My Top Travel Tips and How I Learned Them

by Beth Hanson, owner of CanalBargeCruises.com

Beth in office (300x225).jpgMy philosophy is that travel and life have a lot in common. They are both journeys. To get the most out of either, I strive to be the best I can be at any given moment. And I forgive myself when I’m not. I love the Hokey Pokey Approach - I put myself into life, into travel. I shake it all about and come out with a new and different way of thinking and being. Isn’t that what travel’s all about? Stimulation, diversity, new experience and fun? When I run up against obstacles or problems, I deal with them and remember, “This, too, shall pass.”

So here we go with my top travel tips.

Enjoy. I hope you can make some your own.

Just say “yes”
It is not my nature to be spontaneous and say “yes” to a last minute lunch date or invitation to the movies. But when traveling, some of my best experiences unfolded when I said “yes.” For example, we were cruising on our barge in France with some guests and were walking through a small village. An elderly gentleman stopped to ask if we were lost, “Vous etes perdu?” We said: “No, pas de tous. We are loving your village, and taking a walk to enjoy it”. Well, he turns out to be the mayor of that village and invites us to his cave for a wine tasting. Several wines and some grappe later, we wobbled our way back to the barge with memories that last till this day. Our guests were delighted, and we all had the experience of a generous local who welcomed us into his life.

Don’t sweat the small stuff
I am embracing the messages in the small book by the same name and have found life and travel to be so much more enjoyable and easy as a result. As a perfectionist who relishes organization, details and lists, it’s easy for me to get involved in my “to do” list and forget to take time for life’s pleasures. Reading an inspirational quote or chapter in a book like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” reminds me to treasure the important things in life – family, friends, relationships – people!

Don’t Worry About the Money
Worrying about the money saps the joy from the journey. Several times while traveling, I was so obsessed with how much everything cost, that I forgot to enjoy the journey. It started with my first travels abroad on an open-ended trip when I was adjusting the currency exchange rates and figuring out how much every little purchase cost in dollars. I was in France with my boyfriend at the time, and was fussing over every expense from the cost of tomatoes to a museum entrance fee. He had to remind me that I was missing the joy of traveling and being present to its opportunities in favor of worrying about money. Duh, what a choice! Why bother traveling if I wasn’t absorbed in the culture, the experiences and the possibilities. I still have to remind myself to stop worrying about money, but it’s much easier and I catch it much faster.

Travel light has a multitude of meanings

  • Leave your valuables at home. When you arrive, put your valuables, passport and credit cards in the hotel safe. Carry only a copy of your passport, one credit card and enough cash for the day. Don't be a patsy for a pickpocket!
  • Pack light. I have yet to use all the clothing I bring. Somehow when I pack, my bag is filled to the brim stretching the zipper to its limits. For what? Vanity? Ego? Image? Whenever I travel lightly, my step is lighter, my spirits are brighter. I’m still learning and admire the advice “Pack what you think you want to bring, then cut it in half.”
  • Be light of heart. The fun begins when I step out of the house with bag in hand. The hard part of packing is over, and the anticipation of the trip has arrived. None of the inconveniences that bother many people bother me. Security makes me feel safe. Crowds in the airport help me appreciate that life is vibrant and alive. People watching is great. I ruminate on “who are these people? what do they do? where are they going?”

Pack snacks
A horror for me would be to get caught without food. We sure can’t count on something to eat on the flight, so I pack apples, nuts, chocolate and leftovers with a plastic fork. Pulling out my treats on the plane to nibble at while watching a movie or reading a book is heaven. Bringing me to my next point . . .

Relish the small pleasures
It’s kind of like playing house but now it’s playing at travel. I can be anyone, even myself, when traveling. The bills are paid, the house is cared for, the family has our emergency numbers and we’re FREE. Yippee! How special and wonderful to be able to travel. Wowee, we’re lucky and I’m so grateful. Reminds me of my dad’s favorite saying. “Luck is when opportunity and work meet.” So yes, I work, a lot. Travel is my reward, and I love every part of it.

Go with the flow. Expect the unexpected.

During our welcome orientation when we operated our own charter barge, we would tell our passengers the safety rules which were few, but very important, when living on an 80 ft. barge for a week. “Don’t jump from the guard rail, watch the ropes, hold on to the safety rail, and don’t, above all, fall into the water in a lock.” Lastly, and most importantly, expect the unexpected. It’s where that fresh, unique, memory making experience comes from. Late in the barging season, say early October, the evenings were chilly and autumn was on the way. We pulled into a lock with the ubiquitous charming lock house. A farmer walked up to the wheelhouse holding a large, fully feathered chicken by the neck. “Would you like to buy my chicken for your Sunday dinner?” Bien sur, we said, if, and only if, you pluck it and clean it for us. Well that took him a nanosecond and, voila, we had a big, fat, juicy chicken to roast, fully cleaned except for the feet which had not been removed. “No way,” I said to Jack. “I’m not cutting those feet off.” “I’ll do it,” he said, “no problem.” It was one of the best dinners ever and totally unexpected.

