I look at travel like I would a recipe in a cookbook. The kitchen and the tools I use to cook are very different than yours. My tastes too, are always evolving. Like my tastes, my travel strategies will be different than the various travel "chefs" among us. Some recipes work well for me, others don't.
Travel guidebooks are like cookbooks. You select something or somewhere that interests you, shop for the ingredients, and create a dish to your liking. And for me, the dish is the destination.
How long will the dish take to make? How much prep work between each step? What do I want to put in the dish that will make the dish tasty? What spices will I use?
Time: A week, three weeks, a year? Prep: Itinerary, transportation, budget? Tasty: Big city, historical sites , back roads? Spices: Language, food, culture?
Choosing your time frame is the first step. For me, Europe in 7 days doesn't make much sense. Mexico? Sure, from the West Coast a week is plenty. Still, in a week, I like to move around a bit. You know, travel. Two days here, three there, and finish up a couple days in your departure city.
The meat and potatoes portion of my travel revolves around an efficient itinerary. Once I have a time line, I like to pencil in on a calendar the people or places I'd like to visit. I'll map out a tentative itinerary, in pencil, knowing I'll be erasing during the prep time. If I've planned for more than a week or two, I like to throw in a 3 or 4 day "vacation" in the middle. Time to settle in, unwind, and
ketchup, catch up.
Within that calendar, I like to leave a day each week, blank- flex time. This is important because when traveling, just like at home, the unexpected happens. Train delays, car problems, tummy ache. Or there might be a full moon party in Florence atop Piazza Michelangelo overlooking the Arno that you just can't miss. I like flex days, and nights.
With careful planning, you'll fine tune this recipe. My mother always told me to do my homework, and this is where it counts. Look for festivals, opening hours, distances between stops and starts and pare down that itinerary, realistically. As much as you want to, you can't do it all. Always keeping in mind that you'll be back. Trust me, the Alps aren't going anywhere.
Now, let's add some ingredients. Mix in big city, historical places, back roads, and "must sees" and add to the meat and potatoes, the itinerary. Most likely, you'll arrive in a big city. I like to book a few nights here. Let's face it, big cities are fun, have a lot to offer, and add just enough flavor to keep you in the kitchen.
Time for the spices. Language can be a challenge but still palatable. Take a course in conversational ____ (fill in the blank.) At the very least, learn the important words: hi, please, thank you, I would like, where is?, please, thank you, good-by. You're the guest, mind your p's and q's.
Explore the local flavors. Close your eyes, wind up a finger, and point to something on the menu you've never had. Try again if you land on chicken fingers and fries. Foreign kitchens, like yours, will delight the taste buds.
Embrace the culture. These are your global friends. Chances are you are more like them than you are some of your neighbors back home. A smile is universal. Laughter contagious, catch it.
Whatever dish you bring to the table, savor the flavors, take time digest and enjoy your dish. If you must, go ahead and take a picture. You're friends will be envious.