Lessons Learned in Transit

My dear readers!  As I noted in my last entry, I have not forsaken you – I’ve just been traveling, recovering, and reestablishing my routine post-travel – which has taken about a full week to process.

That said, the travel in question was both far-flung and exotic – IMO, the best kind of travel.  My husband and I honeymooned in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai/Abu Dhabi).

Hey look! It’s the Maldives! Everyone always asks me where they are.

The first question I got when I told people this travel plan was where the hell are the Maldives?, followed by why the hell are you going to Sri Lanka?  Both are legitimate questions, I guess, but I think that any good trip has a good mix of leisure (i.e. the white sand beaches and water villas of the Maldives) and adventure (i.e. a leopard safari in Sri Lanka).  Too much of either is a recipe for either boredom or exhaustion…

…which brings me to today’s blog topic – lessons I learned while planning and executing a major trip like this.  There’s a lot we did right, but as with anything, a lot we could’ve done better.  I want to share my best advice with you guys so you can make your next trip stress-free and smooth sailing.

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Seaplane tickets – booked by the resort, ready upon arrival, and handed to us over a nice cool drink in the airport lounge. VIP!

Use a travel agent.  I know what you’re thinking – this isn’t 1998, and we have the internets now.  But when planning something complicated like a multiple-stop, multiple-destination flight itinerary, seaplanes, safari resorts, and a whole host of other variables, you want someone else doing the gruntwork.  Sure, you might pay a bit more, but premium service (like personalized pickup at the airport, “VIP” transit perks like expedited customs and private vehicles, and even a free honeymoon dinner at our resort) can be the difference between feeling relaxed and at ease versus confused and rushed.

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Coffee break on safari with our non-safari attire

Read your itinerary.  Carefully.  Both Nick and I overlooked the fact that we were going on an actual wildlife safari – when we skimmed the itinerary, we more or less looked at the cities we were visiting and the hotel names and that was it.  We didn’t realize we were going for a full-on, tents-and-Jeeps safari experience until, well, we were in it – without proper clothing, shoes, hats, or cameras.  I ended up wearing my workout clothes (which got basically destroyed) and borrowing Nick’s shirt; he was in warmup pants and a baseball hat.  It was definitely not ideal safari attire, but we hadn’t realized the ins and outs of the (vast and long) itinerary (which listed the day as a “visit to a park”) until it was too late.  Case in point: read every single detail, ask your travel agent if you have questions, and make sure you’re ready for anything.  Speaking of which…

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NOT a tropical paradise, but it WAS my view for 31 hours.

Be ready for anything.  Yep, even on your honeymoon, things can go awry – I was definitely not ready to walk off the side stairs of a plane into three feet of snow and sit around the Istanbul airport for 31 hours.  Nope – I was dressed to waltz off a plane into the balmy tropical Maldives weather – but we got stuck along the way, and all I had to soothe myself was a (dying) Kindle and some contact solution.  I never thought we could get stuck for that long and didn’t bring closed-toe shoes, a change of underpants, or chargers for my electronics.  It was a tough test of our mettle and a frustrating loss of money (since weather-related delays mean no refunds), but having clean, warm clothes would have made a world of difference.

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Our stomachs were fully “healed” by the time we had to eat this magnificent Lebanese feast

Approach every experience with gratitude.  Besides the aforementioned delay, we also got a (brief) stomach bug that resulted in a day of puking and a couple days of “limited” eating and cold sweats – but we didn’t let it get us down.  We were so grateful to be where we were (Asia), doing what we love (traveling) that we just laughed through it – and when we look back at pictures of our amazing honeymoon, the bad stuff just disappears.  When you think about the privilege of travel – seeing new things, meeting new people, tasting new food, experiencing new cultures – all the annoying stuff just pales in comparison to the opportunities that travel affords.  It is truly the thing that makes me feel most alive.

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One of the three fish I caught!

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Modesty, thy name is abaya

Try new things.  Related to the above, we did a lot of stuff we’d never tried before – night fishing in the Indian Ocean (loved it!), Ayurvedic massage (never again), glamping (absolutely life changing), and stand-up paddleboarding (ok, we’d done that before, but never in the wide open ocean).  Whenever our tour guide or travel agent suggested something we were unsure of, we quickly answered “yes!” rather than “well, we don’t know…” to make sure we had the fullest, richest travel experience possible – and we had an even more amazing trip because of it.  Dance with the local Maldivian band, put on your abaya and check out the local place of worship, eat the cheeks off the just-caught barracuda – just say YES!  Most of the time you won’t regret it, and if you do, it’s not likely that you’ll be forced to do/try it again, so just go with it.

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My amazing scarf atop the Dambulla rock temple, Sri Lanka

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Gazing out into the ocean blue, Maldives

Finally, let your budget fly (relatively) free.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not rich, I’ve never been rich, and I don’t foresee being rich in the near future.  I also try not to be spendthrift.  But that being said, I am definitely one who will save up – and spend money on – experiences.  I balked at the idea of spending $34 on a hand-spun Sri Lankan silk scarf, but then I realized that I may never be back to this region of the country, $34 wasn’t going to break me, it would help the women who actually made the scarf, and it was damn beautiful.  So I bought it.  We didn’t want to get a (wildly overpriced) massage in the Maldives, but once we settled into the heated, plush massage beds overlooking the ocean with the sound of gently lapping waves lulling us into a sense of utter freedom and relaxation, well, the “sting” of the cost suddenly melted away.  If you spend your entire trip worrying about money, you’re never really vacationing – you’re just stressing about your everyday life in a place that looks different.  Save up, spend the money that it takes to experience life in new ways, and know that you can always tighten up the budget when you get back home – and back to reality.

What are your favorite travel tips, readers?  Where’s your next vacation destination?

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