Everyone has a different idea of how to seek meaning through travel. Likely it is some combination of creating memorable experiences, developing a deeper understanding of culture, and learning about your own preferences and boundless capacity for exploring the globe. Here are eight tips to impart meaning to your journeys.
1.) Find the good stories yourself
It may be obvious, but you shouldn’t rely on your tour guide or guidebook to tell you an interesting story. If you don’t know anything about the place you’re going, it certainly won’t mean as much to you.
2.) Plan your travel photos in advance
Do your research so you can learn some classic shots that you’d like to replicate, or avoid. Rather than spending your time trying to take the perfect selfie, this method allows you get your photos quickly and move on to enjoying your destination. For more on taking and editing excellent shots, go here and here.
3.) Don’t leave your passions at home
If your morning run is what gets your heart beating, hire a local guide and hit the trail. Love craft breweries? Plan a trip to visit some. Do what gets you out of bed, and don’t assume generic tourist experiences will satisfy.
4.) Fight self doubt
This is especially important for solo travelers, who don’t have the comfort of a group consensus to fall back on. But whether traveling alone or with friends, plans should be made decisively and acted on without overthinking. This NPR article has some great tips on how to increase mindfulness during your trip.
5.) Invent opportunities to connect with locals
Every interaction can be a way to practice language skills and learn about the destination’s culture. Janice of Solo Traveler writes about how a cooking class she signed up for was “more a chance to learn how the Indian middle class live than to learn how to cook.”
[I]t was an opportunity to ask questions about my teacher’s life and look at the details of her home – it’s size, decor, what was on the shelves, photographs and more.
In advance of shopping small businesses and hiring local guides once you arrive, you can start building connections before you leave home. Social media is a great way to do this. Make sure your network knows where you’re headed, and ask them for travel tips. Often, people will connect you to their friends and hosts.
6.) Lend a hand
Voluntourism promotes dependency, but commercial exchange can be a great opportunity to travel on the cheap and get a more authentic experience. Verge Magazine recommends five websites to find work-stays.
7.) Get comfortable talking to strangers
So long as you know some language basics and appear confident in your approach, you can start a conversation with practically anyone at practically any time by simply making an observation and your introduction. Worried that won’t be enough to keep things going? Surprisingly enough, you can sustain a conversation for quite a while by just rephrasing your convo partner’s last comment – though some good questions help move things along too. (For more on increasing your social confidence, try here or here.) The process of developing friendships happens a lot faster on the road, so open yourself up to sharing your experience. And of course, practice saying yes.
8.) Give yourself a project
One of the best things I did in Jordan was conduct interviews for my thesis. I reached out to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, professors, and lots of other interesting people for their opinions. I was shocked at how many people donated their time to help me. I learned a lot, and obviously this was great conversation starter. Even if you’re not a student, you can use this trick. When you meet someone interesting and you don’t know how to begin, tell them, “I’m writing a blog post where I ask locals about _____. If you have time, I would love to get your opinion about that.” And then write that post.