Walking through the streets of Mantua, Italy. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
By Matt Long / LandLopers
I get a lot of questions about how I travel, where I go and what I see and do. Mostly people are just curious about my favorite places to go, where I would go if money were no object, and so on. But sometimes they’re also curious about the mechanics of travel — and as someone who travels a lot, I have also learned a lot over the years and in the process refined my own globetrotting experience. No one is really a travel expert, but there are people who travel more frequently than others and as such have learned a few things along the way. I’m not saying that the way I see the world is perfect, far from it. Every trip I take is an opportunity to learn and I’m always changing the way I do things, making plenty of mistakes as I go. There are a few things though that I do on every trip that help me — and I hope will help you as well.
Looking across downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
1. Get lost
Granted, given my horrible sense of direction, this is pretty easy for me to do, but even if you’re a pro at directions try to ignore them once in a while. When I check into a new hotel, typically the first thing I do is to go for a walk. Principally I’m searching for a convenience store to feed my Diet Coke addiction, but it’s also an opportunity to see where I am, what’s around me, and the best way to spend my time in the area. Whether it’s on arrival or later on in the trip, this also includes getting lost. I put down the map (which just confuses me anyway), turn off Google directions, and start walking. Along the way I always discover little things I would never have found otherwise and, more importantly, I start to get a feel for the real city away from the tourist bubble. I love touristy areas, they’re popular for a reason after all, but there’s much to be said for wandering away from them and learning about the new destination on a much more personal level. As a side note, the best food and restaurants I’ve found have always been a result of my random wanderings.
Fresh produce at a farmer’s market in France. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
2. Exercise and eat right
I’m not going to be preachy, but staying in shape when you travel is very important. Several years ago I remember listening to an interview with some CEO who said that no matter where he goes or the length of the trip, he always finds time to work out. I found that curious, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how smart a practice it is. It doesn’t have to be every day, but finding a few opportunities on your trip to spend 30 minutes in the hotel gym will give you more energy, make you feel better, and help burn off those huge meals you’re doubtlessly eating. Speaking of huge meals, food is an important part of the travel experience and I not only eat more on the road, but I tend to eat in a very unhealthy manner. Delicious pastries, fancy desserts and three-course dinners suddenly become the norm, whether your body likes it or not. And that’s fine, in moderation. You should still eat all of those things, but not necessarily at every meal. When I travel I have a very light breakfast and maybe a snack for lunch — all in the attempt to save room for nicer dinners and random food finds I discover along the way. If I filled up midday I wouldn’t be able to sample some of the regional snacks and delicacies, a part of the travel experience I really enjoy.
Delicious pastries at a shop in Freiburg, Germany. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
3. Visit grocery stores
This is a tip I’ve been doling out since I started my LandLopers website more than five years ago, and it’s still one of my favorites. There are a lot of ways to quickly learn about new cities, countries, and cultures but one of the best is to simply visit a local grocery store. You may not always notice them, but they’re always lurking, even in bustling city centers — and spending a few minutes in them will teach you not just about the food habits of wherever you’re visiting, but what the locals value as well. Food and travel go hand in hand and it really is the best way to become a part of a new culture, rather than just a voyeur. Whether I was discovering seemingly endless rows of olive oils in a store in Madrid or the chocolate and dessert options in Australia, grocery store experiences have been very important in my own travels. They’re also a great way to stock up on drinks and snacks at the lowest possible prices or even to grab the ingredients for a fun picnic out on the town. You save money and in the process, have a better time than if you were eating at generic cafés.
Friends chatting a local cafe in Oslo, Norway. (Photo: Matt Long/LandLopers)
4. Talk to people
I could sit in the airport for hours just watching folks walk by and be perfectly happy. From watching people so carefully when I travel, including my fellow tourists, I have noticed one thing: Very few of them actually talk to anyone else. Whether we vacation as a family or a couple, we all tend to stay fixated on our own packs, rarely engaging other travelers or locals. For me, travel is about personal enrichment and growth, and to do that I need to talk to people. I’m highly extroverted so it may be easier for me, but even if you’re not, find opportunities to learn about the people you’re visiting. One of the best ways to do this is to join a tour, either a private one or a free public walk. I nearly always walk alongside the guide, peppering them with questions along the way. No matter how you decide to engage with new people, make sure you do it at least a few times on a trip. I guarantee you won’t regret the experience.
What are some things you make sure to do on every trip?