Taste: Sample local foods and write down the names so that you can find it again when you return, or you may even be able to make it at home. You will always remember that dish or snack or whatever it is. For me, chicken vindaloo always reminds me of Nice, France because I've had it there several times at a restaurant called Le Taj. Chicken Rice is a staple in Singapore as well as Lahksa. I agree with the Bizarre Foods host, Andrew Zimern, when he says "if it looks good, eat it."
|Chinatown in Singapore|
Smell: for me Europe and Asia have distinct smells, and certain scents remind me of both. When I smell ylang ylang, I always think of London because the Hilton we stayed at had ylang ylang scented soap. In Nice, they had L'Occitane verbena and lavender scented lotion and that smell always makes me think of the south of France. Jasmine and orange blossom flowers always remind me of Thailand, although Thailand has so many incredible floral scents all over that it's hard not to think of Thailand when I smell tropical flowers.
|The Singapore National Orchid Gardens|
|The famous Negresco Hotel in Nice, France|
Sights: Go see the things you want to see and the things you are "supposed" to see like the Eiffel Tower or other notable places in the place you are visiting. SEE it and take it all in. Don't make taking the picture the first thing you do. See it for what it is and absorb the sight. This suggestion also goes hand-in-hand with #4 below, so I'll direct you there.
Take some risks - This doesn't mean that you should go jumping off a bridge or something like that. But do some things that you wouldn't normally do at home. Try something new. Take a cooking class even if you can't cook because you will learn so much about the culture too in addition to the recipes. Treat yourself to a spa afternoon. Try Chinese reflexology, a Japanese onsen, or Turkish hamam. Even if you hate it, you'll never forget it and it's something that is unique to that culture. Even if you can't read or speak the language, get out and explore. Ride the subway or train. If you make a mistake, who cares? You won't lose points for being a daring tourist. Go off the beaten path and ask a local person or a hotel employee where they would go. Sometimes it will be great and sometimes it won't, but you'll never forget it.
|On the Singapore MRT (subway)|
Get lost! - literally...you can have the cookie cutter experience that every single tourist gets who bought the same Lonely Planet book that you did, or you can have an experience that no one else will have. So go find a neighborhood on the map and figure out how you want to get there and back. And that's it. Don't plan anything else for that excursion because you are just going to explore the area and see what strikes you as interesting. You will see local people doing things that locals do. I love just walking around neighborhoods and seeing the little shops and restaurants all over the place. Europe is full of these places. I think I've been lost in just about every country I've been in. Recently when we were in Chiang Mai Thailand, we wanted to see some temples in the city and we ended up walking completely around the old city walls and found other temples that weren't even on the map.
|Chiang Mai Old City Wall|
We also saw where they all get their household appliances and where they get their cars fixed, but it was all part of the fun. In Tokyo, we were trying to find the Tokyo Tower and we ended walking through a neighborhood where many embassies and schools were. We also stumbled across this jungle-like park right in the middle of the city. It was so awesome.
In Paris, Nice, Cannes, and Monte Carlo, we stumbled upon some of the best pastries and snacks because we didn't plan it all out. It's actually very easy get lost in France. In London the red light district found us and we were propositioned by prostitutes. It's easy for that kind of thing to find you in Bangkok too. You get the point, just get out without a plan and explore.
Don't take so many pictures - or at least don't focus on getting the pictures just right. I don't care if you are Annie Leibowitz, no picture you take will compare to actually being there especially if you are seeing one of the truly magnificent wonders of our world like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, the Hagia Sofia, the Tower of London, Versailles, Shibuya Crossing, etc. Like I said earlier, take a minute or more to just see it with your eyes and not the camera lens. It's nice to have pictures of your trip and they will serve as memories, but if you took the time to take a sensory inventory the pictures will remind you of much more than just remembering when you took the picture. The last day I spend in Shanghai, my camera batteries were just about dead and so were the backups I brought. It was actually fine. All the time our group spent taking pictures in the parks and around the city, I just sat around and took it all in. It was one of the best things I did for myself the whole trip. It was so peaceful and actually liberating without feeling like I needed to capture every single thing with my camera.