How to Have Fun Almost Anywhere

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When I started this blog two and a half years ago, one of my hopes was to show a few naysayers that I was capable of living beyond the comforts of North America and Europe. From the wilds of the Cambodian jungle to the crowded Beijing metro, I have tried to make the most of every experience and tackle every challenge with a smile. While I have bad days like anyone, I’m an eternal optimist who never stays down for long. Some writers highlight their travel mishaps and point out what they didn’t like about a particular city or sight. That information can be useful, but it’s more my style not to dwell on the negative. In this spirit, I bring you my six tips for having fun almost anywhere!

Loy Krathong Festival

1. Keep an Open Mind

Try not to be too swayed by any one person’s opinion. Just because one person loves or hates a place doesn’t mean you will. Personal experiences and preferences can vary wildly, and factors such as weather and travel season can have a big impact. We were warned against visiting Bangkok because of the touts outside the royal palace (which we didn’t encounter). Others have sworn off tuk-tuks because, allegedly, all the drivers are swindlers. (Yet we’ve taken dozens of tuk-tuk rides across Asia and our drivers have ranged from pleasant to downright awesome.) The Huffington Post recently had the gall to say the Statue of Liberty was overrated (it’s not). If we relied solely on others’ opinions, we’d probably never travel anywhere.

Bangkok temple

Bangkok tuk-tuk

2. Have Reasonable Expectations

This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. If your hopes for a particular destination are sky-high, you risk setting yourself up for disappointment. I’ve found that when I go in managing my own expectations, I often enjoy myself more. This can be tough, especially when visiting famous cities and landmarks you’ve dreamed of for years. Just know that you probably can’t recreate the Eat, Pray, Love experience in Bali or meet a dashing stranger on a train and have an unforgettable night in Vienna à la Before Sunrise. It’s better to visit a place for its own merits and let yourself be pleasantly surprised. You won’t fall in love with every place you visit, and that’s okay. You don’t need to move there.

Yangshuo China

I had no idea what to expect in Yangshuo and it ended up being one of my favorite spots in China!

3. Be prepared

I’ve found that understanding some of a place’s culture and history will enrich your travel experiences. In addition my trusty guidebook, I like to read as much as I can before packing my bags. Novels set in the destination country can provide a wealth of historical and cultural context. Heading to China? Check out Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Cruising the Greek Isles? Get lost in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. Crossing Angkor Wat off your bucket list? Read First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung, a non-fiction account of Cambodia’s civil war. That last one was absolutely heartbreaking, but it gave me a much deeper appreciation for the kind people of Cambodia.

Cambodian girl

Doing a little research about your destination is also a great way to stave off disappointment (see Tip 2). I saw countless people turned away from the temples and ruins in Thailand and Cambodia because they weren’t dressed appropriately. Even just having an idea of how you’ll get to your hotel from the airport can spare you some stress.

Bug spray

Reapplying mosquito repellent in Bangkok. Nothing spoils a good time like malaria.

Koh Lanta, Thailand

Taking a speed boat to our hotel on Koh Lanta. This was infinitely more enjoyable than a public ferry.

4. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

This is another one that can be tough to pull off in the heat of the moment. But some things you just have to let roll off your back. Did the street-food vendor charge you more than the local in front of you? It was pocket change, so let it go. Does your hotel in Southeast Asia not have running water when you come back from a day of sightseeing? Go for a swim if there’s a pool, otherwise get a drink at the bar. No one cares if you’re sweaty; they are too, and you’ll never see them again anyway. Did a gust of wind blow a US$50 bill out of your hand and over a cliff? (True story.) Take a deep breath and forget it.

The restaurant is going to mess up your order, your flight is going to be delayed and your bus may even break down (on the side of the Autobahn in August – another true story.) Mishaps on the road are inevitable. It’s how you deal with them that counts and earns you your travel stripes. If you can laugh at yourself and some of the situations you find yourself in, your trip will be much more pleasant.

The Netherlands

Trying to enjoy Keukenhof gardens in the freezing rain.

Chicken foot

If you find a chicken foot in your hotpot, just laugh it off.

5. Be True to Yourself

Whether you want to hike the Inca Trail or relax at an all-inclusive resort, there is no right or wrong way to travel. I’m all for immersion in the local culture and for pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. But you don’t need to make yourself miserable doing that every hour of every day. Travel can be exhausting and if a Big Mac will prevent a meltdown at the airport, by all means, enjoy one. There is nothing wrong with ducking into a local mall to enjoy the air conditioning or getting your Starbucks fix when you’re abroad. Once the craving for creature comforts has been sated, try to get back out there!


