Following my own travel advice through Portugal, Spain and France

Recently I had a short article published on Travelversed. The article was titled 19 Tips for a Trip of a Lifetime and . . . well, I guess the title says it all. It listed 19 pieces of advice for getting the most out of your travels, based on my own opinion and experience. I actually wrote the thing while traveling through southern Europe, specifically southern Portugal, Spain and France, and, upon rereading the piece on the Travelversed site, it got me thinking: how well did I practice what I preached?

When you read travel writing, say a writer explains his most recent Kensingon Tours and what to do there, you always assume the author follows his or her own advice, but, as with all forms of advice, it’s far easier to give it than to follow it. So, I thought I’d put myself and my advice to the test.

The trip in question lasted just under two months and included a few days at a surf camp in Portugal, a week in Catalonia and a month and a half in Provence and the Cote d’Azure, including Nice, Marseille and the Verdon Gorge.

Below, you’ll find the 19 tips I provided and whether or not I feel I applied them to my most recent trip. But first, please do click on through to Travelversed and read the original piece ’cause, obviously, I’ll be referring to it throughout!

 

Plan, but do it in pencil

With this trip, I’d planned out where I’d be going, town by town and city by city, and booked hotels and cabins for every stop. I also had a few excursions, like canyoning trips, planned. Beyond that, I only had rough ideas as to what I’d do from day to day, allowing me to improvise on a near daily basis. Remaining flexible allowed me to customize my trip on the go, based on my mood, what I felt like doing that week, day or even that morning.

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Listen to your inner child

As I mention in the article, this trip was actually inspired by a fascination I had for the Cote d’Azure that goes back over twenty years. I still don’t know why I’ve always wanted to explore the region, but I am indeed glad I did.

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Know yourself

Honestly, this one’s a work in progress, and likely always will be. Even on this trip, I learned things about myself. I knew I liked the outdoors, but didn’t realize how much I valued adventures in nature. I knew I enjoyed exploring small towns, but I didn’t anticipate how much I preferred small towns to larger cities. I’d planned a week for each of the larger cities I stayed in, with three to four days in small towns, and, in the future, I’ll definitely be reversing that ratio. So, it’s not just about knowing yourself, but being open to learning more about your likes and dislikes, needs and wants.

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Aim to collect experiences

I did good with this one. I bought very little and, rather, spent more (time, money, energy) on getting out there and experiencing the world around me. Surfing, kayaking, caving, scuba diving, canyoning, swimming and tons of hiking, along with simply wandering, chatting, gazing: it’s the stuff that sticks out in my mind and memory and much of it was free and unique to the area, and the experiences that did have a cost attached (scuba diving and canyoning ain’t cheap) were more than worth it.

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Break your trip into goals

When planning my trip, I wanted to spend time by the sea, in nature, and explore new cities; the region gave me all of that and more. But, to be honest, my primary goal was to see Provence and the Cote d’Azure which, as mentioned, I’d wanted to visit for ages.

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Budget carefully . . . before you go

I did pretty well on this front. By booking all my hotels in advance, accommodation costs yielded zero surprises. I booked several “apart’hotels” equipped with small kitchens and allowing me to save on food by cooking for myself. I could have researched transportation costs a bit more carefully; I was occasionally caught off guard by the price of the high-speed rail and could have saved by purchasing my ticket a day or two in advance online, rather than doing so at the station the day of.

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Don’t over-pack

I thought I did well here, but certainly could have done better. In fact, this trip taught me that I own way too much clothing! There were shirts and even shoes I’d packed and wore only once or not at all. Not only do I need to pack lighter, turns out my closet at home is also in clear need of a serious purging.

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Embrace culture shock

Given that this was Western Europe, that I’d been to Portugal before and that I speak French, there wasn’t much culture shock to be had. I’d say the only thing I struggled with was the serious lack of quality IPAs and local breweries. I found a nice local IPA in Barcelona, a great one in Paris, and . . . that was it. Honestly, Nice and the surrounding region is ripe for a solid microbrew! So, yeah, while there I made due with wine and the occasional Heiny. In other words: I had nothing to complain about.

