This week in honor of Twenty-Something Travel’s 5 year anniversary all members of the staff are writing about 5 things they’ve learned from travel. Here’s Steph’s take:
When I assigned this topic to Kay and Jessica, I thought it would be an easy one to write. After all this blog itself is a testament to all the things travel has taught me. Distilling all that down to 5 reasons without sounds incredibly sappy though, is harder than it sounds.Nothing Ever Goes As Planned. Ever.
This is one of those lessons that I have to just keep learning, over and over. I thought I was going to backpack around the world solo, then I didn’t. I thought finding an apartment in Mexico would be easy, then it wasn’t . Around this time last year I was sure I would be living in Italy right now, and I am clearly not.
In a way, travel is specifically an exercise in making plans, then having them totally blow up in your face. This happens on both a large and small scale, and the outcome really depends on how you choose to deal with that upheaval. You can fight it, and end up disappointed and cranky, which I have certainly done on more than one occasion. OR, you can embrace the uncertainty. It’s not always easy, but it is what makes life such an interesting adventure.Wear Comfortable Shoes
No matter where you are going, travel invariably involves a lot of time spent on your feet. Fancy shoes might look good in pictures but man, you will pay for it later with blisters and more. Life is too short, and travel is too exciting to be distracted by foot pain.Being a Picky Eater is a Waste of Time and Food
One of the greatest gifts travel has given me, was that it broke me of my deeply-ingrained picky eating habits. I met up with some friends from college last month, and they were shocked to hear that I now eat exotic foods like “vegetables” and “shrimp.”
I’ve always liked to eat but travel awakened a deep love for food. From the complex stir frys of China to Argentine asado to Vietnamese banh mi, I don’t want to miss a single amazing culinary experience this world has to offer. In truth, I will now eat, or at least sample, most anything. Even if I don’t know what it is! My life is so much more interesting and exciting this way.95% of Bad Moods Stem from being Hungry, Stressed or Tired
Early in our relationship Mike and I spent two months backpacking through Thailand and Vietnam. It was a true trial by fire situation, and we got to know each other so intimately, so quickly. I won’t lie: we argued. A LOT. So much that I started to worry that maybe things weren’t going to work out with us.
It took awhile, but finally we cracked the problem. Mike gets extremely cranky when he’s hungry. I get extremely cranky when I’m stressed out. We both get cranky when we’re tired. Unfortunately, travel tends to lead to these situations quite frequently. Now when we start snapping at each other, we run down the checklist. So many absolutely inane arguments can be diffused with either a snack, a nap, or a hug.Sheer Willpower Can Get you Really, Really Far
It never ceases to amaze me. I was a 23 year old office worker bored with her job, and now I’m a travel writer, who has been to dozens of countries. I created this change through sheer willpower, nothing else. Nobody offered me a change of lifestyle, I didn’t win the lottery, I just decided this is what I wanted to do, and then I did it.
Willpower is so powerful, and so necessary when it comes to traveling. Whether it’s lugging your backpack an extra mile, talking yourself out of debilitating homesickness or yes, creating a top 20 travel blog, the challenge is completely mental. This last lesson is my favorite, because if you can effect that kind of change just by putting your mind to it, what else can you do? The possibilities are endless.
And that is probably the best thing of all that travel has taught me: the world is full of incredible people, amazing adventures and endless possibilities. It’s just a question of getting out there.What has travel taught you?
