22 Ways to Make the Most of Your Travels Abroad
It doesn’t matter if you travel full time or only for 2 weeks each year, you want to make the most of your travels when are on vacation, right? I am not talking about squeezing in as many day trips and museums as you can, but rather about your attitude that will allow you to make the most of your travels abroad. How do you make memories that last a lifetime? How do you get a better understanding of a country, its history and its people? How do you truly get a local and unique experience? Here are 22 tips on how to make the most of your travels abroad:
1. Plan your trip, but be open minded
Planning your trip is essential, obviously. Learn as much as you can about the countries that you are planning to visit. Create a must-see list for each country that you are planning to visit, but leave enough time for spontaneous adventures to make the most of your travels around the world. Remember that your plans are not set in stone, so when you travel, talk to other travelers and find out what they recommend. Also, you might meet a cool group of travelers and decide to travel along with them for a few days or weeks. Just remember, this is your trip, and your rules.
2. Spend as much time with locals as possible
The very reason why you are going abroad is to experience a new country. Yet many travelers make the mistake and only spend time with other travelers. Yes, it is fun to go party with the backpacker crowds on Khao San Road in Bangkok or experiencing the craziness of Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan, traveling off the beaten path allows you to get a more realistic understanding of a country and its culture.
3. Be open to new experiences
Traveling opens your mind and gives you a new perspective on the world. It bursts your bubble of how you saw the world. You will grow up and understand that there are always multiple sides to a story. Traveling also allows you to be true to yourself and try things that you wouldn’t try at home. So if you are the introvert at home, step up as the group leader for the night. If you are mostly serious, try on the funny hat for a while. Sometimes, we act according to what we think how others expect us to act or simply because we have acted this way for a long time. Set yourself free to act the way you want to act and be the person you truly are.
4. Don’t act like you are better than the locals
This one is very important. Just because you have more money or a better education, don’t treat locals like you are better than them. Always treat them with respect and dignity. Also respect their cultures and traditions and take the time to get to know them. You might be surprised how much you’ll be able to learn from them.
5. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself (in a good way)
I am not talking about embarrassing yourself in a degrading way. Rather, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t miss out on a great language learning opportunity, just because you are afraid of making a mistake. Don’t be afraid of doing the surfing class, because you know you’ll be a clumsy clown on that board. Be ready to laugh about yourself. Those are the memories that you will carry close to your heart for the rest of your life.
6. Try the local food and eat with locals
Before you go, learn how to cook some of your favorite traditional dishes from your country. You’ll be the king (or queen) of the hostel, if you can cook up a dish from home in your hostel kitchen and feed your friends. While you travel, also learn to cook a few local dishes that you can introduce to your friends and family back home. You can also make them, if you feel like your feet are getting itchy to go on another big trip or miss your friends from abroad.
7. Stay abroad as long as possible
The longer you stay abroad, the more time you have to get to know a country and its people. If possible, take your time to truly immerse yourself in a new culture. Don’t travel just so you can check sights and countries off your bucket list and to have the bragging rights of how many countries you have been to. If you only stay a short time, make the most of it by knowing which experiences are truly important to you. Do you really want to stand in line for hours with thousands of other tourists to ride up the Eiffel Tower? Maybe you could have a traditional french picnic in the park, talking to locals and learning about life in the city of love? Remember: This is your adventure!
Don’t think you can afford to stay abroad for a long time? Amanda from Burger Abroad has traveled with $6k for a whole year. Cheaper than at home, don’t you think?
8. Be aware that your time abroad is limited, so make the most of it!
Yes, a nice and lazy day on the beach sound just like the perfect way to relax and enjoy your time off and you most definitely deserve that. On occasion. You see, laying on the beach or the pool won’t really show you the real country. If you want to experience the country truly, you need to venture outside of your all-inclusive resort and venture off the beaten path. Relax and sleep in every once in a while, but don’t forget to add some meaningful experiences to your travels.
9. Try to avoid sticking to people from your home country as much as possible!
If you only spend time with people from back home, how are you going to experience the culture and learn firsthand about the country? Talk to locals, be friendly and outgoing. Also remember that it will be much harder to connect with locals, if you show up in a large group of tourists. Stray away a little and make your own connections with locals.
10. Limit your contact with friends and family back home to a reasonable amount
While it is ok to check in with your friends and family while you are away, don’t let this keep you from experiencing the here and now. Don’t let your friends guilt-trip you into hour-long chat sessions, because they are jealous of your adventure! Also don’t spend hours and hours on Social Media sharing your adventures. Sure, send an update on Facebook or upload a cool photo on Instagram. But it might be a good idea to do the bulk of that when you are back home. First of all, you should be out taking advantage of your time abroad, and second, you’ll be able to relive your adventures when you go through all your pictures again, once you are back home.
