My Take: 30 Travel Experiences To Have Before You Turn 30

So, the title of this post scares me a little bit because it underscores a fact that I’m slowly coming to grips with: my 30th birthday isn’t as far off as it used to be (I turned 25 two weeks ago). But, my new-found insecurity about my age isn’t what prompted me to write this blog post. I had no plans of blogging about this particular topic tonight, but I read a post on The Huffington Post this evening on the same topic, and I felt that I needed to present my own version because I disagreed with some of the items on the other list.  I’m not going to say which of the 30 things I disagreed with because I feel that blogging and travel is very personal and that there are no “wrong answers” with it. However, I did agree with some of the items on the list and repeated them on my own.

Also, as I’ve already stated, I’m not 30 and won’t be for another 5 years. So, my list is based not only on my previous travel experiences, but also on my travel bucket list and what I feel are things that are important to experience in life through travel.

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(Note: This list is in no particular order).

(Note #2: This list is written from the perspective of a North American, so some of my items may not be as feasible distance-wise if you reside somewhere else in the world.)

1. Marvel at something.

I may or may not have paraphrased this line from Eat, Pray, Love, but that’s not the point 🙂 . Whether it’s naturally occurring or man made, I think one of the most important travel experiences to have before you turn 30 is to view something that leaves you in complete and utter awe. Something that sums up how amazing the world we live in is and how we, as small human beings, fit into it.

My experience with #1 occurred when I was on a cruise from Baltimore to the Caribbean. I've traveled this route twice. And let me tell you, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- makes you feel as small and as in awe as standing on the deck of a ship with nothing but miles and miles of deep ocean surrounding you.

My experience with #1 occurred when I was on a cruise from Baltimore to the Caribbean. I’ve traveled this route twice. And let me tell you, nothing — absolutely nothing — makes you feel as small and as in awe as standing on the deck of a ship with nothing but miles and miles of deep ocean surrounding you.

2. Take a Cruise on the Ocean.

Jumping off my last item, I urge you to take a cruise. Forget about the Cruising stereotypes — the kids, the pools, the food, etc. Embrace the uniqueness of cruising. Embrace the water. And if you can, splurge for a balcony cabin. Sit on that balcony, watch the water, and think.

3. Travel somewhere or do something on your travels that scares you.

This doesn’t have to be dangerous and in fact please don’t do something that endangers your health and safety. But do do something that takes courage — something you think you might not be able to do.

4. Walk in the footsteps of your ancestors.

Go somewhere, whether it is across town, across the state, across the country, or across the world and walk where your ancestors walked. See what they saw, think about how they might have felt. I’m a true believer in the power of history — particular personal history and how families are shaped across generations.

5. Travel by train somewhere.

In 2011, I traveled from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. on the Capitol Limited route of Amtrak. Traveling by train is truly unique, just like traveling by ship is an experience in and of itself.  On a train, as discussed in this recent New York Times article,
you see terrain and sights that you otherwise never would by car. Train tracks often cut through swaths of land that are relatively untouched.

6.Visit the ocean closest to you (and try to visit one not so close).

Oceans. Challenge yourself to see two of them. At least see one. So far, I’ve only seen the Atlantic. The Pacific is next on my list. I’m exceedingly jealous of my Dad who has also seen the Indian Ocean.

7. Plan/Participate in a Vacation with as many friends as possible.

When I graduated from high school, I was lucky to have a group of friends to spend a week with in Florida. The trip was certainly an experience that I will never forget, for many reasons. But, it wasn’t just a trip. It was a lesson in friendship.

8. Embrace your inner child.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have outgrown Disney World, Disney Land, Harry Potter, or Universal Studios. Travel to these glorious places. Participate in them wholeheartedly.

9. Go somewhere that requires a passport.

As Americans, we are lucky that we live in such a large country. 50 states provide us with multitudes of experiences. But, I encourage you to travel to foreign shores. At least travel to the countries that are your nearest neighbors.

10. Go where the city lights don’t shine.

Gazing at the stars can be one of the most powerful experiences of your life. Looking up at the night sky is literally looking at the past. To view the heavens, make it a priority to go somewhere where light pollution is at a minimum. Darkness illuminates all on its own.

11. Travel solo (for fun, not business).

Have the courage and the confidence to travel somewhere by yourself, even if it’s only a short road trip.

12. Embrace local culture on at least one trip.

When we travel we often become hung up in the “tourism” culture of our destination. On a least one trip, regardless of where you travel to, do as the locals do. Avoid chain restaurants and name brand hotels. Stay at the local inn or Bed & Breakfast, eat at the family owned restaurants.

13.Visit a battlefield.

Whether you travel within the United States to a battlefield of the American Revolution or the Civil War, or you pay your respects at another site of one of the world’s wars, you should visit a battlefield. Understand the sacrifices that the youth of other generations have made, regardless of who they fought for and who won. Understand how blessed you are for the life you have. Recognize the wars still fought today and the youth still making sacrifices.

14. Become a tourist in your hometown.

Find things to do where you live that allow you to “travel in your own backyard.”