Collect a piece of art
The items I’ve purchased while traveling are my most treasured memories. I don’t say possessions, as I value them more for the flashbacks they conjure up than the stuff they are. Every time I dust, a memory is sparked and I receive a little jolt of joy. Not only do I remember the place it was purchased, but who I was with and the fun we had. One of our favorite trips was with Intrepid Travels to Vietnam. It was an “adventure” trip by plane, river boat, train, clunky bus, bicycle and most adventurous of all, riding on the back of a motorcycle with a young Vietnamese man. The scenery was glorious, the culture fascinating, the experiences so numerous I can only remember them by browsing the photo album. But what stood out the most for me were the children. They were so happy and playful, always smiling. I have three photos of them framed in a bathroom right by the sink. Every time I wash my hands, I look at those photos and smile. Absolute joy is looking back at me, and memories of that trip wash over me. That’s what travel is all about – for me.

Get plenty of sleep, but don’t worry about it
I woke up this morning at 4 am thinking about how to write down the travel tips I’ve been thinking of for awhile. Blog? Facebook? Twitter? (As an aside, I’m overwhelmed at the moment with all the technology and how to use it for our barge booking business and the non-profit that occupies my volunteer time.) Tomorrow is a big day with an outing across the mountains with friends. I already know I will not be my best and most rested. Bummer, BUT is it reason to whine or worry about? Not anymore. The gift is this time in the still of the night with Jack sleeping in the next room, the heat warming up the house, an energy bar with peanut butter holding off the hunger, and writing down these thoughts that have been swirling around for awhile. I’ll try to remember this later when I’m nodding off in the car while Kathy is telling me about her upcoming trip to California wine country – lucky girl! Anyhoo, my point is, not to get riled up because I haven’t gotten my beauty rest. So what? It’s only a day and tonight I’ll sleep like a baby. And maybe the others won’t mind if I take a catnap in the car which is another thing I love about traveling.

Don’t worry, be happy!
Early in my travel days, I was afraid of the unknown and still am in some respects. Or rather now, it’s a respect for the unknown with an eye to be alert but not afraid. But there was a time when I was afraid of what was around the next corner. I remember Jack and I walking on a country lane in Jamaica and I was nervous. I wasn’t used to seeing men walking around with machetes. I had visions of bad movies where Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn get kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom. In the distance, some mangy looking dogs were running as a pack and turned to look at us. They headed in our direction and I panicked, hiding behind Jack. “Jack, Jack, do something” . . . Okay, here comes one of my big lessons in travel, and life. “Beth”, he said, ”it’s okay, they won’t hurt us.” Once that became clear, he also said. “If you’re afraid of everything, you’ll miss all the fun.” That has stuck with me so clearly that I can picture where we were as if it happened in slow motion.

Afraid? Do it anyway.
Sure, things still scare me – like walking on a log over a rushing river (Tumalo Falls in Bend) or driving in a blinding snow storm. But some fears are meant to be walked through for the rush of accomplishment that is the reward on the other end. A number of years ago, we went to New Zealand which is all about outdoor activities and sports. We spent three weeks learning to fly fish, hiking the mountains, rafting a river, driving ATVs, doing a zipline, picnicking with a wallabee. It was grand. And so not in my nature, the climax was skydiving. I don’t know why I had the urge to skydive, but I think it was something pushing me toward moving through the fear. Jack couldn’t believe it, knowing that I’m somewhat of a scarety cat. But I was determined. While we were waiting our turn, just before a family with a bunch of kids, Jack repeated that he couldn’t believe I wanted to do this. I just knew I had to. It was then that I consciously decided to turn any fears into anticipation and excitement. I realized that if I focused on being afraid, I would miss the entire experience. So we did it, and it was glorious from the moment they rigged us up, spelled out the do's and don’ts and led us to the smallest plane imaginable. There were no seats. We sat on the floor in front of our “jumper” who cinched me to him so tight there wasn’t a millimeter of space between us. When it was our turn, my smile for the camera mounted on the wing was as wide as my ears. I was in the moment. Everything became slow motion as we jumped out of the plane, soared with arms spread wide then felt the pull of the parachute opening. Did we float down then? No! He spun us around and flipped us over and maneuvered us toward Jack and his “jumper” to share the experience. It was glorious – what a rush! If I had focused on fear or not done it in the first place, I would have missed the whole thing. Who was I that day? Certainly not the Beth I know well. It was the Indiana Jones part of Beth who shows up every once in a while to grab hold of life and live it to the fullest. I like thinking of these characters to emulate and bring out those parts of me. Writing these thoughts down is very fun. What a pleasant way to remember where I’ve been, what I’ve done and what I’ve learned.

