7 Ways to Travel That Will Enhance Your Life, Relationships, and Happiness

Feature by John Owed | Blogger at This Aussie Life


Looking for travel experiences that you can create on any budget that will get you out of your comfort zone? These ideas will help you get there, and in the meantime you will grow as a person and enhance your relationships with others in the process. The costs are a dash of humility and a bit of sweat equity (aka your time and effort), both of which are worth it.

1. Take a Volunteer Trip

For four years I took week-long trips to the Gulf of Mexico for Hurricane Katrina relief. Not only was this a great way to give back to the community after the natural disaster, but it was also a way to learn about a new place and have unique cultural experiences. At one worksite we rebuilt part of a family’s home with them. On the last day, as a thank you, they hosted a backyard crab boil for us with crabs they caught that very day! Other trips offered similar experiences: lots of work rebuilding by day, fun getting to know locals, enjoying New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, and absorbing the southern culture by night.

Within the U.S., many cities have social/volunteer organizations that offer volunteer trips. I went to New Orleans with Give Back Cincinnati when I lived in Ohio. Check your local campuses, meetups, and organizations, as there are many great options for doing similar work. Outside of the U.S., there are several programs mentioned right here on this blog and podcast: WWOOF-ing, Workaway, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and many more.

Habitat for Humanity Hurricane Katrina
John at Habitat for Humanity for Hurricane Katrina relief
2. Pick a New Way to “Ride & Stay”

Should I drive or fly, hotel or hostel? How about none of the above?! Since I started living in Australia (and this is likely due to not having a car), I have tuned in to alternate modes of transportation and accommodations for my trips. Rather than just trying to get from point A to point B quickly, getting from point A to point B has become part of the larger journey.

Here are a few I plan to try, having been inspired by others:

  • Motorcycle & Tent – My mom is going to hate me for this one, but since reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I have been inspired to take a cross-country motorcycle trip (not sure which country yet). It will likely involve myself and a tent, posting up in nature and some hotels along the way. The first step will involve learning to ride a motorcycle (naturally), so I am doing a 2-day course to become licensed in order to achieve this goal.
  • Train (overnight) – I met a Spanish couple traveling all of Australia. There were flying most places, but to get from Perth to Melbourne they insisted on a 1.5 day train ride to get them to their destination (this would be equivalent to going from Florida to California). Their rationale was that they wanted to see the ‘outback,’ and for them it was part of the adventure.
  • Boat (overnight) – Recently, some friends of mine did a multi-night stay at sea to see the Great Barrier Reef. It sounded like a much more quality adventure than my single-day trip to see the reef. There are countless trip opportunities on sailboats throughout the Mediterranean, Catamarans in the Caribbean, even jumping on cargo boats to get from Panama to Colombia, just to name a few.
  • Camper van – A camper van is basically a van with a bed, storage and cooler, with other amenities taking off from there. I saw loads of them in New Zealand, and they are one of the preferred ways to see the islands.
Camper van New Zealand
One of New Zealand’s countless camper vans
3. Reach Out to Old Friends and Acquaintances

Facebook is a great tool for this, even when it may seem awkward to message someone you haven’t spoken with in years. The truth is that many people are willing to help if you just ask, regardless of how long it’s been. Before heading out to a destination (or even after I arrive), I scour my Facebook to see if I know anyone in the area, and then I get in touch to ask for advice or just to say hello. The results can lead to new, unexpected plans that can turn out to be great experiences.

On one trip to San Francisco, I touched base with an old fraternity brother who had been living there for a while. We decided to meet up for dinner, where he then introduced me to his group of friends and graciously offered me a place to stay for the night. A few weeks later, one of his friends invited me to my first “wine-country” wine tasting – what a bonus!

On a trip down the coast of southern California, I looked up an acquaintance I had not spoken with in nearly five years. The result was a delicious beach-side lunch where I learned about her entrepreneurial endeavors, new health trends, and the “beach lifestyle,” all of which motivated me to take new actions in my life and push hard to get to Australia.

