As I was just finishing a trip to Milwaukee, one of the most charming bigger cities in the Midwest, I started to reflect on the ways that I like to travel. I remember when I first started traveling on my own without the help of my ever-prepared parents. My first major trip overseas alone was to Italy; I had a huge rolling suitcase and waaaaay more clothes than I needed. There was nothing about my operation that was streamlined. It was embarrassing to take the buses, which were certainly not capable of dealing with my obnoxious Americanness as I tried to tug my suitcase over cobblestone streets. There are some things I’ve picked up that I feel make traveling more enjoyable and many many many trips later, more streamlined. I tend to travel in mid- to large-sized cities and my perspective is influenced by that. This is not an exhaustive list of “tips,” but maybe something you’ll find helpful for your next big or small trip away from home:
- Before you leave, clean your apartment thoroughly and try to get as much laundry done as possible. The bonus here is that you will come home to a clean apartment, your house/pet sitter isn’t privy to how disgusting you normally live, and you will have plenty of outfits from which to choose for and after your trip. This also helps you relax for the rest of the week after you come back, allowing you keep that vacation high for a little longer.
- Pick a few places of interest but don’t schedule every minute of your days. There are going to be days when you will have all the energy to traipse around the city to all of your destinations no matter how far. And then there are going to be days that you will want to wander. I love wandering, especially by myself; I find it meditative. I listen to music and just take it in and think. This helps me notice the curves and lines of the buildings, the different types of foliage than what I might see at home, the street art or graffiti, the local species of birds. Serendipity is key. Let go of the schedule (isn’t that what we are generally escaping on vacation?). This kind of loose timeframe also allows you to decide what to do based on your mood or bodily need. Also, I usually allow one day or a chunk of time for just resting, hanging out in my hotel room in my underwear, eating cookies, basking in the a/c or heat, and watching ghost hunting or home improvement shows. Vacations to me are the precise places to engage in those guilty pleasures.
- Pursue the unique, strange, and bizarre. I tend to gravitate to art when I’m in a new city, especially to the nearest modern art museum. Milwaukee has an extremely beautifully constructed museum and work of some of the great modern artists. Local art galleries tend to be in interesting neighborhoods that are often nearby unique restaurants and watering holes for a drink. I try to go to the places that locals haunt; there is usually a good reason to take your way off the beaten path a little. When I first moved to Chicago, I was a huge vintage clothing enthusiast. I would pick a neighborhood that had a few stores near each other and then allow myself hours to walk around and explore. This was a great way to learn about the side streets, the shortcuts, the unexpected parts. I find that when I’m allowed to wander, I often come across things that I would have never found otherwise and things that remain part of my most treasured memories.
- Try to find a natural body of water. I can almost guarantee that this will be a serene and at the very least, an interesting place to explore and think. Rivers, lakes, streams, and the ocean all have their own personalities and they can help you get in touch with your own. The Riverwalk in Milwaukee is quiet and beautiful and gives you a different perspective of the city and that takes you into downtown and nearby neighborhoods.
- Go to the historic neighborhoods. I’m a complete history nerd and I enjoy cities that honor their past, whether grizzly or fortunate. I was happily surprised at the amount of historic buildings that Milwaukee has preserved in their downtown area. I stumbled upon a city hall that honored the people who helped build it, theaters founded by beer barons, and the really gorgeous historical society in a neighborhood that felt like old world Germany. Big props to the Wisconsin Historical Society for leaving their mark everywhere I turned. This is a great opportunity to learn something about the unique history of the city which you are visiting and the people who contributed to what it has become.
- Lastly, send postcards! Clearly, I’m a bit old-fashioned, but who doesn’t love getting fun mail? I try to send postcards to my 6-year-old niece because I want to encourage in her a love for travel. I think of my family often on my trips and wish they could be there to experience it with me. So what better way to do that than to send them a fun thought while I’m there?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
[Shameless plug for friends: If you are interested a travel-related podcast, I would highly highly recommend XX Will Travel.]