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Places to Love: How to Make Travel Count

We ask a lot of our travels. We want travel to relax us, make us feel fulfilled, bring us closer to our family and friends and reinforce our own sense of self. And we want all this to happen in the five days we have off. But here’s the thing.  Travel can do all that for you, no matter how much time you have and where you go.  It’s all in how you approach it.

Travel is for everyone. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that the benefits of travel are real, whether you have gone 100 or 10,000 miles away. That’s why I’m sharing how I get the most of my travels, no matter how much time I have, if I’m traveling with family or all by myself. I’ve developed these (sometimes unconventional) tips over the last 22 years I’ve created travel shows. Here’s how to make travel count.


Dutchess County, New York

Tip #1: Take a Walk

Going for a walk is the very first thing that I do at any destination. I’m seeking the moment that tells me I AM HERE. On a walk, I can connect with a culture as it is today. I almost never have that moment in the tourist centers, but in the seemingly mundane neighborhoods. I know what you are thinking: Enjoy the mundane? That is your travel advice? And yes, it is. We’ve been conditioned by advertising and social media that every destination comes with a checklist of things you MUST see and do. It’s simply not true.

On a walk, you are never looking for the exclamation points. You’re in search of the commas. A comma is where a person, a culture (even a country!) expresses itself. It’s where we allow ourselves to breath and observe.

Bonus Tip

Put the map away, put down the phone and just go down streets because you think they look good. Go to where people live. Sit down in one of their public parks or one of their cafés and just be a part of everyday life, because everyday life in another part of the world is extraordinary.

Want more?

One of my favorite walks I’ve ever featured on my show? My adventure through Carouge on Places to Love: Lake Geneva and the Valais Region, Switzerland. Watch here.

Dutchess County, New York

Tip #2: Explore the Side Streets

Another way to interact with locals and everyday life? Head directly into the tourism centers. I know I just told you to get out of those centers… but now I’m telling you to go back in!

There’s this assumption that you have to go far or put in a lot of effort to find more local and authentic experiences…and … well, not really. You can start by heading to where everyone and their selfie sticks go. Tourist centers are usually places of high energy and historical interest. They’re also often really easy to get to. But once you arrive, explore the side streets. Meander just one or two streets over and you will discover a whole new world.

Bonus Tip

Spend your money locally. Just off the main drag, you’ll find local shops, restaurants and artisans. Now you’re not just supporting a travel industry, but a community as well.

Want More?

I had the best time biking the side streets in Montreal. Watch the episode here.

McEnroe - Dutchess County, New York

Tip #3: Create a ritual

How many of us, after returning from a trip, think I need a vacation from my vacation? So many of us overdo it during travel. We take the same approach of our overscheduled lives and just apply it to a second location. Or maybe it’s your one shot to enjoy a city you have dreamed of visiting your entire life. You feel the need to cram in as much as you can!

When trying to see and do as much as you can, you can become bullied by time. When I travel, I want to stretch out the time I do have. The best way I’ve found to take back control? Create a ritual. Rituals are really important in our daily lives. They are a constant, which becomes a comfort. And that works in travel, too. It’s okay to seek out comfortable moments. When I allow myself to be comfortable and more in the moment is when the magic of travel really begins.

Do one thing, the same thing, at the same time, every day of your trip. For me, it is usually the cup of coffee I’m going to have every morning. I pick a place near my hotel, ideally a local café where I can feel the ebb and flow of real life. It helps ground me, and truly live the moment.

Bonus Tip

For families, I recommend creating a ritual in the afternoon. In my experience, everybody has had it by 3pm – regardless of age, we’re all grumpy, hungry and in need a nap. Find a nice café, (taking time for ice cream is never a bad idea), then head back to your hotel rest up and now everyone’s more refreshed for dinner.

Want More?

I filmed a segment about rituals in my Hong Kong episode. Watch it here.

Dutchess County, New York - orvis

Tip #4: Talk to People

We want be in awe of incredible architecture and the history of a place. However, we also need to relate to a destination on a personal level. To me, this is the most important part of travel.

On Places to Love, we spend a lot of valuable air time showing me in a conversation. That’s intentional. I feel that talking to people is something that has slowly been going missing from our daily lives, even before the pandemic. Instead of talking to each other, we place so much of how we communicate onto social media, and that has done a number on how we treat one another.

Travel gives us the opportunity to relate to others. We totally underestimate the benefit of talking to a stranger. Spontaneous interactions allow us to feel the power of shared humanity, and a sense of belonging. Even if there’s a language barrier, you absolutely must go for it!

No one expects you to speak in full sentences or have an ability to conjugate verbs. what you absolutely must know is how to be polite in another country’s language.   And just three words will get you there.   Hello, Please and Thank you. Just being able to say those three words will tell someone that 1) I am not from here; but 2) I am a kind person; who 3) Is making an effort. You do that I guarantee people will go out of their way to respond or help you.

Bonus Tip

When you plan your travels, build personal connection into your trip. Strike up a conversation at a café, or go a little deeper by signing up for a dance or art class; or go on a walking tour. It’s really easy in our “toing and fro-ing” that we miss small, meaningful moments. And those moments let me tell you, are awesome.

Want more?

My whole Shanghai episode is an exercise in talking to people… especially those who speak different a language than me.

Dutchess County, New York

Tip #5: Identify the Emotional Value

Planning travel can be so overwhelming. The amount of information out there is endless. You can spend hours online researching a trip and be even less convinced about what you should do. When I feel myself spiraling, I ask myself a specific question: What is the emotional value of being here?  With this one question I get to a more personal reason of why we should or shouldn’t do something.

In some places, that’s a really easy question to answer. For example, in Huntsville, Alabama, I wanted to learn all about the space program. I wanted to feel the historical significance of rockets, and space exploration. In other locations, it’s more complicated. Considering the emotional value of a place steers you away from listing all the things you want to see and do, to really asking yourself how you want to feel.

The emotional value of travel is everything. It strengthens the bonds of families and friendships, it reinforces our own sense of self. This is a value that continues to grow DECADES after one single trip has been taken. Travel is absolutely an investment in your life.

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I’ve developed these (sometimes unconventional) tips over the last 22 years I’ve created travel shows. Here’s how to make travel count.

Bonus Tip

One of the best things I ever heard about the benefits of travel came from a child psychologist. They said that children’s memories of travel are stronger than other important experiences, for example, their own birthdays and graduations. One of the reasons why is because when you travel with children, it allows your kid see YOU be a kid, which strengthens their sense of love and security. When you travel, especially with family, seek out what’s delightful.  

Want more?

I love nostalgia and tradition, and that’s why Maine is always a favorite destination. Watch the episode here.

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