I’ve had my share of adventures—lessons, mistakes and all. Like that one time I accidentally dined and dashed in France and realized it awkwardly late—like across the street late. Or the time I told a guy that I was sexually-aroused excited for a weekend in the mountains instead of pumped-up excited. (Hey, foreign language is hard!) Relive the worst night of my life on a train from Paris to Milan. And learn about how I dealt with missing my train across the south of France, which may have included bawling in the corner of the station’s bakery.
Other adventures include being invited to spend the weekend in a castle in the French countryside. And dancing to Beyoncé at a beachside restaurant in Slovenia.
I wrote a book about all of these adventures and more so you too can travel better and maximize your time, money and energy. You’ll score several handy lists: journal prompts, gotta-have apps, best travel investments and how to fill your solo travel time—without Instagram.
1. Make your journal messy.
You may be the next J.K. Rowling, but your travel journal isn’t the place for penning the next bestselling novel. If you don’t travel journal much because you don’t know what to say or think it sounds meh, you have the wrong idea. A travel journal is the raw, uncut, unedited version.
One day during my summer in Toulouse, I wrote: “After I headed back and ran some errands. I went to La Papéthèque and bought some postcards to send to Cate, Riley and the fam. I also bought tape to put stuff in this journal 🙂 I then went to Midica—it was like IKEA (even though I’ve never been there!) But there were 4 floors—maybe a 5th! I had so much fun just walking around. I also bought a plate, bowl, spoon and fork for my room. Yee haw! Then Monoprix for more groceries…”
Perfect grammar? Nope. Solid sentence structure? Nay. Would I ever post this on my blog verbatim? Absolutely not. Failure of an entry? Definitely not. It’s real; it’s rough. That’s okay! Your handwriting will get sloppy, and you’ll cross out misspelled words.
A travel journal is for your first impressions, ideas and emotions. Although my travel journal isn’t the neatest, I like to go back and form blog posts with better grammar, more cohesive ideas and helpful tips. You may not have a blog, but craft even a Facebook post of your favorite moments or monuments. Whether or not it’s published, reflections increase the value of your trip immensely as it forces you to explore and understand your experiences better.
If you’re not sure where to begin… what was the most interesting conversation you had today? What did you learn about the culture? Did you try a new type of food? Any inside jokes from the day? Worst part of the day? How many steps did you take today? What was the most unexpected part of today? What were the highlights of your trip?
2. Back yourself up.
I truly believe Disney World is the happiest place on Earth; there’s a nonchalant yet magical atmosphere. (I promise I’m older than eight years old!) But hours after returning home, I bawled my eyes out, and even a Starbucks Venti Caramel Macchiato couldn’t fix it. Soon after coming home, I put my memory card into the computer. Nothing. Zero. I’m a “pics or it didn’t happen” kind of gal so this was tragic.
After hours of troubleshooting, desperately texting friends and downloading every program on the Internet that may or may not get my pictures back, I finally retrieved my photos from the week with a free photo restoration program online and the help of my friend (s/o to Ariel for saving my photos and my life).
It’s been over a year, but the violent sobs still remain fresh in my memory. Call me crazy, but photos are essential to vacation whether or not you’re a professional. Although I’m still not exactly sure what the problem was (probably a defective memory card), my life has changed since. (Okay, maybe I’m a little dramatic!)
Post photos to Facebook during your trip. Back yourself up on a site like Shutterfly. Upload them to your laptop. Text pictures to other group members throughout the week. Go old school, and email your photos to your family. Connect your phone to iCloud. In this day and age of technology, you can ensure that your photos are safe and sound as long as you plan ahead.
3. Find the familiar during long-term travel.
It doesn’t mean you’re a loser or not adventurous. It means that every single thing around you is different, and you need to have some downtime.
After spending a week in France, I felt so alone and overwhelmed. It felt like middle school on steroids, feeling awkward by simply being. Before I left America, I told myself I wasn’t going to make many Starbucks runs because it’s basic and I can drink it anytime in the U.S. (I actually go to Starbucks like four times a week in the States!)
But this goal wouldn’t be checked off. Although Starbucks is even more expensive in Europe, it’s completely worth it to me. Reliable Wifi connections are few and far between, and air-conditioning is even rarer. And it was truly the only break I had to be alone and to take a pause from French.
I needed something familiar in all the newness. Fortunately, there was one in my city (and only one), and it became a haven. I could spend several hours there writing, listening to music and enjoying free Wifi.
And by the middle of the summer, the baristas kindly greeted me and knew my order by heart. They even left room for milk without me even asking. Status alert!
4. Roll with the punches.
“That’s wicked!” The nurse practitioner exclaimed with wide eyes as she looked at the pus-filled sty on my eyelid. I’d hadn’t even spent two weeks in Los Angeles, and this was my second trip to the urgent care for this cyst-like bump. Officially in L.A. for a 12-day conference, I truly only had two days to explore the city on my own agenda. And this visit to the urgent care gobbled several precious hours out of my short visit.
Before I flew out to SoCal, I filled my Pinterest board for the trip with an ample amount of activities. I knew I couldn’t complete them all, but I’d heard so many great reviews of the Santa Monica Pier. But my trip to the urgent care stole the show for too long, and I didn’t get to visit Santa Monica. I easily could’ve thrown a fit because I spent three hours tending to my bulbous eyelid at the urgent care and multiple pharmacies. But life happens. We get sick, lose our luggage, forget something at home—the list goes on. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to roll with the punches. Even though I didn’t get to visit the Santa Monica Pier, I chose to enjoy what sightseeing I could do and reminded myself that I have a reason to come back to the Golden Coast.