11 Ways to Make Every Trip You Take More Meaningful
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Looking to bring back something from your travels besides a tan and a few kitschy souvenirs? It's possible to create meaningful, unforgettable moments while traveling, even if you can't dedicate an entire trip to volunteering in Ghana or meditating at an ashram in India. There are easy ways to add purpose to an already-planned trip, even if that trip is primarily about relaxing on vacation.
1. Read About Your Destination
Literature is a wonderful way to learn about a particular place before your visit. Whether it be fiction, memoir or even a guidebook, understanding the history, culture and traditions of your destination can really enhance your trip — and help you forge a deeper connection with a land and its people prior to arrival.
(Photo by Hitoshi Suzuki via Unsplash)
Before a trip to see the famed temples at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I dug into a copy of "Tomb Raider." But I also read a biography by Loung Ung, who described her experience as a child soldier during the Khmer Rouge years. Understanding the regime and how these tragedies affected the country and its citizens gave me an entirely new outlook on the culture and its resilience, enriching my trip even further.
2. Meet the Locals
Talking to locals can help you develop a far more nuanced understanding of a destination. Even if you trip is to an all-inclusive resort, it's important to take time to talk to people at the local markets, to ask your tour guide questions about local customs and chat with resort staff, many of whom live in the city or region you're visiting.
Several years ago, I was invited to dine with a local family in Mandalay, Myanmar after chatting to a local who rented me a bicycle. Tourism was relatively new at the time, and locals were excited to interact with visitors. Sitting on pillows on the floor of their hut by the river; eating oily curry and rice with my fingers; chatting in broken English; watching their children laugh and play was an intimate experience I'll never forget.
You don't have to end up in a family home to meet locals, of course. Simply initiating conversation with your taxi driver can be a fun way to find out colorful information about the destination you're visiting.
3. Learn the Language
Obviously, this can be difficult, especially if you're traveling to a country with a complicated or less common language. But it's very special to see people's eyes light up — and smiles widen — when you attempt to say even a word or two in their language.
When traveling in Laos, I learned how to say a couple words in Lao: thank you, good morning and goodbye. While I felt a little silly saying them at first (I'm sure my pronunciation was horrendous), the locals were thrilled I had taken the time to try and, as a result, treated me with even more kindness, telling me stories and personal anecdotes, even introducing me to their family members or sharing their snacks with me, which gave me immense insight to the Lao way of life and made me forge a more personal connection with Laos.
Download a language app such as Duolingo so you can brush up on your vocabulary and practice pronunciation.
4. Stay, Eat and Shop Local
Using points at brand hotels around the world is a great way to save money and redeem rewards on travel. But consider spending cash on a stay at a boutique hotel, B&B or homestay for at least one night instead. Doing so supports the local economy even more, and can also give you a better look at how locals live and work, too.
5. Lend a Hand
You don't have to plan a whole voluntourism trip to give back during your travels. With organizations such as Pack For a Purpose, you can identify items that are needed in local communities (think: school or medical supplies), bring them in your suitcase and drop them off at various hotels or schools at your chosen destination.
Meanwhile, Give A Day Global helps connect travelers with one-day volunteer opportunities all over the world. And some hotels offer volunteer opportunities where you can help out with conservation programs, animal protection or work at local schools for an afternoon. Remember, it's not about quantity, it's about quality. And a little help can go a long way.
6. Go Beyond Tourist Centers — Responsibly
There may be plenty to see in the city center, but make an effort to go off-the-beaten path, to communities that haven't yet been commercialized or influenced by tourism.
If you decide to do a tour, opt for one that explores less-frequented areas. For example, Comuna 13 Grafitti Tours in Medellín, Colombia take travelers through an area of the city, the 13th District, that many tourists don't get to see. Tourists are encouraged to interact with the residents while respecting the local community. You may even get to meet some of the artists who've contributed to the vibrant street art scene.
(Photo by Fancycrave via Unsplash)
7. Ride Public Transport
Riding the bus or metro with locals is a great way to embrace the vibes of your destination — and get from A to B quickly, too
During a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I took the bus from Sigiriya to see the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa. Not only did I save almost $30 by taking the bus (which cost just a couple dollars roundtrip) instead of a private car or tuk tuk, but I was thrown straight into Sri Lankan society. The colorful lights flashing over the Buddhist statues on the bus and the Hindi music blaring added to the fun, and I even saw a few wild elephants out of the window during the hour-long adventure.
8. Travel More Slowly
While it may be tempting to squeeze a couple countries or cities into your weeklong adventure, consider traveling more slowly to really get a feel for the destination. To truly experience a city — its people, its culture — take your time, and don't rush.
Every day, make an effort to think about where you are, why you're there and how lucky you are to be able to travel. This will give you a whole new outlook on the journey. Plus, you'll actually feel rested and relaxed after your trip.
Carla Sánchez, co-founder of Secret Yoga Club and The Holistic Concept who guides yoga and meditation retreats and workshops around the world, told TPG that, "Time is valuable and we are always in a rush in our daily life. Slowing down your travel allows you to enjoy and find meaning in every single detail and experience — a true luxury!"
9. Take a Solo Trip
Traveling alone for the first time can be intimidating. You may not want to experience a place alone, or feel guilty for not bringing your partner or family along. But taking a solo trip can be incredibly rewarding, granting you time — and solitude — to reflect on yourself, on the place you're visiting and on why you love to travel in the first place. Even a few days on your own can bring real perspective to your trip — and you may very well find that you make lifelong friends along the way.
10. Get Out Into Nature
Even if you're visiting a busy metropolis, getting outside of the city into nature — even just for a day trip — can be really special. If you can't get out of the city, try instead to build in time for a picnic in a city park or botanical garden. Seeing nature's wonders, be they modest groves of trees or grand waterfalls, can remind you that beauty is everywhere.
11. Put Down Your Phone
The last, but possibly most important way to add meaning to every trip you take, is to put down your phone, live in the moment and truly experience your destination. While it can be tempting to photograph everything or document your time on social media, it can be a distraction.
Test yourself by shutting off your phone or leaving it in the hotel safe, even for just an hour or two, to get the most out of your travels. If you're worried you'll forget an epic experience without a chance to photograph it, take a camera along or, better yet, a pen and notepad, so you can document your adventures by hand. It may be just the therapeutic escape you need.