General Travel Tips

10 tips to Help You Break Out of Your Travel Bubble

Best Travel Advice: -Susan PortnoyBlack Hole Drop, Belize

Do you travel in a bubble?

If you’re not quite sure what I mean, take a few seconds to answer the following questions…

  • Do you always stay with major hotel chains?
  • During meals, do you only order foods you eat at home or recognize?
  • Do you prefer to explore destinations with an organized tour group or a private guide?
  • Do you plan your itineraries by stringing together one major tourist attraction after another?
  • When you’re out and about is your attention  focused only on those you’re traveling with?
  • Does it irritate you when you go to foreign countries and the locals don’t speak your language?
  • When you get home do you have more pictures of yourself in your destination than the destination?

If you answered “Yes” to three of more of the questions, you’re likely traveling in a bubble that’s preventing you from getting the most out of your adventures, destinations, and the people you meet.

Now, before I go on, if your bubble is a conscious choice and what you genuinely prefer, all power to you. Travel is a personal experience and if it makes you happy then feel free to move on to some other posts on this blog. (Psst – I highly recommend my adventures in Namibia and Cuba)

BUT, if you said yes to the questions above and you’d like try another way, why not pop your bubble and embrace the world in a whole new way?

Here are 10 tips to get you started.

How to travel better - flea market in Havana, Cuba

Vintage cameras, watches and photographs from the flea market in Plaza de Armes in Cuba. I ended up buying an old Cuban Roloflex as my trip souvenir.

1. Try something you’ve never done before

What do you have to lose? You’re on vacation. One of my favorite new experiences was repelling 300 feet into a sink hole in Belize in an excursion called the Black Hole Drop. It was one of the most exhilarating adventures of my life and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  I’m not suggesting bubble breaking requires activities as extreme as dangling hundreds of feet in the air, but I’m going to assume you get my point.

2. Reach out to other travelers

If you’re in an organized group situation, say a local sightseeing tour, make a conscious effort to introduce yourself to everyone. Chat them up, find out where they’re from and what they’ve enjoyed so far. I’ve learned so much from other travelers such as places to avoid, over-hyped attractions, great restaurants, unexpected gems, and in a few instances, made friends I still talk to today.

3. Try one new food a day

If you’re not particularly adventurous in your culinary choices, ease into it. Try one new indigenous dish a day. Who knows,  you may find yourself a new favorite.

4. Be a chatty Cathy

Talk to people: your taxi driver, doorman, concierge, waiter and tour guide and ask them questions. Did you grow up here? What was it like? What’s changed the most since you were little? What’s your favorite thing to do in the city? In your opinion is the most quintessential [country/city] dish?

I’ve had the most wonderful, interesting and entertaining conversations—not to mention memorable interactions—by doing this and it has enriched my travels ten fold and given me a better understanding of different cultures.

Don’t speak the language? Ok, that does make it a little more difficult, but typically people who cater to travelers or work around tourist spots will be able to converse on some level. In Cuba I found I learned a lot between my terrible Spanish, their broken English, and a fair amount of pantomime.

How to travel better -Istanbul, Turkey

A produce market I found behind my hotel in the Sultanahmet (historical district) of Istanbul

5. Explore on your own

Give yourself an hour or two each day in your itinerary to wander. Forget the guide, don’t make a plan, grab a map and just sight-see on your own. Explore.

6. Switch up your accommodations

Hotel chains are great because you can count on their consistency and quality, but many are homogeneous vessels that lack the style or sensibility of the country or city they’re in. Every now and then try a cute boutique hotel, Airbnb or hostel that has a little more local flare.

7. Make time for the local produce or flea market

Besides being wonderfully photogenic (for all those photography lovers like me out there), produce and flea markets are ideal for getting to know a place. Food markets are filled with lots of people, plus regional staples and delicacies. Flea markets are a wonderful place to find unique souvenirs in addition to getting a visual history lesson at the same time.

