I don’t make a lot of money as a writer, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other job in the world. That’s because writing makes me happy, especially whenever someone tells me they enjoyed this column, or thought about some idea I shared. And also because many of the assignments I get provide me with the opportunity to meet people and see places I most likely never would have been able to afford to see on my own. From dog sledding in Greenland to powder skiing in Chile to kayaking the stunning fjords of Norway, sometimes when I go to bed at night, I just focus on certain memories and drift into my dreams enjoying my own Kodachrome-colored highlight reel. Along the way, I also feel as if I have learned a few travel tricks to make each journey easier and more rewarding, for me as well as for the people I meet on the road.
Learn the Language
Full disclosure: I’m not fluent in anything—including English. But there are few things more annoying than an American abroad who thinks a foreign local didn’t understand him just because he didn’t say something LOUD! enough the first time. It’s a happy circumstance of globalism that so many internationals do speak English. Not a right. And even if you can’t go full Rosetta Stone before your next trip, if you simply bring a guidebook and make an honest attempt to use a few simple phrases at your next destination, I guarantee you will generate instant goodwill, and maybe make some new friends as well.
Want to find an American in London? Go to the nearest Starbucks and you’ll be one of the crowd. That’s partly because English coffee sucks (tea, anyone?), but also because we like to stick with what we know. And while grabbing a McDonald’s cheeseburger in downtown Munich might be fun for about five seconds, it won’t teach you anything about the culture you came to enjoy. Eating what the locals eat lets you spend more time around those locals, understand more about their farms and favorite flavors, and learn as much from what you taste as you do from what you see and hear.
Leaving as much baggage as possible behind when you go on a trip—both figuratively and literally—can free you up to enjoy an experience that is truly transformative, rather than one of just being a caretaker for all the excess clothing you should have left at home. Reducing your necessities to something like just the pack on your back lets you travel farther and faster, and also leaves you the room to obtain a few small treasures to commemorate your latest adventure on your desk or office wall.
‘Carry On’ Like a Pro
Smart skiers take their boots with them on the plane, so they can still hit the slopes when the rest of their gear doesn’t make it to the baggage carousel. Smart travelers would be wise to take a hint, and make sure their carry-on has some raingear and a change of clothes. That way you don’t have to waste any—or at least too much—time putting your trip on hold just to wait for that spare pair of clean underwear to arrive.
When things don’t go as planned, don’t make the whole scenario into the penultimate personal failure of the first person you encounter at the front desk, or on the airline reservations phone. There’s an old saying, “you get more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar.” And treating people like, well, people, can often encourage them to help you out in a way that yelling at them never will.
Double Check Your Travel Insurance
Consider this the public service announcement segment of this column. You should know the international scope of your personal health insurance before you travel—and adjust it if you need to—before you go. I have had friends who didn’t check, and it didn’t turn out very well.
Find a Good Bar
In the event all the shit does hit the fan—from endless layovers to newly discovered food allergies to lost reservations—nothing can sustain you through moments of in-transit crisis like a good bar. Alcohol, similarly screwed fellow travelers, and the ever-present optimism that good news is just another shot and a beer away can sustain your sense of being on vacation, no matter how long your skis, airplane, and sense of well-being are stuck in Chicago.
Use Public Transportation
I have a friend who says that only two kinds of people take cabs, “Those who are late, and those who are lost.” I would add a third category, “Those who can’t find a bus,” because I think buses, trains and subways are often the most efficient—and certainly most economical—ways to get from here to anywhere. It’s also the mark of a savvy traveler to be able to decipher a city’s maps, transportation routes and schedules, especially if they are written in Spanish or Japanese.
The subhead for this segment could also be: take a detour. I have found that the best travel memories are built on the unexpected—from the experiences that weren’t on the itinerary, like an unplanned side trip, a last minute hotel or breaking down beside some generous farmer’s house and being treated to an impromptu meal. Leaving room for such diversions, or even expecting them, helps add that vacation-based sense of unexpected anticipation that frankly, is the exact antithesis of the day-to-day humdrum you’re trying to escape at work.
Remember, There’s No Place Like Home
That old Dorothy had it pegged, there really is no place like home—especially if you live in Colorado. And one of the most amazing aspects of traveling anywhere, is coming back to DIA and realizing just how great we have it, to live in a place that the rest of the world can’t wait to come and visit for a vacation of their own. Travel well, even if it’s just to the front porch to see those amazing Rocky Mountain views one more time.
If you are reading the online version of this story
(elevationoutdoors.com, where all the Elwayville columns are available), please feel free to share your own Rules of the Road.
Peter Kray is EO’s editor-at-large and co-founder of the Gear Institute (gearinstitute.com). His first novel The God of Skiing is due out soon.