Travel is about learning. It is about gaining new perspectives, trying new things and appreciating life. But also? The more you travel, the more you learn- about yourself, your travel style and how to negotiate and plan future travel.

Seven top travel lessons from 2013 | LiveDoGrow

Seven Lessons Learned from Traveling in 2013

1. Be kind and persistent to resolve airline issues

One thing I learned about traveling this year was that both persistence and kindness go a long way when trying to resolve an airline issue. While it makes sense to make airline reservations online since many carriers add a service fee to making a reservation over the phone, picking up the phone to try to rearrange bad seat assignments (like when you are not seated next to or even near your minor child) does not cost you anything. The trick, I learned, is to stay calm and persist. It also helps when you are a member in the airlines loyalty program and they can see that you are a loyal (or frequent) flier.

2. Luxury travel is NOT overrated

Not that this surprises me- but I like nice things. I realized that my travel style prefers luxury travel accommodations and destinations- not just because of the pampering and amenities.

luxury amenities at hotels | LiveDoGrow

A running map at the Four Seasons Chicago, fabulous bath amenities at Keswick Hall and an in mirror television at The Jefferson Hotel.

Sure, I have stayed in my share of low budget accommodations, and sometimes all you really need is a clean bed and bathroom, but this year I realized how much I appreciate the little things about luxury destinations and properties- like the running route map printed on the same paper that race bibs are made out of at the Four Seasons Chicago (so that they withstand the weather and being folded over and over), or being greeted by name in the lobby or restaurant. Many luxury hotels and resorts have spent time investing in sustainability like onsite gardens where the chef picks vegetables and herbs for the menu each day like at the JW Marriott Orlando Grand Lakes in Orlando or Keswick Hall in Charlottesville Virginia. And when traveling with children? An in the mirror television goes a long way to making bath and shower time (or the dreaded hair drying time) more enjoyable.

Martini Service at the Four Seasons Chicago | LiveDoGrow

Martini Service at the Four Seasons Chicago

I have also learned that while I love my shampoo and conditioner, my hair will be just fine and I will have more room in my ziploc bag when flying if I use the high quality offerings that many luxury hotels provide.  I know, I sound like a spoiled brat. And maybe I am. But as much as a room is just a room, whether you are traveling with your family or away on work travel, the little things matter at the end of the day when your head hits the pillow that much more rested and relaxed.

3. Cruising is for everyone

I learned that I do not do well with large cruise ship buffets. The sheer number of people makes me crave solitude and a cappuccino and brioche in seclusion.

The good news is that I also learned that (apart from the buffet) you can find quiet spaces on a ship of over 3,000 people. One of my favorite times aboard the MSC Fantasia was between 5:30 and 6:30 pm on one of the upper decks near the stern (back) of the ship. All of the first seating diners were getting ready for dinner which left a very quiet sea vista perfect for reading or taking a quick nap al fresco.

Something else I learned about cruising is that although the ship organized excursions are a great alternative for new travelers, with smart phones and a bit of research, it is easy to explore destinations on your own. We made our own itineraries for each of our port stays in Bari, Santorini, Corfu, Athens and Dubrovnik and in each case -saw exactly what we wanted, for as long as we wanted instead of being kept to a tour schedule.

4. Drop your pre-conceived notions about destinations 

Explore Corfu during a cruise in Greece | LiveDoGrow

Exploring the streets of historic Corfu during a cruise

Another honest truth about me is that I have been known to be judgmental. This applies to judging books by their cover and destinations by their (sometimes lack of) reputation. Sometimes I am so excited about one aspect of a trip that the others seem less interesting.

Explore historic Corfu during a cruise in Greece | LiveDoGrow

The Liston Promenade in Corfu, Greece.


This year was a reminder to me of how wrong I can be. For example, during our Eastern Mediterranean cruise, I was so excited about seeing Santorini and Dubrovnik, that I barely gave a second thought to our stop in Corfu–which turned out to be one of the unexpected gems of our cruise itinerary. The same thing happened during our ski trip to Durango Colorado, where I was so focused on the skiing and the historic town of Durango, that I was wowed by the even smaller (and more historic) Old West style town of Silverton.

5. My tween is my travel partner not an add-on

I always knew that traveling with kids meant creating an itinerary and travel plan that engages their interests and taking into account their schedules. However, what I learned this year about traveling with my tween is that she is a travel partner, not an add on.

While I still try to not over schedule and over plan our days when traveling together (and allowing for down time at the pool in the evening), giving my daughter responsibility to help research and plan our itinerary makes all the difference in level of interest and motivation. She is at the age where a bit of internet research and reading can go a long way in creating a wish-list of things to see and do, and if there is enough time during a trip, she is responsible enough to be in charge of creating a half day or possibly full day agenda.

6. It is ok to return to a favorite destination

The hardest thing about travel for me is that there are many destinations that I love and want to go back to, multiple times, in different seasons, over and over again. Venice Italy has always been like that for me, in part because it is my family’s “home” and I enjoy seeing friends and extended family and reliving my favorite spots. Except that when you go back to the same place over and over, it leaves less time to explore new destinations.

This year though, I realized that sometimes, that is ok. A visit during a new season, like seeing  a ski destination in the fall instead of the winter to take advantage of hiking and fall colors is almost like going to a new destination. After traveling to one of my travel bucket list destinations– the Grand Canyon – this year, I know that I want to go back to hike for longer and maybe even down deep at the base of the canyon. I want to go back to Walt Disney World for another runDisney race, maybe the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. I want to go back to Croatia- to see more than just Dubrovnik. I want to go back to New York City, over and over, to spend time in each neighborhood, soaking up the energy and life that rises from the Manhattan pavement.

7. Social Media is my travel planner of choice

This year I learned to do all of my travel planning using social media. My favorite planning platforms are Pinterest and Instagram with Facebook and Twitter as additional components to learn more about day to day happenings at properties or destinations.

Use Pinterest as a travel planning tool | LiveDoGrow

For almost every new destination or trip, I create a Pinterest board with places that look interesting and that I want to learn more about. From tours to accommodations to meals, Pinterest, especially now that there is a map feature, allows for a very visual approach to planning. (Sometimes I even pin things that I want to remember to try to take my own pictures of.) Afterwards, I share my own images and blog posts on the board to help others that might be searching for information about destinations and experiences.

Similarly, Instagram is a treasure trove of planning potential to capture the big and little moments that can be experienced at a destination. Katja Presnal, founder of Skimbaco Lifestyle, has even written a book: Instagram as your Guide to the World full of tips to use Instagram as the ultimate travel planning guide.

What about you? What are your lessons learned from traveling in 2013?


Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.


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