Prioritize your trip planning to focus on a more meaningful travel experience.
Most trip planning consists of spending too much time on itinerary and logistics, yet not enough time preparing for how to make their trip more rewarding and interactions more meaningful. A little conscious effort – which can even be done on the plane or bus – can go a long way to enhance your travel experience. Here are the five quick trip planning tasks I recommend doing before visiting any new country.
1. Get Context
Gain a high-level view of the country’s history. When, how, and why was it founded? What were its triumphs and conflicts throughout history? Any notable heroes? What does the main religion believe? You can find quick overviews in most guidebooks or on the BBC’s country profiles page. Take it a step further by reading a book grounded in your host country’s culture; for example, I just bought Gandhi’s autobiography for my upcoming flight to India, but this certainly isn’t required. This trip planning goal is not to be an expert, but to gain context and a basic appreciation for factors that shaped the country and likely still influence many aspects of society.
2. Get Current
Take the time to read up on the country’s current events when trip planning. I recommend the country news pages in The New York Times. What are the biggest issues facing the country today? It could be major: I was in Ukraine not long before the Crimea conflict when the Pro-Russia vs. Pro-EU debate was heating up. Or it could more trivial: in South Africa, I witnessed a controversy regarding a painting of President Zuma with his “man parts” hanging out of his pants. On the surface it looked like your typical “it’s disrespectful” vs. “it’s art” debate seen in any free society. But after hearing the locals’ perspective, I realized how the painting’s undertones uncovered a lot about the country’s ongoing racial tensions and changing political landscape. These topics provide real conversation starters with local strangers and bare valuable cultural insights. Avoid the temptation to engage in a debate and rather, seek to understand each person’s perspective.
3. Get Direction
One of the best ways to experience a city is by walking – and walking a lot. Find a few “must-see” points of interest (e.g., monuments, neighborhoods, or museums) throughout the city so you can walk around to each as soon as you get there. Use this primarily to get your walk started and focus on experiencing as much as possible in between your spots. Sure, take your photo for Instagram (@goKonrad) when you get to the beautiful square, but remember that the real experiences happen in between the points of interest. Stay open to serendipity and adventure while on your trek – and don’t just focus on the next spot on the list. Not to sound like a cheesy postcard, but the day’s purpose is the journey – not the handful of stops along the way. Download an offline map app like TripScout when trip planning to prevent you from roaming on international data or looking like the obviously lost tourist when you pull out a giant map.
4. Get Conversational
It is critical to learn some of the local language when trip planning. The more you can learn, the better. But don’t let it overwhelm you. Learn basic words and phrases (hello, yes, no, please, thank you, sorry, cheers, nice to meet you, my name is, how much, where is, I want, I don’t want, water, beer, food). You will be amazed at how many doors this will open for you (except in France, of course). Even knowing these basic phrases has helped me break barriers and make many new friends along the way. After all, you are the foreigner and it is respectful to at least show the effort.
5. Get Connected
Connect ahead of time with someone in your current (or desired) professional field. Whether you are an entrepreneur, engineer, accountant, teacher, or student, most jobs are done worldwide. Introduce who you are, what you do, where you are from, and that you want to meet for [whatever drink is appropriate for the culture]. The enthusiasm you get in response will surprise you if you reach out properly. On top of making a local friend and finding a good local café/bar, seeing your job from this perspective will reveal how your profession fits into the world. It will also give you unique insights into local life and culture that you wouldn’t get in normal travel encounters. I have found this of the best things I do, but most rarely neglected aspect when trip planning.
I hope these trip planning techniques will help you have a more meaningful travel experience! For more tips, you can follow me on Instagram or sign up for my free weekly digest about ways to travel the world, build a successful business or career, and make a difference at the same time:
Trip planning steps to improve your travel experience