How to travel better - learning to cook Thai food in Bangkok at the Amita Cooking Class

View of the Thai cooking class I took on the outskirts of Bangkok at the Amita Thai Cooking Class

8. Book and Eatwith Dinner

Eatwith is a marketplace that connects chefs with people who want a foodie experience with a twist. Chefs prepare communal meals in their homes at a fixed price. Each chef is vetted by Eatwith, but you can also peruse sample menus and guest reviews.  It’s a relatively new company and the service isn’t available everywhere, or in some cities there’s only one participating chef, but it’s growing rapidly and worth a look if the idea peeks your interest. I tried it in New York City with a couple of friends and had a great time. The Chef was from the Netherlands and lived on the lower east side of Manhattan with his wife. They had a modest apartment but he served a lovely four course French menu for eight. The other guests included New Yorkers and a wonderful couple from Brazil who were in town on vacation. Everyone was very cool and up for a new experience, and the evening led to delightful conversations. I plan on trying it again when I travel to cities where it’s available. It’s a gotta be a great way to meet locals as well as other travelers. For a list of cities Eatwith is available, click here.

9. Try hands-on activities

Another great way to immerse yourself in a destination is to sign up for classes with a cultural spin you can take part in. I’ve done cooking classes, wine tastings, jewelry making, anything where I can learn about a place hands on. I’m heading to Vienna in a few weeks and while I’m there I’m going to learn how to dance the Viennese Waltz. Fun right?

10. Lay off the selfies

Ok, I get wanting pictures of yourself enjoying your holiday, but manic selfie-taking (and you know who you are) needs to stop–at least turn it down a notch. If you’re so focused on yourself how can you possibly see the world around you? And that’s what traveling is all about – right?

If you have any recommendations on ways to pop a travel bubble, or a personal story you’d like to share on the subject, please do so below in the comments section. I’d love to read your ideas.


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169 replies »

  1. I liked the advice you gave. Traveling is so enriching. I have been to 74 countries and still don’t get tired of it. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thank you for your travel bubble article! I will subscribe to your blog! It was timely for me to read, as this winter going to two places I have never been. But traveling with a non adventuresome travel companion, so I have to push myself to experience more on my own. Many of your points will remind me to get out and book an excursion, seek meeting other people, etc. all of which will be helpful as the trip is focused on research for future potential retirement living for my friend. As well as great travel experiences for me. I enjoyed your blog! I am planning to start a blog on a different topic soon, so is helpful to read interesting one’s like yours. I will pour another cup of tea and keep reading! I love travel, so built a different type of website, hope you might check it out too! It’s a first, and still working on it. Thanks again, keep us in the loop on more interesting topics!

    • I really appreciate your very thoughtful comment. I wish you well with your trip and hope that your friend becomes a little more adventurous so that you two can share some memorable moments. Thank you for checking out the blog and welcome!!

  3. People should really spend the time to learn at least twenty conversational expressions in a foreign language. It shows a great deal of intellectual laziness to not do that.

    Most people appreciate the attempt to speak their language, and you will find their reactions to you to be much more warm.

  4. Whenever I travel, I always try to go to the smaller streets and local restaurants to a get a feel for the culture. As for accommodation, hostels and home-stays are the way to go! Once, a friend and I even took a spur of the moment bus ride to “wherever it may take us!” Haha. Don’t worry, it was in a safe (relatively familiar) area. So we couldn’t get lost. :^)

  5. Fantastic, really put into words what I’d been trying to figure out for a while now — the real joy of travelling is expanding your horizons, not hopping from one tourist hotspot to the next. That’s why learning a foreign language is so important too!

  6. Lovely post. I agree, what is the point on going on vacation half across the world and doing the same things you do at home, for that you can stay closer to home for cheaper. I enjoy a mixture of exploring the place and being lazy on the beach with a cocktail 🙂

  7. I try to make a conscious choice of doing 1 activity or excursion that I have never done in my life. We are eagerly waiting for our next trip now to Maldives in October. Snorkeling may I say ?🤔

  8. Well, I guess for me few things stand correct although food issue is with me being vegetarian & most of the countries I travelled to are famous for their non vegetarian (boring me know )

    • I would imagine it would be very difficult. That being said, has it gotten a bit easier over the last few years since vegetarianism has become slightly more mainstream?

      • It has but life saving Italian food is available everywhere which can be made vegetarian any day plus Indian food has actually caught up with people around the world. I have almost been able to find a Indian restaurant everywhere.

  9. Fantastic post! Couldn’t agree with you more with regards to branching out and chatting with anyone and everyone, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

    Also, I’d never heard of Eatwith before. Being a massive foodie, I can’t wait to give this a try some time so thanks for suggesting it 🙂

    • Hi Jack- Thanks a million for your kind words. I’m so happy you liked it. Eatwith was a lot of fun and I loved to hear about your experience once you try it. 🙂

  10. I enjoyed reading this, I always encourage my friends to tone down selfies as they get more pics of themselves that the actual place. I love capturing moments too, like the line of colorful taxis in Sukhumvit Road Bangkok, kites in Kuta, Bali Indonesia and a lot more pictursque landscapes.

