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Living abroad and traveling are obviously similar in many ways, but they’re also totally different skills in some important ways.

Skills that help you living abroad include making friends with your grocer, figuring out how to say your address in Chinese, and not getting fired from your job.

Traveling, on the other hand, necessitates figuring out how to get comfy on a 17-hour train ride, how to not get sucked into hostel drinking culture, … oh, and figuring out how to say your address in Chinese.
In this article, we’re diving into 3 skills that will help you travel smart and get the most out of every trip you take (plus a handy checklist that will help you prepare for your next vacation!).

1. Consider What’s Actually Important To You

Are you a total architecture nerd? Maybe you want to spend your vacation days checking out the roofs of different old buildings. A foodie? Don’t feel guilty about spending a whole afternoon tracking down that one hole-in-the-wall ramen shop — it’s your vacation, after all!

Too many people spend their vacations checking off the major tourist boxes because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do, or because they want a photo in front of the most impressive building or the most famous piece of art.

There’s nothing wrong with hitting every museum, temple, and botanical garden in a city if that’s what makes you happy. But if you’re just going to those places because you feel like you should or because that’s what all your friends are doing then you’re probably missing out on personally meaningful and enriching experiences.
On your next vacation, take time to get lost, talk to locals, and just breathe the air in a new place. Follow your fancy — your soul will thank you for it.

2. Do Your Research …

Everyone hates getting blindsided, and there’s never a worse time to get caught off-guard than on vacation. Getting caught without a place to stay, proper attire, or no money can quickly turn a fun getaway into a weekend from hell.

Here’s a quick checklist of things to look up before you leave for your next trip:

Always, always check the weather!
Look up local customs. Is modest attire required at the mosques or temples in your destination? Is it considered rude to shake with your left hand or not take your shoes off when you enter a building? Knowing how to behave and present yourself will go a long way in helping you feel accepted where you’re going.
Make sure you’ll have something to eat. If you have dietary restrictions, make sure that you’ll be able to accommodate them wherever you’re vacationing (or pack an extra suitcase full of granola bars).
Check on lodging. If you’re going to a big city like Bangkok, you’ll probably be fine booking a hostel for just the first night and then seeing where the wind takes you. If you’re going somewhere a little more off the beaten path, however, you’ll want to make sure you have accommodations for your entire trip so you don’t get caught out in the metaphorical rain. It’s fine to not have your whole trip planned out as long as you’re fairly sure you’re going somewhere you can make last-minute arrangements.
Figure out the money situation. Are you going to a tourist country where you can use USD or RMB everywhere? Is it easy to change money in your destination, or should you change some money beforehand? Will the banks accept your credit card? It’s always good to do the research and have backup cash on hand, no matter what the situation.

3. … But Go With The Flow (And Don’t Overplan!)

One common mistake people make on vacations is doing a ton of research, planning 89 different activities each day, and then getting upset when not everything works out — or stressed out because they’re never just relaxing.

When you’re traveling, some of the most beautiful moments can happen when you walk down a road that looks interesting, pop into a mysterious shop, or just sit in a park and watch the world go by.

Not only does silence give you time to internalize and consider the experience you’re having, it also makes room for miracles. Perhaps you’ll meet a kind stranger who knows the best dumpling shop in town, or maybe you’ll see a flock of birds take flight at sunset.

Take time to slow down — your dream vacation is more likely to happen when you don’t force it.

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SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!
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About the Author:

Molly Oberstein-Allen
Molly Oberstein-Allen graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a philosophy degree and currently teaches English in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys travelling and meeting new friends.
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