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Walking over ancient ruins in Athens

There’s a massive debate on the beauty of travel between travelers and vacationers. Travelers go for the experience, while vacationers go for the enjoyment. We travel to learn, to grow, to develop an understanding of a new culture. We believe there’s one world, one people; and believe the world would be a far happier place if everyone took to the road once in a while.

I belong to the travelers, the ones who believe that while vacationing, we often miss out on some of the best experiences. That we don’t intend to step out of our comfort zone, but that’s where all the fun is. There are a few things I always do whenever I travel, and I bet your journey would be a lot more enriching if you try these the next time:

1. Make friends with a local on the flight:

Before you land it always helps to get a heads up on the place you’re headed towards. They could help you out with the cheapest transport options at the airport, metro tickets if they’re in the local language or simply tell you about their culture. No matter how much you’ve read lately, you’ll learn a lot more through conversation. It’s such a simply way to kill time, and you might walk out with a list of the best places to eat or the funkiest watering hotels downtown. I once made friends with a Russian photographer specializing in nude photography, who spent 6 months in Kerala and 6 months in Moscow every year. You can only imagine how interesting that conversation might have been!

2. Try a local meal:

This blog started as an ode to food (more about that here), and my love for different cuisines goes well beyond the confines of the local food of in my country. One of the reasons I travel is to try new things to eat, but that doesn’t have to be you if you prefer certain cuisines only. But don’t be the guy who doesn’t try anything abroad. Don’t stick to pizzas and pastas (unless you’re in Italy!), walk down to a local restaurant and try out some authentic dishes. Ask your server for recommendations while you brief him on your culinary preferences. You don’t have to torture your palate. Go easy on your stomach but try it out nevertheless!

3. Buy a Polaroid and click a picture in each city you visit:

Take a picture that signifies or defines your experience in that city. It doesn’t have to be the most prominent landmark or monument if that’s not what the essence of your experience really was. You’ll know when it’s the best moment to click- make sure it’s one you would want to remember for years to come. Go home and hang these up on your wall, pin them to your scrapbook or store them in a shoe-box turned travel-box. Either ways, you’ll be grateful for the memories.

4. Purchase a post card:

You could send it over to friends and family if you won’t be home a while, but collecting post cards is more for yourself than anyone else. I’m building a personal post card collection that doubles up for a permanent Monday motivation look-book, and it’s one that instantly lifts my mood! Bring home a scrap of all the places you go.

5. Join a local festival:

Whenever possible, attend a local festival. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as Oktoberfest or the Sula Fest in India; It could be a small gathering or celebration at a village, or dinner with a family at Christmas. The first time I attended a truly local festival was Oktoberfest (granted, that was the reason I flew all the way to Munich) and it was worth all the miles.

6. Visit a library:

Always, always, always look up the libraries in a city. You don’t have to go to each one of them, but you should zero down on one after a quick search on Google and drop by for a bit. Not only do you end up finding some quaint and cozy ones, you also end up discovering some pretty rare books. It will also help you understand the university culture and help you connect with intelligent new people with similar interests.

7. Try the local liquor:

Not every place has it’s own liquor but when it does, it must be tried. You should consider buying a small bottle of the traditional alcohol to take home with you- or take a swig later in the evening! I’ve tried the Ouzo and Turkish Raki (when a friend brought this home) and you’d be surprised how much you can tell by the culture just by getting drunk on traditional alcohol.

8. Get on a Ho-Ho Bus:

There’s no cheaper and more cost-effective way to explore the major tourists spots of a city than the HoHo Bus. Short for hop on-hop off, these HoHo buses allow you to get on and off throughout the day at any of their designated spots. The buses arrive at each spot at an interval of 15 or 30 minutes, giving you the leisure to get on and off whenever and wherever you wish to. If you’re visiting another country, chances are you will take out one day to cover the must-do monuments, galleries and other famous places. This is the best day to opt for one, so you don’t blow up too much money on transport.

9. Take home a portrait of the city:

Please don’t splurge on fancy paintings! There are plenty pictures and paintings on sale (paper with blank white covers) available at souvenir shops and sold by street vendors. I usually pick one from each country I visit, to frame and put them up on my bedroom wall. It’s your personal memoir of the world, and besides, it looks adorable!

Nikita Butalia is a solo 20-something traveler who documents her experiences around India and the rest of the world in witty narratives and travel tales that are best read curling up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate on a winter evening.

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