By Connie Golding
How many times have you found someone’s travel tales absolutely unbelievable? The teller has story after amazing story about the food they ate, the people they met, the experiences they had—it all seems unrealistic. And to add fuel to the fire, they’re talking about a place you also visited! Why was their trip legendary while yours seemed average?
When I first started traveling I felt this all the time. Friends would talk about something amazing they’d done in Paris that would make me green with envy; I’d contemplate why my own trip to France wasn’t as amazing.
I started seriously traveling at 13, and it took me about 10 years to figure out what set us apart: these avid travelers had courage, and I didn’t.
When they traveled, they traveled! They didn’t go just to the tourist-heavy spots or run away from an adventure; they even embraced the misadventures that came their way. This led me to create five rules to live by when traveling with a purpose—to experience everything your destination truly has to offer.
1: Get Off the Beaten Path
I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but getting off the beaten path is the best advice anyone could give to a novice traveler desiring more spice in her trip.
Every year, millions of people visit Miami, and this winter was no exception for me. Recently a group of friends and I went to South Beach for a long weekend, and we immediately were swept up in the tourist sections. We were overcharged for run-of-the-mill food and watered down drinks—and wanting a true Miami experience instead, we asked a hotel staffer about the best Cuban food within walking distance. We’d originally intended to eat at a place on one of the main strips, but our amazing bartender immediately shot that down. She was Cuban, and there was only one place she recommended—even better, it was only six blocks away!
After a short walk, we arrived at a hole-in-the-wall joint whose menu was made up of pictures and almost no text. Definitely not what I was expecting—but we took a seat at the counter, ordered a range of dishes, and dug in. It was the most amazing food we had on the whole trip. The restaurant was full of locals, no one spoke English, and an elderly Cuban man kept putting money into the jukebox and playing wonderful salsa music while goofily smiling and chatting with us.
Of everything we did in Miami, this was one of my top experiences. For one night I traveled to Havana without ever leaving Florida. Get off the beaten path, go where the locals are, and you’ll trump staying on the strip and paying way too much for a pina colada!
2: Embrace the Quirky and Unexpected
When you find yourself in a strange situation, embrace it—this will make for the most entertaining and vivid memories.
While in Costa Rica with my dad, we ziplined and parasailed–which was fun, but the memory I think of the most is when we went searching for scarlet macaws in Palo Verde National Park. After trekking for an hour, we had no luck finding any birds. We were about to turn back when we heard the telltale call of the macaw. We couldn’t see the bird, but we certainly could hear it.
In this moment, I could have searched a little longer and had maybe a one in ten chance of finding a parrot. I didn’t want to rely on chance, so after hearing the call a few more times, I opened my mouth and started to mimic it.
To my surprise, the bird called back. We followed the cry, answering it for another 30 minutes until we came across the beautiful macaws perched in a canopy area. I could have given up at any time, and many other people we met along the way in the jungle probably thought I was crazy. By embracing the situation, I was rewarded—and the story became a fan favorite that my dad and I still tell at parties.
3: Be Brave
It’s easy to be afraid of adventure, but it makes absolutely no sense! If you’re visiting a new country, embrace the people and culture. Don’t expect the everyday comfort from home; if you want that, then save yourself some money and take a staycation.
The adventurous parts of trip make it worth your while. I have very fond memories of China, but the ones that make me smile and laugh were shocking and even a little terrifying in the moment. Instead of running away or screaming for help, I held my head high and rolled with the punches.
Such was the case when a rat crawled out of my toilet, or when a group of travelers and I were in one of the bedrooms and saw a spider the size of our heads. I cannot embellish enough how huge this thing was. One of my friends ran for it and missed out on everything, while the rest of us stayed behind, named the spider Hezekiah, and then proceeded to shoo it away. In the moment, I was freaked out, but now I look back on the story of Hezekiah and can’t help but be overcome with a fit of giggles.
So the lesson? Stay brave and don’t be afraid of the new and thrilling situations. As long as you’re not in real danger, get your hands dirty and make a memory that’ll last longer than that of your tour to the Great Wall.
4: Once You Decide on Something, Stick to It
One of my greatest pet peeves is when people decide to try something amazing, but then wimp out at the last minute.
It’s something I did while in Edinburgh, and I regret it all the time. While there, my party and I decided to go on a ghost tour of the city. It was touristy, yes, but I love anything paranormal that’ll get my heart pumping. Edinburgh is supposedly the most haunted city in the world, so why not go on a midnight ghost walk by candlelight?
By the end of the walk, I was thoroughly spooked. We were about to enter a crypt where supposedly many patrons of this tour had passed out or been attacked. Mind you, I was only 15 and I was really scared. So, like a big baby, I opted to not go in.
I waited outside while the rest of the group finished the tour, and let’s just say they all got a bit of a fright. While it wasn’t from a ghost, to this day I regret not being with them because it would’ve been an amazing story to tell. Instead, I have a memory of sitting alone outside a crypt while my friends had an amazing time inside.
5: See the Silver Lining in All Situations
My final piece of advice comes from another moment on my recent trip to Miami. My friends were there to party, and to some extent, I was as well. But they have much more stamina than I do.
I went to bed around 2:00am while they stayed out. They got back at about 6:00 in the morning and were rip-roaring drunk, waking me up with a bang on the door when they couldn’t find their keys. I was annoyed, so say the least, and after helping them both into their rooms I tried to go back to bed but couldn’t—anger was running rampant through my head.
Since I couldn’t sleep, I went for a walk. The sky was turning from black to purple, and on a whim I walked from the hotel to the beach, plopped down on the sand, turned on some music, and sat for an hour to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. It was amazing.
I always heard that watching the sunrise over the ocean is literally breathtaking, but didn’t truly understand until I saw it. That memory of me, alone on the beach at 6:45am will be etched in my brain as the day I realized just how gorgeous our world can be. And it’s all thanks to a group of drunk guys who lost their hotel keys.
The most important thing about travel is to have fun. If you let a sour moment or a change of plans ruin your day, your memory of that trip is going to be marred. Always remember that the point of travel is to experience new adventures, so if you don’t get the perfect photo, or your waiter delivers something you didn’t expect, dig in and embrace the quirky, amazing world that you’re there to see. You never know: you may actually like it!