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Last October, CNBC reported that Americans were essentially working for free at an all-time high by not taking the time off that they earned. In a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, the average American worker was found to have earned a little bit under 21 paid-time-off days in 2013, excluding sick days. Of that number, only about 16 days were used. The importance of taking the time off that you earn can’t be stressed enough and yes, the reasons you have for not taking those days are all valid but staying chained to your desk or job and not traveling and enjoying your leisure time can come with a list of consequences including stress and health issues.

So, why not start off the new year by planning your next great vacation? While tips like “start saving now” and “use a travel agent” can both help, there are other often overlooked tips that could make your next trip the best you’ve had.

1. Get Lost
When you’re traveling, you’re often traveling to a specific location with a set plan and reason for going there. Want to get the most out of traveling somewhere new? Get lost. The best way to explore a new city or vacation destination is often on foot or simply using public transit and getting off at a few stops earlier. Locals can easily tell you which areas to stay clear of but bottom line is don’t be afraid to “get lost” and fully take in a city as a stranger.

2. Just Say Yes
Often times your trip includes friends, family or social occasions that introduce you to new people. Those people will likely invite you to other social occasions, whether it be to visit a club or local bar or an opportunity to hang out with their friends and family. Say yes, impose. By branching out and doing things with people outside of your usual social circles you’ll be exposed to new places and experiences, providing a memorable and often unpredictable traveling experience.

3. Take Notes
Ever get back from a trip and try to retell your experiences and find that the one little detail that made the trip memorable is suddenly forgotten? Perhaps it’s a new drink you tried out in a bar on the East Side or a cigar a local introduced you to while traveling through Nicaragua. It’s important to take note of the finer details of your trip so keep a journal or use an app to help you keep track of the details of your trip.

4. Don’t Over Plan
The first thing you’ll likely do when planning a trip is to start an itinerary of all the places you want to visit, the sights you’d like to see and so on. Your trip can easily go from leisure to work if you over plan and overextend yourself. Our best tip – pick a starting point, something you absolutely must see or do while away, and pick an ending point, something you’d kick yourself for not doing while traveling, and let the time allotted to you in between take care of itself. It may make you feel anxious not to have anything set in stone or planned out but again, if you want to fully explore and get the most out of your trip you need to keep an open mind and an open schedule and allow yourself to experience whatever comes your way.

5. Make Some Mistakes
Have you ever gone somewhere new and have found yourself saying, “I don’t want to look like a tourist” … even though that’s exactly what you are? Traveling for leisure is all about new experiences, relaxing and getting out of your usual routine. Don’t take yourself too seriously while you’re traveling. Being too preoccupied with not coming off as a tourist can close yourself off to new experiences and opportunities that’ll make your trip more memorable and enjoyable.

6. Paper Trail
Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, don’t underestimate the power of cold, hard cash. Sure, whipping out the plastic is quick and easy but what if you lose your card, or your wallet or purse is stolen or lost, or you simply travel somewhere that doesn’t accept credit and debit cards? Cash can get you out of a bind and if lost, won’t upend your life as a lost credit card may. Never carry all of your cash but carry enough to get you by each day.

7. Wake Up Early
Don’t be one of those people that go on vacation only to sleep it all away in bed. Yes, sleep is an important part of your life, but you shouldn’t sleep away your entire trip in a hotel room. Waking up early and getting out will allow you to enjoy certain sights and attractions with a smaller crowd. Plus, if you’re concerned about traveling through sketchy areas, you’re less likely to encounter criminal types early on in the day than late at night.

8. Ear Plugs Are Life Savers
Going to a big city or have a long plane or train ride ahead of you? Ear plugs can give you peace of mind when you’re traveling, whether it’s helping to block out that one crying baby on the plane or to muffle the busy traffic whizzing around your hotel late at night.

9. Back It Up
Ever been on a trip and lost your phone or had your laptop get stolen or broken? Plan for the worse and be sure to back up your data and devices before heading out for your trip. Take it a step further and make sure your cards and important information are easily accessible by you while you’re on the go. Have physical and digital copies of your health insurance card, driver’s license, passport, visas, important contact information and other important documents just in case something gets lost or misplaced.

10. Plan Another Trip
While you’re planning for the best trip of your life, start thinking ahead and planning for another trip. As mentioned at the start of the article, you probably have more than a few vacation days on hand to use and shouldn’t let them go to waste. Maybe you can only afford one big trip each year. That’s ok, plan for a shorter, more affordable weekend or extended-weekend get away. You’ll learn some valuable lessons while traveling, make new friends and acquaintances and will have experiences that can change your life. Don’t get stuck behind a desk all year–plan your next big adventure.

Now that you have tips, start planning to one of these domestic destinations, and find out how to score great airline deals!

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