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What Traveling Taught Me

By Tammy Darling

When an opportunity to travel comes my way, I don’t turn it down. I love going on new adventures, seeing new things, and even revisiting favorites. Most of my traveling is done stateside, but I’ve traveled internationally as well. And every trip teaches me something new. Here are some things traveling has taught me:

Research is imperative.

When I plan a vacation, I start by researching various destinations. Once I decide upon a location, I research accommodations, restaurants, and things to do. I then put this information in a notebook, which also includes my packing list, so everything is in one central location.

Recently, my widowed mother-in-law was checking into a bus trip. This trip, several states away, initially sounded great. However, further research revealed that it wasn’t a good fit for her as she has severe scoliosis, and the trip involved a lot of walking.

My mother-in-law often travels with our family to the ocean, so I look for accommodations that require the least amount of walking to the beach. No smoking is also a prerequisite. I consider my priorities and conduct my research based on that list.

Saving never ends.

Travel, like everything else, is more expensive than ever. Because I love to travel, I save throughout the year; trip saving for me never ends! I have a large glass jar that I regularly toss dollar bills into, and I have another large decorative jar for coins. In addition, I have a vacation club account through my bank, and I deposit $20 each week.

I also hold an annual yard sale and use the proceeds for traveling expenses. I’ve cut down on eating out and use that money instead for meals when on a trip. And when researching for an upcoming travel destination, I check for coupons online. On a recent Outer Banks vacation, I found coupons for miniature golf, a couple of restaurants, and a boat ride. That boat ride alone saved me $20. Then, there was the $20 food voucher for the restaurant in the hotel where we stayed.

Make a packing list.

When I have upcoming travel plans, I first grab a notebook and start making a packing list. Sometimes, I start the list months in advance, partly out of excitement and partly because I know if I wait until the last minute, I’ll still forget things.

In my early years of traveling, I didn’t make a list, and I always forgot several things. Sure, I can usually get those items wherever I am (maybe!), but who wants to have to run to the store when you finally get to where you’re going? Not me. So, I make a list and check it twice.

Spend the extra for trip cancellation.

You know the saying, “Once bitten, twice shy”? It applies to traveling too. Anything can happen, so I’ve learned to err on the side of caution.

Depending on the circumstances, trip protection may look like travel insurance or even free hotel cancellation up to the day or so before travel. I have had to utilize this extra expense; if I hadn’t paid a little upfront, I would have lost a lot more in the end.

Some sites will ask if you want this extra protection; others must be searched. After getting burned once because of an unexpected health issue, I now only book accommodations that offer free cancellation up to a maximum of three days before traveling. Because travel insurance coverage varies, I’ve learned it’s important to clarify what exactly it covers before purchasing.

Know the culture.

Traveling internationally, I discovered that some things that are acceptable in America are frowned upon in other countries and may even be seen as offensive. While accepted in the United States and in some cultures as a testament to a great meal, burping in Haiti is considered rude. We also learned while there that it’s rude to point with the index finger, to make the “V” sign with the palm facing outward, and to show the sole of the foot.

Now, I am more sensitive to cultural differences when traveling and will do some research beforehand. What do they respect, honor, and hold sacred? What do they frown upon, consider rude, or disrespectful?

Blend in when flying.

Having distinct, easy-to-locate luggage is great…until it’s stolen right off the baggage carousel…and you’re headed to a third-world country where it’s 114°, and all you’re left with is your carry-on bag.

Thinking the hot pink hard-side luggage I snagged at a second-hand store would simplify the location process after exiting the plane was a huge mistake. Apparently, it screamed, “I’m hot. Steal me,” because there was indeed evidence from the airline that it was placed on the carousel.

Now, if I’m traveling by plane, my luggage is nondescript black and clearly states, “There’s nothing special about me.” That’s a Hard lesson to learn.

Don’t overload on activities.

Traveling can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Everyone’s body and mind need some downtime to function optimally. Meltdowns happen to adults, too. Tight schedules and activity overload can cause myriad problems.

When my husband and I travel, we tend to want to take in as much as possible, to experience all we can in our limited time. But we have also learned that we need to notice each other’s subtle signs of overload, which usually starts in the form of being snarky with one another. Then we know it’s time to take a step back and take a break, nap, or make some other kind of correction.

Buy a place-specific souvenir.

I’m not big on shopping while traveling, but I do make it a point to purchase a souvenir that reflects where I’ve been or that has some special meaning to the trip.

Last year, my husband and I went on a “celebration vacation” to Nags Head, NC, to celebrate his being declared cancer-free. My husband had a blast watching the little crabs on the beach pop in and out of their holes; it brought much laughter, something we both needed. To commemorate this trip, I bought a pair of crab earrings. When I wear them, I’m reminded of our celebratory, grateful mood that day.

In five weeks, I’ll be heading on a first-time, 10-day trip to Texas for my daughter’s Air Force basic training graduation. I can’t wait to see what this trip has in store!

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