Tips for Stress-Free Travel
Caught the travel bug? Believe me, so have I. I wish I could be out there exploring a new place, but for the moment, I'll have to satisfy myself by offering you a few pieces of advice for your own travels. It's easy to let something like planning a big trip stress you out, but there's no need to let it get to you! You worry about not having enough to do once you're there, I get it -- but the real joy of travel is simply being in another place. Here's how to make the most out of your vacation, as well as a couple do's and dont's for when you're on the fly.
If you, like me, are stuck at home, here are a few tips on how to plan a fabulous staycation.
Leave Room for Spontaneity
It's great to plan ahead and book big things in advance, but leave a bit of time for unplanned activities. Sometimes, unexpected opportunities arise so a little unpreparedness won't hurt you! In Barcelona, we saw a restaurant with a crowd, hopped in line, and had one of the best meals of the trip. In France, we bicycled through the gardens of Versailles on a whim. Have a daily outline, but let it flow and change as your mood does!
I cannot say this enough. If at all possible (this may be more difficult if you're heading to the Arctic), try to limit your belongings to one carry-on sized bag! It'll greatly reduce time spent at the airport, stress at the baggage claim (Which of the ten black duffels is mine?) and struggles loading your stuff into cabs, trains and tiny hotel rooms. If that means you have to re-wear a pair of jeans, so be it. You'll thank me when you're climbing up those skinny European side streets!
Ask the Locals
Some of my favorite travel experiences were recommended to me by local residents of the city, things I simply would never have discovered on a travel site or on my own! If you smile and say hello to people, especially in the local language, they usually open up and will enthusiastically share the best things their hometown has to offer.
planes, Trains and Automobiles
The plane, I believe, is the least enjoyable way to get from point A to point B. There are so many better (and cheaper!) ways to make a trip! If you're traveling in Europe, you probably already know how stellar the train systems are. Aside from the trains, you should opt for whatever form of transportation the locals use, whether by metro or tuk tuk, to get a taste of the local flavor. One standout trip was an overnight boat from Naples to Sicily -- though one could say it was a bit sketchy (there were police on board as well as a healthy amount of greasy Italian guys), it made for a great story.
Go Off the Beaten Path
This is going to sound cliché, but hear me out. The best way to get to know a city is to get lost in it, so make a note of where your hotel is, pick a direction, and start walking. I've found some incredible gems while walking around an unfamiliar city, like the café pictured below. Sometimes, sitting down somewhere random, people watching and simply absorbing the city can be so much more fulfilling than trekking around a crowded museum!
If you're worried about getting too lost, pay attention to the next tip!
Cash is King
Keep a bundle of cash wherever you go -- so many things can go wrong, from credit card cancellations to pickpockets to who-knows-what. So hide away a bit of dough (I suggest in the lining of a backpack, socks or shoes) to use in case of emergency.
Separate Your Items
If you're flying with a partner (especially a long way), consolidate your clothing into two separate bags so that neither of you are stranded without belongings in case a bag gets lost! I learned this the hard way when I had the opportunity to borrow my dad's clothes one cross-continental trip. At least the menswear look is in?
Don't Be Afraid to Look Stupid
Sure, it's embarrassing to be the "tacky tourist" that's smeared in sunscreen and taking hundreds of photos with their selfie stick. However, don't worry about looking like you don't fit in -- believe me, you'll stick out like a sore thumb either way. You're not traveling to look cool, so fumble with the local language, ask for directions, and take lots of photos (they make the best souvenirs!) In the end, you won't regret it.
Plan a (Loose) Budget
The most crucial thing about travel is how much money you spend, and from air fare to a swanky hotel, an international trip can be a serious drain on your finances. So plan out exactly how much money you're willing to spend each day on food, transportation, souvenirs, etc. -- but don't stick to it too much! Spending a bit extra on an amazing meal or treasured memento is definitely worth it as travel is about making valuable memories.
Doesn't matter how picky an eater you are! Eat as much of the local cuisine you can, because you never know what you might end up loving. For example; the one thing I couldn't stand was anchovies. Then I went to Barcelona. Life changing. One crucial thing to do when you go to a restaurant is to simply ask what's good -- the chef is typically more than happy to send you their best dishes! If you're unable to interpret a menu and aren't afraid to be adventurous, it's best to leave it to the experts and leave any reservations at the door. And be sure to leave a clean plate!