11. Keep a diary or a blog
While you travel, your adventure is so vivid, that you think you won’t ever forget even the smallest detail of your experiences. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll be writing about it when you get home. Chances are very high, that you’ll be too busy with other things and forget more about your time abroad than you thought. Write it down now and it will be a memory much more valuable than any trinket or souvenir you could ever buy. Your friends and family can follow you along on your adventures abroad and 20 years later, you can show to your kids and inspire them to see the world. Trust me on this one and just do it.
BONUS: If you are smart about Marketing your blog, you might be able to earn some serious money from your blog. Many long-term travelers were able to earn enough money to extend their travels and experience cool things because they have a successful blog and Social Media presence.
12. Take many pictures, even of everyday things
Yes, you should take pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. But don’t forget to take pictures of your hotel/dorm room, the crazy buzzing streets at night, the grocery store, and the friends you meet along the way. Your loved ones at home will get a much better understanding how your every day life was while you were abroad and your memories will stay more vivid, if you can flip through your trip pictures later on.
13. Speak the language of the country you are visiting as much as possible
Learn to say a few basic phrases, such as “Hello”, “Thank you”, “Do you speak English”, “Excuse me”, etc. Locals will appreciate it, if you show that you are at least trying. Don’t be one of these foreigners that just expects everyone to speak English. It makes you look rude and disrespectful. The more you speak the language, the more you’ll be able to make the most of your travels abroad.
14. Be an ambassador for your home country
Try not to fall into the stereotypes of your home country. Show them, that not everybody from your country behaves a certain way to lead by example. Maybe you bring some pictures from back home to show to locals how your country looks like, or make a dish from your home country to share with your friends from all over the world in your hostel.
15. Learn about the history and customs in your host country
When you travel, you have the opportunity to experience a different culture first hand. Use this opportunity to see behind the stereotypes and get to know the people from first hand experience. To understand the culture of a people, you need to understand its history first. Learn about the most important historical events and ask locals about how they feel about these events now. Show them that you are genuinely interested and you may be rewarded with a story that is much more interesting than any history book you have ever read.
16. Travel as much as possible, but don’t forget to experience everyday life as well
Do you really want to make the most of your travels? Don’t rush from one highlight to another, from one top-10 sightseeing tour to the next. Take a break. Sleep in and go to the local market and cook a local dish in your hostel kitchen. Wonder around the city and get lost. Skip the taxi and use public transportation, even if you might not end up at your planned destination. Explore the side streets and alleys in your neighborhood and try a restaurant, where you are the only foreigner.
17. Understand that their way of doing things isn’t better or worse, but simply different
This one is very important. Understand that your way isn’t the only right way and that there might be reasons behind their way of doing things that you don’t fully understand as an outsider. Even if it seems frustrating at the time, don’t judge and be open minded. You’ll be surprised about how much you might learn from people, who grew up with a completely different cultural background, having other resources available and other influences on why they do things a certain way.
18. Explore on your own, not just in guided tours
Yes, those guided tours and adventure trips offered by your hotel or hostel are easy and fun. You’ll be picked up right at your door step, hop on a bus, do your tour and you don’t need to worry about anything. But those aren’t the experiences that will make you grow. Head out on your own, have a little adventure. Use hand gestures to communicate with your taxi driver, order something mysterious on the menu, and see each problem as a challenge to level up your traveler score.
19. Try to see things from your host country’s point of view
Yes, politics and religion are touchy subjects. But it can be so educational to talk to locals about their point of view and learn about their way of thinking on these topics. Ask them, what they think of your current president, what they like and dislike about him or her. Ask them about how their current government impacts their lives or maybe if they would share some insights on their believes and values. While it is ok to disagree, please remember to always be polite and respectful though. Heated discussions about those topics are NOT what I am talking about. Listen, learn and open your mind.
20. Research your packing list
Do some research about the climate you are going into. Remember that many areas have micro climates that don’t correspond with the stereotypical climate one would associate with the region. Did you know that temperatures often drop to near freezing in the Sahara during the night (or many other deserts for that matter)? Do your research and pack things you can layer. Even in hot climates, you’ll have to deal with air conditioning and drafty windows. Also keep the cultural aspect in mind and do some research what is acceptable in the country you are visiting.
