Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism, said that ‘without opening your door, you can see the world’. He was right, because travel is a state of mind more than a journey from place to place. Still, it’s nice to change your environment from time to time. So, even though now you can put on some VR goggles and see the world without opening your door – let’s not go that far.
A few years ago, I submitted a reality TV show concept to Mark Burnett, the creator of Survivor. The show would be called “You’re Not Going Anywhere” and it would work like this – casting would solicit families, couples, and groups who were interested in the trip of a lifetime. They would submit videos about their dream vacation – where they would go, why it would be amazing, what they would do, and background. Once the finalists were selected, the entire season would be shot before airing.
Here’s how it works. The hosts show up at the home or location and meet with the family to tell them they have won, they have been selected for the show and then ask them to prepare. Then, when they are all packed and ready to go they are picked up by a bus/van and the host would say the tagline/show title “You’re not going anywhere” .
And the truth is, they wouldn’t be going anywhere. They would be staying in their own town/region and would be introduced to it as if for the first time. A team of experts would identify the best hotel, spas, innovative entrepreneurs, restaurants, history, historic points of interest, natural attractions, and famous citizens. Without going anywhere, these lucky people would learn that travel is a state of mind, it’s a willingness to look at the world with fresh eyes, it’s a way of thinking, feeling, and relating to your destination. Any location, any town, any village – all of them are remarkable places. You don’t really need a team of experts to discover where you live. And, let’s say you live in the most boring place on the planet – well, once you’ve spent a day or two exploring it, you can move on to the next village, the next town, the nearest city. This is how you travel all the time.
Travel is not about getting on a boat or plane. It’s not about taking a tour. It’s not about buying a guidebook. Travel is about the openness to feel the texture of the air. It’s about the ability to be thrilled with foul weather. It’s about the sound of traffic charming you instead of annoying you.
One of my favorite parts of travel is sitting in travel terminals – bus stations, airports, train stations, ferry terminals – and lets face it – these places are rarely wonderful (Okay, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur both have pretty awesome airports) but what is special about them is that they are the space where your mindset changes from a day-to-day one to a travel mindset. Think about it and you know it is true. If you can find the mindset all the time, you can travel all the time.
Lao Tzu was right – you don’t need to open your door – you only need to open your mind and heart.
Here are 27 quick tips to make world travel better. What are your quick tips for world travelers?
1) Say hi to other people who are traveling
2) Don’t flash your bling
3) Catch a cab and talk to the driver about cool things to do (Cabbies are almost always multi-lingual)
4) Scan a picture of your passport and give it to someone you trust
5) Get a nice padlock and use it when necessary (It takes two to steal: the thief and the one who left an opportunity)
6) Wear long pants during long transport
7) Look at the mattress…know what bedbugs look like
8) Stay where you get breakfast for free
9) Make sure hot water is included
10) Find paperback exchanges
11) Stay longer and get cheaper room rates
12) Fill out your couchsurfing profile completely
13) Look for free fruit on the trees
14) Look for language exchanges
15) Don’t leave your phone in your room
16) Bring your own condoms
17) Don’t get so drunk you can’t take care of yourself
18) Trust your instincts about people
19) Eat the local food
20) Always ask for a second price
21) Don’t wander around alone late at night
22) Don’t give up your passport
23) Bring your valuables to the shower with you in a hostel
24) Eat lots of cheese if you get diarrhea
25) A handful of nuts makes hunger go away
26) Get a haircut and a shave (or a wax and a style)
Enjoying travel is easy. The hard part is making sure everything works.
In terms of accommodation, it comes down to 1) figuring out how to get where you want to go and 2) figuring out where to stay when you get there. Sure, there are other factors like finding the money to travel, what to eat, how to stay in your budget, and of course the biggest challenge for those not born with a magic ticket passport – getting the visas.
But, by and large I would say that transport and accommodation are the two biggest challenges. What are the relative merits of a few types of places you might consider staying.
First of all hostels – I’m not a huge fan of hostels now that I’m no longer in my twenties, but, for people who aren’t like me, there might actually be some very good reasons to stay in hostels. Here are just a few – hostels are great places to meet people, hostels are sometimes cheaper than a hotel (but not always), and hostels can be good places to find cheap tours, activities, etc. My personal recommendation is to avoid the dorms and get a private room – even if it means finding a new friend at the hostel and sharing a private the next days you are there. A private room at a hostel is probably the best value and you don’t have to deal with inconsiderate, crazy, or drunk dorm-mates. Here’s another but though- if you are going to get a private room at a hostel, have a look at hotels nearby because you have a pretty good chance of getting a more comfortable room for the same or less money at a one or two star hotel and sometimes even the three stars can surprise you. Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest option because often they are more expensive than a nicer room somewhere else.
