Tried and True Travel Tips

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I won’t pretend to know everything about traveling, but we’ve traveled enough to find what works for us (most of the time).  Hopefully some of these tips below work for you!

Trip Preparation

Flying:

  • Leave enough time between flights to make your connections.  An extra hour wasted at the airport is better than stressing about missing your connecting flight.  When flying internationally, remember that you have to go through customs at the first place you land overseas, even if it’s not your final destination.  Customs is never quick and there’s almost always a line.
  • I hesitated about sharing this secret, so you have to promise not to use it if you’re flying with us.  If you’re traveling with another person, select the aisle and the window seats.  Middle seats are the last to be filled; if you get lucky, your flight won’t be full and the seat between you will be empty.  If the flight is full, the person assigned to the seat between you will be more than happy to find themselves in an aisle or a window seat instead.
  • If you want to increase your chances of having an empty seat next to you, select seats toward the back of the plane.  Middle seats in the back of the plane are the last to be filled.
  • Don’t get stuck in a seat that doesn’t recline.  Use seatguru.com to find the best seats on your flight.

Rental Cars:

  • Check with your insurance company or credit card company for their policies on covering rental cars.  You most likely don’t need to get the extra insurance the rental car companies try to force on you.
  • Try not to rent a car at the airport.  Rentals are normally more expensive at the airport than in town.

Overseas Travel:

  • Let your credit card company know where you’ll be traveling so your card isn’t denied while you’re overseas.  You can call or do this on their website by looking for “travel notifications” (or something similar).
  • Find out how much your credit card charges for foreign transaction fees.  You may be better off using cash for smaller purchases.
  • Try to learn a few phrases in the language of the place you’re heading – hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me.  Even if you butcher their language, they’ll be happy that you tried.
  • Get a good guide book.  I LOVE the ones by Rick Steves; they’re some of the best around.  He shows you how to skip the lines, how to get oriented in a new town, and provides handy museum guide to help you enjoy your visits.  Seriously, I won’t leave home without them.  Even better… get the ebook version so you can carry it around without the added bulk of a physical book.
  • When getting a new passport, get a passport card as well.  They’re not useful for actually getting into a country, but unlike your actual passport, it’ll fit in your wallet.  Carry this around for ID while touring.
  • Use your phone to take a picture of the photo page of your passport.  The picture will contain everything you’ll need to know in case you lose it.

Packing:

  • Packing rule number one – don’t fill your suitcase to the brim.  Leave room for souvenirs!  (If only I could follow my own advice…)
  • Leave your expensive jewelry at home.  If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t bring it.  Just leave it at home.
  • If you’re prone to motion-sickness, I’ve found motion-sickness bands to be very helpful and won’t make you drowsy like some medication.
  • If you’re going overseas, most chargers nowadays don’t need a transformer; they’re almost all rated for 110/220V.  Look at the small print on your charger – if you see something like 110/220V, you’re good.  If you only see 110 or 120, then you’ll need a transformer.  You will need a plug adapter.
  • If you forget to pack your plug adapter, see if you can borrow one from your hotel.  Visitors leave them behind all the time, so it’s likely your hotel has a stash in the lost and found.
  • Bring a backpack.  Backpacks allow you to store your jacket when you get too hot and carry all the souvenirs you’ve found throughout the day.  Yes, you’ll look like a tourist.  Get over it.

At the Airport

  • Before leaving, do a last minute passport/wallet/phone/charger check.
  • If you’re leaving your car at the airport, take a picture of where you parked and where the closest bus stop is so you don’t have to remember when you get back.
  • Find a good place to put your parking ticket so you don’t lose it.  (I wish I could say this has never happened to us, but it has; it makes for a stressful return trip).
  • Don’t pack your keys or parking ticket in your check-in luggage.  It’ll be the one time the airline loses your luggage.
  • If flights are delayed, try to remain calm and upbeat with the airline employees.  They’re much more likely to help you if you’re not yelling at them.  Plus, there’s nothing you can do about the delay anyway.
  • If traveling during mealtimes, do your tastebuds a favor and grab a meal at the airport and take it on the flight with you.  Any food from the airport HAS to be better than what they’ll try to serve you on the plane.

On the Plane

  • Organize the things you want easily accessible into a small pouch that you can store next to you or in the seat pocket in front of you.  I use these to store: chapstick, a nail file, a small bottle of lotion, earbuds, ear plugs, eye mask, my phone, and a pen.
  • Avoid paying $4 for a bottle of water at the airport and carry an empty water bottle with you through security.  The flight attendants can fill it for you on the plane.
  • Have a pen handy for customs forms.  Oh, and since you have a picture of your passport stored on your phone, use it to fill out your customs forms instead of digging through your bag to get out your passport.
  • Yes, I’m one of the people you make fun of for wearing an eye mask and ear plugs.  But guess what?  I’m normally pretty rested when I arrive.  I may not look very stylish, but I have a better chance of getting real sleep with them than without them.

Arriving in Town

  • Before leaving, figure out the best way to get from the airport to your hotel.  The last thing you want to do after a long flight is try to figure out the transportation system in a strange city.
  • If going overseas, stop at the first ATM you find for an easy way to get local currency.
  • If you’re renting a car and returning it to the same location, keep an eye out for the closest gas station as you leave the airport.  This will help prevent you from scrambling to find one when it’s time to return it.
  • Take the maps from your hotel!  Have the concierge circle your hotel on the map to help you find your way back.  While you’re there, ask the concierge for suggestions on where to eat and what shouldn’t be missed while you’re there.

Pickpockets and Protecting Your Stuff:

  • Street performers are a pickpocket’s dream.  Street performers have your undivided attention – attention that’s not on your surroundings.  A small crowd starts to form and people start bumping into you while jockeying for a better view.  It’s a pickpocket’s dream!
  • Carry your wallet in an inside jacket pocket – even better if it’s one that zips.  It’ll be harder to steal.
  • If carrying a backpack, use a key ring to keep the zippers closed.  It makes it more of a pain for you, but it’ll be more painful for pickpockets as well.

Eating Out

  • Some of the best meals we’ve had while traveling come from farmer’s markets.  Grab some cheese, meat, bread, and fruit and you’re all set for a tasty lunch.  Don’t forget to grab a bottle of wine!
  • Find out what the local specialty is and try it.  Please don’t be like a coworker of mine who’s famous for only eating at McDonald’s when he travels.
  • Avoid restaurants in the center of the touristy areas.  They’re expensive and generally serve lower quality food.  Even walking just a block away will get you a better experience.
  • Try to avoid restaurants with huge plastic menus in many languages.  They scream “TOURISTS, EAT HERE!” but are generally not very good.

Other Random Tips

  • If traveling overseas without an overseas cell or data plan on your phone, leave your phone in airplane mode so you don’t incur unexpected international fees.
  • Leave time for people watching.  While I like to pack as many things in as I can, there’s a lot to be said for slowing down and watching what’s happening around you.  Grab a beer in the center of town, a glass of wine in the piazza, or a pretzel from a food truck, settle down somewhere, and take the time to enjoy your surroundings.
  • Embrace the unplanned adventures.  You never know what’s around the next corner.
  • Buy a postcard everyday and write yourself a letter about what you did that day.  Include funny stories about how you got lost or the new food you tried.  It’s a fun way to remember everything as it happens.
  • If you’re overseas and plan to use a credit card, carry a pen with you.  Most European businesses aren’t used to needing a signature on credit card slips and spend a lot of time looking around for a pen.  Make your transactions easier and quicker by having one ready.

Hopefully something in this extremely long post will be useful for you.  Safe Travels!

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