The 15 Elements of Extraordinary Travel
How to plan and execute life-altering journeys every time you pack your bags
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While tourists go places, extraordinary travelers roll up their sleeves and fully immerse themselves in exploration. They relish, discover, and allow for inspiration. Because of this, their treks are always epic. These are the elements that elevate a trip to a once-in-a-lifetime journey, according to luxury travel professionals.
(1) Unfamiliar Destinations: “We get the most out of travel when we are out of our comfort zone and routines,” says Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO of Indagare, a luxury travel company based in New York City. “When we are thrust into an unfamiliar place and stripped of preconceived notions, we are returned to a purer state of being. One just has to be willing to surrender to adventure and to head off to unknown parts.”
(2) A ‘Travel Designer’: If choosing an unfamiliar spot sounds intimidating, don’t hesitate to plan with a travel agent (they’re back in style, after all). The modern travel agent, or “travel designer” as Jim Bendt, owner of Pique Travel Design in Excelsior, Minnesota, calls them, has an encyclopedic knowledge of cool, emerging destinations. “We embrace the creative process to design unique experiences you can't Google,” says Bendt.
(3) A What’s-Next Mentality: “We’re conditioned to think about one trip at a time,” says Bendt. “By being organized and thoughtful, though, travelers can open up more time in their calendars to visit all the places they want to see in their lifetime.” Plus, when you get back from a trip, you already have something else to look forward to.
(4) Pre-Packing Photography: “I lay out every outfit, with shoes and accessories, and snap a photo with my iPhone before I pack it,” says Haisley Smith, a Virtuoso ambassador and vice president of marketing and development at Brownell Travel located in Birmingham, Alabama. “It saves me from over-packing and serves as a reminder of what I planned to wear when I am groggy from jet lag.”
(5) The Perfect Pack: Good luggage can make the journey easier, allowing you to arrive at your destination in a more calm, grounded state. Rimowa’s multiwheel luggage looks chic and has various compartments and bags to keep you insanely organized. G-Ro’s carry-on bag expands further than any other in its class (for souvenir-loving travelers), plus has a built-in charger for your phone and the top turns into a "table" so you can use it as surface to work on your laptop. If you want to pack lighter, bring a durable weekend bag.
(6) Double-Duty Wardrobe: You’ll never find a smart traveler digging in her suitcase to frantically meet luggage weight restrictions at the airport. They’re also not bringing a second bag full of shoes. Plan ahead and bring items that can multitask (shoes that can be worn on a walking tour and to dinner) so you don’t end up schlepping home a bunch of unworn literal baggage.
(7) Daily Yoga: “Meditation and yoga keep us fresh so that we are able to be at peace during our trips,” says Sandeep Agarwalla, head of yoga at Ananda in the Himalayas, a luxury wellness resort located in the birthplace of yoga. Try this 20-minute yoga routine in your hotel room when you arrive or before starting each new day.
(8) Travel-Specific Breathing: “Simple meditation and breathing practices are great tools to stay focused and not get overwhelmed with the environmental changes around us,” says Agarwalla. To combat stress at the airport or if you have a few minutes between activities, Agarwalla recommends an alternate nostril breathing practice: Take deep inhalations and exhalations rotating out of each nostril (hold your finger over one nostril while you breathe from the other with mouth closed), three or four times. According to yoga sciences, it helps purify the blood and respiratory system with large amounts of oxygen going to the brain, lungs, and heart, he says. You can also try one of these four travel meditations.
(9) Active Participation: It’s easy to keep pushing through in an attempt to see it all while you’re on a trip. But, taking time to pause and reflect throughout the experience will open you up to the potential for self-discovery and to return home truly changed. What’s more: “Just viewing marvelous sights is of value, but the experience is magnified by active participation,” says Biggs Bradley. It could be as simple as taking a ride on the local metro system rather than relying on taxis, or diving into the water versus dipping your toes.
(10) Displays of Gratitude: “When walking into a hotel, always tip [the bellhop and concierge] on arrival,” says Dane Steele Green, owner of luxury travel company Steele Travel in New York City. (What’s customary in luxury hotels: minimum $5 for bellhop, and $5 to $20 for concierge, $3 to $5 per night for housekeeping.) “Your experience is much better when the staff already knows you appreciate them.” Take your recognition a step further: “If a hotel staff member does a great job, send a note or speak to the manager to praise their work,” suggests Bendt. “If you return to the property at a later date, chances are high the employee will remember you and will want to ensure you have a great experience again.”
(11) Befriending Locals: “You don’t go home and tell your friends stories about the thread count of the sheets. You tell stories about the experiences and connections you make with people,” says Smith. You can certainly strike up a conversation with the locals dining at the table next to yours. The one-up version: A luxury travel advisor can arrange experiences like dining in a family’s private home. Or, try building a volunteer or philanthropic day into your agenda as a meaningful way to connect with those who live in the area. “Working side-by-side with new friends lends itself to authentic experiences that unfold naturally,” says Smith.
(12) Three-Phase Photography: “True travel photography tells a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end,” says Mark Edward Harris, an award-winning photographer based in Los Angeles, California. On Instagram, start with an establishing shot to give your followers a general idea of where you’re going and what they can expect to see on your feed in the days to come. For example, if you’re in Zermatt, get to an overview and photograph the Matterhorn towering over the Swiss Alps with the town in the foreground. In the middle, get what Harris calls environmental portraits: people in a scene that relates to them such as a sommelier in a wine cellar with a prized bottle of wine in his hands or a geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto. Finish with a photograph that makes the viewer feel like your story has come to a successful conclusion. “For my book, The Way of the Japanese Bath, which explores hot spring and ryokan culture on the island nation, my last image was of a silhouetted woman drinking tea shot through a shoji screen because tea drinking is a common way to conclude an afternoon of bathing,” says Harris.
(13) Behind-the-Scenes Shots: “Make use of your Instagram story to get people excited about the pictures on your proper account and to give them some context,” says Jeremy Jauncey, owner of Beautiful Destinations, the travel account on Instagram with 9.6 million followers. For example, if you take a beautiful photo out of your hotel window looking out at the pool, record yourself walking through the hotel, going up to your room, and opening the window. The story will show your viewers what lead you to take that amazing shot.
(14) A Camera Upgrade: “A smartphone such as the iPhone 7s is capable of telling quality travel stories,” says Harris. Still, consider investing in a high-quality mirrorless camera, especially if you’re photographing animals on a safari or on some other next-level adventure. The DSLR-alternative is becoming more and more popular because of its demure size, full range of lenses, and powerful results, says Harris.
(15) A Modern-Day Album: Every extraordinary traveler knows their photos must live somewhere outside of social media. They can serve as years of inspiration and memories. “The ideal venue for photos from a trip are personal books published by companies such as Blurb,” says Harris. “You can end up with a product that can be shared with friends and colleagues and be passed down through generations.” Be sure to include an introduction and extended captions, he adds.