As someone who loves traveling, I’ve discovered a few secrets on how to be happy in travel and why it’s an important aspect of happiness—at least for me and my wife. And in true How to Be Happy fashion, I relate travel tips to finding happiness in life.
Travel can teach you a lot about yourself and your potential partner or significant other. Experiencing other cultures is a great way of becoming more “a part of” the world.
Travel for me began in my late teens. Just after graduating High School I spent 3 weeks in the Soviet Union (1989 which I believe it was considered the USSR then). It was quite an experience and I realized just how lucky I was growing up middle class in the USA. A lot of things we took for granted were considered luxuries in many places we visited.
That is nothing to say about the Soviet people however, I was absolutely amazed at how similar people are no matter where you go. It was my first experience of getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing a real culture shock.
The only real traveling I did after that was later in college. Just a few trips to the East and West costs (I’m from the Midwest). Those trips mainly focused on partying; like a Guns-n-Roses concert at Madison Square Garden’s NY in December of 1991. What a trip that was—at least the parts I remember.
The night before I met my wife in 2007 I was on a date with this girl I met online. I asked her a simple question; where’s the one place in the world you’d like to visit?
Her answer… “Las Vegas.”
Seriously—you realize this is the entire world we’re talking about?
The next night I went on another date; with a different girl. I asked her the same question; where’s the one place in the world you’d like to visit? Her answer was “Belize, because I’ve always wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive.” I married her.
Want to know if you and your significant other are compatible? Learn how to be happy traveling together. Seriously, book a major trip within the first few months you’re together and see how you get along when you’re both out of your comfort zones. And make sure it’s someplace neither of you have been before.
Sure you can be happy traveling alone, but most would agree that sharing such adventures are more fun with someone you get along with. Or at least be open and friendly during your travels; immersing yourself in the local culture and meeting people.
The first trip my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I went on was to St. Croix to do our open water check out dives and finish or SCUBA diving certifications. Being the searcher of good deals that I was, I searched online for a cheap rental car service for our week stay. I like to find locally owned businesses if possible as opposed to some of the big box rental stores.
The car rental place I picked was a good 30 minute cab ride from the airport. Not ideal I admit, but when we arrived we realize they had no Jeeps which we requested. Plus, there was a long line of people waiting to either return their cars or get rides back to the airport.
To make things worse, there was only one guy working there and he was having a really bad day. I felt so sorry for him. People were coming in and yelling at him, only making it more difficult for everyone.
We had wanted to get to our resort by 5:00 p.m. to meet with the local dive shop to setup our certification process but soon realized that wasn’t going to happen. As I felt the frustration and anxiety build up inside, I looked at Emily and we both walked outside. In a new relationship I wanted to prove I could “get things done” and be organized. I felt like I was letting her down. She looked at me and said, “We’re on vacation. Don’t sweat it.”
We then realized together that we could either be part of the problem here or the solution. That maybe we’re supposed to be of service and learn something from this experience. We learned a lot about each other in that few moments. How we react to stress and more importantly, how we deal with it as a team.
Since that first trip to St. Croix my wife and I have been to Kauai (where we got married), Mexico (numerous times), Curacao, and Belize. We’re scheduled to go to Belize again next year as well as a dedicated dive trip to Roatan Honduras. We learn something on each trip; about traveling, ourselves, and each other.
Here are five tips we’ve learned about how to be happy traveling and how it can also relate to life, as in “On Travel” and “On Life”:
1. Lower Expectations
On Travel: Give up on the idea that your trip is going to be the fairytale you have in your head. That does not mean you can’t get excited, but keep expectations to a minimum. This is huge and I’m really bad about this one.
Even on our first trip to Belize I had this visual in my head of what the room would be like, or location, etc. The first few hours after arriving at our room, although I liked the accommodations, it wasn’t what I had visualized in my head and so I was a little disappointed. The first hour or so I was sort of in the dumps. It was crazy! My wife reminded me that we could change rooms if we wanted but to give this room a chance (it was on the ground floor and I had wanted a second floor room because of the better view of the ocean).
That room ended up being perfect for us and we’ll be requesting it when we return!
On Life: Give up on the idea that your life is going to be the fairytale you have in your head. You must let go of something to find what’s waiting for you. Expectations lead to resentments.
2. Do You Homework
On Travel: Learn about the local culture. Put in a little homework and learn about the culture before you go. It shows you’re interested in them and makes it a lot easier to begin conversations.
