Eight Things I Learned as a New Traveler

Y’all, we have a beach trip coming up, and I can’t remember how to pack. And when we went to a wedding last weekend, we just straight up forgot to book a hotel until the last minute. It’s like we don’t remember how to travel. And that got me thinking.

I didn’t travel a lot growing up. I didn’t fly on an airplane until well into my 20s, I didn’t leave the country until I was almost 30. My parents and I went places – the beach in summer, to visit family, that kind of thing – but big, adventurous, week-long (or longer) trips just weren’t something we did. And when I married Graham and we started traveling, it took me a while to figure out how to do it. Like, I’d never packed a suitcase for more than five days. I’d never had to consider visas or passports. It was like a whole new world, and I had to make a lot of mistakes while I learned how to live in it.

Which brings me back to tonight. As I sit here, trying to remember what one normally brings on a beach trip, I’m remembering all of those lessons I learned as a new traveler.

The scariest thing about air travel is how boring and uncomfortable it is.

I didn’t take my first flight until my mid-twenties, and I was terrified. It’s not that I thought the plane would fall out of the sky in a big ball of fire, it’s just that I was pretty sure the plane would fall out of the sky in a big ball of fire. Looking back on it now, I laugh at how ridiculous, and wrong, that fear was. What is scary? Cramming your legs into the stupid tiny space you paid all that money for and then entertaining yourself for eight hours while you try to find a comfortable spot for your tingling right foot and a non-painful angle for your scrunched up left arm.

Pack carefully.

You know that relaxed fit striped t-shirt you never wear at home? Yeah, you’re not going to wear it when you travel, either. Just put it back in the closet and walk away. Pack what you need, and nothing more. Trust me on this. You’ll thank me when your suitcase isn’t too big and heavy to carry up the stairs at that cute little bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds. Also, packing cubes are a good investment. Trust me on that, too.

Make a plan.

I was 27 when I married Graham and we went to France for our honeymoon. It was my first international trip. We worked with a travel agency to put it together, and our only regret now is that we weren’t actively engaged in the planning. We both feel like we missed opportunities in France because we didn’t know they existed. If you’re going to spend money on a trip, be active in coordinating it. Look at it as an opportunity to learn. Do your research, build a roadmap of everything you want to accomplish, and then go out and make it happen.

But don’t be too strict with yourself. 

Plans are great (see above), but make sure you don’t get lost in the planning and miss the forest for the trees. Know that not everything works perfectly (because perfection doesn’t exist in this universe), and that there will likely be surprises along the way. Let them happen!

You’ll see more if you walk.

My favorite thing to do when we travel is to get out and walk around. Walk down the local main street, walk to the museum, walk to the café. You’ll stumble across so much cool stuff you’d miss if you were in a car or on a bus. Will your feet get sore? Well, yeah, they will. Bring your most comfortable shoes. Is it worth it anyway? Well, yeah, it is. 100%. (I should note here, always be safe and careful. Stay aware of your surroundings, and make wise decisions about how you get around.)

Don’t be self-conscious.  

Part of traveling is learning, and you won’t learn if you’re afraid to go out and explore. If you don’t speak a language, just be patient and kind when you try to communicate with people. If you don’t know the customs, do some research before you leave. If you’re worried you’ll get lost, plan a route and take a map, and don’t be scared to ask for directions. If you have to wear ridiculous, bright orange waterproof overalls to paddle out to a glacier, just do it. (No one’s laughing at you, I promise.) Whatever you do, don’t let a little discomfort get in the way of having an amazing adventure.

Luxury is overrated.

I love a nice hotel. And I love, love, love a fancy meal. I like soft beds and silky sheets. My best friend in high school called me her “indoor girl.” I’m a fan of the finer things. But, priorities. When choosing where we stay, I’ve learned that the most important things are safety, cleanliness, accessibility and location, and price. Why spend major bucks on a hotel room? That’s not what you’ve traveled to see. And when it comes to food, I like to plan for a nice meal or two, and I always make a list of things I want to be certain to try, but otherwise, food is fuel. The easiest thing is just fine.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.   

Probably my best advice, in travel and in life, generally. As I’ve already noted, perfection doesn’t exist in this universe. It’s not worth worrying if you didn’t pick the right outfit for your pictures at the Eiffel Tower, or if you got tea when you wanted coffee. Those aren’t the things you’ll remember. Focus on the big picture, and on the good memories you’re making. You can’t control everything, and you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try. Just be in the moment, and enjoy the ride.

I think those are the biggest lessons I’ve learned. It’s honestly sort of weird to think of them now, and to feel like I’m suddenly new at this travel thing all over again. But I’ve always been a fast learner. 😊

So, with that in mind: What are your thoughts? Do you have any good travel advice? Any lessons learned? I’m sure there are things I’ve missed, and everyone’s experiences are so different, so I’d love to hear from you!

It’s hot outside, y’all.

It’s mid-July. This is usually about the point in the summer when I start wishing for cooler days and fall leaves and eventually (my favorite thing) snow. And, yep, we’re here.

It’s hot.

I’m over it.

I’m ready for a little relief from the 90+ degree heat (Fahrenheit) we’ve been dealing with. Not that hot compared to some places, I know, but pretty much a heatwave here in Virginia.

So, I spent today being a sweaty, grumpy mess, looking at pictures of all the wintry places where we’ve traveled.

Iceland.

Alaska.

Another Iceland. This is the beach I’d like to be sitting on right about now.

I love all the seasons, really, and I don’t think I could live in a place where there’s no variety in the weather. I appreciate that Virginia has a cool, crisp fall, a (sometimes) snowy winter, a temperate spring, and a very summery summer.

I’m just not feeling it right this minute. Which is fine. It just gives me an opportunity to daydream about snowy days. And they’ll be here soon enough.  

I wonder where we’d be?

On this day, two years ago, we’d made our way to Vík, Iceland.

A night later, we’d see the Northern Lights for the first time.

On this day, last year, we sat at home, wrapping our minds around quarantine and social distancing, with barely an inkling of just how much the world was about to change.

Today, I’ve spent the day plugging away on my laptop, and so has Graham. He’s outside now, trimming back a hazelnut bush in our front yard. In his pajamas. And I’m still on my laptop. Also in my pajamas. No itchy business casual attire for me, here in my house with only my cat to critique my lack of style.

I wonder where we would be right now if not for the pandemic. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m not impatient. Safety and health are never far from my mind, and I will wait this thing out in my house in my pajamas for as long as it takes. I’m grateful that we’ve not gotten sick, that our families are safe and healthy, that we have money coming in and a comfortable place to live and pretty much all of the creature comforts anyone could ask for. I am so grateful, in fact, that I sometimes feel overwhelmed and undeserving. How lucky we are. I never forget.

But I do sometimes find my mind wandering. To places we’ve been. To places we’ll go. Right now, I’ve mind-traveled to Japan, where I’m enjoying a big bowl of miso ramen with corn and butter on the island of Hokkaido.

One day, we’ll get there for real. For now, though, pajamas and home and the familiar clack of my laptop keyboard it is. And that’s okay.