None of these tangents to my original plans would have happened had I not taken the risk of reaching out – and I am glad I did!

John with friends
John with new and old friends on a trip
4. Plan a Trip with NO Schedule

If you’ve already researched and asked your Facebook friends for recommendations, you may have several different perspectives on what are the “must dos” at your destination. Trying to fit these all in can be a bit of a drag on a trip that is supposed to be exciting, right? While I encourage the research bit, I also recommend taking the trip (or portions of a trip) without plans or expectations of what you need to see or do.

An acronym for this is: FOOT or “Figure Out Once There.” It may be a good idea to book the basics (i.e. first night travel and stay), but it’s not essential. There are quite a few benefits to this approach:

  • There may be better deals once you are there
  • You can say yes to things that you didn’t know about and could never have planned
  • It encourages you to live more in the moment
  • It will give you that cool “go with the flow” vibe
  • You will realize that everything works out in the end
  • You meet people you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise

A baby step in this direction may be to try it for a night or a weekend first, or perhaps don’t set a time frame at all.

John at a BBQ
John barbecuing for some new friends he met at a hostel on his trip to the Blue Mountains
5. Write Down Your Travel Goals and Make Them a Reality

If you’ve ever said “I wish I traveled more,” don’t let another year of staying at home pass you by! Written goals are more likely to be achieved, even if it takes that extra step of grabbing the pen and paper. In the end, committing your travel ideas to writing will help you organize, prioritize and realize those goals!

Try this exercise to kick start your planning:

  • Take five minutes to make a list of the places you would like to visit at some point in your life – big trips, weekend trips, day trips, all trips!
  • Write beside those when you would ideally like to go – one, three, six months from now? One year? Five or ten years?
  • For any within the next six months, take ONE small action to secure your plan (research the area, call that friend, make the booking, secure a hotel, etc.) Just one!
  • For those requiring a bit more lead time (1-2 years from now), start to think about what you would need to get there (money, vacation time, etc.) Having these on your mind will help you think about how to make it possible – get creative!

How do you feel? Now that you have this great list – try to revisit it at least once per quarter (set a calendar reminder) to refresh and see how you are progressing.

John's Bucket List
John’s list
6. Blog About Your Travels

A blog can be created for anything from a weekend trip to something that goes on for a long time. There is a misconception around blogs that they need to be works of art or be a big chore. In all reality, a blog post can be a sentence, short description, or just a photo. It is quite easy to do and it does not have to be perfect by any means – simple posts are sometimes the most effective.

I created my first blog when traveling to Germany in 2006. To this day, it is still up and I reference it from time to time to recall the fun experience of being there. Over the past year, I have also created a blog to share my experiences in Australia: This Aussie Life. It is a great timeline for me and has been a nice way of keeping friends and family in the loop about my travels.

If you are interested in starting one, check out blogspot.comtumblr.com, or wordpress.com and create one in minutes. Most of these have apps as well, so uploading photos and posting is instant from your phone or mobile device. Give it a go and start sharing!

John's blog This Aussie Life
7. Gift a Travel Experience

Gifting travel experiences can come in all shapes and sizes. An afternoon activity or day trip can be quite reasonable, but there may be an opportunity for bigger excursions by donating toward a “fund” for a bigger trip, or prepaying tickets to an event. Either way, the result is an experience away from home and a lasting memory!

When I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio and my parents were in Toledo (3 hours north), I set up a day trip for my dad’s birthday. The idea was to meet-up and spend the day together, creating an experience and memories doing something we enjoyed instead of giving him another wrapped birthday gift. As it worked out, we met in Columbus for a day of golf, picnic lunch, and dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant. It was a great day and a memory that we can both look back on!

John and parents at Sydney Harbor Bridge
That time John gifted his parents a climb up the Sydney Harbor Bridge