I sat down in front of my blank laptop screen thinking that this would be an easy post to write. After all, I feel like I’ve learned more over the past few years of traveling than I did in all the years leading up to leaving Canada. Instead, I found it difficult to describe just a few things travel has taught me because truly no other experience has shaped my life to the degree that travel has and continues to.How to Cook
Even after graduating from university, I was still a pretty typical student when it came to culinary skills, with my idea of cooking involving either baking frozen mini-pizzas or reheating take-out leftovers. Then I arrived at my first work exchange in France and learned that my host family assumed I would be able to pluck a few veggies from the garden and put together a reasonably palatable meal. Once I was thrown into the deep end of the kitchen, I realized that cooking, at least the ability to prepare a few simple meals, wasn’t nearly as challenging as I had always built it up to be. After learning the basics in France, I ended up cooking for many other host families, until I can say I’ve reached a point where I feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen, even learning to rework recipes based on the local ingredients available. The strange part about learning to cook on the road, however, is that back when I had my own kitchen I never used it; and now that I can cook a decent meal, I never have a kitchen to do it in.That Train Travel is Always the Best
If there’s a place where train travel isn’t the absolute best way to travel from city to city, or even country to country, I have yet to go there. I look forward to whole days of train travel almost as much as I look forward to actually arriving at a destination, whether it’s on a sleek high-speed train in Europe or run-down old one in Asia. I love the almost motionless speed of bullet trains in Japan, and watching all the other passengers simultaneously unwrap their meticulously-assembled bento boxes. Likewise, I love stepping onto a neglected Thai train, nudging the dusty overhead fan to create a wisp of breeze, and listening to the vendors walk up and down the aisles selling fried chicken and beer. It’s a beautiful way to watch the country’s landscape unfold. You miss all of that speeding overhead in a plane or rumbling down the ugly highway on a bus.How to Stand Up for Myself
I’ve always been a pretty shy person, and that was sometimes challenging when I first started traveling. I regularly got railroaded by aggressive touts, got lost because I didn’t want to ask for directions, and even experienced conflicts with host families because I was reluctant to confront issues head on. It’s been a gradual change, but I’ve learned to be assertive when it’s necessary. Even when I compare my last experience in Thailand (a country where you really do need to stick up for yourself sometimes) to my experience now, I surprise myself with my willingness to insist on a lower price when the songthaew (share taxi) driver tries to charge me double the usual fare; or even with my confidence in approaching locals to ask for recommendations. I think I’ll always be introverted and I’m totally fine with that, but travel has given me the strength to speak up when it’s important.How to Sleep Anywhere
I really didn’t know the meaning of the words dirty or uncomfortable until I came to Asia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Asia, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for those $7 guestrooms with floor-hard mattresses, dusty, exposed wiring, and moldy, cockroach-infested bathrooms. Beyond guesthouses with seriously questionable hygiene, I’ve slept curled up around my belongings in airports, on buses filled with mosquitoes, and on pretty much every other kind of transportation. Traveling overnight saves money on guesthouses, plus leaves more daylight hours for exploring, so it’s often just the most logical choice. Now I usually carry a few sarongs to use as blankets and pillows, so I can pretty much create my own semi-cozy sleep nook wherever I am.That Anything is Possible
I feel this is a mantra that a lot of travel blogs preach in one way or another, to such a large extent that it can start to sound like a bit of a cliché. But I’m saying it anyway, because it’s so profoundly true, regardless. When Brent and I started traveling, I’d never read a travel blog, I’d never met anyone traveling long-term the way we were, and I honestly thought we must be a little bit insane to leave our jobs behind and take the risks that we were taking. Since then I’ve met countless people living their lives in so many different ways, and it’s been downright inspiring to see how they’ve managed to shape a life around their dreams. I’ve met backpackers who spent years saving up for their round-the-world trips; expats working as teachers, au pairs, cruise ship workers, or odd jobs on working holiday visas; and digital nomads earning a living online by writing e-books, doing web design, continuing a previously location-based job remotely, and even playing online poker. The overpowering message I’ve taken away from all of these people is that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and no matter what your circumstances are right now, you have the ability to do whatever you want with your life and become the person you aspire to be.
Amsterdam can be a breeze for first timers to Europe in many ways. Everyone speaks English, and the city is small enough to get around by foot. At the same time, the streets are curvy and confusing, taxis are expensive and the Dutch language is a mouthful.
