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Is your New Year’s resolution to travel more in 2016? If you’re new to traveling it can seem like a big step to actually get your feet out the door. Here are some steps I’ve learned in the last few years for setting off on the right foot.

Explore, Experience, Embed

“Visiting” an area has a superficial feel to it, something surface level. Visiting is swinging by and snapping a picture, and someday recalling “oh yeah, I stopped there once.”

But why are you traveling? So you can have a snapshot and a vague memory? You’re spending the time, money, and energy to head out, so make it worth doing. Think of it this way, you want to explore, experience and embed.

Explore

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Make a prioritized list of the things you want to see and do on your trip. Some research goes into this, and frankly that’s almost my favorite part of traveling.  In the U.S., most (if not all) states have resources available to travelers. Do a Google search for the area and tourism, and you’ll find the tourism office. Many will have a form you can fill out online and get booklets and maps mailed to you.

I love this. I’ve started doing this before heading to any new area.  I research a few key places I want to see, then create a map and loose itinerary. I always leave room for side adventures and it’s always okay to abandon the plan. You never know what wonderful adventures you may come across once you’re there!

I try to make stops in various cities or areas when I’m visiting a new state. That way, I can explore more of the area and learn about a state I haven’t seen before.

Experience

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Horseback riding in San Luis Obispo, CA
Experience the area you are exploring. My favorite way to do this is to get out and walk. I need to go up to old buildings and feel the texture of the bricks, walk the city streets and see the shops, take a detour down a side road and find a local hang out. And, if there’s a chance to out in nature, you’d better believe I’m there.

An easy trick – skip the chain restaurants and look for a place with local flair. One of my favorite recent travel memories is a little saloon in Custer, South Dakota. It had swinging doors, sawdust on the floor, and friendly locals to chat with. I would have missed the experience had I not stopped the car and got out to walk around.

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Listening to live music with friends in Phoenix.
During work travel to Phoenix, my friend Susan found a great spot for local music (and we may have shown off some dance moves).

Another treasure was found in Sacramento a couple years ago. I was there for work and really wanted a great hamburger. I did a simple internet search for “best burger in Sacramento”, and found an amazing local spot that I now stop at every time I’m in town. (Broderick’s Roadhouse. Get the duck burger and a Moscow Mule. Life changing.)

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Steinbeck Center Salinas, CA
Bars and restaurants aren’t the only ways to experience the area. Look for places to watch local artisans work their craft. If you have a hobby, look up places where locals with the same hobby would go. My dad is a big John Steinbeck fan. On a trip to Salinas, we went to the Steinbeck Center and had a wonderful time.

Strike up conversations with the people around you, and ask them for more great local discoveries: “So, where do people here go for the best sunset view away from tourists?”  “Who makes the best burrito in town?” That can also lead to fabulous discoveries.

I’m often reminded that some places are not as safe to walk as others, so I research that before I head out. I don’t risk high-crime areas, and if I’m traveling by myself I’m especially careful. That’s another blog post in itself, but for this one, know the area you’re in and act accordingly.

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Perhaps it’s a romanticized view of life, but I like to think I’m a little bit changed with each new place I visit. If you’ve had a remarkable experience, part of it stays with you far after unpacking the bags and sleeping off the jet lag.

How do you embed these wonderful memories while you’re making them? For me, it’s a matter of invoking as many senses as I can. Many people rely just on seeing. But, I think embedding a memory comes from more than just one sense.

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Morro Strand Beach, CA
I’m very tactile, so I like to touch. For example, a visit to the beach: I want to feel the coarseness of the rocks, the warm, grainy sand, the cold, smooth water. But don’t stop there to really get the senses going.

Catch the the scent of the fishery nearby. Notice the various shades of blue and gray in the sky and water. The sudden chill of the breeze on your face. Can you taste the salty dampness in the air? Listen to the roar of the waves as they crash into each other.

Simply put – be in the moment and truly experience it. Don’t tweet it, update your status, or worry about getting a perfect Instagram shot. There will be time for that later. First, live.

 

 

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