We often are asked how we find special destinations or unearth unique sights and experiences on our journeys. In almost five years of constant travel, we've picked up a few tips (many of which we've shared in this column). However, the real secret is not what we find, but how we travel.
Every year, we review our travels and remind ourselves of a few simple techniques that allow us to enjoy a richer travel experience. Here are our New Year's resolutions:
Skip the crowds. Popular sights are diminished by hordes of people. It's impossible to appreciate the Sistine Chapel or Angkor Wat when sharing it with jostling crowds. Do your research on the best times to visit, and the attraction will be more memorable. We recently viewed Michelangelo's David during one of the museum's little-advertised Saturday-evening openings. The daytime line with its long wait was gone, and there were only two dozen other visitors, allowing us to truly appreciate the statue.
Don't feel guilty about missing "must-see" sights. Consider your own personal interests when visiting a destination and skip those sights that hold no appeal. The Tower of London is great for history buffs, but gardening enthusiasts may be bored out of their gourd. Don't make a vacation be about checking off a list of famous things to see; focus on the attractions that resonate with you, and the trip will be more rewarding.
Allow unstructured time to explore. It's tempting to cram as much as possible into a trip to maximize limited vacation time. We have one friend who organizes her family travels with what she jokingly refers to as "the spreadsheet of fun." Staying busy is one thing, but building time into your itinerary for discovery, whether it's turning on to the road less traveled or people-watching in a cafe, is how the magic happens.
That's how we were invited into a Buddhist convent during the Tet holiday in Vietnam, discovered Roman ruins in the French countryside, and met a policeman from Gibraltar who guided us around his piece of the rock for a day. Those unexpected experiences became the highlights of our journey.
We wish you happy, and fulfilling, travels in 2016.