On Life: Do some homework on yourself. Take time to really get to know you before getting into deep relationships if possible. Likewise with your partner; take time to find out what they’re interested it… it’s amazing what you’ll discover if you shut up that voice in your head and really listen to others.
3. Pack Light
On Travel: It’s more common for us to not use or wear something on a trip then to fret over something we forgot to bring. Again, do a little research about the area you’re visiting. And yes, it may cost a little extra to buy things on vacation that you forgot (like tooth paste) but unless you’re vacationing in the dessert, you’ll probably be able to find what you need where you’re going.
We’ve actually gotten this down to a science. Trying to pack only shirts or shorts/pants that can be worn in multiple combinations. Like solid colors.
BEST TIP HERE!! Get a travel scale. These little things are amazing. We travel with SCUBA gear so keeping our bags bellow 50 lbs. is a struggle sometimes. A travel scale makes it a breeze to weigh you luggage and save bundles on over weight luggage fees or frantically re-arranging items between bags while checking in at the airport.
On Life: Get rid of all the excess baggage you have. Yes, all that crap that’s floating around in your head is useless. True, what happened to you as a child may affect you as an adult, but it doesn’t have to continue to ruin your life years later. If you have issues, seek help and get it resolved; check out Excuses Begone! By Dr. Wayne Dyer.
4. Budget Yourself
On Travel: My wife and I setup a savings account just for vacation. Each week we have a certain amount transfer into that savings account automatically. Depending on where we want to go, usually in about 6 months we have enough; which for us is roughly around $2,500 on average for a package deal through one of the online travel sites. Finding the best travel deals takes patience, but we usually have that budget in mind and stay pretty close to it.
We like the Caribbean obviously for diving, and we try to stay within that budget for flights and a week accommodations—most often traveling from Saturday through Saturday. So we have that money saved up and use it to pay for the package up front. So by the time we go on vacation that portion (flight and accommodations) is already paid for.
Obviously we spend some while on vacation, and we usually pay that off as quickly as possible upon returning so our savings fund can start growing again. We never go on a vacation until our last one is completely paid off and we have enough to pay for the next one. And yes, sometimes we have to wait a year or more before we go, but that also depends on the size and length of vacation.
On Life: It’s no big secret that a huge portion of stress in relationships is financial. It’s important to have open communication about expenses while managing a budget of some sort. Don’t agree to something you know you won’t stick to.
Since we’re on finances… My wife and I sort of have a different approach which some people don’t understand. We keep separate bank accounts but split all the bills—groceries, utilities, mortgage, dinner and a movie, etc.—down the middle.
We just communicate and if I’m a little low, she’ll pick up the dinner tab and vice versa. I do make a little more than she does, so we decide on some of the bills I’ll pay myself (mainly my student loans) and just keep the communication open to prevent any resentments. We do have accounts at the same bank so transferring funds back and forth is easy.
Having separate accounts allows us to spend money on ourselves or each other without feeling guilty or needing permission from each other. Of course we discuss any big purchases with each other and always have the interests of the household first. It’s about respect and communication.
5. Stay in the Moment – Savor the Memories
On Travel: Being mentally and emotionally present for your vacation is vital to enjoying it. This is one reason why I’ve learned to lower expectations and go-with-the-flow.
Take it from someone who’s experienced both extremes—from not caring about anything or anyone else on a vacation to having every event and meal planned ahead of time. I’ve enjoyed traveling a lot more once I discovered the right balance. For me, I’m happier traveling when I error on the side of being lazy—as far as planning goes.
I used to plan all our travel events; diving, sight-seeing, etc. but that’s just too stressful. It takes a lot of energy to keep a schedule and then you’re constantly watching the clock. This makes the vacation and time go faster than if you savored every moment.
On Life: I recently read The Power of Now. It confused me. A lot of theoretical jargon I really couldn’t wrap my head around. Staying in the moment (now), however, is extremely valuable in finding happiness. Staying in the moment requires a clear mind and conscience.
“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves –
regret for the past and fear of the future.”
It’s amazing how the years since I’ve sought happiness and worked on myself, I have so much more fun traveling. I can consciously make a commitment to savoring every moment; stopping to take in the beauty of the world and its people. Consequently, vacations seem to last longer and I feel more refueled and ready to return to work or life back home.
Finding happiness in travel is like anything else, find it within yourself first and everything else is just gravy.