At what point are you ready?

by Steve Brock on June 12, 2016

RunwayTravel planning can be as simple or complicated as you want.

Some people need only reserve their plane ticket and resolve the rest as they go.

Others need every room, dining experience, transportation detail and daily itinerary locked down before they leave. Oh, and it would be nice if they could adjust the weather too, but…

There’s no single right way to plan a trip. It comes down to your need for control, your personality type, your comfort with winging it and myriad other issues. But no matter what your planning style, at some point you have to answer this question: “Am I ready to go?”

The answer isn’t simple because implied in that main question is a second one: Ready for what?

To me, I have dig deeper than train schedules, visa requirements and hotel availabilities. I need to do more than just prepare my itinerary. I have to prepare me.

To do this, I have to ask myself (as do you) some tough questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this trip?
  • What do I want to be or become as a result of this trip?
  • How do I want this trip to change me? For example, do I want to be more adventurous? More open? More patient? Less critical?
  • Depending on how I want to change, what will I do on this trip to achieve that goal? And most important, what will I do before this trip to help achieve that goal?

Trips are wonderful learning laboratories. They give us the opportunity to try on new perspectives and even build new habits. We’re away from work and daily routine. We’re freed to experiment and explore. But the learning that they provide occurs best if we seek out that learning and prepare for it.

I’ve got a trip coming up with my family. A big one that includes several countries in a region I’ve never visited. All my reservations – well, most of my reservations – are in place. But am I ready? Not yet.

I’ve not answered all of the above questions yet. Not thought through how to make this trip meaningful not just for me (the one whose done all the research) but also for my family who will show up at the airport with only the faintest idea of what lies ahead.

The irony of travel planning is this. I can spend days or even weeks preparing for a trip, learning about the history and culture of a place. All that has tremendous value. But if I don’t think through some of those questions above, I may come home with a great experience, but not the best one possible. And to me, life’s too short not to pursue the best option.

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The best travel advice for a first-time traveler

by Steve Brock on June 1, 2012 is asking this week, as part of their 2012 Indie Travel Challenge, what’s the best advice for a first-time traveler.

Here are two related posts that offer the best advice I ever received on how a first-time traveler goes about preparing for a trip:

The first relates to the very notion of what do you do with all the advice you get. The second looks at the role of guidebooks and Web sites and how to find what works best for you.

But to summarize it all up, I always tell first-time (and other) travelers this: Savor the anticipation.

You will likely find, as most travelers do, that the anticipation before your trip and the reflection on it afterwards are some of the most meaningful parts of travel. So don’t let all the hassles of logistics get in the way of your dreams. Travel is filled with surprise. That’s part of why we travel. But anticipation is almost better since you can delight in it and have something to look forward to.

So enjoy the journey. But just be aware that it starts long before you ever walk out your front door…


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Getting the most out of a guidebook

by Steve Brock on February 21, 2011

We never would have found these ancient - and secluded - friary ruins in Ireland had we not read about them in a single guidebook: none of the half dozen other guidebooks we had noted them. That meant we had the entire place to ourselves...and the cows and sheep.

What’s so meaningful about a guidebook? Nothing really. It’s what you do with it that will determine if the outcome is meaningful or not.

In today’s interconnected world, you wonder if the guidebook itself is becoming an anachronism, a throwback to a time when people read actual newspapers and a social network usually involved a potluck. So I’m less concerned with the medium in which the information is presented – books, printouts of PDFs, downloadable e-books, podcasts, phone apps or live access to Web sites while traveling. The question to me is this: Is the content of value to the traveler?

I know of some travelers who say no.

Those who oppose guidebooks say that such aids:

  • Prevent or at least hinder personal discovery
  • Lead you to the same places everyone else goes and reinforce stereotypes
  • Err on the side of the safe, tried and true international hotels and restaurants rather than local ones, or, when they do come across an indigenous find, they ruin it by telling everyone. That hidden gem then becomes as private as a Royal Wedding.

 I agree with those points to some degree. But to me, it all comes down to how you use a guidebook. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most from written guides (we’ll save the subject of live tour guides for another time):

  • Realize that all discovery is personal. Just because a million people have been to the same place before doesn’t make it any less meaningful for you the first time you go there.
  • Use the guidebook as a starting point. Use it to identify places and events that sound interesting to you and to avoid those that don’t. The primary value to me of a guidebook is that it saves me time. Think of it as a filter, not the final word on what to see.
  • Don’t settle for just one perspective. As I noted last time, I always go to the library and check out as many guidebooks as I can. I’ll usually end up buying one or two to take or photocopy (or more recently, download onto a Kindle), but I only purchase the one that most aligns with my style, needs for this particular trip and travel sensibilities. Look over several and find what works for you.
  • Focus on both the similarities and differences. Most guidebooks will overlap 80-90% in what they cover, at least in terms of the sights to see. That 90% will include the popular, touristy places. But read carefully for the other 10%. In the details listed in only one book, you often encounter some of the most interesting finds, places you’d never discover on your own. 
  • Cast your guidebook aside once you get your bearings. Guidebooks serve well to provide you with background, an initial orientation and some possible places to consider you might never find on your own. But once you get there, you’ll experience more meaningful encounters through talking with locals and other travelers and making your own discoveries. 

 All of the above points matter, but here’s the main reason I use guidebooks: They prime me for openness.

That may seem counter-intuitive because if anything, you may think that guidebooks close you by pointing you toward the same old sights and foisting someone else’s perceptions on you. But to me, by having a greater background and familiarity with the popular sights and even other people’s opinions courtesy of the guidebook, I’m actually free to look around more on my own without worrying about what I might miss.

What about you? How do you use guidebooks? Or do you? Do you just show up and wing it? Has your use changed over time? Do you have a favorite? Share your thoughts on what works for you.

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Planning and Regret

by Steve Brock February 1, 2011

You can make the anticipation phase of your trip more enjoyable and meaningful and also avoid regret later on by doing some pre-trip planning. Even if you prefer winging it and just showing up, you may find some hidden benefits to planning and making necessary reservations.

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