Having just returned from a trip, we felt we should share a little of our travel “kung fu.” When you’re planning to travel, there are lots of things to consider. Most people are totally fixated on what destination to choose, but once you’ve decided where to go, you can slow down and start to think about some of the other things that can make your trip even more enjoyable.
If you’re worried about costs, consider taking some cost-saving measures that can allow you to enjoy a few added attractions or turn a costly destination into something that is a bit more in line with your budget. Try an “Extended Stay” hotel or a condominium, even a villa or house exchange can be less expensive than a conventional hotel. You’ll have to make your own bed every day and clean up after yourselves, but the savings you’ll enjoy can really add up. Not only do you save on your room costs, but these options also help you to stretch your vacation dollars by allowing you to prepare at least some of your own meals. There are those who would argue that part of being on vacation is staying out of the kitchen, and if that’s what you want to do, who are we to argue, Still, I like being a bit lazy in the morning when I’m on vacation, and having a lovely little kitchen in which to prepare a light breakfast of local fruits and fresh bread to enjoy on the patio or balcony with a hot cup of coffee while still in my nightclothes, well, that is a vacation for me! And you can expand your food explorations and kitchen experimentation in a whole new place. You’ll have the added treat of strolling down the grocery aisles in your destination city (this is especially fun when you’re traveling abroad) and discovering the foods, spices and specialty items available there. Not only can you take those discoveries back to your villa and experiment with them there, you can take what you’ve learned back home when you go and add them to the repertoire of meal ideas in your DIY Bistro.
Here are a few other ideas that can add to the enjoyment of your stay: Visit a thrift store and find yourself a nice pair of wine glasses – they need not match – so that you don’t have to drink wine from the plastic cups provided in your room. For a couple of dollars you can elevate your wine drinking experience without having to stop at the hotel bar and spend as much for one or two glasses as an entire bottle would cost you at the local store. Not to mention the opportunity to chat with a local wine merchant or two, peruse the shelves of shops to see what’s on offer and maybe even sample some of the merchandise.
If you’re traveling to visit friends and family and don’t want to show up empty handed, even though you’re the guest of honor, be creative! Take the hostess a bouquet of flowers from a local store and put them in an inexpensive vase. I once purchased a nice serving dish for a few dollars at a thrift store because I was going to a pitch in at a friend’s home while traveling and didn’t want to show up empty handed (or worse, with a store-purchased offering.) I left the dish behind as a hostess gift for my friend, who thought it was lovely, so it was a win-win. (Reduce, reuse, recycle!)
If you’re visiting the beach, rather than spending lots of money on expensive seafood dinners at restaurants – and who doesn’t want fresh seafood when you’re visiting the beach, visit the local grocery or fish market and experiment by preparing fresh, local seafood yourself. There’s nothing quite like it. It can also be quite an adventure to figure out how to “make do” with the limited cooking implements available in your room, but for us, that’s part of the fun. Depending on the local fishing laws, (these generally differ for fresh and salt water, by the way,) you may even be able to catch some dinner yourself, bringing a whole new dimension to DIY.
Visit the restaurants that the locals frequent. Ask your hotel clerk or taxi driver or dive instructor – well, you get the idea. Get off the beaten path and don’t stick to the usual tourist haunts, where prices are liable to be jacked up and spices and dishes less authentic.
When you travel abroad, whatever you do, don’t be the Ugly American! Learn something about the area you’re visiting, beyond the activities and sights to be seen. Take the time to learn at least a few words of the local language – especially “please” and “thank you.” Your efforts will be appreciated, and most people will be patient with your stumbling attempts. Learn a bit about the culture so that you’re not inadvertently insulting – such as the fact that you shouldn’t stand your chop sticks up in your bowl while visiting Japan, or that the “peace sign” can be considered an incredibly rude gesture in the UK. Be conscious of the fact that you’re a visitor – and make a good impression. People will be kind in return, and what goes around comes around.
Safe travels, and have fun!