The Smartest Habits of Happy Travelers (You Need to Steal These ASAP!)

A professional traveler shares his top tips for a smooth and happy trip

Charles McCool—I’ve been a professional traveler for decades now, and throughout my journeys, I’ve been on a quest to teach other people how to save money, time, and stress on every trip. I truly enjoy teaching people how to find better travel solutions and thereby become happy travelers.

Related: From the Beach to Disney: How to Find Your Happy Place

In teaching these lessons over and over throughout the years, I’ve come to notice that there are a few basic character traits that all successful travelers have. Whether you want to find great deals, avoid problems, or just have a memorable journey, I think it all boils down to being happy when you travel. So with that in mind, here’s my definitive list of habits that all joyful globetrotters have. My advice? Steal them ASAP — you won’t regret it. 

The future’s looking pretty bright for these travelers. (Photo: Stocksy)

1. They pack light

Simply put, happy travelers strive to have less physical stuff and more memorable experiences. Traveling with only a carry-on bag (plus the ambiguous personal bag) is life-affirming, paradigm-shifting, and enlightening.

She certainly won’t have to check her luggage. (Photo: Stocksy)

And aside from the psychological aspect of traveling light, happy travelers are also better off logistically, which leads to less stress — and, consequently, more happiness. For starters, they pay less in baggage fees, which always feels good, and they also spend less time in airports because they do not have to arrive as early to check bags or stay later to retrieve them from baggage claim. And for the most part, any extra time not spent in an airport is a good thing for the psyche. 

What’s more, people who pack light are less agitated overall, because their bags are not lost, delayed, damaged, stolen, or broken into. It is easier to manage less stuff in smaller rental cars, on day trips or long-term journeys, and over cobblestone streets and up steep staircases. And generally speaking, the less agitated you are, the easier it is to be genuinely happy. 

Related: Carry-on Junkie or Chronic Bag Checker? What Your Luggage Habits Say About You

Finally, packing light ultimately leads to a less materialistic mentality. When you don’t have a lot of stuff, you’re not as worried about your stuff  being stolen, damaged, or misplaced while visiting new destinations — because “stuff is stuff” and can be replaced. That worry-free mentality is generally healthier for the mind, not to mention the fact that it can lead to more serendipitous discoveries. When you don’t have a lot of stuff, you also don’t have stuff holding you back!  

2. They take the road less traveled

Most happy travelers are very flexible regarding when, where, and how they travel. They can be found driving on smaller roads rather than interstate highways, and visiting local restaurants instead of chains. Unfamiliar tastes and smells are more memorable, so happy travelers are usually all about local farmers’ markets and food stands.

Hitting up a local market is always a good idea. (Photo: Stocksy)

They’re also very nontraditional in their accommodation preferences. Rather than paying high preset rates at traditional hotels, they negotiate at independently owned motels. They also try other alternative housing, like Couchsurfing, hostels, Airbnb, Home Exchange, and/or house sitting. I’ve known incredibly happy travelers to stay on a boat in Sausalito, a lighthouse in Maine, a Pousada in Portugal, a farm in New Zealand, or a monastery in Nepal. Getting away from the chain mentality often creates more memorable experiences, which often lead to even greater joy. 

Related: 8 Ways to Zen Out on the Road

And finally, they are strategic about when they visit and what they do, often doing the unexpected. For instance, they visit popular tourist destinations in the off-season, when the weather might actually be better (hello Orlando). And they try new and different activities to truly expand their horizons on trips. Something as simple as walking to the grocery store is an adventure in a new destination.

3. They simplify

Happy travelers are savvy, yes, but they also utilize automated processes to simplify travel. They understand that there are systems in place to help travel run more smoothly, and they make a point to use these systems in the right way. 

For starters, they sometimes plan their own trips, yes, but they also enlist the assistance of travel advisers, agents, or trip planners. They know when it’s fine to do the work themselves and when seeking outside help could simplify the process immensely. They’re not afraid to take the outside-help plunge. 

Technology is also their friend. They use electronic check-in for flights, for example. Combining this technique with carry-on-only baggage, they minimize time in airports and optimize happy travel time. They also confirm trip itinerary components at least a day prior to travel, but often much further in advance. Many travel problems are preventable, and it is easier to resolve issues before they occur, rather than in real time.

Plan ahead so you don’t stress out on your trip. (Photo: Stocksy)

And finally, they take advantage of the perks of loyalty programs. When they’re renting cars, they use loyalty programs to skip lines and proceed directly to reserved vehicles. And when they’re staying in hotels, they check in at the loyalty desk, or are preassigned a room and can skip the check-in process entirely. They often receive a better room (quieter, newer), or even an upgrade.

So there you have it: the top three habits all happy travelers have. Steal these now, and your travel future will be extra sunny and bright. 

Watch: How to Go Full Local in Puerto Rico

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