2021 is here. And with it comes the potential — and pent-up, post-COVID demand — for travel. You may not know yet where you’re going. But you know you want to get out and see the world. However, you be feeling a bit rusty after being kept at home for so long, so here’s a reminder of 10 Travel Essentials you’ll want to bring on your next trip. Or any trip.
These 10 Travel Essentials aren’t things. Instead, like curiosity and the love of learning, they are traits or skills that can make the difference between an incredible trip and a ho-hum vacation. You probably already are familiar with the basics: maintaining a good sense of humor, being respectful to the culture even if you don’t understand it, practicing patience and being kind. Some of the following 10 Travel Essentials, however, may be less intuitive or require some practice. But all are worth the effort since they will make your journey more remarkable and will help you grow — both as a traveler and as a person.
Here are 10 Travel Essentials you should take on any trip.
- Openness. Psychologists use the term “openness to experience” to refer to a willingness to engage or a receptivity toward what is new, both experiences and ideas. It’s quite similar to a love of learning (and thus I could argue is tied for the most important skill for travel). It’s particularly needed when traveling to new cultures. The lack of openness is what keeps many non-travelers at home because they are content with what they already know and have. Those who are more open tend to wonder more and, as a result, experience a greater sense of wonder.
- Empathy. Your ability to not just sympathize, but to put yourself in the place of the people you meet will dramatically affect how you engage with others — and how they respond to you. Being genuinely interested and concerned about others can overcome all sorts of language gaps or cultural barriers. There’s a difference between being nice to benefit yourself versus being kind – empathizing and responding well — for the sake of others.
- Flexibility. Ever see Gumby, that green claymation guy our parents watched who can bend in myriad ways? Be like Gumby. The more flexible you are, the less frustrated you’ll become when things don’t go as planned. There is almost always an alternative way to any situation you’re facing. Canceled flight? No room in the hostel? Friends didn’t show up? All wonderful challenges to solve rather than calamities to derail you.
- Self-Awareness. This works on multiple levels. First, “know thyself” matters in being sensitive as to how you’re coming across to others, particularly overseas. Second, knowing what moves you — what delights you — helps you travel in a way where you’re always aware and looking. Not for what others deem interesting, but for what matters intensely to you. You’ll have a better, more personal travel experience when you know what it is you both want and need from your trip.
- Courage. I could have chosen confidence here because the two tend to go hand in hand. As they say, courage isn’t a lack of fear. It’s taking action even in the face of fear. Great travel means taking risks. We all have varying degrees of risk acceptance. For some, taking a risk can mean rafting down Class IV rapids. For others, it may be boarding a bus in a new country all by yourself. Remember two key points: a) Your worst fears rarely materialize, and b) it’s not what you tried but what you didn’t try that you later regret. And keep in mind that courage often involves tenacity (grit, doggedness, determination, etc.). It’s that ability to persevere even when you’re worn out or hangry. It can take courage (or even stubbornness) to just keep going, but the results are almost always worth it.
- Humility. This isn’t a big virtue to some these days. But it is an incredible asset when visiting other countries. Staying humble, respecting others and avoiding comparisons (of travel experiences, abilities, tattoo stories, etc.) will help you connect with locals and other travelers in deeper ways. You know the guy who is always bragging about all the amazing places he’s seen that no one else has? Yeah. Don’t be that guy. You’ll have richer interactions when staying vulnerable and demonstrating your shared humanity than by proving your expertise or competency.
- Ingenuity. I’ve always loved this word. It captures the Swiss-Army-Knife, savior faire-like ability to figure out what to do in any situation. It’s a combination of street smarts, cultural insight, sensitivity to others and savviness that gives you confidence to march off maps knowing you’ll find your way back — even if you have to build your own raft to do so.
- Reflection. Many of us are more into collecting experiences than reflecting on what they mean. We assume that having an experience and learning from it are the same. But they’re not. Without reflection, you can’t derive meaning from your experience and without meaning, you never fully appreciate what you did or who you’ve become as a result. Take time to reflect. Use a journal or talk it over with friends. Many travelers find that anticipation before a trip and reflection afterward can be as or more meaningful than the journey itself.
- Forgiveness. If you’re traveling with others, they will mess up, do something stupid or get on your nerves at some point. And so will you. Being able to forgive others keeps relationships on track. Being able to forgive yourself on a trip keeps you on track — and present. One of the unsung benefits of forgiveness is its effectiveness in overcoming the fear of missing out (FOMO). We can’t see everything and yet we beat ourselves up when we don’t. So let it go. Practice a form of forgiveness, of acceptance and release, telling yourself it is not just okay that you missed certain places or experiences. It’s actually preferable because in doing so, you gained much more from the places you did visit. It’s an appreciation for what you did see and a release of any regrets about what you didn’t.
- Gratitude. If you’re a long-term traveler, after a while, most places start to look the same. Psychologists refer to this as “adaptation,” the process by which what was novel yesterday is old news today. It happens to everyone. And the only known deterrent in this eroding of wonder is gratitude. Intentionally appreciating the fact that you’re able to travel and reminding yourself of that every day helps maintain a sense of joy even when you’re worn out and less enthusiastic. Never underestimate the power of gratitude. Keep it at the top of 10 Travel Essentials.
The main thing about all these 10 Travel Essentials is that they grow with usage. Practice them and you will begin to master them. And when you do, you begin to discover an entirely new form of travel where what is occurring within you rivals in wonder all that you’re seeing around you.