Lao-Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Sometimes the smartest travel decision we can make is to take that first step and start traveling!
But to make sure that we have the best experiences possible, we need to do more than simply take a single step forward as Lao-Tzu suggested. We also need to make sure we walk on the best path.
What Does it Mean to Travel Smarter?
Smart travel is all about maximizing the experience.
First, we need to learn how to be safe when traveling abroad. This step is crucial to guaranteeing that any mishaps are handled with precision and proper care.
Next, we need to figure out how we can enjoy our travels to the fullest. This means learning how to be efficient, receptive to new experiences and shrewd enough to find out where to go and what to do.
You Weren’t Born Yesterday! 5 Ways to Travel Smarter
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1. Learn the Language
Tons of travelers decide to visit a new country to experience the culture. But then they don’t bother to learn the basics of the local language.
I wouldn’t call that smart traveling.
Language is one of the most fundamental parts of any culture. Apart from being the main way humans communicate, it also develops a society.
By learning the language, you get a first-hand experience of a country and its inhabitants. The language will help you travel around the country, read street signs, avoid being ripped off and master the art of eating authentic dishes. Most importantly, you’ll know how to communicate directly with the locals.
Natives will be able to tell you about the political climate, coolest spots to drink and best street food, among countless other things. You’ll get a genuine feeling for the culture directly from the people who live there.
When I traveled around China, knowing how to speak Mandarin allowed me to ask natives where all the most beautiful places were, where the locals went to eat and what people from each city thought about all the other cities.
If you’re still in need of inspiration, you should click over to FluentU’s language video collection. We’ve gathered entertaining clips from all corners of the world, covering everything from Nicaraguan boxing to French politics and our favorite translated musical numbers from “The Little Mermaid.” You can just sit back, relax and read along with the subtitles.
Alternatively, you can kick things up a notch with interactive learning features like flashcards and vocabulary lists. Not to mention, everything’s personalized for your learning level and style based on the content you’ve been learning. It’s perfect for figuring out which types of video resources work best for you!
Learning a language through real-world videos not only teaches you to speak, listen and understand quickly… It helps you understand the culture before you arrive. So when you hit the ground, you can talk about the latest TV shows and breaking news in your target language! Try FluentU free for 15 days.
2. Purchase Insurance
Finding yourself stranded with no money and a serious problem in a foreign country is no joke.
And while no one plans for bad things to happen, sometimes they just happen.
Theft, illness and physical damage can all put a damper on your big trip. But something inconvenient can turn catastrophic if you don’t have insurance. If you’re put in one of these situations without insurance, your short trip could turn into a lifetime of debt.
Purchasing insurance is necessary for any kind of foreign travel. It not only keeps you safe when things go south, it allows you to have the peace of mind to explore the world confidently. It’s kind of like a mental safety net you use to take risks and have fun.
Obviously, don’t be too daring! A smart traveler also researches where to go and how to stay safe.
But having that extra cushion in case something bad happens will give you the push to make your travels memorable… in a fun way!
3. Download the Right Apps
Before you board your flight, prepare yourself to interact with a new culture, stay safe and maximize your experience.
How can you do all those things? With your smartphone!
Whether you’re a first-time solo traveler, seasoned backpacker or globetrotter looking to take a language trip, download the best smartphone apps for your travels.
Some apps help manage logistics (like Rome2rio and Skyscanner) or learn the language (like FluentU and Duolingo). Others help you find places to stay (like Couchsurfing) and mingle with the locals (like Travello).
Travel apps fill in the gaps in your knowledge and assist you in getting the most out of your trip. They’ll be of indispensable value for you as you navigate the stormy waves of international travel.
Most importantly, unlike physical guidebooks and maps, you can carry dozens of useful apps right on your phone. This convenience saves a lot of space.
4. Go Local
Exploring the local world is the only surefire way to give yourself a first-hand cultural experience.
Sure, watching TV shows and movies about the culture is a great primer to know what you’re getting yourself into. But if you don’t go out and mingle with the local population, you’ll be missing out on an amazing opportunity.
All too often, tourists visit a city and never meet a single native person. They stay in touristy hotels, eat at restaurants aimed toward travelers and only talk with fellow foreigners. Apart from being incredibly expensive, that method of travel won’t give you any insight into the local culture. So why did you come to this new country?
You need to explore local neighborhoods, eat native dishes, listen to cultural music and engage in a city’s activities. Live life as though you’re a local!
Smart travelers know that immersing yourself makes a trip a thousand times more fulfilling.
And if you’re traveling as part of an exchange program or language trip, make sure you enroll in a homestay.
Homestays offer unique glimpses into the daily life of a region’s people group. While staying in a hotel is nice if you can afford it, hotels can’t give you the opportunity to engage with a culture or practice the language.
I’m writing this article from my homestay in Guatemala. In the few days since I’ve been here, I’ve eaten the most amazing meals, seen how the young and old generations live and work together and practiced lots and lots of Spanish!
5. Plan Just the Right Amount
Planning is one of those things you either love or hate.
But overplanning and underplanning both have serious drawbacks to travel.
It’s important to find the right balance between obsessively knowing how everything needs to unfold and being like a leaf floating in the wind.
Having too many plans will cause a lot of tension when unexpected events occur. It also doesn’t leave any room for free exploration. Some of the most memorable parts of my travels have been simply wandering the streets for hours.
When you’re free to roam aimlessly, you’ll be open to finding adventures that you never could have planned.
On the other hand, having no plans will cause you to waste a lot of time wondering what you should be doing. You’ll be free to stroll around a city, but you won’t have the slightest clue where to go.
The smartest way to travel is to have a general vision of what you want to achieve, then work to fulfill that rough idea in different ways.
Paint large brush strokes for all of the big adventures—city-to-city travel, major attractions, necessary experiences—but make sure to go moment-by-moment for all the detailed brush strokes.
This kind of traveling provides the ideal balance of structure and peace.
It’s easy to be a smart traveler if you prepare and educate yourself about the destination.
So if you don’t want to go out into the world without your wits, follow these five tips and learn what it means to travel smarter!
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow him at Perspective Earth to learn more about his work.