5 Travel Tips
To be better than your average tourist
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost.
If you are reading this, I can perhaps assume that you’re not your average tourist - or at the very least you don’t want to be your average tourist. Benidorm isn’t your scene. You travel to experience a new culture, not to move your own to a sunnier climate. Everybody’s from Leeds, you can inexplicably buy today's copy of the Daily Mail, and the guy next to you reckons demanding “Chips, por favor!”, qualifies him as a man of the world. He’s probably called Terry.
Okay, okay, so that’s probably not your average tourist. At least I hope it’s not; we are all the average tourist really. We don’t want to holiday in a resort, but at the same time, we probably aren’t exploring the outer reaches of Kazakhstan on a bicycle (I know a guy that did that by the way). We’re mostly somewhere in the middle. We all want to see the Eiffel Tower, of course you must visit the Louvre, but it’s not the tourist traps that make a trip. What really makes a trip is those little moments when you experience something real. It’s rarely an attraction, and it's rarely something you’ll find in “Lonely Planet” - you have to find your own. There’s no guide book nor tour guide that can lead you by the hand, and I can’t either. I can however offer you a few tips to help get the most out of your travels - to help dig that little bit deeper and stumble upon those rare experiences that make a trip - and hopefully - give you stories to last a lifetime.
1. Open-Ended Trips.
It’s an obvious tip, but for me this is the absolute key to getting off the beaten track. You don’t need to travel for a year to do it; I’ve travelled for a year; I’ve travelled for a month and I’ve travelled for 2 weeks and every single time I’ve booked an open-ended trip. One-way flight.
The world is getting smaller and travel is getting cheaper, and thanks to the internet we no longer need a third party to plan our travels for us. We now have complete control; use this fact to your advantage. By booking a one-way flight you give yourself the freedom to go with the flow. And that’s quite a freedom indeed. Travel with no plan. Don’t like it somewhere? Leave. Love a place? Stay longer. The world, as they say, is your oyster.
It really isn’t hard to do, Especially in Europe. Europe is so well connected that you can travel anywhere, on a whim, at a days’ notice. The train network is outstanding and in just a few hours you can travel to a completely different country, with a completely different culture. More importantly, you can get a flight home at very short notice for no more than 200 euros - at most. All you need to do is shop around for a cheap flight in a nearby country and make that your final stop. Oh, and don’t worry about accommodation, there are very few cities that need to be booked in advance.
Taking this simple step will change your whole outlook on travel. It’s so much more accessible than you might think.
2. Dartboard Travel.
Okay, so you might find that first tip a bit patronising. Fair enough, you’ve been interrailing, you’ve done your gap year in Asia, you’re not impressed by the concept of booking a flight.
Look, if you’re the well-travelled type you might have occasionally felt a sort of… frustration. You’re heading from city to city, from sight to sight. “Oh, you haven’t been to Budapest?”, “Yeah, we’ve ‘done’ Prague”. It starts to feel like everyone’s doing exactly the same thing.
I felt this a lot in Asia. Everywhere you go you meet other travellers who have the same stories you do. Don’t get me wrong, meeting other travellers is one of the best parts of travelling and of course everyone wants to see the main attractions, but every so often you need to go find something different.
So, my tip is to look at a map and pick a place that you’ve never heard of - and go there. There might not be any tourist attractions as such, but these are the places where you can get the chance to really connect with the culture. Put simply, you are more of a novelty in these places than you are in your major cities and that can lead to some amazing experiences. Don’t get me wrong, you can meet great people everywhere - but in the lesser-visited towns, those chances can rise exponentially.
3. Atlas Obscura.
Simple tip this one, but check out Atlas Obscura. It’s one of my favourite websites any time I’m abroad. It does what it says on the tin - a collection of “off the beaten track” and obscure sights in nearly every place on the planet. You don’t even need to travel - give it a go in your own country and you’ll find somewhere you’ve never heard of.
Try it out on the road and you are certain to discover something a little bit niche. From the curious to the under-explored, to the downright bizarre, Atlas Obscura is a must-read.
4. Talk to Locals.
It can’t be emphasised enough - if you want to discover the truly unique, you must speak to the locals. Backpacking can often trap you in a bubble - and nobody - not me, Atlas Obscura, or anybody can tune you into the essence of a city like talking to the locals.
Please do me a favour though - pick your moments. I don’t mean for you to accost any poor soul on the street demanding their secrets. That’s weird. Don’t be weird.
No, you pick your moments. The hostel staff are your friends here. By and large, they are a helpful bunch, and they’re proud too - proud of their city. However, they have to put up with an endless stream of drunk annoying tourists. Try and set yourself apart from the crowd. Strike up conversation, get to know them. If they like you, they might give you a few personal tips that aren’t in the guidebook. They might even take you there - the fact they work in a hostel often means that they too are fond of a party.
If the hostel staff can’t be bothered with you - please leave them alone. They are tired, they work hard, they aren’t on holiday. RESPECT the hostel staff. Pretty Please.
5. Anthony Bourdain.
I’ve saved the best for last in my opinion. On many a drunken night, I have waxed lyrical to anybody that might listen about how Anthony Bourdain is a hero of mine. Well, now it’s your turn!
If you haven’t heard of him, please check him out. Anthony Bourdain is a former chef who, in his mid-forties, wrote the bestselling “Kitchen Confidential” - his memoir and behind the scenes look at the New York Restaurant scene. The success of the book led him to a career in TV Travel shows - and not just your usual TV travel show.
Bourdain possessed a rare gift for talking to people that allowed him to dig further beneath the surface of a country than most others. Whilst the focus of his programs was always on the culinary scene of wherever he happened to be, he used his love of food as a touchstone to explore every aspect of a countries culture - be it their history, music scene, or political situation. The man went everywhere - from Cuba to the Congo - and chances are that anywhere you might find yourself, Mr Bourdain has likely been there and bought the street food. With over 300 episodes across various platforms, he’s usually at very least visited the country, if not the city. Simply put, pick a country and watch the episode.
For me, the beauty of his shows is that he doesn’t just focus on a country’s unmissable dishes - he shows you the best places to try them. He approaches a Michelin star restaurant with the same zest as he does the street food stall that feeds a city's working population.
So successful were his efforts to uncover a city’s secrets, that the man himself often lamented his impact on places previously beloved by locals. The Anthony Bourdain curse - when a once much-loved secret becomes overrun by tourists - was potent, to the point where he occasionally opted not to reveal the location. So, again, please treat these locations with respect. That goes for you too Terry boy.