The Evolution of My Travel Style

St. Goar, Germany

September 2001. I boarded my first trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25 to embark on a whirlwind 23 day tour of Europe. This was my long-awaited “post-bar trip” – a so-called rite of passage for many soon-to-be lawyers. I spent months planning it, but back then, my planning consisted of researching tour companies and itineraries. It never even occurred to me to go on my own.

I initially targeted tours heading to Russia and Scandinavia, but friends and family convinced me that for my first trip to Europe, I was better off sticking with the more typical tourist trail – London, Paris, Rome, etc. As a result, I booked the 23 day European Vista tour with Contiki, a company that caters to travelers ages 18-35. Although the trip was tainted by the impact of 9/11 (which occurred just a week into the trip), it sparked a passion for travel that had always been smoldering below the surface.

Over the next few years, I used my generous-by-US-standards four weeks of vacation time to travel to Spain, France, Australia, Norway, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Germany, Egypt, Germany (again), the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria (again), Peru and London.  Sometimes I traveled with a group, twice I traveled with my mom and once I went with a former friend from high school. Only my trips to Australia, Norway and one trip to Germany were truly solo.  And even then, I joined a group in Australia for a three-day trip along the Great Ocean Road and I kicked off my Germany visit by staying with a friend in Frankfurt.

I never stayed in hostels. I rarely carried a backpack, preferring a rolling suitcase instead. My idea of a “budget” hotel was one that cost less than $100 per night. I signed up for day tours or guides because I didn’t want to spend the time and energy to figure out how to visit places on my own.  I took winery tours in Australia and a tour to Versailles in France, and hired guides to take me around the Tuscan hills in Italy, to visit Beni Hassan and Tell al Amarna in Egypt and down into the Colca Canyon in Peru.

Karnak, Egypt

I planned vacations around holidays to make the most of my vacation time, often traveling over Thanksgiving when I could get two days off “for free.” My trip to Norway included Memorial Day weekend and my tour through Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest was over Christmas and New Year’s. And because I had limited time, I tried to squeeze as much as I could into every trip and planned almost every sight and activity in advance.

My travel style made a seismic shift when I departed on my 13-month career break trip through the former Soviet Union.

I stayed in a hostel for the first time.  I lived with local families for the first time. I bought groceries and cooked my own meals instead of eating out all the time. I tracked all of my expenses and tried to adhere to a budget. I put more effort into figuring out how to visit places on my own, rather than just joining a group. I forced myself not to plan out every hour of every day I had in a destination. I traveled completely independently for not just weeks, but months at a time. It was an enormous challenge and as a result, I grew a lot as a traveler and as a person.

Aksu Zhabagly, Kazakhstan

But that doesn’t mean I will continue to travel that way.

I can already see myself reverting to my old style of travel. I packed my carry-on sized rolling suitcase with 5 pairs of shoes, 3 dresses and 6 shirts for a 2-day trip to Toronto – almost as much as I carried in my backpack for 13 months. I scoured sites like Priceline and Hotwire to get a good hotel deal, not even considering staying at a hostel. With limited time once again, I am going back to my super-planning ways, already thinking about how to make the most of the two days I have in Memphis later this month.  My eyes are already on the calendar for the end of December, thinking about where I might be able to go when my workplace (I work for a law school) is closed between Christmas and New Year’s.

But most importantly, I am much more independent and adventurous than I ever was before. I almost laughed out loud when I wrote the first paragraph above and the idea that I never even considered traveling by myself on that first trip overseas. Now, I can barely imagine NOT traveling solo.  I can’t see myself taking another group tour unless it is to a place where I just wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling on my own (there are a few of those) and I’m not even sure I would travel with friends unless I was really certain that our travel styles would mesh.

And I will continue to seek out physical adventures and unusual, off-the-beaten-path destinations. I will spend three weeks hiking in the Nepal Himalayas this October (a trip for which I will likely break out the backpack again!) and I am working on some possibly very unique trips down the road.  Overall, I think my travel style will be a good mix of the old and the new – and it will probably continue to evolve.

How has your travel style evolved over the years?


8 thoughts on “The Evolution of My Travel Style”

  1. My travel style has DEFINITELY changed. I remember the first trip I took without my family. It was with an ex-partner, and we took a pretty big suitcase, a carry-on each and stayed in a fancy hotel in Rome, flying KLM and Alitalia. I’d never heard of hostels or budget airlines at that point. The only thing I didn’t do was take a tour. It wasn’t until I started reading travel blogs that I started to realise that travel needn’t be so expensive.

    Now, I usually go solo, take one small backpack on extended trips, and I stay in hostels or CouchSurf. I know how to get cheap flight deals. Sure, sometimes I’ll treat myself and book a private room in a hostel, or even a nice hotel, because I do like treating myself sometimes.

    I’m sure my style will change again. I think I’ll be someone who’ll need a little more luxury when I get a bit older, but I’ll still want a good deal. I can’t imagine fifty-year old me staying in a hostel unless there are no other options.

  2. We used to be content with just going places without a plan and seeing them. Now we are really only happy when we have an active trip. We like to be doing something adventurous.

  3. What an interesting thing to think about! I’ve never been much of one for travelling in groups, but even now I find myself travelling for different reasons: to do and experience things that I’m personally passionate about (instead of the “Rush to see everything because that’s what you do when you travel” kind of mentality). (On another note, out of curiosity – what places wouldn’t you feel comfortable travelling on your own?)

    1. hmmm…Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, India (I know plenty of women go to India solo, I just have no desire to do so). Possibly other places, depending on what I was doing – for example, if I wanted to hike the Annapurna Circuit, I would probably join a group rather than just hire a guide and do it myself. I like the camaraderie of traveling in a group, especially for active adventures.

  4. I’ve never even really thought about how my travel style has changed over the years, but it totally has! I started off as a typical study abroad student who never strayed far from the group (to this day I still can’t believe how much I neglected to fully experience things). Now I tend to travel solo, stay in hostels, and I’m hoping to try Couchsurfing on my next trip. Though my packing has gone from pretty minimalist, to something a bit more in the middle (still only a carry-on, but far more clothing options).

  5. I’m all about going solo now. Before 2011, I would never think of traveling outside of the U.S. alone. Are you kidding me? But that changed on my trip to England. However, I have traveled within the U.S. alone for many years and I never thought twice about it. Weird.

    I’ve never been a tour person…ever. I have gone on a few tours and recently a private surprise tour in NOLA that proved to be awesome and worth it. My attitude towards going on a cruise ship have changed; i.e., it’s not my thing, because I like to spend time at places. The other big thing that has changed for me is that I am now a foodie. So, I like to only eat what I can’t get in my hometown or country for that matter (unless you are in a pinch; i.e., McDonald’s was the only thing open on a Sunday in Munich). I used to be a local beer drinker, too. Then, I tried to find beers I knew I would like and now I am back to drinking local beer.

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