It’s a cold December afternoon, but it’s still sunny in Hermosillo, Sonora, in northern Mexico. I’ve just been dropped off at the airport by one of the new friends I made during my more than a month long trip staying with different tribes across the state. It’s with great sadness that I check in my backpack, which has followed me through thick and thin throughout my rambles across this land of deserts.
I know it’s time to move on, no matter how great the experience, and get on with my life (at least until my next trip).
I get my ticket from the airline’s counter. My hometown’s name is stamped in bold, black letters that spell the end of my expedition. Through the sadness and the nostalgia that’s already taking hold of me, I start thinking about the many blunders and mistakes I made as well as about the things I did correctly that made that trip such a wonderful experience for me.
Let me share these small pearls of hard-earned wisdom with you.
1. Stay your hand and don’t buy that return ticket!
While I am well aware that the situation of many will prevent them from traveling long-term, if you are planning a big expedition or vacation, be it a month, half a year, or more, and you have the possibility of choosing how long, my suggestion would be to hold off on buying that ticket until you truly have to head back.
I’d gone into the Sonoran desert to visit and stay with different tribes. Sonora is a vast region, and the trip I’d planned was ambitious. I told myself I could do it all in a month, but I grossly miscalculated the amount of time I would need to stay with all different indigenous tribes.
I could have stayed with more and for longer had I not been so pressed for time. It broke the momentum of my trip, and the weeks of networking and contacts I had worked so hard for. I might have accomplished so much more had I thrown myself full-heartedly and sacrificed that false sense of security that a return ticket gives you.
Some nice Americans even offered to teach me how to sail, which has been a lifelong dream of mine. However, I was a week and a half away from leaving and I couldn’t take a day to do it. I also didn’t get to see a cool colonial town because my (new, because I’d lost the first) flight left for home the next day. See my point?
Don’t worry too much about the deadlines and let the flow of the trip naturally take you to where you were meant to go.
2. Bring your camera
This seems like pretty obvious advice, but believe me… it’s not. With the widespread use of cell phones and the new advances in technology, the means for taking a good picture is readily accessible to most people.
Now, I don’t just mean you should take a camera on your trip and that’s it. Try to anticipate your needs and bring the equipment you will need to fill that need. Are you going diving? Bring a waterproof camera. Are you a mountain climber? Bring a shockproof camera in case you drop it. There is an incredible range of gear that caters to both your general travel and specialty needs.
I know that buying four different cameras is not a possibility for most people, but you could look for cameras that might serve several of your needs. As an example, since I dive and go hiking a lot, I normally take along an adventure point-and-shoot camera, which is both water resistant and shockproof and serves my adventuring needs.
The problem during my expedition was that I needed a camera with better resolution for my pictures and a better zoom, as I was photographing animals and people in motion, but I had to make due with a smaller camera that didn’t fully fit my needs. Remember that it’s very likely that you won’t go back to most of the places you visit. Even if you do, each moment is fleeting.
So bring along the camera you need. Don’t miss out on those precious photo moments!
3. Always have an extra battery for your camera
Here’s another rookie mistake I made. After taking many pains to go out with Mayo fishermen diving for pearls and mollusks, I took my waterproof camera along to document the experience.
It wasn’t until I was on the boat, skimming at breakneck speed over the waves of the Gulf of California, that I found out my underwater camera had no battery. I had forgotten to charge it in my excitement the night before.
To make matters worse, it turned out to be one hell of an awesome experience. I saw all kinds of sea life: octopuses, rays, and skates, fish, sea stars, as well as the native divers at work.
In the end, all I had to show for it was a couple of pictures I managed to snap before draining the camera battery all the way.
So always take an extra battery with you when you go adventuring. I guarantee you’ll need it at one time or another during your trip.
4. Sometimes just ignore the camera and enjoy the moment
Ok, I promise, this is the last camera tip, so bear with me a little longer.
