Nick Jenkins . Pictures . Words . Travel

Nick Jenkins : The Opinionated Traveller

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1. Pack light

Most people seem to drag along half their household when they go travelling. Consequently when it comes to changing plans or exploring, they're hamstrung by their baggage because they need an articulated lorry and a team of Sherpas to get them places.

On anything up to a five day trip, I carry one shoulder bag with a change of clothes, a camera, toiletry kit and a towel. Choice of luggage is essential too since it sets the context for your travels. Hard cases are pretty useless, with or without wheels. Go for packs, shoulder bags or suit bags instead.

Ultimately however the only three things you need are :
a) a ticket b) a passport and c) a credit card.

2. Plan ahead

I don't mean 'organise your own package tour with a schedule broken down into six minute intervals' - I mean 'do some research'. Sure, travelling on a wing-and-a-prayer can be fun but I've seen lots of impulsive, spontaneous people standing in the middle of Paris wailing "but there's nothing to see!"

3. Change the plan

It's good to have a plan, but then again, it's good to follow your nose! No book, no travelogue, no recommendation is going to give you the local flavour of the country as it stands. Make some plans, outline some ideas and give your travel a bit of structure but don't be afraid to toss the whole thing away if an exciting opportunity presents itself. Timetables are for buses, travel is for adventure.

4. Know where your towel is

Your home while you travel is your pockets, your bags and possibly your vehicle. Give everything a home of its own and know where it should be. That way you can spot when your passport is missing within 15 seconds instead of spending four days wondering if you dropped it. It also means that when your plans go 'arse-over-tit' and you end up sprinting for that train, plane or ferry, you can pretty much guarantee you and your possessions will arrive together.

5. Hotels are all the same

Hotels are excruciatingly dull. Bread-and-breakfasts, pensions and hostels usually offer a bit more character but ultimately what you're paying for is four walls and bed (running water is nice too). It can be nice to retreat to the civilisation of a four or five star hotel once in a while but don't let cultural snobbery cut you off from experiencing the best a country has to offer. If you do find a hotel that has character, stick to it like glue - the enlightened soul who is running the place will need your support to compete with the faceless conglomerates.

6. Don't believe everything you read (especially this web-site)

By the time anything reaches press it's out of date. Things change rapidly and blind faith in a guide book or website which tells you the best places to stay or the best things to see, could be your undoing. Explore a little. After all that's why you're travelling isn't it? Guide books have a way of changing things all on their own. A previously undiscovered corner of the world can be turned into a tourist hell-hole by one over enthusiastic LP review. Especially never believe phrases like "off the beaten track", "undiscovered little gem" and "where no one else goes".

7. You travel to meet strangers!!!

Remember to talk to the locals. It's nice to meet people from your own country while you're travelling but its people that make a country unique. If you never talk to them, you'll never know. I was sat in an Amsterdam hostel, not so long ago, watching crowds of American teenagers get cheerily pissed together. Nothing wrong with that, but they could have done that in Boston or Chicago, they needn't have come all the way to Amsterdam and booked up all the accommodation.

8. Choose your companions carefully

Choosing the numbers and type of people you travel with can make or break a trip. Three is generally a bad number since its just large enough to have a minority but not large enough that it can break in half. Two is fine and so is any number above four, but remember, just as when you visit the video store, the amount of time you take to make decisions is directly proportional to the number of people on the committee.

9. Go where the people aren't

I've never had a great deal of success with big cities and big attractions. All of my magic moments in travelling have come from an out of the way place or a unique and personal experience. Standing in the queue for the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa is likely to be much less memorable than the time you met that Greek bloke in a restaurant over an espresso and he invited you home to meet his family.

10. Pack light

Pack a light soul. The more baggage you bring with you, the further you have to go to leave home.