ve come up with ways to make things work. As I’ve figured out and after so many years of traveling and seeing things. You can do things on the cheap. You can still enjoy all of the great places without spending every single penny. Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Workweek talked about how he was able to live in various countries and do some of the greatest things at a price that would surprise you.
Remember you can experience so many things, don’t let money be the thing that prevents you from doing it.
3. I should’ve taken more time going more places
In line with the previous thought, I feel I may have missed out by not going to more of the places I should’ve gone. There are a lot of reasons for this happening. I remember in either March or April of 2019 deciding between Vienna, Budapest, or Marrakesh. I had a flight in my basket to go to Marrakesh for about $70 roundtrip. Yes, $70 roundtrip to Marrakesh. This would’ve been awesome. I could say I’d been to another continent. I always wanted to go to Morocco. I didn’t pull the trigger at that point. Why? I was scared. There are many reasons why I was scared. In any case, when I did decide to pull the trigger. That flight price was gone.
I instead ended up doing Vienna, which was awesome, but the point is, take the time and do these things. I think one of the reasons at the time, was do I want to take more time off. I had the hours to use, I wasn’t going to zero in my time-off at work. Americans are horrible at taking their vacation time. A record 768 million days were left unused in 2017 according to research from U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos. It’s even worse when you work for the US government because you can roll a certain amount of time over every year. There have been countless times, I’ve only taken two weeks off or one week in total off because my plan was, I’ll just rack up these hours for a big trip next year. After 2020, I think we understand we aren’t guaranteed anything.
Take your time off. Put together that bucket list, or check things off that bucket list. Tomorrow may never come. Don’t have regrets about what you didn’t do.
4. Packing light is always the way to go
My first trip to Poland in 2017, was during the summer. It was going to be a slightly longer trip, say 4 or 5 days. It was a group of us staying in a shared house. In packing for that trip, I didn’t know what bag to take, how much to take, etc. The argument I got into before the trip with my ex about the bag was so major. I wanted to take a bigger bag because I always had an issue with packing light. I downsized my bag, in the long run, it worked out and she was right.
During that period along with others, especially after that trip. I finally understood about packing light. I still don’t pack as light as I should, but it’s a work in progress. Jessica from Nacho Average Fro has some really good tips on packing light. I especially like the idea of deciding on a color scheme or figuring out your purpose. I used to take so many clothes because I thought, “Oh maybe I’ll do this, or maybe I’ll do that.” I might have done something special once or twice. If you are scared about forgetting something, there are enough shops in a lot of places, you’ll be OK. I know the little voice is making you think of all the what if’s but tell it to shut up.
5. Flying on budget airlines isn’t that bad
We all have our horror stories about a budget airline canceling your flight or giving you some sort of hassle about your bag size. They also might want to charge you some sort of fee you had no idea about. All of these things are valid, but what did you expect when your ticket was probably what, $60 or somewhere around there.
You have to have context and look at the bright side. You spent next to nothing to go somewhere that is probably going to be great. Not to mention, why are you taking so much stuff?
6. Meeting up with friends you enjoy make trips great
One of my good friends and his now-wife decided they wanted to go to Ireland in November 2018. I hadn’t been to Ireland yet, he’s one of my best friends and when we both lived in Germany, that was my travel buddy. I of course went and had a great time.
Who you travel with matters and if someone you know well is going to be going somewhere you know you want to go, why not just go? If you are thinking, “Didn’t you just say, traveling alone is OK?” Yes, I did, but it’s not like you are going to be with them 24/7. It’s good to see old friends and get a chance to catch up while experiencing somewhere new. It’s a win-win situation in my mind.
7. Even if you forget something, you’ll be OK
On that same Ireland trip, I somehow forgot an adapter for my phone charger. The UK and Ireland have different plugs than Germany. I normally remember these things, but this time I didn’t. It wasn’t a big deal, I just bought a new one, then went along with my day.
I understand the fear of forgetting something, but if you do, it’s not the end of the world. This goes back to packing light. If you forget something that you need, just go buy it. Trust me, it’s OK. When I was in Naples, Italy, not Florida. I forgot a shirt to sleep in. I ended up going to this department store that had a sale and bought a simple t-shirt for a few euros. I still have that shirt and wear it now and then. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of shirts, that one stays around because it’s actually a good quality shirt.
8. Yes, you can find an English speaker
When you move abroad or are going on a trip abroad, this is always one of the first concerns. It is a fair concern, but it shouldn’t be. English is taught everywhere. A lot of people watch English television shows, listen to English music, etc.
