The Non-Existent Right or Wrong of How to Travel: A Travel Belle’s Guide to Making Memories

By Margo Millure

My number one rule for having a memorable vacation is “over-prepare, then go with the flow.” Easier said than done, right? Perhaps you think “over-preparing” is too much trouble and not really necessary. Or maybe you are among the perpetually prepared who has a difficult time “going with the flow” once travel time actually rolls around.

And what does being well-prepared for a big trip have to do with making memories, anyway? When it comes to travel, showing up is indeed important, but it is not everything.

Here I will let you in on a few of my hardest earned travel secrets.

As soon as your reservations are made:

Buy travel insurance: No one wants to think about having to cancel their trip or having something go wrong, but buying travel insurance is remarkably easy and surprisingly inexpensive given the peace of mind it brings.

Get a passport or check to be sure it isn’t expiring anytime soon.

Start researching your destination: When it comes to research it is easy to procrastinate and remarkably easy to avoid altogether. I recommend buying a hard copy of a good guidebook. I love a Kindle for traveling as much as anyone, but a guidebook placed in view in your home will serve as a visual reminder and will better the odds that you will use it ahead of your trip.

One month before:

If you haven’t cracked the guidebook yet, it’s okay! There it is right on the coffee table. But now’s the time to do the minimum. Make list of activities on your must-do list and familiarize yourself with local customs and styles.

Make arrangements for pets (and, if you haven’t already, children). Re-schedule any appointments that may be lying in wait on your calendar to stress you out on the days before, during or immediately after your travels.

Be sure to find or acquire a coat, other outerwear and a purse suitable for your destination.

One week before:

Check weather at destination. I confess I am a weather nerd, and I like to add the destination to my weather channel webpage.

Email yourself everything: confirmation numbers, itineraries, and a copy of your passport. Make a hard copy of your passport and put it in your suitcase, where it will stay for the duration. Email itinerary and a pdf of your passport to a friend or family member.

If you are planning to use your mobile device while abroad, contact your carrier. If you’re planning to use it beyond making emergency phone calls and don’t want to come home to a bill the size of a mortgage statement, be sure to purchase a data package. Acquire any last minute instructions for activation steps to be taken before you leave the U.S.

Pull out your suitcase and start a trial packing run. This will get you thinking about what you might need throughout the course of each day during your trip. There is no need to zip and no need to travel light in this “pretend” stage.” Make note of anything you may need to purchase. (Socks. I always need socks.)

During this last week before takeoff, there inevitably will be some added feelings of stress. Resist the temptation to ditch good dietary and exercise habits and try to get several good night’s sleep.

Three days before:

Take care of any last minute laundry. Be sure any prescription medications are filled. Charge your camera batteries. Buy those socks and memory cards.

Now is the time to pack for real. The saying “take twice the money and half the clothes” pretty much covers it. I know you are determined to take those three pairs of black pants, those ankle sprain inducing high heels and that flowery skirt that doesn’t fit because you can just so see yourself flitting in it around Paris. Well… you know what has to be done.

Pop that guidebook in your carry on bag so you can read it on the plane.

During the trip (aka – the “go with the flow” part)

If you’ve made some attempt to do the above before your trip, you will have gifted yourself with the chance to best be in the present moment and enjoy your trip. Be free! Enjoy! However, it’s a simple matter of biology that “going with the flow” can fly in the face of remembering.

We often talk about “having a good memory” as being something akin to “having good eyesight” or “good hair,” but storing your travel memories is a conscious act.

The challenge is to learn to be an active memory maker while at the same time “going with the flow.” In order to remember your trip years from now or even next week, it is imperative to reign in your flowing, “Zenny” travel method here and there.

Take photos – not of the postcard scenes, but the things you want to remember and can’t find anywhere else. Take a picture of signs – road signs you don’t understand, street signs, so you will be able to figure out where you were. Take pictures of people. When leaving the restaurant, grab their business card. If writing is more your style, take 15 minutes or so sometime during the day to jot down a few things about your experience while they are fresh. One of my favorite things to do is to buy postcards, not to send, but to write down a few details about what I have done that day.

The act of doing these things will help “put” what will be your most treasured travel experiences in your long term memory. Now “Bon Voyage!”

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3 Responses to “The Non-Existent Right or Wrong of How to Travel: A Travel Belle’s Guide to Making Memories”

  1. This article is full of good advice.

  2. Jody says:

    Luckily, my husband likes to do all of these things…so that my “spontaneous” attitude toward traveling doesn’t wreck our trip!

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