15. Go somewhere where your language is not the native language.

Challenge yourself. Can you make your way in a city or country where you know very little of the language?

16. Take a Road Trip.

Don’t just drive from Point A to Point B and back again. Map it out. Make an itinerary. Stay no more than 2 nights in one place.

17. Go somewhere spur of the moment.

You don’t always need to have a plan. Whether that means booking a 5 day cruise the day before it leaves or driving to the nearest beach in the middle of the night, be spontaneous. My dream: grabbing my passport out of the drawer, driving to the airport, and flying to Europe on a whim.

18. Take a trip for a selfish and specific reason.

Favorite author speaking/signing autographs in NYC? Want to be a member of the studio audience for a tv show? Want to attend a protest at the Supreme Court? Sometimes you just need to make the trip.

19. Go where the water is bluer than blue.

Visit a tropical locale. The Caribbean is highly suggested. I dream of Fiji, the Maldives, and Bora Bora.

Off the coast of Little San Salvador Island, Bahamas

Off the coast of Little San Salvador Island, Bahamas

20. Sleep outside.

Even if it is in your backyard.

21. Take a trip to relax and only relax.

Go to the beach, go on a spiritual journey, go to the wilderness. Go somewhere that sightseeing is not your priority. Read, listen to music. Relax.

22. Visit someone far away.

As teenagers, we can’t wait to get away. In our twenties, we lament the fact that we’ve drifted apart. Plan a trip purely for purpose of visiting someone you don’t see on a regular basis, because seeing someone in person is always better than a phone call, text message, or email.

23. Plan a dream vacation even if you never take it.

Figure out the place you would like to go most. If you are lucky enough to go, plan a new dream vacation. Keep dreaming, keep planning.

24. Go Somewhere only for its cuisine.

Want Southern BBQ? A French croissant? Go somewhere purely for its famous food.

25. Learn something.

Learn how to cook authentic Mexican. Learn Japanese calligraphy. Learn how to meditate with a Buddhist guru.

26. Give back.

Travel endows us with amazing and memorable experiences. Even if you are traveling for fun, find at least one trip where you can give back to the community you are visiting.

27. Let loose.

Go somewhere that involves fun, fun, and more fun.

28. Visit the haunt of a fictional character.

Like to read? Go to the site of your favorite book. Visit King’s Cross Station and get in touch with Harry Potter, or travel Route 66 like the Joad family. Not a reader but a movie or TV buff? Go to NYC and see Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment.

29. Splurge on a fabulous experience.

Even if you are traveling on a budget, take the opportunity at least once to experience a little glamor. Have high tea at the Plaza Hotel. Get a movie star makeover. Go to the 5 star restaurant.

30. Disconnect.

Our modern lives are dominated by technology today and the need to be constantly connected. Go somewhere that doesn’t have 24/7 Wi-Fi and cell phone service.

So, what travel experiences do you think you should have before you turn 30?

Summer’s (Almost) Over, Time to Plan Your Next Beach Vacation

I love summer. I love the warm weather, the thunderstorms, swimming in the pool, bonfires, picnics, and generally being outside. But most of all, I love going on vacation.

Now, you can go on vacation any time, but summer is vacation season and I look forward to traveling every year, even if it isn’t to a new place. I drive my family crazy because as soon as one vacation is over I start thinking about and planning the next — even if the only planning I’m doing is inside my head. Haha.

The bottom line is that I am a planner, and I feel that in order to have an awesome, relaxing, and fun vacation you have to be organized and plan ahead. An added bonus is that when you plan ahead, you often are able to get some great deals and save money.

I love all kinds of vacations. I love to go to big cities where you can walk around, see the sights, visit museums, and shop. As a history person, I like to go to places that have historical value too. I also have a childish love for Disney World.

But, for me, two of the best kinds of vacations are 1. going to the beach and 2. going on a cruise.

Because there’s so much information on both kinds of vacation, I’m breaking this up into 2 posts — this one about the beach and the second about cruising.

So, here’s my advice on planning and booking the best beach vacations. Hopefully, I’ll help you save a little money too.

Hitting the Beach

The beach is one of my favorite places on Earth to be. I love the sand, the ocean, the sound of the waves. There is something so relaxing about sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella, closing your eyes, and just soaking it all in.

The beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Picture from hiltonheadvacation.com)

Ohio doesn’t have a beach, unless you count the shores of Lake Erie. And, although a lot of my fellow Ohioans spend time on Lake Erie’s shore during the summer months, to me, there is nothing like the ocean. This makes the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean the closest beach to visit.

My favorite beach to go to on the East Coast is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Located at the southern-most part of South Carolina, Hilton Head is a boot shaped island that boasts 12 miles of clean and beautiful beaches and an overall subdued atmosphere that is the opposite of commercial and bustling beach destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Other great East Coast beaches are Wilmington/Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Outer Banks, North Carolina. There are, of course, countless more. Do a simple Google Search and discover other beaches to travel to. And, don’t forget the wonderful West Coast and Gulf Coast beaches too!

