How To Plan A Life-Changing Trip That'll Stick With You Long After You Return

by Ciara Johnson

When it comes to traveling, it seems like everyone is doing it for the 'Gram these days. As you scroll through your Instagram feed, it may seem like travel is all about getting that perfect shot or jumping from one bucket list destination to another. It can be difficult to keep up, but the truth is that travel is much more dynamic than an Instagram-worthy shot could ever capture. You might be wondering how to plan a life-changing trip that'll stick with you long after you've returned.

I've spent the past year traveling the world alone, and this experience has taught me lessons that will stay with me forever. I've been able to meet people who live very different lives than me, and I've been introduced to things that I never knew existed. As a result, I've done more learning and growing than I ever anticipated. I now know that travel really does have the ability to change your life.

If you scroll down my Instagram feed, you'll see pretty pictures and it's a shame because this can make travel seem a bit surface level. Those tiny squares are surely picturesque, but they don't serve to capture the growth I've experienced in the last year. I want onlookers to know that travel has the potential to be much deeper than a cool picture.

Practice Mindfulness
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Travel gives us a chance to break free from our regular routine, both physically and mentally. With hundreds of things on our to-do list, our minds are often caught in a loop.

Being completely present will allow you to soak in every single moment. Don't just take a picture. Look out at the ocean’s hues, run your fingers through the sand, and let your skin soak in warm rays of the sun. Smell the lingering aroma of fresh bread in the bakery around the corner, listen to the sounds of chatter in a foreign language around you, and look up at how tall the buildings rise above you. Take a deep breath and allow your surroundings to ignite all of the senses.

Consider taking your headphones out, putting your phone away, and clearing your mind of all worries for the moment. Be intentional about notice the details in your immediate environment. I've even taken time to write down observations related to all of the senses when I'm in a new environment, which has helped me preserve memories long after they’ve passed.

Be Spontaneous
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It can be so easy to rely on a bucket list or a book to guide us through our travels. While this information serves as a great starting point, it may be beneficial to ditch the guidebook after awhile. Most of our days are planned out from start to finish, so it can feel nice to take a break from the structure. During our travels, things can either go terribly wrong or incredibly right — and spontaneity can ironically help you prepare for those moments.

If you pass by a store with quirky trinkets, step inside. If you stroll past a restaurant that has a live band playing inside, grab a drink to watch. If you meet an interesting person on the flight over, take time to speak to them.

The most magical moments and lessons are outside of our comfort zone. That’s where the learning and growing happens. Aren’t experiences a bit more special when they catch us by surprise?

Learn Something New
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Experiencing different things has the potential to make a lasting impression. Make a plan to learn something new during your next trip. Take a cooking class, enroll in a language class, go to a yoga retreat, sign up for a surfing camp, or learn how to paint. The possibilities are truly endless.

Simply visiting a new place will excite you, but taking on a new challenge can push that novelty a bit further. My fondest travel memories include language classes in Guatemala and salsa classes in Colombia. Any time you practice that new skill at home, you’ll take a trip down memory lane of where it all began.

Travel Like A Local
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Has someone ever said something that made you think differently? This is the result of learning a new perspective. Our lives and cultures can vary greatly, and learning about new ways of living can challenge our personal perspective.

Make an effort to speak to a local on your next trip. Spend time with them and ask them questions. Visit the local coffee shop, try the metro system, or eat at a local restaurant. This will give you insight into a completely different way of life. Then, it’s possible to introduce a new practice or food into your normal routine back home.

Do You, Boo
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It can be easy to feel the pressure of visiting certain hotspots while traveling — but what if a site simply doesn’t interest you? My advice would be to skip it. You might be surprised to find that you like it, but you also might hate it as you expected. Most of us have limited vacation time, so it’s important that we spend it doing the things that matter most to us. There’s no need to spend your days in museums if you find them boring. On the contrary, there’s no issue hiking every day if you know that it fuels you.

There’s no single way to travel, and you’ll likely enjoy your trip more if you spend it in a way that best serves your interests and personality.

The bottom line is, you have the ability to plan trips that leave a lasting affect. Instead of your vacation being a one-time thing, you can continue to introduce elements of your travels into your day-to-day life.