By Robert St. John
What makes a good trip? Whether one is traveling a few hundred miles from home or overseas, there are certain key factors that make a trip enjoyable, productive and successful.
Location? Absolutely. A trip to North Dakota in February is probably not going to be as enjoyable as an April visit to Mikonos.
Is it mode of transportation? Sure. There are differences between traveling business class and coach. One’s comfort while getting to a destination is important, but that process usually covers only a fraction of the trip and it’s true “getting there” is part of the fun. But I would argue that “being there” is what counts.
Is it the luxuriousness of the away-from-home accommodations? Probably. But many times where one is located makes a stronger impact than the room where one is laying their head at night, even campers long for a more comfortable sleeping bag. I don’t have the travel budget to go “all out” on accommodations, though I do appreciate comfort. Usually, as long as the room and property are clean and well maintained, I am fine. When I am traveling, a hotel room is usually just a place to lay my head at night, as I want to spend most of my time out and about exploring a place I have never visited or have been waiting to revisit.
I submit to you the key to a successful trip lies in five tenants I have written about countless times over the past 12 years – The Five Fs.
The Five Fs are: faith, family, friends, food and fun.
I don’t intend to dig too much into faith in this forum, though you should know when I am traveling, I am praying before the plane takes off, all throughout the flight, as it lands, and at every opportunity throughout the journey until I get back home (where I continue to pray). While in Europe, I never pass up the chance to visit a cathedral where I typically kneel and give credit where credit is due. For me, it’s all about gratitude and being thankful.
Family is a key component in memorable travel. I remember the trips my brother, mother and I made during my childhood, no matter how small, short or seemingly insignificant they might have been at the time. Those memories stick forever. A family bonds during those times. Whether one is camping in a state park over a holiday weekend or traveling abroad, there is a bunker mentality that encompasses a family. When parents get away from their responsibilities and schedules and children get away from their friends and routines, a family comes together and bonds. Even through the infighting, disagreements and challenges, one is making fond memories and impacting lives.
Friends make travel richer. There is an all together different bonding that occurs between friends traveling together. It’s that time when one hits just the right mix among friends and everyone hits it off and travels well together.
Last year I traveled through 17 countries on two continents for six months. We visited countless museums and historic sites, viewed scenic vistas, ate excellent meals and witnessed breathtaking sunrises and beautiful sunsets. But the most significant thing that happened during the entire trip (outside of the time spent with my wife and two children) was making friends in Italy.
We met and made – what now appear to be – lifelong friendships with people we now love and care about. On this most recent trip, several of our friends from home got to meet our Italian friends and those days were made even more memorable when both groups spent time together.
The Five Fs are listed in order of importance. Some who know me might think “food” would be higher up on the list. They would be wrong. It’s listed fourth, but important nonetheless.
Great food can make a trip memorable and I would even propose bad food makes a trip memorable. At least it gives one a story to tell for years to come. The point is, sitting down and sharing a meal with friends or newly met strangers is valuable.
For years – in my late teens and early 20s – I searched for “fun” in all the wrong places. It wasn’t until later in my life I discovered what life is all about – at least for me. It’s faith, family, friends, food and fun, and taking the opportunity to combine as many of those as possible at one time.
I’ll bet when you look back on the best memories of your life, two or more of the Five Fs were present a majority of the time. That is when memories are made. That is when travel becomes unforgettable.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.