By Amanda Festa
Literary Traveler recently attended the first Women’s Travel Fest in New York — one day, countless inspiring and passionate women from all over the world. The Festival featured a number of panels with women travelers from various industries sharing their hard-learned tips and wisdom. One of the first women to take the stage and share her knowledge was Samantha Brown of Travel Channel fame. For well over a decade, Brown has traveled the world for business, but she is a pleasure traveler at heart, with an unquenchable wanderlust that she is lucky enough to pursue professionally.
Brown offered an inspiring presentation with no shortage of useful tips and lessons learned. Her advice ranged from practical to poignant, and will be useful to any traveler looking for a genuine experience in a new place. Here are the top 5 takeaways.
1. “Get out of the past, just put yourself in the present and see what happens.”
Brown highlighted the importance of living in the moment when traveling. While this may seem interesting coming from a television host who often recreates experiences for her travel show, this is a tenet she stands by when traveling for pleasure. It may seem obvious, but it can often be one of the hardest things to accomplish. Especially in today’s technology-fueled world where we are always online, it can be hard to log off and experience the world without an Instagram filter. Your travel photos can be uploaded when you get home, or at least back to the hotel (#latergram). Enjoy the filter of reality, and really experience your surroundings. Brown suggests, “Go for a walk, put the map away – or the app away – and just go down a street because you think it looks good… be a part of everyday life.
2. Don’t look for the “exclamation point,” look for the “comma.”
When we travel, Brown points out that “we become bullied by time.” For most travelers, trips are planned with precision around vacation days and busy schedules, and there is a finite amount of time. While we are so grateful for every minute of travel time we are allotted, we know that each experience has an expiration date and there is so much to fit in! Because of this, trips to a new place often become slave to an itinerary. While this has an upside (you will see all of the things on your bucket list), you may miss out of the things you didn’t know you wanted to see, that you didn’t even know existed. Brown thinks it’s important to veer from the beaten path and make time for slower moments that will maximize the experience of a place.
3. “Create a ritual.”
While tourist hot spots are popular for a reason, sometimes the most engaging experience of place comes from the smaller moments of seemingly everyday life. Brown advises: “Go to the same coffee shop everyday or get a glass of wine at the same bar. Give us moments to be a part of the local scene, breathe, talk to locals.” To have an authentic experience, you should be a part of the local cultural scene. Research where locals go. This can be done on the internet, but also, Brown suggests with mock surprise, by talking to people. And, don’t forget to find out the best time to go. After all, you could be in the right cafe, but you could miss out on local live music or other one-of-a-kind experiences of the culture by going an hour too early or too late.
4. “Not understanding can make a strong connection.”
When traveling to other countries, there is a good chance you will not know the language. Learning a new language is difficult for a lot of people. From three years of Italian in college, I can sing you the alphabet, but not much else. (I won’t even get started on my high school French.) And, I am sure I am not alone. But that’s okay. Brown has had plenty of experiences in a number of countries where there was a language barrier, and she recalls these experiences fondly. On one particularly memorable occasion, she desperately wanted peanut butter and embarked on an extreme game of charades with a local shopkeeper to deduce if there was any in stock. While verbal communication was difficult, she was able to engage on a deeper level and develop a sense of camaraderie that didn’t require words. That said…
5. “Learn three words in the language.”
Hello. Please. Thank You. These three simple words, Brown emphasizes, will show that even though you don’t speak the language, you are still kind and you made an effort.
So, the lesson is this — When you travel, slow down, be in the moment, be a part of the local culture, and remember, as Brown does, “I am here. I am nowhere else in the world.” Make it your mantra and the rest will follow.