Art by Zoe Nichols
I think we all harbour a bit of wanderlust, whether it’s wanting to soak up the fabric of a new culture, or to simply to break out of your everyday routine. However, the prospect of travelling somewhere can sometimes be a little scary. Here’s a couple of tips to start your journey off confidently.
Right now, I’m in the middle of a study abroad term in Berlin: an ocean away from my home city of Vancouver, Canada. My time in Germany has been a rollercoaster so far: the confusion of living in a new continent without a firm grip on the local language has been tough, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed when things go wrong (which is inevitable, they have).
However, I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences off. I’ve learned so much, pushed myself, and have broadened my awareness of our world in ways that would not have ever happened at home. I’ve encountered so much art and history, and it’s injected me with some much-needed creativity and humility. The privilege of being able to explore a different corner of the planet, and be welcome in this foreign space, is something that I have come to truly appreciate.
Speaking of privilege, I recognize that not everybody is able to travel, near or far, for a variety of reasons. That traveling can be a lot more complicated and difficult for some folks. The privileges I carry with me on these journeys include being able-bodied, middle class, a native English speaker, a student, and a citizen of a stable country. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had access to and realize how incredibly lucky I am.
Going on a big trip or vacation isn’t a realistic option for everybody, but I believe that a change of scenery can be a great experience no matter how far away you go. I hope that the following tips can be used whether you’re traveling to a new part of your town, or across an ocean.
Take steps to be prepared. Here’s where I’m going to act as your mom, but it’ll be for the best (trust me)! If you’re heading on a large-scale trip, put all of your planning resources into one document, like a Google doc, that you can send to loved ones or your travel partners. All those little travel details can get overwhelming when they’re spread across dozens of different emails and papers.
If you’re traveling abroad, make copies of ALL your important documents, and keep one set for yourself and give another to a trusted person. You never know what will happen (especially if you’re forgetful or accident-prone like me). Keep a contact card in your wallet with essential info such as emergency numbers and your own contact info in case you lose your stuff. Honestly, this last one is a good tip even if you’re not traveling!
Give yourself time to rest. Exploring a new place is exciting and there’s definitely an obligation to feel like you have to see absolutely everything during your sights. Unchecked, this can take a toll on your health, mood, energy level, and wallet. Know how much activity you can usually handle, and give yourself a morning or an evening to rest and soak it all in once in a while. I was in Amsterdam recently and got really overwhelmed by the busyness of an unfamiliar city. I found the nearest park, took a breather, and felt loads better about facing the rest of my day. Don’t feel bad about taking some time to recharge: check-in with a loved one, sit and people-watch over coffee, or listen to your favourite album after a long day of exploring.
Do your research! Find local papers, posters or brochures for ideas of what to see on your travels, or search online to find blogs or social media feeds. A friend recently showed me an app called Townske, where users create their own travel guides. You can save, upload, or curate your own for any area in the world.
If you’re in a shop with an especially friendly employee or is in an interesting neighbourhood, let them know you’re new to the area! They might be able to recommend something off the beaten track for you to see. If you meet people who you vibe with at a walking tour, gallery, or coffee shop, don’t hesitate to reach out for some suggestions.
Public libraries are your friend. When traveling, especially if the weather isn’t great, it’s tempting to head to a café in order to rest and connect to Wi-Fi. Libraries can offer you a safe resting space free of charge, and can also be a great way to find out about the local history of where you’re visiting.
Get to know yourself along the way. Remember to pause and reflect on your experiences in a new space. You’re on a journey, and will most definitely discover new things about yourself when you’re experiencing somewhere you haven’t been before. The realizations that come to mind might be some of your most indelible memories from when you explore. Take (safe) risks and push yourself, even if it’s just a tad bit outside your comfort zone!
Take note of what discover, and come back to it. If you’re a visual person, take photos or make drawings of the places that impacted you along your travels. I have a disposable film camera that I take around on my travels, and getting the prints developed weeks later is always a sweet and nostalgic surprise.
Keep a journal or ongoing document on your phone if writing things down is more your style. If you’re like me and have family members who are always curious about your whereabouts, consider a travel blog. Right now, I have a Tinyletter newsletter which I email out to loved ones with updates. It might seem cumbersome when you’re busy traveling, but you’ll stumble upon these notes in the future and be grateful that you took a few minutes a day to make them.
That’s all for now. Whether you travel to the next city over or across the world, I hope you learn amazing things about yourself and your new surroundings. And we’re off!