    • “I enjoyed reading this, I always encourage my friends to tone down selfies as they get more pics of themselves that the actual place.”

      Exactly. Lots of “Let me get this photo uploaded ASAP to Facebook so I can count the likes and brag about it to my “friends.”

      Many people have lost the ability to enjoy the moment, and they judge the success of a moment by how many likes they get from people who are not even their real friends.

  11. EDIT (too many typing mistakes!):
    I answered No to all questions.
    I always try to see/”live” every place that I visit, from the locals’point of view.
    I like travelling alone (and not with an organized tour group) because this allows me to better focus and get in touch with places and people… I hate selfies…usually I haven’t any picture of myself!!! Just pictures of places that I have visited and people that I have met! I don’t need to show to anyone that I was in a place!
    I hadn’t heard of Eatwith and I thank you for the suggestion! I will be glad to try it as soon as possible!

    PS: great idea to learn how to dance the Viennese Waltz! I like learning traditional dances of places I’m visiting!

    • Ha! You’re welcome about Eatwith. Let me know what you think when/if you try it.

      re: the waltz, it was fun. It wasn’t a long lesson but I enjoyed watching all the 15 and 16 year old in the next room practice. They were awkward and embarrassed and oh-so-human. Whether in Vienna or New York City, the insecurities of we all faced as teenagers is universal. More on that to come in a future post. 🙂

      • 🙂 I ‘m curious to read more!
        I fully agree with you about insecurities!
        As I told you I like learning traditional dances of places I’m visiting! If you visit Brittany don’t miss a “fest-noz” and try to dance Breton dances!!! these dances transmit so much energy!!! 😉

  12. Great Post! I had to school a group of my friends on a recent trip to Rome! Told them, “It’s OK if you aren’t in EVER single pic!” take photos like you are shooting for National Geographic.

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  14. Airbnb is my absolute favorite way to break out of a travel bubble. I can stay in a residential neighborhood with a kitchen, which encourages me to visit the local market for food.

    I hadn’t heard of EatWith, but I immediately looked them up and they operate in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid, which I’ll be visiting this fall. I can’t wait to try it out, what a cool idea!

    • Hi Erin-
      So true, Airbnb is both economical (in many cases) and a great way to immerse yourself in a city. Please let me know what you think of Eatwith once you’ve had a chance to check it out. 🙂

      • We’re planning to book one of the Paella dinners while we’re in Barcelona! It was hard to narrow down to just one meal, so there’s a pretty good chance we’ll also try it in Madrid.

  15. Couldn’t agree more. There’s so much world out there to see, and we don’t actually see it when we stick to the light version offered up by hotels and tours. Solo exploring is so important. Some of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen, I saw while just sitting in a café in Salvador, Brazil, watching people being people.

    • I think tours and hotel opportunities definitely have their place and can offer a lot of value, it’s just when that’s the only way that people experience a destination where it can be isolating in some ways. I’m really happy you liked the piece, Mark. 🙂

  16. As a writer, I tend to ask these kinds of questions to people on a regular basis, since I often pick up some interesting anecdotes, or hear about unusual circumstances, or just get to know another person. When traveling, I sometimes clam up, so I will have to make a new effort. Not sure why. These are solid suggestions and very do-able — not too far of a reach, even for a more timid traveler. Thanks!

  17. Great advice! I’m a 20-something living abroad for a few months, and some of my favourite moments have been getting lost in a new city and discovering all sorts of interesting things. I definitely want to get out of my comfort bubble and chat to more locals next trip though! And living on a budget definitely gets you staying in some interesting accomodation…

  18. This is an awesome post, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I “fund” my travels in Thailand by working in hostels and I meet so many backpackers who think traveling “cheaply” is the same thing as traveling “deeply”. And I’m sorry, but staying in a dorm doesn’t really count if all you do is eat packaged western food from the convenience store because you’re “afraid of poisoning”. Or worse, will go to Khao San to snap selfies with fried crickets but wont eat actual street food. Lol, vent over, what I meant to say was I loved your post! HAHA <3

    • So well said, Natasha! And how great about your travels in Thailand. Very resourceful and inspiring. I loved Thailand. I hope to return someday.

