Recently, my Ragan.com editor and I traveled to Istanbul.
We had the best vacation ever.
The whole time, we kept wondering, “What are we doing right? Why is this trip so good? Is it the food? The people? The city? The sights? The sounds?”
Well, frankly, it was us. When you have two writers team up to go on vacation, magic happens. The skills that we’ve perfected over the years at the desk serve us well on the road.
Here’s how to travel like a writer:
Stop communicating back home
When we put our away messages up on Outlook, we meant it. We weren’t checking email.
Disconnecting is the most important thing you can do on vacation. If you’re still responding to email, what’s the point of leaving?
Find multiple sources
We weren’t glued to “Lonely Planet” during the trip. Although it was helpful, it didn’t tell us everything we needed to know. To get the best insider tips, we talked to anybody who seemed as though they wanted to help us. Whether it was people on the plane ride, hotel staff, servers at restaurants, or shop owners, we knew locals could tell us more than books.
Pro tip: Hiring a guide or taking an audio tour of a museum is a great way to get information, too.
Get a crisis communication plan
We booked a place on AirB&B. Even before we met her, we got a lot of bad vibes from the woman who was hosting us. She only accepted cash. She lived in the “seedy district” of Istanbul. When she emailed us directions to her place, she told us to ring the doorbell and she’d drop the keys from the window.
Obviously, we should’ve canceled this reservation a long, long, long time before we even headed to the airport.
But curiosity (or stupidity) got the best of us, so we decided to keep going with it. After the keys dropped from the window, we walked in and realized that it was even worse than we thought—a weird smell in the rooms, multiple people staying in her place, and no hand towels in the bathroom (this was just a minor issue at this point).
We had discussed a crisis communication plan on the 10-hour plane ride. We knew that if things turned out badly, we’d just get a hotel. That’s exactly what we did. After we ate dinner with her, we took the tram to the area we wanted to stay, found a boutique hotel, and booked it.
The next morning, we woke up early at her place, left a note and some cash, and disappeared.
That’s how it’s done.
Know how to communicate nonverbally
We tried to learn how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you,” in Turkish, but that was a struggle.
We found the best way to communicate was nonverbally. We used exaggerated hand gestures, including lots of pointing, and we laughed a lot. Our lack of communication helped us get:
- Free candy
- Free rides on the tram
- Free food
Sometimes, it’s better not to talk and just see what happens.
Know when to stop being a reporter
One night, we went to Taksim Square, an area that’s become known for its protests and riots. While we strolled through the area, we saw groups of police officers blocking every single alleyway.
We asked an officer if it was OK for us to be there.
“You’re safe now, but not in another hour,” he said.
Well, that was our cue to get out—fast.
As soon as we saw a cab, we hopped in; we checked Twitter when we got back to our hotel. Twitter was reporting that more than 500 riot officers were there that night, with tear gas masks and shields.
That’s when we realized: We aren’t foreign war correspondents for the AP. There was no need for us to be there. Sometimes, it’s just best to just go back to your hotel.
Hey, it is a vacation after all.
And just in case, bring a hand towel.