Over the last year, I haven’t had the ability to travel. Because this was mostly due to injury, it was beyond thrilling to be invited to Atlanta just as I finished my last round of therapy. I finally had a destination — and the strength to go there!
That said, my trip wasn’t one of un-alleviated joys. I hit logistical snag after snag, which, after time to decompress, has made me realize that, as much as I’d like to consider myself smart about travel, we all definitely lose some of our knowledge when we take time away from the road.
Here are the top four lessons I came away with. I hope they’ll help smooth your path if you’re about to take the plunge into (or return to) traveling!
Never turn down free (legitimate) help.
I tend to be stubbornly independent, especially when I travel.
Part of this is a desire to explore on my own terms. Part of this is associated with the fact that, after 6 months of crutches, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be ABLE to turn down help vs. having to beg for it.
That said, I shouldn’t have turned down an offer of a free shuttle bus from the airport because I was so eager to start exploring from the moment I stepped off the plane. Not only would it have saved me money I then spent on a multi-day transit pass, but it also would have given me more time to explore without my bags instead of spending an hour getting lost, trying to find my hotel.
Independence on the road is a really important attribute to develop, but it’s equally important to know when to say ‘yes’ to offers of help, so your decision doesn’t wind up costing you time and money.
Not every place works on the same standard of timing you’re used to.
Every traveller should remember what I forgot: Not everywhere has the same standards of urgency that you may be used to.
Hours worked are different, weekends are sacrosanct, and there may not be a mandated ‘response within 30 minutes for social media enquiries.’
Forgetting that everywhere has its own business rhythms meant I made some last-minute requests that simply couldn’t be met by organizations that I wanted to work with in Savannah. And while I appreciate everything they did offer in such a limited time frame, it reminded me that a traveller always needs to adapt to her new locale’s standards rather than expecting what she’s used to at home.
Check the timing of EVERYTHING.
While I was in Savannah, I became too comfortable in my skin: I knew just how much time I had in the city and exactly how I was going to spend it.
Until I went to check out and realized that my long-distance bus to the airport was supposed to have left 20 minutes before. I hadn’t checked my tickets that morning and realized that I might have missed my chance to make my flight home.
Although it can feel anal-retentive to check your tickets a dozen times a day, it’s actually a good policy. Time differences, lack of sleep, a desire to do JUST ONE MORE THING, can all lead to making an easily avoided mistake that might have crucial ramifications while travelling.
Know when to say ‘no.’
In an act of supreme stupidity, I got too flustered, and I got too compliant. Having JUST made my Greyhound bus in time, I wasn’t able to have my backpack with me on the bus trip and was told I had to place it in a different seat. I didn’t want to cause a fuss, so I complied, without double-checking that all my valuables were actually in my purse.
I realized I’d put my cell phone in my backpack….when it wasn’t there four hours later.
It’s extremely easy when we travel to either put up our guard too much — losing out on amazing experiences — or let it drop too much — resulting in situations like the one above.
Finding an even balance is critical. Part of doing so is making sure that you’re in the best mental state possible, not flustered and tired because of your own mistakes.
While we need to be able to accept help when offered, we also need to know how to say ‘no’, how to sometimes make a fuss if the easiest option isn’t the one in our best interest, and how to minimize the repercussions of the decisions we do make when travelling.
When you’ve been apart from travel for a long time, some knowledge comes back slower than you’d like it too. Remember these four tips, and you’ll hit the road with newfound confidence!