I got home yesterday. I had a fantastically marvelous time in an unbelievably beautiful country.
Isle of Skye, Scotland (I know, right?)
- Pack a few interchangeable pieces of clothing you can layer as needed, do laundry along the way, and buy anything else you require at your destination. I forgot my water repellent jacket this trip, so I stopped in a few charity shops and found one in basic black for £3. That, and the pair of super-cute polka dot w/ pink soles in my size wellies my sister found abandoned under a bench, kept me dry all across Scotland. (Freaked out about the previously-worn wellies? Don't be! They were one pair of several left behind by festival-goers, and anyway, I cleaned them before I wore them. Duh.)
- Carry-on only is liberating, and, as far as I'm concerned, the only way to travel, but if you like to shop on your travels, you'll probably need another bag to carry your finds back home. You can pick up decent used luggage at charity shops, thrift stores, and discount stores all across the US and Europe; pack your treasures in a bought-on-the-go bag and check it on your return flight. Another option is to take with you one of the many fold-away bags available - safely stowed in your carry-on, it's there for you to open and fill when you need it.
2) Close to the ground
- A business trip is one thing; you're (generally) not there to have fun, so making the most of your sojourn by staying in a great hotel with arctic air conditioning, fluffy comforters, and a wide-screen tv is totally forgivable. A holiday, though, is something else. If, like me, you travel to experience new places and cultures, consider bypassing the chi-chi hotels and finding a hostel or moderately priced hotel instead. You'll save huge bucks, and have a more authentic travel experience. I've stayed in 10 different hostels, a B & B, and a local hotel in Scotland & England, Not one has had a private bath; I've had roommates from Japan, Poland, and Germany, to name a few. I've shared breakfast tables and late night teatime in communal kitchens, and observed Scottish parenting skills up close and personal. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Berneray Hostel, Scotland 2010 (mine)
- Public transportation can be an efficient, safe, and inexpensive alternative to renting a vehicle. In many places it's how the locals travel; rubbing elbows with folks on their way to work, school, or the market is a ready-made opportunity to experience another culture.
- Shop where the locals shop, eat what the locals eat. Yes, I mean grocery shop. Wander the aisles while you're there - check out the dish soap, the shampoo, the kitchen matches; a simple market trip can be a study in local culture. Then grab some yogurt, cheese, bread, fruit, and go have yourself a picnic and people-watch. A beer or bottle of wine won't hurt, either.
- The tourist trap souvenir shops aren't all bad, but avoid wasting your money on tchotskes that will lose their appeal before you even leave the shop, and buy things you'll use, instead: pens, pencils, note cards, and notepads are a few of my favorite little touristy purchases - every time I write a check with my Union Jack pen it makes me smile.
- Another favorite type of memento is something from the local culture. At the Heb Hostel in Stornoway I admired the finely turned wooden door stops used to prop open the 100+ yr old doors; in a little hardware store in London I scored 3 of the exact same stops, for £1 each. I picked up a toast rack and a couple of kitchen towels as well. On Berneray (population: 80) I bought a cake of locally made soap. (At the same sale, I bought a tiny little vintage lead crystal jar with a sterling silver top for my dressing table, and an antique wood and glass spyglass as a gift for wifey. Proceeds benefited the Berneray Historical Society.)
View from the hostel window, Berneray, Scotland (mine)
- Charity shops (or thrift stores if you're traveling in the States) are treasure troves of items that make fabulous mementos and gifts. A vintage embroidered pillowcase, a china teacup, books (careful, they're heavy!), or a set of bone-handled sterling silver grapefruit spoons beat the crap out of a tacky My family went to Shangri La and all I got was this lousy piece of shit! souvenir.
3) Open yourself to the possibilities.
- Miss your bus? Take the next one, or walk, or just do something else. Raining on the only day you have to explore a local landmark? Put on your charity shop rain jacket and freebie wellies and go on out. It's rain, not paint remover for christsake - you'll be fine! Run out of toothpaste and can't find your regular brand? German toothpaste works, too. Really.
Callenish, Isle of Lewis, Scotland 2010 (mine)
Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and
appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people.
It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life.
- Rick Steves