A wise person once said, "The difference between adventure and adversity is attitude."
When it comes to travel, no truer words have been spoken. Adventure travelers, thrill seekers, and swashbucklers live by this saying...personally I chant it like a mantra.
But whether you're scaling Mt. Everest or just coming to grips with the fact that the hotel lost your reservation (and no longer has a room available with an ocean view and a Jacuzzi tub), learning to enjoy your journey, regardless of the trials and tribulations that invariably come with it, is a skill. And like any skill, it takes practice to get good at it.
Travel is inherently riddled with setbacks, nuisances, disappointments, and annoyances, but so how you react to these will determine the outcome of a trip. You have to train yourself to think, act, and react differently than you might otherwise. By doing so, you'll enjoy yourself and your trip more (as will everyone around you). You'll also discover you're far more capable of doing and accepting things than you ever thought possible.
Lighten your load, physically and mentally. Forget checking bags, overstuffed with clothes you don't need and won't wear. Pack one-half of what you think you'll need into a carry-on bag and call it a day.
Packing light is a hard lesson to learn. But the payoff is huge. When I'm not tethered by baggage physically, I always carry a lighter load mentally. I know I can move quickly and easily, wherever and whenever I choose, without any hassle, or the burden of needing someone to help. (This has proven to be even more important when I'm given no choice but to move.) Nothing feels better than being nimble.
Even when I'm staying put in one place, the last thing I want is a large bag taking up space in my hotel room. You never know when you'll get stuck in the tiniest room imaginable. And do you really want to waste precious vacation time trying to decide what to wear each day? Yeah...no.
Go to the airport early. Remember the days when you could make a flight by running down the jet way screaming, "Hold the door! I'm coming!" Me too. But those days are long gone, and cutting it close isn't cool... it's stressful and stupid.
As often as I travel you'd think I'd have it down to a science. Using conveniences like online check-in and TSA PreCheck help, but you can never anticipate traffic jams and airport crowds. I'd rather sit relaxed in the airport for two extra hours with a glass of wine reading a book, than stand apoplectic in security while my plane takes off because a TSA agent decided to swab test every single one of my toiletries (true story).
Learn to love the ride. Interminable flights and long airport delays don't have to be torture. Learn to love the journey by changing your mindset. I may not relish two days spent sitting in coach flying across the world, or being waylaid in crappy airports, but I do LOVE having ALL that time to myself to read, write, listen to music, watch movies, catch up on TV, and sleep with ZERO guilt - something I never feel at home.
And a few simple tips can improve nearly any travel conditions. Buy inflatable seat and neck pillows - they're incredibly small and light, but make a world of difference on board. Dress in layers so you're comfortable regardless of the temperature. If you con's sleep on planes, ask your doctor to recommend or prescribe something so you can. For flights with multiple legs, try scheduling so the first leg of your trip is longer than the second. That way you can dig in and get comfortable during the first, and look forward to the shorter onward flight that follows. And remember, no matter how tedious or uncomfortable your flight may be, it's temporary - either home or holiday are waiting for you on the other end.
Arrive like a celebrity. Upon arrival somewhere new, do yourself a favor and pre-arrange transportation to your initial destination, or take a taxi there. For me, after a long flight and usually a long wait to clear immigration and customs, the last thing I want to do is spend additional time and energy figuring out the public transportation system. Especially when I'm likely tired, hungry, and don't speak the language...not to mention feeling anxious about getting wherever I'm going. This might sound like an unnecessary expense, particularly for budget travelers. But if at all possible, learn how to ride the rails and take the bus after you've dropped off your bags, had a good meal, showered, and gotten your bearings.
Allow yourself to not worry about money. What I mean by that is this: don't worry if you tip the waiter too much because you gave 20% when 10% is customary. Did you enjoy your meal less? Use ATM machines to withdraw local currency instead of wasting time looking for exchange places with the lowest rates. It's far safer to carry less cash, withdrawing money only as you need it. Will ATM fees really make or break the bank? Did the circuitous route your taxi took end up costing you $20 more than it should? Instead of being annoyed, look at it as a cheap sightseeing tour! If you can save up enough money for vacation, you can save a little extra "F@%K IT" money - and not let $100 in nuisances and/or "mistakes" ruin a meal, day, or trip.
If you don't know where you're going, all roads lead there. Which bus company should you take? Should you eat in this restaurant or that one? Stay in this hotel or another? Go to this island or that beach? Indecision paralysis - caused by the fear of missing out on something, or the belief that there's always something better - is a colossal waste of time and frustrates everyone.
Choose something and do it. If it turns out great, great! If it's not what you expected, either make the best of it, or change course. If it's awful, suck it up and laugh about it, or abort and move on. Whatever you do, don't end up doing nothing because you couldn't make a decision, or fail to enjoy whatever decision you do make because you're too consumed wondering whether you made the right decision. Either scenario is plain insanity.
Use travel consultants. Planning complicated trips to far-flung places and/or developing countries is difficult, time consuming, and frankly a pain. Also, if you spend untold hours researching a destination, you'll develop preconceived ideas and opinions about it that will influence your trip. I hate that.
Depending on where I'm going, working with a travel consultant who has excellent contacts and connections on the ground there is not just invaluable, it's essential. They help me find local guides, drivers, translators, or fixers - sometimes all of the above. They facilitate meeting people, and seeing places and things that otherwise would remain out of my reach. Using a travel consultant who truly understands how I like to travel and what I want from my trip can mean the difference between a good vacation and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even when traveling to relatively conventional places that I plan on my own, or don't plan at all, a trusted agent can still help secure access to the otherwise inaccessible, and foster other valuable connections.
When in Rome, do what you want. I'm a big fan of trying everything and anything at least once, especially when I'm traveling. I've spent the time and money and made the effort to be there, and I may never have the chance to do or try it again, so why not? But, I also don't believe I should force myself to do something I don't want to just because it's famous, or everyone says you have to do it, or it may be my only chance ever for the rest of time.
Blasphemy? Maybe to some, but not to me. The whole point of vacationing is to enjoy yourself. That means different things to different people...so figure out what it really means to you and do it.
If it means filling every hour of each day with tourist attractions, have at it. Or if you're like me and prefer to forgo a list of must-dos in favor of serendipitous surprises and adventure, that's cool too. It's okay to skip a monument, or museum, or salt mine, or whatever, and while away the hours in a local brasserie, sipping wine and people watching...if that's what floats your boat. Take a cooking class instead of hiking up that famous hill. Sleep all day and dance all night. Sit in a museum and stare at a single painting you can't believe you are finally seeing with your own eyes. Whatever it is or isn't, it's your trip - so be honest with yourself and do what makes you happy.
Let it be and move on. If you haven't gotten the message by now, let me make it crystal clear... don't let petty annoyances ruin your trip. Your attitude is all that separates adversity from adventure.
If your one big night out to splurge at a fancy restaurant turns out to be you and your travel companion sitting at a table next to the bathroom, arguing over whose turn it is to shower first, while eating overcooked food, so what? If your ocean view requires instructions, who cares? If a rat eats your toothbrush and then you use it because you didn't realize it until after the fact...okay, that's super gross (and also a true story), but c'mon, it was still a great trip. Even when nothing goes right, the key is to take it in stride. Remind yourself it's not personal. You are not being punished and it's not happening TO you. Find a way to laugh it off (you'll be laughing about it later anyway), and move on. It's an awesome lesson for life, but for now...it will make for a far more enjoyable holiday.