      Thank you for your kind words about the post. Please share if you’re so inclined. 🙂

  19. Great post! I also love travelling but do stick to chain hotels and my itinerary planning has always been based on tourist attractions. Love the idea of unplanned exploring for a couple of hours, will definitely try this on my next trip 🙂

  20. Cool tips! Talking to people is a good one. Almost all of my most memorable travel experiences revolve around the people I’ve met. I definitely need to become more of a chatty Cathy during my travels, because talking to people is one of my favorite things about seeing the world.

  21. Hi,

    Just started reading your blog in the last month. I enjoy it more than any other I’m currently reading. My partner and I are just starting to write about our travel experiences. I’m definitely going to think about all of advice as I continue to expand my experiences. I had not heard of Eatwith! Very intriguing.

    • Hi.. sorry it took me some time to respond. I’m glad you like the blog enough to return. Means a lot. Let me know if you use any of the tips as you travel and if they enhance your experience at all.

      Eatwith is very cool. I enjoyed my experience and look forward to trying it in other countries when I have the opportunity.

  22. Some good advice here – I always say it’s not where you travel bu how you travel that matters. I agree with the chatting thing – despite the language barrier we managed to do a bit of bargaining in a clothes shop on a Guangzhou side street – all it took was a willingness to use arm-waving. By the end we’d gathered quite a crowd, amused by our antics. Best sweatshirt I ever bought!

  23. I’ve never heard of Eatwith so very keen to give this a try! I enjoyed your tips and believe that they are very achievable ways of ensuring you have a genuine time exploring a new place.

  24. Couldn’t agree with you more, probably the difference between a “tourist” and a “traveler or explorer”. We hadn’t heard about Eatwith before, so we’ll definitely take a look at them.

  25. What a wonderful post, Susan! If the average traveler were to heed just *one* of your tips, they’d have a much richer experience.

    The only thing I might add is that “luck favors the prepared.” Research ahead of time whether your visit will coincide with any festivals, holidays, or other cultural events. That way you can choose to spectate, participate, or get the heck out of dodge — depending on how you feel about rampaging bulls or being pelted with tomatoes, for example :).

    PS: Thank you for speaking up against excessive selfies. Why travel halfway across the world, if the only thing you care to see is yourself?

    Again, great post!

  26. Great post, Susan. I don’t get why people travel to exotic locales and order a hamburger. I do kind of enjoy taking pictures of people taking selfies, though. Nick

  27. I am another who doesn’t travel in a bubble…too interested to know what a destination (and it’s people ) is about…. And selfies…urgh!

  28. I totally agree with you! I love trying new things and talking to different people when I travel. It’s one of the best things. But I must admit, I’m a planner. Fortunately, it’s something I love to do. And even if things don’t go according to plan, I feel like that gives me all the more reason to visit a place again!

  29. I really like your tips, I think they encourage many people to step out of their bubble. I think travelling like this is much better as you really get to know a country and ist culture. 😀

  30. This is some great information I wish that I knew this stuff earlier because I love to travel and so I wish that I would have known this stuff. These tips would be so very useful no matter who you are and no matter where you are going or where you are these facts or well tips are the perfect tool to get out there and learn a little bit of information that you will never ever forget maybe you wont even know that you are learning something new so if you do use these tips I am positive that you will have even more fun and make even more memories. So the next time that you go some where that you may have gone before or some where completely new you can still learn and have an even greater experience than you would have had if you did not use these tips. I am going to seriously use these tips the next time that I go on vacation or go on a trip. I am sure that my experience is going to be even better than it was before I used the tips. Where did you get this information I could really use this stuff well these tips. Sorry that I went on and on about these tips that I wish that I would have benefited from if I would have learned this information sooner than now because I love to travel and I love to swim so looks like I am going to be going o an early vacation.

    *Taelynn Davis*

    On Mon, Apr 18, 2016 at 10:47 AM, The Insatiable Traveler wrote:

    > Susan Portnoy posted: ” Do you travel in a bubble? If you’re not quite > sure what I mean, take a few seconds to answer the following questions… Do > you always stay with major hotel chains? During meals, do you only order > foods you eat at home or recognize? Do you prefer” >

  31. Great advice! I’m someone who answered “no” to all your initial questions (or maybe “Hell, no!”) and it always breaks my heart when a friend returns from an amazing tour and says the most important thing they learned was “how great we have it over here”. Yes, some people prefer their bubble, but I happen to think that’s kind of sad.

Would love to hear from you!