Traveling Tips & Tricks
The most impactful sign I have ever seen while traveling said the following… “It may be your holiday, but it’s our home. We welcome you, but please respect us.” This sign is an important reminder for all travelers to abide by. It speaks the truth. It is their home. Their home that we are blessed to be visiting. Treat it with respect as you would in your own home. Respect the culture, the people, the beauty.
I wanted to share some very valuable lessons I've learned while traveling. Some, I've learned the hard way. I hope utilizing these tips will eliminate some unnecessary stress and make your holiday even more enjoyable.
Pack and Dress Appropriately
Ladies, this section is for you. You're finally going on that vacation you've been dreaming about. That place you have been following on Instagram for the past two months. The vacation that all your friends will be secretly jealous about. You've been non-stop online shopping, looking for the perfect new outfits for your trip. That boho-chic sunhat, some flirty maxis, a new bathing suit or two. Planning to look your best for any photo op that may pass by. I know this tale sounds silly, but let's be honest... we all do it. Yes, the anticipation tends to get the best of us.
Most of the things we end up packing, we never even wear. They just end up in the bottom of the suitcase, rumpled with that never worn, stale, travel smell. What about those shoes that took up so much space. "Well, I need a pair for this, a pair for that, sandals, running shoes and you never know, I might want to wear high heels out one night." Unless you are going to a snazzy city or clubbing, you will not wear the high heels. Most of the time when we travel, we are relaxing on a beach, sitting off at a restaurant just enjoying the ambiance or doing some adventure activities. You don't need heels for that. Who are you trying to impress anyway? They aren't practical on cobblestone streets and exploring new areas with small alleyways. Dress comfortably, you're on vacation. Word to the wise though, always pack a good pair of sneakers. You will be walking and exploring more than you typically would be doing. The worst is to wear the wrong shoes and have a bunch of blisters. Bring your mini emergency kit with Band-Aids just incase.
Try this trick, just pack less. Pack only what will fit in a carry-on bag (soft duffle and backpack). You will learn to consolidate and weed out all the outfits you wouldn't have worn anyway. Believe me, this is something I really struggled with at the beginning. I was always a 'heavy' packer, prepared for any and all situations. But in the end, you save time, money and space just thinking through realistically what you are going to wear. And just think, then there is more space to bring things home with you.
Wear layers on the plane to save space for other things in your carry-on. If you are planning to pack a little jacket, sweatshirt or some jeans, wear those. Also wear your heaviest shoes (sneakers, boots etc.) You can always change when you check into your hotel. It makes your luggage lighter and opens up more room.
The number one rule, please please please do your research about clothing courtesy. As you immerse yourself in a culture, you need to respect it. Visiting some religious places, there are rules about what is considered appropriate. Each country has their own expectations. If you want to go into one of the gorgeous churches in Italy, you must have your shoulders covered and wear skirts/dresses that hit at the knee. If you want to go into temples in Thailand and Egypt your arms must be covered, with bottoms below the knee and zero cleavage showing. If you do not abide by their rules, you will not be allowed admission and you are thought to be extremely disrespectful by locals. You will get looks and comments. Just don't be that person. And believe me, you'll see other tourists not caring to do their research. Be the traveler, not the tourist.
Eat Off the Beaten Path
If you want to eat amazing local cuisine, that is truly authentic, eat away from the touristy areas. Go to the mom and pop restaurants or the legit 'hole in the wall' spots. The food will be out of this world and at half the cost! I've found that these locations do not just have incredible food, but the esthetic and vibes makes you feel like a local. You dinner feels like a cultural experience. These restaurants are typically owned and run by some of the sweetest, most genuine people and their families. These incredibly hard working people are truly honored that you chose their restaurant and will make you feel at home. These restaurants are their livelihoods and they take pride in what they serve you. Believe me, you will leave wanting to come back for more.
Not feeling crazy adventurous to find these restaurants on your own? Ask your hotel receptionist or locals that you've met along the way. They will give you some great recommendations and actually love that you are looking for authentic dishes.
Chat with the Locals
Sometimes, you get so wrapped up on seeing and experiencing everything on vacation, that you only think about your own desires. To truly get an understanding of the the culture and lifestyle of where you are visiting, you need to take the time to converse with locals. Ask your tour guide, driver, hotel manager, restaurant owner etc. about themselves. Obviously keep it casual. You will learn so much from little conversations. You will begin to understand their interpretation of living in that country. You will hear their story, learn about their family, begin to understand some struggles that they may be experiencing. It's not all rainbows and butterflies outside of your 5 Star Resort. Again, "it may be your vacation, but this is our home." Be open to understand the reality of living there. It may be the reality check that you need. To take a step back and remember how fortunate you are. The locals truly appreciate that you care to ask about their lives. Let them tell you their story.
