It’s inevitable–if I like a place, I spend most of my visit fantasizing about making it my home. It doesn’t matter if visa constraints make that totally unrealistic–a girl can dream, right? But lately I’ve started to think those daydreams take away from the experience. Maybe instead of fantasizing about a future that will never be, I should enjoy the present moment? After all, I may never be in this place again, but I’m here now, so let’s make the most of it.
That said, there have been a few places in my travels that stand out. Copenhagen. Wanaka, New Zealand. Reykjavik. London. It’s a diverse list, and the amount of time I spent in each place ranges from a day to more than two weeks. Now we’re back in the United States, and trying to choose a city where we’d like to settle down for awhile. So I’ve been thinking–what was it about those places that enchanted me so much? Was it them, or me? Can I find another place that I’ll fall hard for, and make it my home for real?
I don’t know.
I wonder if we loved Wanaka because it was so like the small town we had left behind when we started traveling? Was Copenhagen really so wonderful, or did I just enjoy the forced break I had to take when I got sick? And Reykjavik–it was the first foreign city I had visited in three years. My wanderlust had built to a point where I would have fallen in love with any city. As for London, well, yeah, I still want to live there and I think I always will.
So maybe if you’re ready to fall in love, that’s exactly what will end up happening. Of course, not every trip can be a winner, but for me, it’s more about mindset than locale. I’ve learned to feel at ease in almost any place this year, and this is how:
Set aside time to relax and decompress
If you don’t schedule a “down day” in advance, it almost never happens. The great thing about traveling is that you can find something new to do every day–but you shouldn’t. I find it hard to be present and mindful when I’m overwhelmed, tired, or in a hurry. So at least once a week, Ben and I have a day that involves working at a quiet cafe for awhile, watching some TV and reading. The next day (or even that night), I’m raring to go again. This is my number-one most important strategy for enjoying every country we’ve been to.
Do all the most touristy activities in one day
In Istanbul, we made a list of all the classic sights (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern) and saw them all in one day. You could also do just one touristy thing at the beginning of each day. Either way, you are limiting the amount of time you spend waiting in line, surrounded by other tourists. You can then spend the rest of your time doing whatever actually makes you happy.
Stay in a residential neighborhood–even better, someone’s home
The easiest way to do this is by renting an apartment via Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO. There are also hotels, B&Bs, and inns located outside the tourist centers of most places. The streets will be quieter and less crowded, people are a little friendlier, and you can see how locals live. Walking around our neighborhood in Budapest is one of the fondest memories I have of that week. We saw old ladies pushing strollers, big men walking tiny dogs, ancient bookstores, and some amazing coffee shops.
Use public transportation or walk
If you ride the bus, tram, or metro or your own two feet instead of always using a taxi, you’ll save loads of money. Even better, you’ll pass through off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods and see how the locals get around. I think it gives you a much more well-rounded perspective of the city you’re visiting.
Talk to people
Learn a couple words in the local language and deploy them with a smile. You’ll find that people are often willing to help you out and engage in conversation. You might find out the best place to get some local specialty, or learn about the life of a complete stranger. Some of our most memorable experiences have happened after we asked someone for help.
Feeling at home might be all about your mindset—but following these steps is a great way to put yourself at ease, learn more about a place, and get at least a little bit off the beaten track.