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Be open to exploration and discovery

I have a terrible sense of direction and tend to get lost easily, so being open to exploration and discovery is basically a survival instinct. It’s how I turn getting lost into an opportunity to discover a new part of town or section of woods. So, yeah, I’m pretty good with this piece of advice, but largely out of necessity.

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Break out of your routine

I remained quite flexible throughout my trip, often deciding what I’d do on any given day that same morning, upon waking or after a cup of coffee. That way, I managed not only to break out of my routine back home, but avoided forming much of a routine during my travels, too. As mentioned above, though, this was facilitated by my having planned a few things ahead, allowing me that flexibility once on the ground.

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Aim to learn something new every day

Every day? Well, yeah, seems obvious. I mean, how can you not learn something new every day while traveling? Fact is, though, you do have to remain open, to consciously avoid over planning and developing a routine. I wandered, got lost, and started conversations with strangers. I also took note of what I enjoyed and what I absolutely loved, learning not only about the people I met and the places I visited, but about myself.

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Break out of your comfort zone

This was, in fact, one of my goals for this trip, as it has been for most of my recent travels. While hiking, or even finding my way through a city, whenever I hesitated or felt the instinct to back away, I consciously took it as a sign to push forward. I took up surfing, climbed down cliffs I likely shouldn’t have, spoke to strangers despite the fact I might be bothering them; I definitely grew on this trip and learned that comfort zones are meant not to be nurtured or shattered but expanded.

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Commit to doing at least one thing that scares you

On a previous trip to Portugal, I went canyoning in the Azores, my introduction to a sport I’ve come to adore. On that excursion, I jumped from a 20-foot waterfall; a terrifying endeavor for a mild acrophobic like me. On this trip, I hiked often treacherous trails to the peak of Le Robion, over 5400 feet up; clambered down cliffs near Cadaques; and leapt from a 30-foot waterfall while canyoning La Maglia. So, mission accomplished, I’d say.

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Count to 20 before and after taking every picture

Okay, yeah, I didn’t do so well with this one. I’m an incorrigible shutter bug and can definitely lose sight of the beauty before me while peering through my DSLR’s viewfinder. However, I did do well enough, taking the time to enjoy my surroundings before or after taking a shot. Let’s just say that I fed my memory and senses just as well as I did my camera, though I can certainly do better.

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Slow down

This has rarely been a problem for me. I enjoy taking a break to simply think, people watch, write or watch the world go by. Even on hikes, I’d often let other adventurers by so that I might simply breathe in the air or sit and sip from my water bottle. I’m glad to spend a few hours reading in a café or park and rarely feel the need to jump from site to sight.

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Spend part of your trip alone

Well, I was traveling solo. Of the two months I spent traveling, I’d say I spent a total of about eight days with a friend; I was otherwise going it alone.

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Leave home behind

I’m bad at this. I easily spend an hour a day catching up on whatever bullshit my friends and the world at large are up to on Facebook. I also wrote friends and family, though I don’t feel too bad about these emails, as I know my loved ones appreciated them and they served as a sort of diary I can look back on.

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Remember that even setbacks will one day make for a great story

I lost a wheel on my damn suitcase, meaning I spent the last half of my trip lugging the forty-pound thing around like a briefcase. It hasn’t made a good story yet, but I have learned to swear off suitcases and stick to backpacks from now on. So, there’s that.

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Do it for yourself

This trip was all about being true to myself. I’d recently quit a job that was making me miserable. I could have immediately started looking for work, but decided to take time for myself, to finally visit an area of the world I’d wanted to see for decades. I did it alone and without guilt or a sense of what this trip should be. I learned enormously about what I appreciate, what I want and what I need from my travels. I learned about me and who I want to be, about what I wanted from this trip and what I want from life.

This trip was a game changer and contributed to my taking a new path in life. In that way, it genuinely was a trip of a lifetime.

Also, uh, if anyone’s looking to hire a writer out there . . . drop me a line.