As far as hotels go – there are really a few different types of accommodation that fall under that category.
Bed and Breakfasts are essentially hostels for grown ups as they generally have common areas where guests can converge (for breakfast for example) and more personalized service than a hotel – this can, in some cases, be annoying if you just want to have a place to sleep and be left alone by other guests and staff but most people find it to be pretty nice. The staff and owners at good B&Bs are generally interested in who you are and getting to know you…if you don’t want that, just get a hotel.
Guesthouses are along the same lines but without the interest in you from staff. You may or may not have breakfast or common areas – these can range from a lakeside house in Koycegiez, Turkey to a Dar or Riad in the Fes Medina – to me, a guesthouse is characterized by a host who lives in the house or somewhere nearby and is available to answer questions or help arrange activities, transport etc.
Vacation rentals are a mixed bag. This could be an extra room in a family house or a whole property dedicated to being rented out on a short term basis. These days, you can find vacation rentals that fit with everything else that is described in this article from a spare couch or van parked in someone’s driveway to a luxury home with a butler and private chef.
Motels are places you can drive your car to and park. Motor + Hotel – In South Korea, they tend to be places where you can get some loving with a special someone (either that you just met or who you already know – up to you) and they also tend to be much cheaper than hotels. They call them Love Motels for a reason. In the USA, these are hotels that are along motorways, highways, and freeways. I grew up staying in motels since my dad was a musician early in my childhood..
Hotels are places generally in cities where visitors can stay. Service tends to be detached, professional, and standardized. A managerial staff usually runs the hotel rather than the owner of the property. This is your best bet for privacy, comfort, amenities, and location. Hotels are rated by stars, but there are many hotels that have never been rated that offer exceptional value. Many that have been rated degrade over time or fail to provide the standards you would expect. In general – no stars means it has not been rated, 1 star means basic room with toilet and shower, 2 star means the room has additional comfort features (like shower gel and soap, daily cleaning etc) and the property may offer food or drink, 3 stars means that there are additional features like telephone, television, hair dryer, extra pillows or blankets etc. It also means the hotel likely has a complaint system in place and works hard to make guests comfortable and happy. 4 stars brings you additional comforts like a bathrobe and slippers, minibar, room service, couch and/or upholstered chair, patios, cosmetic products, etc. And finally, the 5 stars (or five diamond) hotel brings you fresh flowers in the rooms, welcoming drinks, personalized service, shoe shining, ironing service and everything else you can imagine in terms of comfort and service.
Finally, a resort is a hotel in a specific setting usually with shops, restaurants, activities and much of what you could want on holiday all in one location. Examples would be Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, Hawaii ; Disney Resorts; or Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.
So, which is the best hotel? As with most things in life- it depends. The star or diamond system is a great general guide but in many cases hotels don’t live up to the stars they have or far exceed them. For my money, a three star hotel that aspires to four stars is the best thing going. Or – a hotel that hasn’t yet been rated that aspires to four or five stars. The worst? A four or five star hotel that is living on it’s reputation from long ago – these are the kinds of places that charge you for internet access or have terrible expensive restaurants in the lobby. If you are just looking for a bed and a place to stash your bag – a one or two star will usually give you the same or better accommodation and rates than a hostel private room. Even if they are one star, they value it and want to keep it- a hostel doesn’t have stars and won’t get them – although in some cities I’ve seen hostels that behave as if they are five stars while giving less than one star treatment.
A final note on what used to be my favorite means of making friends and learning about new places. Couchsurfing. For a while Couchsurfing was an amazing underground way of finding free accommodation and making new friends. Then it became more mainstream. Then it tried to monetize itself like AirBnB had done. Then it all fell apart. I’ve tried to use it over the last seven years and found it to be more trouble than it is worth. However, it may still be worth it if you can figure out how to make it work.
I need to emphasize this – you can’t really put couchsurfing on the same level as hotels, hostels, or motels. First of all, you aren’t paying with money. You are, however, paying with a guest/host relationship that has responsibilities. If you are going to couchsurf but don’t want to interact or spend time with the hosts – you shouldn’t couchsurf. Often, your hosts will provide you with experiences you wouldn’t find elsewhere, but never forget that couchsurfing is about friendship. Would you call your friend in a different city and say “I’ll be arriving on the 5th at 10 pm, please have my room ready. I’ll work all day the 6th so you won’t see me and then I’ll leave on the morning of hte 7th at 6 am. Can you arrange transport?”
If you would do that, I’m guessing you have no friends. I certainly don’t want a friend like that and neither do couchsurfing hosts. Couchsurfing can provide you with all kinds of levels of comfort from filthy, stinky, sketchy drug shacks to mansions and villas with private gyms and saunas. It depends on the host. The reason they are hosting is because they want to know you and become friends – if you don’t have the time or desire for that – don’t couchsurf.