It’s also important to find a good location to stay and know how to navigate the city’s biggest attractions, so you don’t get stuck in long lines for half your trip. To help shrink your chances of starting an Amsterdam adventure on the wrong foot, here are five rookie mistakes to avoid.1. Sleeping in the Red Light District
No, we don’t mean literally on the streets or benches of course, because there are a handful of hotels that offer acceptable rooms in the Red Light District. But many accommodations here can be a grim experience. The stairs to your room are small and steep. Some staircases have handles on the walls to pull up with. Add the mission of carrying your suitcase, and it becomes a fearful climb up Jacob’s ladder. Rooms in the Red Light District can be cramped, damp and in need of serious renovation. Why? This is the oldest part of Amsterdam, and there are strict laws on modernizing historic sites from 500 years ago.
Check our hotel list for some great finds inside and outside the Red Light District. Don’t be afraid to venture outside the center for comfort and contemporary; neighborhoods like Museumplein, the Jordaan and De Pijp are just as scenic and enjoyable.2. Eternal waiting in the Anne Frank House line
As a guide in the summer, most of my tours ask to end at the Anne Frank House. Like clockwork, as soon as we arrive at the entrance a disappointing sigh falls among the group. Their eyes set upon the long line, and I hear startled mumbles of “Oh no!” and “I can’t believe it!” It’s so bad, people actually post YouTube clips about this line. By summertime it’s a crazy wait that averages about 2 to 3 hours, and that’s on a weekday.
My advice: don’t do it. I know that’s a taboo tip, and Anne Frank’s diary is an important WWII story, but there’s more than the Anne Frank House that commemorates Jewish culture in Amsterdam. The Jewish Historic Museum, The Dutch Resistance Museum, the National Holocaust Memorial, the Portuguese Synagogue and even a Children’s Jewish Historic Museum are all located in the Jewish Quarter of the city. These museums exhibit in English and are brimming with educational experiences. They are worth a visit and probably a better use of your time if you’re only in town for a short time.
If you can’t be persuaded, or if Anne Frank is your only chance for a famous WWII monument, there are ways to avoid the wait. Buying your tickets online will send you to a shorter line. Otherwise get there an hour or two before closing. In July and August the museum stays open until 10 PM and until 9 PM in April to June, September to October.3. Taking a bus tour
Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges are the most walkable cities in Europe. They’re small, quaint and impossible to sightsee by bus. Okay, maybe not impossible, but definitely unnecessary and incongruent to the city layout. The Amsterdam center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, mostly intact from the 1600s and 1700s. Trying to absorb this vibe via a 21st century tour bus just doesn’t mesh. The buses don’t fit, and you’ll end up sightseeing in circles around Amsterdam.
Opt for renting a bicycle before a bus. If you are into the “hop on hop off” strategy, there are boat tours that offer the same service as a bus would, but by beautiful canal cruises. Need to take a seat for a while? The electric tram system here runs all throughout scenic routes. And for €2.80, the tram is a lot cheaper.4. Using a credit card for groceries
It sounds crazy but it’s true: you can’t pay by credit or debit in supermarkets here. If you’re from the EU, your Maestro debit card works fine, but North Americans have a different debit system that won’t match. Luckily most Albert Hein supermarkets (our main grocery chain) stock an ATM or two inside. Withdrawal before you shop: the best exchange rates are via ATMs anyway.5. Going to the Amsterdam Dungeon Museum for the kids
This attraction isn’t really special to Amsterdam, nor is it cheap. And yet families wait for hours because they can’t think of another “kid friendly” destination. Try NEMO, the hands-on science museum that’s doubles as a playground of interactive stands. In addition, the Artis Zoo is a huge deal for kids in The Netherlands. Equipped with a planetarium, insectarium and aquarium, it’s not the average zoo. (Not to mention the unusual additions of black spider monkeys, penguins and zebras.)
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