21. Step outside of your comfort zone
When you go out to travel, try to push yourself outside your comfort zone. This is where the magic happens and a great way to make the most of your travels abroad. See problems not as problems, but as challenges to make you grow and learn. Be creative in the way you solve those challenges. Be open to what life out there throws at you and believe in yourself to succeed.
22. Understand that things will be different when you return
Traveling the world and experiencing other cultures changes you. You’ll get a deeper understanding of the world, but also of yourself. Your priorities in life might change, or your goals. Once you’ve experienced the fun and adventure of travel, you might choose your next job based on time off versus higher income. Or maybe you even get inspired to start your own business, so you are free to work from anywhere. But also remember that life at home doesn’t stop either. Your friends will go on with their lives, you’ll miss important events and might feel left out when your family and friends talk about the things you missed during your time abroad.
If you want to make the most of your travels abroad, be open, be flexible, be adventurous and be smart. Do the things you can’t do at home. And don’t forget that this is your adventure, so do what you feel is right and have fun 🙂
Do you have any tips on how to make the most of your travels abroad? Please share your tips in the comments!
Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself (the good way)… hahaha! This is the absolute best way to make friends and amazing travel memories too.
These are great tips! I’ve noticed I’ve enjoyed my time the most in cities I spent more time around locals. It really is the best way to see a new place! And keeping in open mind to new experiences is absolutely necessary!
Number Three is a brilliant one, everything else then starts for me 🙂
Awesome tips. I think you’ve nailed it. I love the advice on hanging out with locals more than fellow travelers. That’s how you get to know the country more. It’s hard, though, so you really have to be open to it.
Great post. I hope that more people read this!
I always keep a diary/journal. It’s how I keep my thoughts straight so I can write better when I get home.
Yes the points you have covered is what travel is ultimately all about, about new experiences and discoveries.
Wonderful tips for acclimating to being in an unfamiliar place. If you are there long enough, being a tour guide for others will help you understand the place even better.
That is such a cool idea. I haven’t thought about that one yet.
For me the most important 21 specially when it comes to adrenaline:)
Great list. I’m happy with the way I travel, but for those who are not sure this is essential reading
I actually disagree with #1 most – I feel planning makes my travelling like work – and this is why I don’t like planning.
For me, to make the most of my travel I can’t plan – the less I plan the better 🙂
Hi Monika, I can see your point there. I’ve take some fun and impromptu last minute trips and had a great time. I travel off the beaten path as well, but I like to at least be aware of what the country has to offer, so you can make find the most interesting stuff to do according to your liking. It would really bother me though, if I returned home from an expensive trip abroad and found out that I missed something that I would have really enjoyed doing.
Lovely post!! Very good reminders to keep in mind when traveling.
I totally agree to stick with locals, cause they are the one that would be able to give your off beaten path tips.
Some really nice reminders! However, I wouldn’t suggest that starting a blog in order to make ‘some serious money’ is a good idea. Even those bloggers who do live off their blog would probably argue what constitutes ‘serious money’ and chances that you will actually get there are slim. Write and/or blog because you love it and like to share your travels!
These are great tips! Enjoy the moment, learn, relish everything and know that time is limited so savour everything.
The best part of this, is that you have discovered what works for you. There aren’t any rights and wrongs when it comes to much of the travel experience – there is “yours”. And you know it. Thanks for being so open and honest.
Great tips. Also, get out of the resort!! I understand with Americans getting so little time off they want guaranteed vacations but can you really say you visited another country when the cruise ship or resort chef makes the local cuisine and you only step out within a bubble of other Americans?
Great list! I’m glad you hit on not treating locals like they are beneath you. That makes my blood boil when I see tourist behave that way! Last time I was in Jamaica I was on a bus with an American lady who actually said “Look how happy they are…. They don’t even know what they’re missing.” I wish I could send her a link to this post!
Some very good tips here. We try to follow most if not all of them, especially the ones about hanging out with locals. Tips 2 and 3 I think are critical for us having a good time and a memorable experience. I could agree more with the eat the local food, I can never figure out why travelers complain about missing a particular food from home, eat and enjoy what there is in the country that you are visiting.
These are all thoughts that I’ve had during trips that I’ve always thought I should write down so I could reread it and remember. Time for us is always limited, so it’s very important for us to keep in mind that we only have so much time and it’s precious. Wasting time at all is not an option. But enjoying every second to the fullest is!
I definitely agree with keeping a diary. A lot of people think that blogging is not for them but writing is not about putting up a blog. Carrying a notebook while traveling will suffice!