13 Ways to Turn Your Vacation into a True Adventure
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I enjoy a good relaxing vacation like the rest of them...the kind where you kick your feet up by the pool, let someone serve you drinks, the excursions are pre-planned, and you don’t have to think. Ahhh, glorious indeed.
My most memorable travels, however, have been the kind where I’ve felt like I’ve been on a real adventure. The kind that sometimes gets me angry, makes me cringe, scares me a little; the kind that forces me outside my little idyllic, albeit boring, comfort zone. Why? Check out Don't Just Take a Trip: Top10 Reasons to Have an Adventure.
If you want to infuse a little adventure into your travels, here are some ideas. The first few are about mindset and then I’ll get into the more tangible:
1. Have an open-mind. Without that, you have nothing. You will stay closed to adventurous possibilities, and if you do by chance have an adventure, you won’t enjoy it. That’s not to say that all adventures are purely enjoyable, but you must be open to finding humor in them, appreciating where the journey brought you, and discovering what it taught you.
2. Be flexible and go with the flow. Again, if you are not willing to do that, you will close yourself off to having adventures and enjoying them. Unexpected things happen when you go to new and foreign lands. Expect the unexpected. It’s all part of the fun! Realize you will have setbacks and it’s all part of the journey. Problem-solve on how to bounce back from them. Be willing to change your plans as needed.
3. Say yes. If a cool experience or opportunity comes along, do it if you can. As long as you stay safe and take calculated risks, go for it. The best experiences I’ve had have been the unplanned, sometimes even unappealing.
4. Find accommodations as you go. I know that’s a little anxiety-provoking. Sometimes I book ahead and sometimes I don’t. If I’m traveling with kids, larger groups, or during high season, I book ahead. There are so many amazing resources online these days for finding great accommodations. You can thoroughly learn about where you will be staying by reading reviews. Booking ahead makes sense in most cases, and Booking.com is a really great place to start!
I always book the first night I arrive to a country because I know for sure where I’m landing and it’s nice to not have to worry about where I'll be sleeping, especially when it's late at night and I just need to crash. Another benefit to booking ahead is that you don’t have to truck your stuff with you as you search for a place. I have sometimes settled for places that are less than stellar because I'm tired of carrying my stuff around. However, you can be surprised! I've found some of the best deals by waiting until I arrive at a destination. These are often the unpublished or lesser known establishments.
There are some definite benefits to booking as you go or upon arrival in a destination. It adds to the adventure. It allows you to keep your travel plans flexible. If you arrive in a location and realize you want to move on quicker than you thought or stay longer, you can do that no problem. You get to actually see a place and where it’s located before you book. It also allows you to take recommendations from other travelers you meet along the way.
My most favorite place I’ve ever stayed was at a hostel called Masaya in Santa Marta, Colombia. I never would have known about it if Elliott, a traveler from Belgium we met along the way, hadn’t raved about it to us. Also, if you’re traveling for an extended time, booking everything in advance really doesn’t make sense. As you get to know a place, your experience there will inform your decisions. You can often find more affordable places to stay when you land in the location, as some places are not listed online.
I find a nice compromise in this formula: When taking a trip, I book my first 1-2 nights. Before I get to my next destination, I book that online a day or two in advance so it’s all set to go. This allows me to stay open to a flexible schedule and recommendations from other travelers. I don’t have to look around on foot for a place to stay. If it’s a really short trip (a week or less) or it's happening during high season, I book everything ahead.
5. Stay in hostels or Airbnbs. Airbnbs can range from shared rooms to private rooms in a shared house, to private houses or flats. It’s not a one-size fits all by any means, but they can be great because you can really customize the accommodation to your needs, you can save money, and you can sometimes get a feel for how locals live. You may even interact with them in a shared situation. Airbnbs can also be just like a hotel. If you are new to Airbnb, click here for $55 off your first stay.
I think hostels are where it’s at, and there’s a lot of diversity with those as well. You don’ t have to skimp on the luxury with them; many hostels are nicer than most hotels. To save money and have a little more adventure, stay in a shared dorm. Many even offer private rooms and you still get the advantages of being in the hostel. What I love about hostels is that most have a community feel to them with chill areas for people to hang out. They usually have kitchens so you can save money by cooking some of your own meals. This gets you out to the local grocery store and interacting with other travelers who are also doing some cooking and congregating.
In either case, try to read some reviews ahead of time so you know what you’re getting and you can have an enjoyable experience.
