It’s finally time to give yourself permission to play. But where on earth to begin?
With the plethora of choices available, the challenge is picking the perfect adventure. If you’ve never done this before it can be daunting. So much so that we can easily end up going to a safe default, like Hawaii. Or Florida. Or the next state over.
This is what having too many choices can do: confuse, befuddle and overwhelm.
When we begin our journey, and an international vacation/adventure is indeed a journey, it’s all about taking it as we go. It’s about learning to be happy with what happens, and not to create unreasonable expectations. With that in mind, here are five tips to get you started:
More may not be the merrier. On one hand, if you’re a novice, having a friend or a group creates comfort. On the other, more people means less freedom of choice and movement. Choose what works best, and then plan accordingly.
Each extra person you bring along also brings along their preferences, personalities, and their individual idiosyncratic behaviors. That may be fun for a day or two and get very old after four or five days together. Be mindful of your mix.
Do you want your experience to be lazy or adventurous? Or both? This is established by yours and others’ fitness level, what they love to do, as well as anything new they are eager to see and do.
For example, I recently went on a cruise around Bali and many of its islands with SeaTrekBali. I went alone, preferring to meet my shipmates on the way.
The cruise is designed so that no matter who you are or what you like, you can choose every day what you want: laze on a beach, climb the local hills or chase a photo with a komodo, kayak, SUP, sup drinks, sleep, nap or veg out on the deck under the canvas shade.
Each of the 12 travelers on our boat had a totally different trip. I find that hugely attractive, as many on board who were in their 60s and 70s were not terribly athletic. Two young men from Montana, both 26, were as eager as I to hike, climb, explore and play hard. Or not.
Many group tours demand that everyone stay together and play together, which for some can be both annoying and exhausting. Clarify what you want and what you know you are up for. That will help you choose an operator.
Have you always wanted to try a new sport in a safe environment? Explore remote tropical forests? See exotic animals before they’re extinct? Do you just want to rest, enjoy long, lazy days, or do you like at least a little exertion?
What about group size? Do you prefer smaller groups or you bask in the company of many, such as you might get on a large cruise ship? Each of these preferences – as best you know at the moment – guides you to different operators.
There are some which excel in elder experiences, but they can also be larger groups. Road Scholar and Elder Trek are good options to explore if you love to learn. Be sure to research group size, and in particular, find out the housing options.
For example, on The Katharina, SeaTrekBali’s ship, we had very comfortable bunks for twelve. I ended up with a bunk all to myself, each room nicely appointed and with an ensuite bath, as not all of us want to share.
If you’re traveling as a couple, determine what level of comfort you need, or are willing to trade off, for the sake of a better experience.
If you have food needs like I do, find out whether the tour operator can and will accommodate. SeaTrekBali made sure they had gluten-free options, and when we got on board the guide made sure he knew who needed what.
This meant that I didn’t have to worry about bringing my own snacks – which at times I have to – and that what’s offered isn’t going to cause me undue discomfort.
I can’t stress enough the importance of research. If your operator suggests reading material, do it. SeaTrekBali suggested a reading list, much of which I’d completed before leaving.
Not only did this allow me to better appreciate the country I was visiting, but also identify what would interest me the most and ask for help seeing it.
If you are exploring a remote place like the Tahuayo Lodge in the Peruvian Amazon during rainy season, follow the important guidelines on what to bring and what NOT to bring.
Know how to protect important items like phones, gadgets and expensive technology. Be fully prepared for the weather, the sun, the rain, whatever you might encounter.
And never assume that just because you’re in the tropics, for example, you can’t get cold.
While in Indonesia, I pulled out a sweater more than once because I wandered on the deck at night, while breezes flowed over the ironwood deck and spume splashed my face in the shining moonlight. I was able to enjoy that for hours because I had warm enough gear.
The other research is cultural. It’s hugely helpful to know something of the history and culture of the country you plan to visit, as well as a few key words such as greetings or how to find the bathroom. That immediately endears you to the locals and it also expands your knowledge of the world.
What tips might you add to this short beginner’s list? What have you learned from your travels – especially your first trip – that would help others make that important decision? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Share with us so that we can all enjoy our vacations even more!