If you’re always focusing on taking the perfect picture or video, you will miss some, if not most, of the delicious little details of the experience you are trying to capture.
Remember that the best way to capture a moment is in your memory. A camera won’t take in smells, senses, feelings, touch, etc.
So stop stressing out about trying to take that selfie, chances are you’re only going to save them on a hard drive somewhere and forget about the pictures you took during the trip.
But the experiences? Ah! Those are for life, my friend!
5. Serendipity is a traveler’s best friend
When you travel, magical things happen to you. I think that’s why so many of us are drawn to wandering the world in the first place. Surprise and spontaneity make for some of the best and most memorable experiences.
In order to let the universe guide you to where you need to go, you have to keep an open heart and an open mind. Accept experiences as they come by freeing yourself from your expectations and you just might be surprised at the incredible stories you’ll be sharing with your friends back home.
Be comfortable in your own skin, it’s your world after all!
6. Always bring your own toilet paper
And by always, I mean always.
Unless we are conscious, we mostly go through life thinking that other people live and experience the world as we do, which might be true in some cases but certainly not all of them.
That being said, you won’t find toilets everywhere you go. Heck! You don’t even know if the people you’re going to be traveling amongst use toilet paper at all!
Nature strikes suddenly and without warning, so it’s best to always be prepared for an emergency or two.
Trust me. I guarantee you’ll eventually thank me for this tip.
7. Travel lighter
Thinking of taking a microwave for your camping trip just in case you need it? Yeah, probably not a good idea. Sounds ridiculous, right? So is lugging a backload of stuff you don’t need while traveling.
It’s always tempting to take along one more pair of jeans or an extra towel. You might just use it. Nevertheless, you have to remember that you’re going to be the one who’s going to carry all that extra weight around. Little by little, every little thing adds up to a hernia or a back injury.
A good rule of thumb I found helped me out is to never carry more than you I’d be comfortable taking on a ten-kilometer hike to the next town. If you need something, you can almost always find it where you’re traveling through.
8. Concentrate on your travels, leave everything else at home
You have to be mindful of your experience if you truly want to enjoy it to the utmost.
This means that any work or relationship problems, negative thoughts, or whatever other issues that you take with you from home will have a direct impact on your experience and will not allow you to enjoy the time you are away as well as you could.
This is why concentration is important while traveling. It will keep you focused on living your travels to the fullest instead of having a fit about an email you forgot to send.
The best tool I have that allows me to keep myself concentrated on my travels is mindfulness meditation. It leaves me open and receptive to the world around me and makes it easier for me to adopt a mindset that is better suited for enjoying my travels.
So prepare, plan ahead and try to stay mindful. Let the experience filter through as a positive and memorable one!
9. Don’t dawdle and lose time.
If something’s not interesting then it’s just not interesting.
Time is a non-renewable resource. Every day we wake up, we get the exact same amount of hours, minutes and seconds.
Also, since we are having fun and are bombarded by a strain of new and interesting activities, time tends to rush by when we travel. There is only so much we can see on a trip, it doesn’t matter if it’s a week on a road trip or backpacking a region for a year.
You have to keep moving if you want to see as much as you can while you’re traveling. Make the most of your time.
Now, I’m certainly not advising you to rush through your travels and plan every detail and every second, that would certainly be unenjoyable, but I am saying that it’s OK to admit to yourself that you’re not having fun doing/seeing something in particular.
So take control of your trip. After all, it’s yours. Every minute that you spend looking at something you don’t find interesting is a minute that is taken away from something else that you’ll enjoy.
10. Just dive in. Things will work themselves out.
If you don’t take that important first step, you’ll never go outside your door. If we don’t take any risks, we won’t get any rewards. It’s simple logic.
The magic of traveling is that things usually work themselves out in your favor as if the entire universe itself is conspiring to help you out. It’s a feeling many of us grow addicted to with each successive trip.
So what are you waiting for? Dive in and travel!
I promise you, the water’s warm.
What other things have you learned by traveling? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!