6. Take public transportation. It’s not always easy or efficient to travel this way, and my decision on whether to use public transportation or other means really depends on the situation. Here’s what I love about it: It’s cheap. It exposes you to local people and gives a window into the culture. It can also be filled with twists and turns (pun intended). By nature, it’s just the more adventurous option. If you have the time and public transit can do the job, I highly recommend going this route. Public transit can range from repurposed school buses, to luxury buses with Wi-fi, to high-speed trains.
7. Try new things. Maybe it’s hang-gliding in Colombia (ok, I don’t think I would do that), swimming with sharks or spelunking in Belize (I’ve done that), learning to windsurf (I want to do that), riding a cable car above poor neighborhoods in Medellín (I’ve done that), zip-lining in Costa Rica (I’ve done that several times), or cliff-jumping in Portugal (my boyfriend did that but I didn’t), do something wild and crazy. Calculate the risk and go for it! Fortunately for me, it's easy to give me a thrill, so it doesn't need to cost much!
8. Have your Dutch friends make you a list of strange tasks you need to accomplish while on your trip that force you to interact awkwardly with strangers. Hmmm...maybe that one was unique to my situation;)
9. Don’t always go to the most hipster, modern, “Americanized” restaurants. Yes, those are fun too, but if you are looking for cheap and authentic eats, go where the locals go! Take note of where they seem to be eating. Better yet, find a place that looks like a hole in the wall. If there are locals in there, it’s probably good! You might have to try new foods when you do this, but it goes without saying...you should be doing that anyway;) Just be weary. I’ve been struck with some nasty stomach illness while traveling and that is no fun at all. Make sure their water is safe to drink and avoid foods that are washed in water (like lettuce) if you are unsure if the water is potable. But this goes for any place you're eating, not just the local establishments.
11. Don’t plan out your whole itinerary or over-book yourself. If you’re like most people and only get a week or two of vacation, you’re not going to have time to see everything there is to see. Let it go. Leave time for the unexpected, both the good and the bad. I like to travel with intention, a vague idea of what I want to do, and very few absolutes about what I must do and can’t miss. Then I leave the rest open for wandering and spontaneity. There’s a lot I’ve missed when I travel, but they weren’t the most important things to me anyway, and there’s more that I’ve experienced by leaving myself open to the possibilities. I don’t like to completely wing it and do no research at all before I visit a place. Although that would be very adventurous, I think you can miss some pretty big things that would have made it on your bucket list if you do it that way.
12. Do your research. This one doesn’t sound adventurous at all, but to jump off from my previous point, if you don’t have a vague idea of the adventures to be had, you might miss out completely. Also, make sure you follow travel warnings and avoid unnecessary risks. You want an adventure, not to end up in the hospital or worse. And if you don’t know what is required to enter a country (visas, shots, etc.), kiss your adventure goodbye because you’re not getting into the country to have one. The U.S. Department of State website is a good place to start for information. Travel Insurance is super important in case anything unfortunate does happen. Check out World Nomads insurance here!
13. For goodness sake, talk to people! If you’re like me, this one makes you cringe a bit. I’m an introvert and don’t enjoy the prospect of talking to strangers. But, what do they say about your comfort zone? It’s a beautiful place to be but nothing ever grows there? It’s true. The best experiences come from meeting new people and sharing your adventure with them. That’s not to say that everyone you meet is worthy of your time. Choose wisely but liberally. Realize that looks can be deceiving and preconceived notions about what a person is like, are usually wrong.
My travel partner to Nicaragua was a woman I met on reddit. We didn’t meet until we landed in Nicaragua. I vetted her but I also got really lucky in this scenario. We ended up having the time of our lives and our trip goes down in history as one of the most life-changing adventures of my life. While in Nicaragua, we met a solo traveler from the Netherlands. We were lucky enough that she liked us and decided to travel around with us, because she was awesome! Six months later I took a trip with her to Colombia, and we are still good friends to this day. I’m hoping to visit her in the Netherlands soon. Most interactions don’t end up as lifetime friendships but they are still worthwhile. My anecdotes can go on and on. You get the idea.
Because I’m an introvert, constant social interaction is exhausting to me, so when I travel I definitely set aside some down time or time to myself to recharge my battery. I don’t always want to put myself out there so I try to strike a healthy balance.
I hope you find these tips helpful. One final point I’d like to make is please don’t be an “ugly American.” Yes, you want to have fun on your vacation, but be respectful. The world is not your playground to exploit. Be kind. Be open. Be observant. Try to blend in as best you can, even if you can’t help but stand out like a sore thumb. Follow the customs of the local culture as much as possible. Don’t put a target on your back by flaunting your wealth or just generally being an asshole. While it’s important for you to be open to others, doing this basic thing will help others be open to you. Happy travels!