Traveling is one of those things that makes life worth living. We’re lucky to be able to speed across enormous distances in virtually no time at all, to have the opportunity to truly see the world, to experience various cultures, and to open our minds. I have yet to travel the entire world, but incredible trips to European destinations including Paris, Rome, the Greek islands, and several Portuguese cities and towns have whetted my appetite for exploration. Over the course of my journeys, I discovered countless ways to maximize the travel experience, to get the most out of the amazing places I visited. Here are a few of them.
1. Overcome laziness.
Conquering lethargic tendencies is something that takes a lot of effort, but for a great reward. It might be tempting, in big cities, to take the subway or a cab to save your energy. In Paris, for example, I began to take longer and longer walks until I was on my feet from sunrise to sunset. I saw so much more of the city than I would have had I opted for quicker transportation. By walking to and from wherever you’re visiting, you’ll discover hidden gems that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
2. Take the road less traveled.
Big tourist destinations will be on everyone’s to-do list for a reason—they’re incredible to visit. During my stays in Paris, Rome, and Athens, I made sure to visit all the tourist destinations imaginable—but I also explored beyond the beaten path. There’s much more to every country and every city than a tourist handbook will tell you. Explore, and you’ll discover amazing things.
3. Engage instead of observing.
When I did visit tourist destinations, I listened to the tour guides and read the information placards. As a student of classical history, I’ve been studying the ancient Romans and Greeks for years—but upon visiting those landmarks, I learned even more. Put in the effort to find out new and interesting things—you might discover a passion you didn’t know you had! Taking the opportunities to learn the history and cultural significance of what you’re seeing will enrich your traveling experience, and maybe even your whole worldview.
4. Meet locals.
In August of last year, some friends and I spent a week sailing on the Aegean Sea in boats captained by a few incredibly kind sailors from the island of Poros. Taking the time to meet locals and get to know them will provide a more thorough perspective on your destination, and there are wonderful friendships to be made.
5. Taste the cuisine.
Even if you can find restaurants back home that serve the cuisine of the country you’re visiting, the authentic version is sure to be worth trying. Parisian cheese and Italian gelato might ruin your tastes for what you can get where you live; I can tell you that from experience! Food is a huge pleasure of traveling, so don’t miss out on it.
Give yourself some time. Breathe in the salty ocean air, or notice the sounds of traffic. Become aware of your surroundings. Embrace the moment. Introspect. New places can show you new ways of thinking, new ways of being. Allow yourself to absorb them; disconnect from your network for at least a few minutes. Direct your full attention to what’s in front of you, and enjoy it. Then pull out your phone and take pictures.
7. Enjoy the sights.
There’s something to be said for a few silent moments on top of a mountain, staring out at the ocean and the landscape. If you live in a big city, as I do, it’s something rare and stunning. If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, climb to the top of Notre-Dame de Paris and gaze out at the city stretching as far as you can see. Beauty deserves to be appreciated, and there’s no better time to appreciate it than when you’re away from home, surrounded by new and exciting things.
Seeing new parts of the world will enrich your perspective and expand your understanding of other people—that’s why traveling should be something that everyone has the chance to do. Unfortunately, what turns out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience can be easily taken for granted. Don’t take your experiences for granted. Make the most of them.