In my twenties, I was a newbie traveler. I put a lot of pressure on myself to travel on a shoestring, see every single sight, and have an amazing time. Those things sounded good in theory, but my overly constricted travel budget didn’t allow for much. I was spending most of my travel budget on group excursions (I had a really bad case of excursion FOMO), which meant that I couldn’t have a hot meal, take a much-needed taxi at night, or have a spontaneous moment that included any kind of spending.
I felt so constrained by my travel budget that I started experiencing mental health issues — severe anxiety during the trips themselves, and depression for days after coming home. I knew that I could not travel feeling like that, so I avoided travel altogether for a while.
However, in my thirties, I decided that enough was enough and I went back to traveling, this time with a bigger travel budget. And to avoid any mental health pitfalls, I have set myself some rules which are designed to help me stay on budget and have a positive travel experience.
6 Ways I Travel Differently In My 30s
1. I look for an affordable, decent room.
In my twenties, I mostly traveled alone and slept on people’s couches, in one person’s walk-in closet, on hostel bunk beds, and on buses. I don’t regret staying with friends, but I do regret staying at places where I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. Even in the safest hostels, my roommates would talk and giggle into the night and wake me up for their early-morning flights. And of course, sleeping on a bus doesn’t even come close to sleeping in an actual bed.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I mostly travel with my husband, and I will get us a safe, no-frills room with a private bathroom. This always allows us to have our privacy and a chance to rest. And if I am booking the place just for myself, I will carefully read the reviews and really make sure that the place and the location are not sketchy.
2. I find a favorite dinner place.
In my twenties, I ate my sad sandwiches or looked for random cheap places to eat. In my thirties, I realized that after a long day, all I really want a hot meal at a familiar place — one that has great food and decent prices. My husband and I also love Vietnamese food but don’t get the chance to have it very often, so we really take advantage of good Vietnamese restaurants our trips. It is such a satisfying routine, and there is seriously no shame in going to the same place every night.
3. I skip those exhausting day trips and all the excursions that don’t excite me.
As I mentioned, in my twenties I thought I had to take ALL the excursions and they were quite pricey. In my thirties, I fight my FOMO by saying no to excursions that require me to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and then spend hours on a bus — and also to those excursions that make me feel anxious, or don’t even really interest me. I don’t do tall buildings or anything that involves climbing (I am terrified of heights), and I couldn’t care less about popular football stadiums. I pick out a maximum of three interesting excursions, and then I stick to them.
4. I prepare and focus on the excursions that I have selected.
While on an excursion, I try to be fully present and not on my phone or even talking to the person next to me. In my twenties, I spent so many excursions just chatting away and not really remembering what I saw or what the guide was talking about. In my thirties, I’ll do my best to prep for an excursion by reading up in advance, which allows me to memorize more on site and get a better idea of the excursion. I make my excursions memorable — but I stay away from the gift shops.
5. I go on a daytime boat trip.
In my twenties, I never went on boat trips, because and I thought they were for old people. How foolish of me! In my thirties, I discovered that one of the best ways to learn about a city’s past and present is to take a boat trip through its rivers and canals. Boat trips give me the best perspective, and I get to notice parts of town that I would otherwise miss — I get a really good look at some monumental bridges and hear some, frankly, chilling stories. As an added bonus, I get to bring my own snacks and rest my feet.
6. I allow myself some downtime.
In my twenties, I thought that my entire trip had to be super intense. But in my thirties, I like to designate a few hours in an afternoon for taking it easy, having a coffee, and window shopping. It’s okay to simply relax, and being in a new city makes it even more enjoyable. As for actual shopping, I will check out the local drugstores and look for deals on my favorite makeup (or try something new) — but this is all the spending that I’ll do. I won’t go clothes shopping to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and I won’t get souvenirs. I will finish off my downtime by writing and sending a postcard to a dear friend who always sends me postcards.
Although a lot of people do travel on a budget, and it works for them, I would advise my younger self against traveling on a shoestring, for the sake of my mental health. Now that I’m in my thirties, I travel on a bigger budget, which requires sacrifice in other areas of my life. But I love traveling too much to give it up. With my six travel rules, I’ve left behind my anxiety and replaced it with comfortable routines and downtime to stay healthy and balanced. I look forward to every new trip and the adventures it brings.
Annika Fordell is a writer, a mom and a lawyer living in Europe. She enjoys catching up on her favorite TV shows, swimming and having a cookie with her coffee.
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