Be grateful
I understand some people love to travel, but don’t like getting there with airports, security, missed connections, delayed flights, cancelled flights and the occasional nightmare of traveling. For me, I’m so grateful that I can travel that those annoyances are merely that, an annoyance. And I’m also grateful that I’ve never experienced a serious problem while traveling. I trust that there will be help if I need it and everything will work out fine. If not, I will have to rely on faith to get me through.

Want peace of mind? Buy travel insurance.
Trip cancellation insurance can be expensive if you want to cover the cost of the trip in case of cancellation. I do recommend that for expensive prepaid, nonrefundable trips. But at the very least, I purchase the very inexpensive medical portion of the insurance which covers unexpected health challenges and medical evacuation if needed. It also covers trip delay, lost baggage and the like. A major benefit is the 24/7 emergency phone number you can access with any problems. It’s worth it. I’m worth it!

Understand your temperament
Are you a nitpicker? Complainer? Worrier? Controller? Let it go. Realize that those parts of you can stay home. To really enjoy the journey, relax, get into it, enjoy the differences, honor the culture, observe life all around you, smell the flowers, drink the wine, be in the moment.

Be conscious of healthy travel habits

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Don’t touch face, ears, eyes
  • Drink lots of water
  • We won’t let you forget by providing healthy travel tips in our trip preparation kit.

Push yourself a little
This is something I have to do in much of life. I can happily stay in working all day at my desk. Here comes the weekend, and Jack wants to take a hike. I rarely say “Great, let’s go.” My inner voice resists with little fears. Will it be too steep? Will I get winded? Will I be able to keep up? It’s enough to dissuade me if I didn’t push myself a little. And when I do, I am always thrilled with how I feel during and after. It’s so worth it. So I remind myself to say “yes” even when my nature wants to say “well maybe, maybe not.”

Understand the culture, or try to
What’s the point of traveling if everything is the same as home. As our world becomes smaller and more connected, I think it’s even more important to understand the people in other countries. Yes, they think and act differently than we do. Bravo! How interesting. There is no value in criticizing or making wrong. What if we put ourselves in their shoes for a day, a week, a month. Would we think and behave the same way they do? That leads to . . .

Be curious. Listen
If you have the opportunity to spend time with someone from another culture and can speak the same language, ask questions? Listen to what they say without having to compare, to get your two cents in. Empathize with their history, education, values. Much can be learned and, therefore, understood if we close our mouths and truly, deeply listen.

Give the guy a break
How do I know what the other guy is going through? Maybe a bad day, sick child, ailing mother – who knows? When I hear people complain about the rude waiters in Paris or the unfriendly sales clerks, I wonder a few things. Am I behaving well? Being rude? Abrupt? If not, then maybe he’s having a bad day. It doesn’t mean everyone in the country behaves the same. So, I try not to take things personally and assume the other guy’s a jerk. Maybe he’s just having a bad day or is trying to keep his sanity after serving umpteen tourists every day who have the same questions over and over, like an unfortunate Alzheimer’s patient.

Listen to that little voice within
Is it telling you to take this trip or that? Find a travel partner who likes the same things? Yearning to take that trip you’ve been reading about? What’s holding you back? Money? Time? Resistance of your significant other? I think travel is much like life. What’s holding me back? I love to ponder the question then take a step toward what I know I want to experience. Sometimes just putting the date on the calendar makes it happen. And I never, ever regret it.

Breathe. Breathe it all in.
Close your eyes and breathe in slowly – the scents, the ambiance, the life that is vibrating around you. Breathe it all in and absorb it into your being. This is your life. Embrace it with gusto, with gentleness, with compassion, with the desire to understand and honor other cultures and ways of life.

Thanks for reading!
If you have your own travel tips that have made your travels special, I’d love to hear them. If you enjoy Facebook, write your tips on our Wall so others can learn and enjoy.

It's been a pleasure spending time with you. Happy and safe travels always,

Beth Hanson
CanalBargeCruises.com
1-888-264-3983


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