There are some countries where it will be a little bit harder than some, but with translation apps improving so much every day, finding someone who speaks English shouldn’t stop you from wanting to see somewhere in the world you always dreamed of. Remember what people use to do when English wasn’t as big? You would walk around with your language book, try to pronounce whatever it is you wanted, or point. We have come a long way since then overall, though finding someone to speak your language, or in my case, an English speaker, it’s not a concern that should ever stop you from going somewhere.
9. Remember those times with friends, who knows when they’ll happen again
You may think it’s weird that first I said it’s OK to travel alone, then who you travel with matters, now I’m telling you to remember those times that you travel with friends. It all depends on the situation that you are in. You can definitely travel solo, but when it comes to actually organizing or deciding to go on a trip with someone, your group matters.
When you do get to go on a trip with a group of people and they are some of your best friends, you need to remember those times, because we aren’t guaranteed anything in the future. I mean I think about my last trip before moving back to the states, it was to Poland, I got to celebrate my friends getting married. The entire trip was the perfect send-off after over 8 years of living in Europe. Good food, great company, the funny moments, and the things you’ll want to remember forever. Now after a year of not being able to do anything, it makes you wonder when you’ll be able to see those friends again. The one thing that can’t be taken away though is the fact I had a great trip that was full of excellent memories and moments.
10. Take pictures, even if they aren’t great, they are your memories, not the Instagram followers
Anyone who knows me will agree I like to take pictures. I think the only person who has me beat in the picture game is probably my stepmother. In any case, pictures allow us to have those memories. They allow us to share things with family, friends, acquaintances, mentees, etc. The issue that I run into that is something that a lot of us run into. We want great-looking pictures. Why? Oh yea, the ‘gram. I haven’t posted a picture on my Instagram since December of 2019.
We live in a world where we want perfection. We want to showcase our life and what we are doing. Just stop and take pictures that will allow you to share and relive the good times. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to take amazing photos. You should try to take the best photos possible. You aren’t going to be able to relive that time you went to the Great Wall and it’s blurry as all can be. The point is, if that photo is a little blurry, an angle is off. You can’t get something without a lot of people. It’s OK, take the picture. If anything, it could be a good reason to learn photoshop and get rid of all the extra tourists.
11. Leave time to just relax, it’s OK to not see everything that everyone says you need to see
I went to Malaga in 2017. This is one of the best places to go in Spain. The location allows you to not only enjoy everything that Malaga has to offer, but it can be a starting point to see other amazing cities. You can go to Granada, Seville, as well as Gibraltar, or if you are really adventurous, you can try going to Morocco and seeing the city of Tangier, which is right at the tip of the country. There is a boat that gets you from one point to another. Sounds like fun, right, or you can just relax in lovely Malaga, along with doing a day trip to one of the nearby cities, like Nerja, then maybe go to Granada, if you want.
All these things were ideas that I purposed to my ex when we went. We had 5 plus days in Malaga, which to me meant, we have 5 days to see all of the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast). As an American traveler, because of the limited amount of vacation time and that lovely FOMO, we really try to pack way too much in. My ex had a really good point. Why can’t we just enjoy where we are, along with a smaller trip to somewhere else. The fear is that we aren’t going to see the things that everyone tells us that we need to see, like the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s OK not to see everything. I went to Amsterdam, didn’t see do Anne Frank’s house. Have you seen the lines to get into that place? I’ve gone to Paris, didn’t ride up in the Eiffel tower, definitely didn’t go inside of the Louvre.
Sometimes it’s nice to just go to some amazing places, see a handful of amazing things, recharge your mind and body, then take those memories with you. Not to mention unless it’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip, you probably are going to want to go back, then you can go and do all those other things. I’ve been to Brussels and Berlin probably the most. Each time I’ve gone and found something new and interesting. That’s the point, take in what you can. It’s supposed to be a vacation or a lovely trip to a new place. Not a race to claiming that you saw everything your guidebook or that website told you that you are supposed to see.
What are some things you’ve figured out during your travels? I sometimes think that these things are probably things that I should’ve figured out a long-time ago, then again, probably not. A lot of things depend on your life experiences, upbringing, etc.
I hope those of you that can get back out there, and travel are doing so and enjoying, as well as I hope these tips make your next trip enjoyable. Thanks for taking the time and reading this.