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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

How to Turn Any Trip into a Life-Changing Experience, from Travel Guru Samantha Brown

For 17 years, Samantha Brown has shared her many astonishing trips with viewers of the Travel Channel. As a well-seasoned citizen of the world, Brown shares her best tips for turning any trip into a life-changing adventure.

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Be a traveler, not a tourist

According to Brown, it all starts with finding the destinations, experiences, and people that make you feel like you’re a part of the place you’re in, and not just a person visiting there. Often, that means letting the wind take you where it will rather than planning out every detail of your trip. “That’s part of my travel ideology—I do plan a lot, especially for the television shows that I host, but I’m a little different when I’m on my own,” Brown explains. No need to let travel costs influence your decision. Here are 10 must-nab ways to save on summer travel. For more fantastic travel ideas, be sure to tune into Brown’s latest television adventure series, Samantha Brown’s Places To Love, hitting PBS in January 2018.

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Count the stars in the sky, not the ones online

Everyone’s tight on time, and hoping to make every second of their vacation count. This type-A focus on how we travel today, coupled with the unending barrage of online reviews on everything from hotels to coffee shops, can add a layer of stress, and remove a layer of spontaneity, from our wanderings. This can dilute, rather than enhance, our travel experiences. “We don’t try things that don’t have five stars, and never let the day go where it has to go, but rather, look for validation from strangers, through reviews. People today often rely on a top-ten system of living. When I’m out on my own, I don’t look for exclamation points, I look for commas. A comma is where we allow ourselves to breath, observe, and enjoy,” explains Brown. Traveling Samantha-style means peeking into the interesting nooks and crannies. Many of the best places are never reviewed, and don’t even exist online. “Take the media out, and focus on the social,” she adds.

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Let go of expectations and embrace what’s real

Brown urges travelers to keep their fantasies, and preconceived notions in check, and have an open mind about new places. “Unless it’s rude, dirty, or dangerous, if you walk into an experience, and it’s not working, I say stick it out. Because there’s our expectations of things, and then there’s the reality. We have to let a place be a place.” One of Brown’s favorite examples of this, is Paris. “We romanticize Paris, because of all the luscious books we’ve read. And then you get there, and it’s a real city, with real life, and real people, and it sets us back a bit. But, I think you need to see a place for what it is, not what you project onto it. Let the place breathe a little, you may enjoy it more.” Before you go, learn 10 French phrases everyone in the world should know.

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Walk, walk, and then walk some more

And make sure you pack comfy shoes: Yes, you look fabulous in those killer heels, but save them for dancing the night away in a cool, new, out-of-the-way club. The best way to explore, according to Brown, is on foot. “When I’m in a new place, I go for six-hour walks, and just feel how people regard me,” she says. Brown, known for her curiosity and sense of wonder, loves to wander into places that look interesting to her, and go from neighborhood to neighborhood, feeling how they change. This sense of adventure has provided for great experiences, the world over. “Just let the day happen,” she urges. “It’s something we don’t allow ourselves anymore, but is important for me, as a traveler. I think since social media has become everyone’s experience, it’s become the only experience.” Get offline, and on foot. You never know what you’ll find.

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Say hello (or hola, or bon jour or halla)

There’s a lot you can learn from a map, but even more so in the map of people’s faces. The best way to feel the soul of a place, is by interacting with its people. Brown has found this to be true in all four corners of the globe. One of her favorite places, which always welcomes her back like a native daughter, is Nicaragua. “I’ve been there several times. I loved it. I felt like I was a part of the place. People smiled at me and said hello. I had a comfort level there that I wasn’t expecting, and enjoyed,” she says. Brown spent a great deal of time in Grenada, a city nestled along the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Known for its magnificent Spanish-style mansions, and history of pirate invasions, Nicaragua was also a place of political unrest in the 1980s. “I grew up in the eighties, and this was a place you just didn’t go. That was in my mind, but I went there anyway. Travel makes us see places for what they are not, what we think they’ll be,” she explains.

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Breathe in the future, learn about the past

A place Brown adored was Berlin. “I’ve been all over Europe, and Europe is about going in a path—there’s lots of monuments, and castles. Berlin was about the future,” she says. Brown visited Berlin when it was in the process of redefining itself, after the Berlin Wall came down, in the early nineties. What connected her to the city’s magnetic pulse was its sense of energetic enthusiasm, and possibility. “I hadn’t felt that anywhere else in Europe. In Berlin, it’s still true today. Artists thrive on great energy, and you can feel that in this city.” Travel presents an unparalleled opportunity to learn about a place’s history. Freeing yourself up to also absorb its present, can help you connect with its future, and the possibilities that a particular place holds.

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Go where the locals go

One thing Brown loves to do is get off the beaten path, and find local haunts. “Whatever main thoroughfare you’re hitting, whether it’s the Champs-Élysées in Paris, or Broadway in New York, go one street over. Walk the parallel streets, and side streets, where the locals are. You’ll find a completely different scene. You don’t have to go that far off the beaten path to get off the beaten path—its closer than you think,” she explains. (And despite what mom said, talk to strangers.) Brown found this to be true in China, where she made a point of going to the public parks. “The parks in China are all about physical expression. People are dancing, retired people are waltzing, and children are doing the cha cha. That’s how people express themselves there. By going where the locals go, I got to see people relaxed, and enjoying life.”

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Create a travel ritual

One of Brown’s top travel tips is to create a daily travel ritual you stick to for the entire time you’re in a place. “Do one thing at the same time, every day, such as going to the same, local coffee shop for breakfast, rather than hitting every single one. That’s when you become part of the local scene, and feel the ebb and flow of a place better. It can be a glass of chilled rosé at the outdoor cafe every afternoon. Whatever it is, you feel a part of the local experience, and also, it lets your brain rest. Get off the itinerary, and experience the pure joy of the experience.” Does all this travel talk get you excited, but green around the gills when you think about long flights? Here’s how to avoid getting sick on a plane.

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Travel adventures are closer than you think

When was the last time you looked around your own state for travel inspiration? “Travel can be anywhere, it’s not measured in miles,” explains Brown. “Travel changes you, but it can be a day trip that changes you. There has to be a sense of being a part of the local environment. That’s what travel becomes changing, because you connect with other people. Spending time in other people’s normal, everyday lives. And that type of experience can be found close to home.”

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.