Travel is one of the most meaningful ways to enjoy your free time. If you're traveling with kids, it's the opportunity to raise children who are globally aware. If you're traveling solo, it's a chance to find yourself. And if you're traveling as a couple, travel can be a time to deepen your bond.
Of course, that's often easier said than done. Sometimes you need a little advice. That's why I've reached out to leading travel agents, travel writers and other experts to find out the best advice they've ever received about traveling. From the practical to the philosophical, here's what they have to say.
Travel agent Jason Coleman of Jason Coleman, Inc., recommends that if you want the comforts, service, and experience of home ... then stay home. Travel is about opening yourself up to new experiences. You will encounter different ways of living, of eating, of serving. His advice? "Go with the flow and don't get your undies bunched up. It's part of the travel experience."
Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Associations, says, "I think the single most important thing is to accept that you can't be in control all of the time. Be flexible and see what happens. As the famous author Anne Lamott says, 'Expectations are premeditated disappointments.' Your experience has a higher likelihood of being one-of-a-kind and transformational if you let things happen. This is something Americans are often not very good at accepting but there's a peace in letting go."
Paul Wiseman, president of tour operator Trafalgar, has this advice: "Remember, things are not the same abroad as they are at home. Expect it to be different. Understand that it's not only okay, it's why you travel in the first place. Americans are actually very spoiled: They have more access to more goods at cheaper prices in more colors and varieties than anywhere in the world and customer service here is excellent. Lower your expectations and you will have a better time."
Monica Poling, a freelance travel writer and editor of Travel Glitter, a website focusing on culture and community in travel, says the best piece of advice she ever received was to step outside her comfort zone. "I tend to be a creature of habit, and even when traveling I inadvertently fall back into regular patterns. So I always try to speak to as many locals as possible and try to stay open to new possibilities whenever I can. These have often led to once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you won't find in a guidebook and cannot easily be replicated.
"For example, drinking cava with a policeman and his family in a remote island in Fiji while he talked about life during the coup and how Fijians live with the constant threat of tropical storms. Being invited to a post-party in a San Francisco dance studio with a touring Flamenco group. No one in the group spoke any English, but I learned so much about life in Spain and on the road. Or cave repelling in Mexico where the equipment didn't fit me, so the outfitters created a custom harness for me out of rope. In retrospect, probably not very safe, but so cool for a minute I was able to conquer my fear of heights."
Career travel writer Jane Lasky has more practical advice for travelers. She says that, after chasing wanderlust for more than four decades, she has come up with some rituals other travelers may want to adopt. "Especially for business trips, always share your itinerary with your family and close colleagues. Be sure to pencil in the details so if you need to you can be easily contacted."
Lasky also says you should do your homework. "Don't just head out and learn about the land you are about to discover. Instead, learn as much as you can by making a virtual visit before you go and then go on to find out about culture-specific etiquette practices. Even learn a few words of the native tongue. These practices will gain you major points and potential friends as you show respect to the 'when in Rome' theory and as you don't come off as that proverbial ugly American."
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As for my advice? Stop and smell the roses. That's what I was advised to do on my first backpacking trip to Europe. I took this to mean take your time and travel slowly. Don't rush through every stop or keep your camera glued to your eyeball.
My most memorable trips are the ones that I didn't rush through. When I traveled to Auckland for six weeks, I had lofty plans to explore every inch of New Zealand because six weeks seemed like such a long time, but I didn't even get halfway through the North Island and I could easily have spent all six weeks just exploring Northland and Bay of islands.
Take your time and immerse yourself in a destination. Otherwise it may feel like you're just ticking someplace off a list.
Janeen Christoff covers travel for the travel industry at TravelPulse.com and is the Travel Agents and Tours expert at About.com. Her family adventures can be found at LATravelMom.com. Follow her on Twitter @LATravelMom.
(Top photo: Hikers on Sunny Day via Shutterstock)