This is how I spent five days on Santorini. And I’m okay with that.

KFC China

A delicious lunch in Xi’an, China.

6. Take Delight in the Little Things

It doesn’t take much to amuse me. Ice cream on a hot day. Baby animals. People walking around town in their pajamas. A cardboard cutout photo prop is sometimes all it takes. I’m not saying that every travel day has been smooth sailing, but I would have missed out on so many great moments had I let a negative attitude get in the way. Once, after spending the better part of a day exploring the Forbidden City in Beijing, we rushed across town to see the Temple of Heaven, only to find the gates closed. Our disappointment was short-lived, though: walking back to the subway, we came across a group of older Chinese women dancing gleefully to Jingle Bells. This odd scene in the middle of spring remains one of my favorite China memories, and one we might not have witnessed rushing off in a huff!

Xi'an warrior

Why yes, that is a bronze Terracotta Warrior with a fork head.

Dancing in Beijing

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…

How do you make the most of your travels? What are your tips for dealing with stressful situations?


56 thoughts on “How to Have Fun Almost Anywhere

    • Thanks, Priya! The people we meet can definitely have a big impact on our travel and expat experiences. I came across a lot of complainers in Shanghai and decided I’d rather explore the city by myself than be dragged down by their negativity. I’m hoping for a much more positive group of expats in Riga!

    • Thanks, James! This is my counter to all the negative posts I’ve been seeing lately. I’m having the time of my life and figured I’d share my coping strategies for bad days. Not mentioned here: the time I ate McDonald’s take-out while watching Home Alone in my hotel room on Christmas Day in Hong Kong. And it was glorious 🙂

    • Thanks, Sam! My friends and family always tease me for the amount of bug spray and sunscreen I use. But no mosquito or sunburn is going to keep me down! 🙂

  1. Oh gosh, I love everything about this post! When the going gets tough, sometimes it can be hard to be positive about situations. It’s really just about expectations and rolling with it when things don’t necessarily go your way (and mmm I’d eat that chicken foot!)
    Adelina | PackMeTo recently posted…6 Things Teaching Abroad Has Taught MeMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Adelina! It can definitely be tough to stay positive when you’re tired and dirty and little grievances keep piling up. But it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture, which is that this world is an amazing place and we’re so lucky that we get to explore it!

  2. Love this! Having a fun adventure is about a state of mind – new discoveries are all around us and everyone new we meet knows something we don’t. When I’m stressed out – I’d like to count my blessings, literally and then I realised that I’m very lucky gal indeed and everything else is just small things.
    jill recently posted…We’re All Strangers Here, A Southwest Roadtrip StoryMy Profile

    • Thanks, Jill! Having fun is absolutely a state of mind, and I’ll never understand people who choose to be bored or unhappy all the time. There’s so much awesome stuff out there just waiting to be discovered!

  3. YEAH! KFC egg tarts for the win! I always felt mildly scuzzy whenever we would slink into a KFC and order a bunch of those tarts but they are SO good that each bite caused my shame to dissolve like their buttery crust and custardy goodness…

    Ahem. Anyway, I completely agree that one of the best things we can do as travelers to enjoy our trips is to let go of the guilt and pursue our own interests. I’ve realized as we plan our European leg that although there are a gazillion attractions in every city we plan to hit, at this point, I’m the kind of traveler who is happiest just wandering around a city and doing my best to soak in the intangible aspects of a place, the things you won’t find in a guidebook. I’d rather spend a lazy afternoon in Paris sipping a drink at a café watching the world go by than running madly from one museum to the next (which, let’s be honest, could be almost anywhere on the planet). It’s so nice to let go of all the things we feel we HAVE to do when we’re somewhere and instead just do the things that make us happy… if you do that, you can’t help but have fun!

    (And if you can have a KFC egg tart while you’re at it, so much the better!)
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Searching for Something Special in Luang PrabangMy Profile

    • KFC saved me from starvation several times in China, usually when I was fed up with the rude service and mystery meat of the local establishments. Nothing turns a frown upside down like an egg tart!

      I agree, there’s no possible way we can see EVERYTHING we want to in a destination so it’s best to pick a few key things and really enjoy them. I also enjoy just wandering around and cafe hopping – and I foresee quite a bit of that in my very near future 🙂

  4. What a great list, Heather! I particularly agree with 2, 3, and 5. Regarding nr 2, I wonder if part of the problem for many Americans is that we have so little vacation time compared to folks in many other countries, so we tend to get *very* excited about our vacations/trips because we take so few of them, and therefore our expectations run a bit wild.
    Daina recently posted…A Spectacular Spring Day in the DMV with MomMy Profile

    • Thanks, Daina, that could be. Plus, many marketing campaigns tout “dream trips” and “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences which certainly can’t help.

