Are you getting the most out of your travels? Five common mistakes travelers make

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Whether you’re a newbie traveler or seasoned road warrior, chances are you’ve made some mistakes when you travel. There are the logistical ones: not leaving enough time to make a flight connection, forgetting a cellphone charger, misplacing travel documents – and then there are the bigger ones. The bigger ones are harder to shake. They are old habits or mindsets that we need to shed in order to really make the most out of our travels.

Below we’ve rounded up the five most common roadblocks to travel nirvana.

1. Trying to do everything and failing to leave time for serendipity. Most of us have been guilty of this one at some point! We’re so excited to be in a new place, and we probably don’t have as much time as we’d like. We’ve read the guidebooks, browsed the travel forums, noted the best restaurants, and what days the museums are open. We’ve made lists and drafted a schedule with military precision: 8am – breakfast, 9am – Louvre, 11am – Notre Dame, 12pm – Buy picnic food at Rue Cler, 12:30pm - lunch...

The best laid travel plans are those that leave room for inspiration to strike, to make the most of chance encounters and give us time to wander along the cobbled laneways and paths that intrigue us. And to absorb what we’re seeing! If we’re always rushing off to the next place, we have no time to reflect on what we’ve seen.

2. ...and refusing to try anything that’s not in the guidebook! Most of us like guidebooks. We trust guidebooks; the best ones feel like old friends. And many guidebooks offer great insights and recommendations. But sometimes we put so much faith in our guidebooks that we reject places that don’t appear in their pages. Have you ever walked past a lovely looking restaurant, considered eating there and then didn’t because you didn’t want to risk trying a place that wasn’t mentioned in your guidebook? Travelers miss out on some amazing places when they become slaves to Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

3. Searching out the familiar rather than the unfamiliar. We travel to see, hear, taste and experience new things…so why do so many of us gravitate towards what we already know? Making small changes to your travel plans can help you immerse yourself more deeply in a different culture. Try booking a hotel room at an independent, boutique hotel rather than an international chain. Even better, consider staying in a private apartment! This is a wonderful way to briefly feel like you’ve stepped into another culture.

Avoid the restaurants you’d frequent at home, and the meals you’d order there; instead, pay attention to what the locals are eating, which restaurants and market stalls have the most crowds and try what’s on offer. Make an effort to avoid the “tourist trap” restaurants around major attractions – often a better place waits on a quiet street just a block or two away.

4. Failing to take time to learn about the place and culture you’re visiting before you arrive. I’ve heard stories from people who have traveled to Paris and left thinking Parisian shop keepers were rude. In reality, these people had failed to learn a simple matter of French etiquette: always greet the staff when you enter their store. A simple “Bonjour, madame” would have paved the way for a gracious encounter.

Spending a bit of time browsing the traveler discussion forums on websites like TripAdvisor, Fodors and Lonely Planet is a good way to start learning about what to expect. Another, more fun option is to read a novel written by a local author and set in the city you’re traveling to. It will give you a sense of culture and place – plus it can be fun to try and find the neighbourhoods and landmarks referred to in the story.

5. Failing to really consider your interests. "Many people plan the trip they think they ought to want, rather than the trip they actually want," says Edward Hasbrouck, author of The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World. Just because you’re in London, for example, doesn’t mean you have to spend your days touring the city’s historic sites if what you really want to do is shop, eat and stroll. Don’t let yourself be guilted into spending your vacation time doing things you’re not really interested in!
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