Monday, 10 June 2013

Older, wiser travel?

On my first big trip overseas, I packed just three t-shirts and a litre of Pert shampoo/conditioner for the two-month odyssey.

When I returned home I never wanted to see those three shirts again and I had about 750ml of Pert remaining.   Who knew Europe had shampoo as well?

In the more than decade since that first trip, I feel as though my travel habits have radically changed.

But am I a wiser and better traveller for it?   Mmmm, maybe.

Here are eight ways my travel habits have changed with... ahem... age:

1. Planning
I have no idea how anyone ever found themselves anywhere before the internet, and more specifically Google Earth and Google Maps.  On my very first trip to the UK, I was dropped at a London tube station.   I had no idea where I was or how to get where I was going.  Today, I not only know where the hotel is, but how I'm getting from the airport, when the train/bus leaves, how much it costs, and backup options.   Surprises while travelling are all very well and good, but I don't want to waste time on the nitty gritty logistics.

Following the highlighted road around Scotland

2. The flight kit
I've always admired people who can just wander onto a plane in shorts and a t-shirt bound for Europe with just a book and their ticket as the bookmark.  I just can't do it.   If I'm in economy (which is 100% of the time), I need to import some comfort for the 25-plus hour trip from Australia to Europe.   My dedicated flight kit has the essentials: eye mask, ear plugs, neck cushion, foot cushion, sleeping tablets, lip balm, eye drops etc.  I know it sounds precious, but let's face it, it's a long way.

3. Flashpacking
It strikes me how so many of us use a backpack, but also how little time this pack actually spends on our back.   While my backpack can go on my back, it also has wheels, which get more of workout than me.  Inside, I'm packing a little more than three t-shirts.   It's not a massive wardrobe, but something that could better accommodate anything that is thrown at me.  To be fair, I was never a hardcore backpacker and I'm unlikely to ever be.   Instead, I'm a probably more of a "flashpacker" who has an outfit of (almost) all occasions.

An outfit for (almost) all occasions: Madrid
An outfit for (almost) all occasions: Vienna

4. The slower road
My first trips were like sprints, trying to cram as much in as possible in a short amount of time.  Why spend three days in a city when if you rush around like crazy you could "knock it over" in two and "tick another city off" on the way.   Today, I still cram a bit in.   But I've also taken to self-guided cycling trips that force me to take it slower and appreciate what I'm doing a bit more.

Taking the slow road in the Loire Valley, France

5. Travel break
It sounds crazy.  After all, isn't the entire trip a break?  While it's great to be on holidays, there can be a "constantly on the go" feeling, so I like to incorporate a mid-holiday break.  Ideally, I'm in some self-contained accommodation for a few days where I can do some washing, have a meal at home, flop around in my pjs in the morning while I have breakfast, and not "have to" rush and see or do anything.   Funnily enough, some of these breaks have proven to be the most rewarding, relaxing and memorable.

Soaking up the sights in Budapest

6.  Clothes that will never see home again
I use travel to cleanse my wardrobe.  I take clothes that I know will never come home.  This includes undies, socks, t-shirts, shirts and jumpers that are close to the end of their lives.   Along the way I start jettisoning items - often resulting in cleaning staff running after me thinking I've mistakenly left them behind.   In my mind, this also creates space for potential new purchases.

Washing by the Ganges at Varanasi, India
7. If it seems too good to be true...
That guy rushing at you at the train station with "bargain" accommodation and that girl who "just wants to practise her English" with you?   Chances are whatever they're offering is going to cost you more than you think.  I don't rush at tourists when I'm at home, so I'm wary of the motivations of people who rush at me when I'm playing tourist.

Sometimes you really stand out as a tourist... and sometimes you make the front page of an Indian newspaper because of it

8. Homeward-bound stopover
The days of maximising the "time on the ground" and catching the latest possible flight home are gone. I find I can travel from Australia to Europe direct and happily wake up the next day to go sightseeing.   I can't fly straight home and then go to work.   It's all just too hard; the jetlag, combined with post-holiday depression, is overwhelming and debilitating.  This makes a Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur stopover essential.   A few days to just sleep in, catch up on time zones and brace yourself for a return to reality.

A Singapore stopover

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