To get the most out of travel you need to push your personal boundaries and throw yourself head first into new experiences. Whether you’re on the road for three months or three years, here’s a list of 15 things everyone should try once.
1. Fall in love
Whether it’s with a country, your own company or another person, your heart and mind are open when you’re on the road and away from the daily grind. You can be a different person when you get away from everyone who thinks they know you best.
2. Sleep under the stars
Sleeping under the wide-open night sky is like nothing else; away from the bright lights of towns and cities you can gaze at a blanket of stars and the glowing moon. True wild sleeping might mean snuggling into a bivvy bag, but a tent or a mattress in the back of a car is still an escape to the great outdoors.
3. Brave a bungee jump
Push your limits for the ultimate adrenalin rush and hurtle off a bridge, dam or tower attached to only a bungee cord. The craze that started in New Zealand in 1988 is still the ultimate adrenalin rush on every traveller’s bucket list. Go on. Take a risk. The high will keep you buzzing for weeks.
4. Go on a road trip with the roof down
The open road beckons. Ideally with your best friend at your side, a great soundtrack on the car stereo and no set time to get where you’re going. Freedom is the USA’s Pacific Coast Highway, South Africa’s Garden Route or Ruta 40 in Argentina. Freedom is putting the roof down and feeling the wind in your hair.
5. Drink with the locals
Whether it’s vodka in Russia, rice wine in Cambodia, Guinness in Ireland, caña in Spain or rakia in Bulgaria, order what the locals are drinking and offer to buy a round. You’ll get great advice thrown in for free and some of your best travel memories will be those random nights in bars when strangers became friends.
Don’t feel guilty about having some “you time” away from the snoring of your bunk buddy or the possibility of bed bugs. Even if your budget is tight, when you are weary from the road, check into a nice hotel with a bath in the en-suite, or book that swanky restaurant with linen tablecloths and actual cutlery. Relax and recharge. You deserve it.
7. Choose a meaningful memento
Probably best to avoid getting that free tattoo with your taco – and definitely don’t take natural resources such as shells – but a little memento can be a lovely reminder of your journey. Whether it’s a tacky souvenir that reminds you of a fun time, or something handcrafted you bought to support a local community, it will bring a smile to your face once you’re home.
8. Go wild
Whether you watch dolphins in New Zealand, dive with sharks in Mexico, spot elephants in Kenya or hang off the back of a jeep admiring lions in South Africa, you’re guaranteed a magical and humbling experience. Seeing a wild creature in its natural environment knocks the socks off a trip to the zoo.
9. Sky dive
Climb into a tiny rickety plane in order to jump out of it at 15,000ft? Why not. Your first jump is likely to be a tandem dive strapped to a qualified instructor, which just requires a bit of preparation and a lot of nerve. The ten or so seconds of free-fall pass in a gasp-inducing rush before the parachute is deployed and you can enjoy a gentle descent over whatever beautiful scenery you’re calling home that week.
10. Book a homestay
We all know that travel is meant to be about discovering new cultures, but all too often on the backpacking trail you end up hanging out with people just like you. Homestays have popped up everywhere from Havana to Hong Kong and they provide a genuine experience with local people – you stand a much better chance of learning the language and customs, not to mention getting a home cooked meal or two.
11. Watch the sunrise
Ideally start out when the stars are fading, as being up before anyone else stirs gives an immediate sense of adventure. Hike up a mountain, or find a peaceful spot looking east out to sea, and watch as colour saturates the sky and the sun edges over the horizon for a new day full of potential.
12. Go on a silent retreat
One of the best things about travel is having time for contemplation with no distractions or responsibilities. Quiet the mind and seek out some inner peace on a silent retreat where you can cultivate mindfulness and experience a new awakening.
13. Let loose at a local carnival
Carnival is celebrated in different incarnations all over the world, and whether you’re in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro or Cologne, being part of the biggest party on the planet is a once-in-a-lifetime travelling experience. Nothing can prepare you for the electrifying atmosphere as the festivities peak the weekend before Lent.
Giving something back on your travels feels amazing, not least because volunteering usually means staying put and seeing a place from the inside. It’s a cliché but you really can make a difference – whether it’s community development, education, wildlife or conservation, just choose a project that speaks to you and help. It’s that simple.
15. Get lost
Quite often the best way to explore a new place is to not to know where you’re going. The winding alleys of Barcelona’s backstreets or Delhi’s Old City hold secret places your guidebook can’t tell you about, and taking the time to wander can be more rewarding than ticking off a list of must-sees.