Whether you’ve been to the beach a million times or have never gone before, here are a few things to consider before you start to plan:

Some Things To Consider

  • What’s your budget?
  • Who are you traveling with? How many people are going to be in your party?
  • When are you going to go? How many days vacation are you aiming for?
  • How far do you want to travel?
  • Are you going to fly or drive?
  • What kind of accommodations do you want? Hotel? Condo? Rental house? On the beach? Off the beach?
  • Do you want your vacation to be jam-packed with fun non-stop or do you want a primarily relaxing vacation where you make your own fun?
  • Do you need a lot of attractions and shopping close to where you are vacationing?

Budget, Driving vs. Flying, and Picking a Destination

A beach vacation can often be less expensive than many other types of vacations, depending on where you travel, where you stay, and how you spend your time while on vacation. However, beach vacations can quickly become very pricey.

What’s great about the beach is that the most money you will spend is on the journey from your home to the beach, on your accommodations, and on food/drinks.

Driving is one great way to save money, especially with the price of airfare today. Now of course, this only works if you are within driving distance to the beach you want to visit. For example, from where I live it takes at least 7-8 hours to reach the Atlantic. But to get to a “good beach” I need to drive at least 10 hours. It takes 14 hours to get to Hilton Head and I’ll admit that while it is a long drive, it is worth it in the end. So, you need to determine how long you’re willing to sit in a car, and whether such a distance is worth it if you’re only heading to the beach for a couple days.

Also, remember that flying to the beach isn’t always easy. It’s a pain to take beach chairs and umbrellas on a plane. Some destinations allow you to rent them and some condos/beach houses have them available for guests. But not all do, and renting/buying them can be pricey and inconvenient.

One of the most important things to decide is which beach you’re going to go to. Consider whether you want a busier, more crowded and lively beach destination or one that is quiet and relaxed. Also think about what else there is to do at that destination. Do you want someplace with a lot of nightlife, clubs, bars, major shopping, and other attractions? Or are you okay with a place that is more low-key, essentially a beach destination located in a small town with some shopping (both major and locally-owned), restaurants, and very few other attractions.

When to Go, How Long to Stay, Hotel vs. Rental, How Many People Traveling

One great thing about a beach vacation is that in order to travel to one, you often travel south which gives you a longer traveling season. Know that beach vacations will always be the most expensive in the summer because it’s the peak beach season. This doesn’t mean you still can’t get a good deal, but it does mean that if you’re looking to travel on the cheap you should consider going to the beach shortly before or shortly after the peak beach/summer season. (Also, pay attention to the weather as those later summer months run into peak hurricane season.)

Another thing you have to decide is how long you want to stay at the beach. When going to the beach, I have almost always stayed for a full week (Saturday – Saturday). Going for 7 nights might seem like a long time to some, but it can also be great for your wallet. Most beach destinations have plenty of hotels or inns to stay in. But they can be extremely pricey at $150-$300 or more per night. Instead, consider renting a condo or (if you have a lot of people) a house at the beach. Whereas you might spend upwards of $1200 to $1500 for 5 nights in hotel (double occupancy), renting a condo for 7 nights is a great bang for your buck.

Depending on how large a condo you want, 7 nights can cost you as little as $600-$1000. When you factor in that most beach condos have multiple bedrooms, direct beach access, a kitchen, living room, and various other amenities I’m a firm believer that a condo is the way to go.

Plus, the beach is equally as fun in large groups as it is for couples and small groups. Condos and beach houses can sleep a lot of people, so one great way to defray costs on rentals is to divide the expense amongst a bunch of family or friends!

Best Way To Start (and Finish) Your Beach Rental Search

Check out Vacation Rentals By Owner to browse vacation condos and houses all over the world (and not just at the beach). I’ve had great luck in finding vacation accommodations off the VRBO website. Even if you don’t want to use the VRBO site to book your vacation rental or contact an owner, it’s still a great place to see what each destination has to offer.

My VRBO advice (and advice for any vacation rental):

1. The more photos a listing has, the better!

2. No price is set in stone. If an owner is desperate to rent, they will negotiate.

3. If the description is vague, ask for more detail. If you want to walk out the door and have your feet in the sand in less than a minute, make sure the rental is truly on the beach. Ocean Front generally means that the rental has immediate beach access. Ocean View generally means the rental is at least yards away from the beach and may not be “on the beach” at all.

4. Are there any hidden fees? Is cleaning included? What about taxes?

5. Remember that most vacation rentals do not provide the same amenities that hotels do. You may have to bring your own towels and/or sheets. You most certainly will have to bring paper towels, toilet paper, soaps, etc. Pots and pans, silver wear, dishes, etc. are almost certainly provided. Ask what is included to be safe.

6. It’s never too early to start looking at vacation rentals. The good ones always sell out fast and one rental can sell out for the entire summer long before the season begins. Often owners will run specials and/or give discounts for early bookings.

7. Look for last minute specials too, sometimes owners who have one or two weeks remaining or a cancellation will slash prices to rent the unit.

Well, I hope I’ve given you some great advice about planning your next beach vacation. Remember, planning is a great way to ensure a fun and relaxing vacation, where you can then throw the need to plan out the window and just enjoy life.