  5. Great tips! I remember the bus breakdown on the autobahn in Germany. What a trip that was! Europe was having a heat wave – temperatures in the 90s and no air conditioning. My remedy now for having a good trip is to travel with you 🙂

  6. Wondurful list! I’m going to keep these in mind when I move to China next month. I’m prepared for different, and ready for adventure (and packing all my go-to comfort foods for emergencies).

    • Thanks Anne! Where in China are you moving to? I lived in Shanghai for two years so let me know if you want any China-specific tips. You will need to pack your patience and sense of humor for sure 🙂

      • We’ll be up in Harbin. Just a year for now. At thins point, I don’t know what I don’t know. I’ looking forward to the adventure!

  7. What a lovely post Heather! Where ever we go I always try to find the good and positive side of it even when we aren’t having a good time. It’s not always easy especially when tiredness is upon us, but the important thing is to always stay positive and laugh even at very odd and sometimes unpleasant situations.
    Franca recently posted…Is Frankfurt Worth Forgetting?My Profile

    • Thanks, Franca! It isn’t always easy to stay positive. I certainly had my down moments in China, brought on by the pollution and overwhelming crowds. But moping around didn’t improve the situation so I tried to find creative ways to enjoy it instead. Usually a cheap massage or dumplings was involved 🙂

  8. Great post, definitely my favourite one. I absolutely agree with being open-minded and keeping a positive attitude. You remind me of myself sometimes, especially when you get so close to locals and try out new things with a big smile upon your face! I always agree that there is no right or wrong way to travel and we should find the balance between what we expect with what we want and need!
    Agness recently posted…30 World’s Most Beautiful TemplesMy Profile

    • Thanks, Agness! I’m looking forward to meeting up with you in Europe! I think we have very similar attitudes towards travel and life and are sure to have a great time no matter where we are! 🙂

  9. Heather, All great tips! I really like your advice on not making a judgement before you get there. Places that are so hyped up are bound to disappoint you. And I think being flexible will help as well…go with the flow. I know this is hard for so many people, but it’s really the key to being happy and having fun anywhere!
    Corinne recently posted…Norway PostcardMy Profile

    • Thanks, Corinne! I agree that flexibility is important. Having a plan can be a great thing, but something is always going to pop up that throws you a little (or a lot!) off course. My first time to Budapest, I was greeted with hurricane-force wind and rain. So Danube river cruise out, day at the thermal spa in! Sure I was disappointed I didn’t get to take the cruise, but I relished every soothing second in that hot water, and a cheap massage certainly didn’t hurt matters 🙂

  10. I agree with everything on the list, especially #5, stay true to yourself. Travel is great for trying new experiences, or new food, but sometimes I want something that’s familiar.
    Estrella recently posted…Explore Some MoreMy Profile

    • Thanks, Estrella! Those little comforts can make such a big difference. When I was frustrated with living in China (usually after being pushed around on the metro too many times or nearly run over by a taxi crossing the street), I’d get myself a couple of KFC egg tarts and retreat to my apartment to watch my favorite shows on Hulu. Then I was ready to tackle the world again 🙂

    • Thanks, Rosemarie! I don’t blog about my bad days, either, because there’s no point in dwelling on them. Even for the few places I’ve visited that have disappointed me, I try to keep an open mind when I write about them because I know other’s who’ve enjoyed them. And it’s rare when I can’t find at least one positive thing to say 🙂

  11. Keeping an open mind is definitely important! Things are different abroad and an open mind helps us enjoy different cultures. I’ve learned over time to just remember that I’m in a new country and that the small stuff doesn’t matter, like your luggage being randomly sent to another destination and having to wear the same clothes for 3 days. Excellent tips!
    Muriel recently posted…Travel: Viking museum in OsloMy Profile

    • Thanks, Muriel! My mom’s bag got lost when we went to Prague and she had to wear the same clothes for several days. Fortunately, she didn’t care since she was in Prague 🙂

    • Hi Dyanne! I hope Ecuador is treating you well! I agree that these tips are a recipe for a happy life, and I try to follow them even when I’m not traveling. Life is too short to be unhappy all the time!

  12. Well this post is just priceless! I love the fact that you can really enjoy yourself while living with less comfort anywhere in the world.
    Your blog is on my list of favorites! Please keep on writing more posts like this one that simply give me inspiration!
    Rita Santos recently posted…Saving money to travelMy Profile

  13. Great tips Heather. Everyone of them is so true. I love how you are so happy in all your pictures. I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you.

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