Also, the more you engage and interact, the more they will tell you about the country and what it has to offer. They may tell you about some secluded 'local' beaches that are prettier than any beach you've ever seen. It's happened! They may send you on a hike which was probably the most dangerous of your life, but also had the most incredible views. They may let you know about some great local restaurants that you have to try. They may invite you for a night out on the town, a night you'll never forget. No joke. They may even welcome you into their home, to meet their family, to have dinner. This is by far the most authentic you can get on vacation. But, try to experience your trip through their eyes. It'll be more rewarding and you will feel like a traveler, not a tourist.
It's Okay to Get Lost
I know sometimes it's super uncomfortable to be lost in a place you don't know. To have that little anxiety creeping in. Let it go! Conquer your fear. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you, on vacation, is to get lost. You will find new and exciting things that you weren't even looking for. You wonder around, not a care in the world, not in any rush, just in awe of all the beauty that surrounds you. You'll discover places that weren't on your list, but then realize that they are better than you could have ever expected. Live for the adventure! Go on a unplanned detour, because truly, you're never really lost.
Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist
Explore, discover, immerse yourself, be spontaneous, come prepared with prior knowledge of the culture. Learn the basics of the language; hello, goodbye, thank you, where is the bathroom, do you speak English and most importantly, Ein Bier Bitte. Dress as if you belong there, as a local, not a tourist looking for that Instagram shot. Stay at a small boutique hotel for one of your locations. They feel homey and always have a more authentic vibe. Like I said before, chat with locals. You will learn soooooo much! Bring your backpack. Get lost, do things off the beaten path. If you are going somewhere with the option, rent a car. You can do so much more exploring and stop when and wherever you want. You honestly never know what you may find! Most importantly, respect it and enjoy.
My biggest pet peeve while traveling, is 'tourists' that have zero social awareness and are oblivious to their surroundings. When I say 'tourists' that is exactly what they are. The 'tourists' who sprint to the front of the line or cut through like they are VIP. The 'tourists' who walk right in front of you or get right in your bubble, just so they can get a photo. The 'tourist' that even during Covid, has no spatial awareness of what is deemed a comfortable distance. Please do not be that 'tourist.' It is rude and inconsiderate. Have patience. We are all going to the same place and are seeing the same things. Be the traveler.
Do Your Research
We've covered this many times and it's a no brainer, but do your research! I'm all about winging it once you're there, but you need to prepare ahead. In everyway. Learn the culture, customs, etiquette, language, religious views, local food, the rules, bathroom expectations (I'm not kidding, BYO-TP just incase). Figure out the logistics. Where do you want to have your home base, how do you get there and beyond? Make your must do/see list, but then remember to save time for the adventure, the spontaneity. Make a tentative plan, but don't plan your holiday away. It's all about balance in everything that you do. Now that you have your tentative plan, pack accordingly.
Have Fun, But Stay Safe
Have so much fun on your vacation! It's your time to relax, unwind and have a great time. You deserve it! Just please be smart. Don't stray from your group. Watch your drink. Don't get blackout drunk and wonder by yourself. Don't hang off a cliff for the perfect selfie. You will be offered drugs, please don't take them. If you're traveling solo and have a feeling that someone is following you, dip into a public café. The same rules apply that should at home. Be safe. If a situation just doesn't feel right, trust your gut! Don't push that feeling of unease aside. Most of the people you meet will be just like you, there to have a good time, but unfortunately sometimes that's not the case. Better safe, than sorry.
Send your itinerary and hotel plans to someone at home, a close friend or family member. Make sure you have an emergency contact phone number memorized. Your best friend Susie's home phone number from the 6th grade isn't going to cut it. Make sure that very same emergency contact will actually answer an 'unknown' or foreign number. I love them, but my parents aren't reliable in that manner. Check in with that person every once in a while, just a "hey" text or a picture from your travels. Something so they can keep an eye on you.
Put a travel notice on multiple credit/debit cards. Just incase one gets declined, you have a back-up. Make sure you know your PIN numbers. Sometimes abroad, it will ask for your pin when you swipe for a normal purchase. Also, you will need your PIN for ATMs. Spread out your cash! Have some in your wallet, some hidden in a bag, split it if you are a couple etc. Watch out for pick-pocketing, especially in a dense city full of people. It's a real issue. Men, put your wallets in your front pocket. Enjoy that extra bulge ; ). Ladies, make sure your cross-body is zipped and in front of you. Don't leave things of value out in the open or easily accessible in the front pocket of a backpack. If you are still paranoid about this kind of thing, you can buy a slash proof/lockable bag online.
