By Emily Brennan
A new year means new adventures. Though my financial situation may limit my traveling excursions, I really strive to go at least one place I’ve never been each year. Whether I’m headed to Paris, France or Paris, Texas there are a few pieces of travel advice that I always bring with me.
Wednesdays are generally the cheapest days to travel when it comes to airlines. Since it’s the middle of the week, most people have to work, and rates run lower on these low travel days. If you have the freedom to travel on Wednesdays, exercise that freedom. I was able to book a round trip ticket from Missoula, Montana to Portland, Oregon for $173 because I was willing to travel from Wednesday to Wednesday. I spend more than that on a pair of boots!
Food should be a central part of your travel experience. Each country, region, state, and town harbor culinary treasures unique to that area, so don’t just settle for a Subway sandwich or other widely distributed chains because it’s easy and safe. The exception to this rule would be McDonald’s because, as you travel from country to country the menu at this fast food staple changes—think McDonald’s mozzarella sticks in Italy. Also, if you have a tour at a museum or some other attraction, try to step outside of those walls to enjoy lunch. Oftentimes, the restaurants at these tourist attractions are overpriced and generic. When in Seattle, find the seafood. When in Louisiana, find the Creole. When in Rome, eat everything.
*When traveling within the United States, Guy Fieri of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives has compiled a cookbook and a website that lists the best restaurants and specific dishes in many cities that could work as a delicious guide (http://www.flavortownusa.com/states).
Balance tourist activities with self-exploration. If you book every tourist tour and make a list of every single tourist attraction (largest ball of yarn anyone?) you can miss out on discovering the personality of the city you are in. Make sure to strike a balance between the attractions that every tourist will see and the things that you would find particular interest in—and also give yourself a chance to meet some locals! If salsa dancing is your thing, don’t waste your money on a cramped city bus tour, ask around or do a quick search on bars that host salsa dancing nights and let the rhythm take control.
When you do decide to hit up some tourist attractions do a little research on what products come from each city and sign up for a tour in that industry: wine in Provencal France, the Tillamook factory in Portland, the Jameson distillery in Ireland, or even the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Figure out what the city is best at and then see why they are the best.
Savor experiences, not souvenirs. Does anyone truly need another “I (heart) [insert city name here]” t-shirt? Probably not. Buy from the local boutiques that have something unique that you will actually wear or use. It’s pretty fun to get a compliment on your scarf and be able to reply, “oh, this old thing, I picked it up in London years ago.” Yes, it makes you sound a little pretentious, but it also launches you into a reverie of that vacation. You will remember the places you visit even if your souvenirs don’t loudly advertise where you went.
The Golden Rule: One over-reaching piece of advice to keep in mind from the start of your trip to the voyage home is to relax. Traveling can be hectic and frustrating and filled with navigating public transportation and waiting in lines—don’t let those times of stress overshadow what should be a fun experience. If there is an activity that is causing too much anxiety, maybe it means you should skip it and reroute to something that makes you smile.
Safe and happy travels in 2015 to all the voyagers out there!