Someone recently asked me what I typically do when I get to a new place. I gave them a vague, partial answer and immediately hated myself for it: “Oh, I just walk around a lot! I walk EVERYWHERE. I don’t usually do touristy stuff, but I might pop into a museum if the mood strikes…”. BLECH. C’mon, I can do better!
As much as I like to turn my nose up at the thought of routine, the truth is there’s comfort in the familiar. I like taking on an unfamiliar place with a (rough) plan and filling in the blanks as I go. It’s an ideal blend of comfort and adventure, routine and spontaneity.
So yes, I admit it – I have a travel routine. I take on any new city with the same approach, which typically looks something like this:
I do my research
As much as I’d like to fancy myself a spontaneous, free-spirited traveler, let’s be real – I’m a planner. BUT BUT BUT, I’m all about LOOSE planning. I plan just enough to give myself a bit of direction, then see what I feel like doing in real time. I may read my travel guidebooks cover to cover before a trip, but I rarely touch them while I’m actually traveling.
I like to keep a running list of things I might like to do and where to find them. Most of my notes are saved in my iPhone, jotted down either before my trip or at night while I decompress and prepare for the next day of adventuring.
When I’m traveling outside of the US, I can’t rely on a data plan or wifi to check my directions on Google Maps while I’m on the go, so I’ve usually got a bunch of screen shots saved as photos in case I get a little too lost… as was the case in Montreal:
I find the good coffee
I will ALWAYS, without exception, google ‘best coffee in ________’ before I hit a new town. I’ll then check the reviews and ensure that we’re talking high quality, third wave, coffee snob-approved coffee joints and add them to my notes. In recent travels, I’ve started a new tradition of coffee crawling my way through a new place, making a point to sample as much coffee as I can manage. Excessive? Oh yes. But also necessary for maximum happiness!
It’s not even 100% about the coffee, though. I find great enjoyment in sitting in coffee shops, observing how they work, watching the baristas, maybe even listening in on nearby conversations. Cafe culture fascinates me. You’re likely to find more locals hanging out in these sorts of coffee shops than tourists, which only adds to their appeal and my experience.
I walk my mother-effin’ ASS off
I’m not sure if people fully understand the extent to which I walk when I’m out frolicking. I almost wish I had a FitBit or one of those other little devices that tracks your footsteps and mileage because I swear to you, mine would be OFF THE CHARTS. But alas, I am frugal, and that would be a frivolous purchase, and honestly I don’t really need to know the exact numbers. Besides, I’d probably end up thinking about it too much while actually out walking around, and that’s no bueno.
When I set out for the day, I’m walking. Taking any form of motorized transport is not even an option in my mind (unless perhaps where I ended up frolicking was so far away that it required a bus or train ride just to get there, in which case I’d surely need a ride back). I walk past the point of blistering and chafing, the pain numbed by my contentment. I’m most in my element when I’m frolicking, and that’s one of the reasons why I primarily travel solo. I don’t want anything to distract me or keep me from “doing me” – doing this. I don’t know how many people out there would be able to keep up with such ridiculous amounts of walking and photo-snapping, but if anyone’s up for the challenge… you know how to contact me!
I only eat one meal out per day
In Asia, I ate ALL meals out because it was cheaper and easier than preparing them for myself. But in the western world where you can easily spend $50+/day eating 3 modest meals out, I would rather put that money toward traveling a little longer. Not only that, but I prefer NOT to take the time to a). find a suitable restaurant, and b). sit through the whole ordering/eating/paying process 3 times a day. I’d rather put that time toward frolicking.
Here’s what my eating routine looks like while I travel:
- Breakfast: Stock up on fruit/nuts/snacks and keep them in my room to nibble on while I get ready in the morning
- Lunch: Stop at a grocery store and pick up sandwich supplies. Hello, $3 DIY sandwich!
- Dinner: Eat at a restaurant
I stay at the cheapest accommodation
I travel to see the world, not to escape it in some fancy hotel. I just need a place to crash every night, nothing more.
I will stay at the most inexpensive accommodation (i.e. hostel) that meets all of the following criteria:
- Has lockers in the dorm rooms
- Is not known to be a party hostel
- Is in a decent location (i.e. not the ghetto, not a long train ride from the center of town)
- Is clean and bedbug free
- Is highly rated online
Sure, swanky hotels have their place; I stayed in a 5-star hotel in Bangkok for the experience of it. But it’s more of an occasional splurge than a part of my travel routine.