Take your passport with you everywhere. It today's world, also your vaccination card/negative Covid test. Just keep it in your cross-body with your wallet.
Do not leave your bags unattended. They will mysteriously grow legs and run off. I've met a fellow traveler that had their backpack stolen right off their chair while they weren't paying attention.
Sorry everyone! This section isn't meant to scare or discourage you from traveling. The risk is 100% worth the reward. I just want to make sure that you travel safely and have the time of your life.
Meet Fellow Travelers
Some of the coolest people you will ever meet are other travelers. People who have the same passion for adventure and seeing the world. Meeting these people happens organically. Maybe you overhear them at a restaurant and you get to talking. Maybe they were a part of one of your activities or you met them lounging by the pool. Get to know them! Share some laughs, a few cocktails, grab some dinner. You'll hear some wild stories about their travels and experiences. You'll share impressions of things you've seen and learn about new things to add to your list. You may find that these people have a similar journey to your own. You may even become travel buddies! You never know. Enjoying each other's company will definitely be another highlight of your trip.
Everywhere is different! Tipping is not like the US. You won't be expected to tip 20% at dinner. But when, who and how much you tip changes from country to country. Just Google it before you go, so you can plan ahead. Again, this should be in the local currency, so make sure you take out enough cash. I've done vacations that everyone and their mother gets some sort of tip; your driver, your tour guide, your host, your hotel cleaning lady and obviously at all the restaurants. I've also been on vacations that there was no tipping other than restaurants. It all depends. Do your research. A rule of thumb, if you were extremely satisfied with a tour you were on, please tip. Tourism is their livelihood and your guide will love seeing your appreciation.
Upgrade Your Cell Phone Plan
When you leave the US, you will need to leave your phone in Airplane Mode. This avoids all data and roaming charges. You can still take pictures and use WiFi. Yes, it's true, WiFi is almost everywhere. You can connect to WiFi at cafes, restaurants, hotels, airports, shops etc. But, it tends to not be very reliable. Sometimes it won't even connect for reasons unknown or it will kick you off. I suggest that one of your traveling companions should upgrade to the International Plan for your trip. It's expensive, that's why I said "one" person. Why? You never know when you may need it as well as for safety purposes. Things like Googling trip related items, directions, checking into flights, email access, etc. You will need to do all the above while on vacation. Make sure you are with that person the majority of the time. Worst case, take your phone off Airplane Mode and quickly do what you need to do. Don't forget to put it back on! Each cell phone provider is different. You might just have a little additional cost here and there or it might add up quickly. Call your provider and ask the questions. See what would be best for your needs.
Follow the Signs
This lesson has been learned time and time again. Believe the sign. It's not lying. The trail marker guiding your path, follow it. The arrow telling you to go this way for town, follow it. The sign that states your departure time, believe it. The rule signs, follow them. The sign in your hotel room that is a depiction of a 'Do Not' symbol with a hand disposing of paper... it's there for a reason, follow it.
As a naïve traveler who saw that sign and thought, "why is someone flushing a piece of paper down the toilet?" That's not what that means. If the sign says not to flush pretty much anything down the toilet, they mean it. We are fortunate enough to have plumbing and septic systems in the US that can handle toilet paper. There are a lot of countries that you may be visiting that do not have that luxury. 3rd World countries or cities that are extremely old and below sea level (ex. Venice). To us this may seem a little gross, but put the used toilet paper (#1 and #2) in the bathroom waste bin. It's weird, but it will save you some embarrassment, believe me. The last thing you want to have to do on your romantic vacation, is call the front desk.
Don't Be Scared to Travel Solo
You've been wanting to travel for quite a while. No one seems to have the time or money to go with you. You're super bummed, but oh well, there's always next year. Stop! Don't let that get in your way. Go Solo! Be bold, be brave. You can do it! I know it sounds scary, but people do it all the time. Just think, there's no one deciding what you do or see except for you. Sometimes it is very healthy to be alone. To be able to self-reflect, to recharge, to refocus and most importantly, to rediscover 'you'.
Start small to get used to the feeling. Go hiking alone. Walk around a city or town that you aren't too familiar with, alone. Sit down and eat at a restaurant, alone. Once you get past that mental hurdle, you'll feel much better about the idea. Have faith, you may enjoy solo traveling. But you don't know unless you try.
Still not keen on the idea? There are also travel groups you can join that are made up of solo travelers such as yourself. On your journey, you will meet lots of interesting people and become a little family.
There are many many resources out there that focus on the 'How Tos' of solo traveling. These resources also have suggestions for housing that caters to solo travelers. This allows you to meet people along your way, if you so choose. Who knows, those people may become new friends.
You only live once, don't let insignificant obstacles get in your way of your path to discovery.