Hello fellow adventure seekers!
Let me start off by saying I am by no means a travel guru, but I have learned a few things along the way. Traveling to 14 different countries (several of them alone) will do that to you, so I thought it was high time to share some of my learnings with you in hopes you make better life choices than I. Let’s dive in, shall we?
1. Start early in the day
I cannot stress this enough. No matter where you’re going, early mornings almost always guarantee less heat, less crowds and the amazing privilege of watching a city wake up in the morning. No need to fight 100 other people off the Spanish Steps for that perfect photo, and no getting stuck at a corner table in the back of the restaurant for breakfast. You’ll often get first dibs (aka BEST VIEW) and you can use this peaceful time to map out your day.
2. Try to pay with cash
You never know what you’ll get when you visit certain shops, restaurants or attractions, and they may not take credit/debit cards so don’t be reliant on these. And in countries where it is customary to tip, they often cannot accept tips on a card even if you pay with it. It’s best to get a big amount out before you leave so you’re not having to pay exorbitant ATM fees multiple times once you’re actually in the country. It’s worth looking into booking $$$ in advance that you can pick up at the airport, but as a general rule of thumb, avoid these currency exchange counters at all costs if you haven’t pre-booked. They will likely charge you a much higher exchange rate, which is no way to start a vacation!
3. Plan out transportation in advance
This will be a lifesaver! Familiarize yourself with the local bus system and metro before you even arrive to the airport. This will save you countless hours in lines, and you’ll be at less of a risk being pickpocketed if you move quickly through these areas with confidence. You’ll save money too – whether that’s because you get an advanced purchase rate or because you’re just smarter about which option is the cheapest, you’ll have more money to spend elsewhere on your trip!
4. Look into a city day pass
Cities that attract a lot of tourists often sell day passes, which essentially get you into a plethora of top attractions you probably have on your list. This can be a great way to save money and it will often include discounts on restaurants and shops as well. The only caveat to this is these restaurants will be very touristy, which is always the one thing I try to avoid, so I’d ignore the restaurant benefit of these passes. You can usually buy them online or in the tourist information center when you arrive!
5. Learn a few essential phrases in the language
I’ll be doing a blog series later on with translations for each country that will be more useful, but my general process is simple: The week before I leave I try to memorize a good handful of words I’ll need to understand and use, practicing the dialect as well. I’ll keep a Note on my phone with these top phrases written down for quick reference, and it’s easy as pie. Let’s face it, we Americans get so frustrated when visitors don’t speak the language, so why would it not be the other way around? It’s also just nice to expand your own knowledge of the globe + other cultures one word at a time.
6. Appreciate the 5 senses
When I first started traveling, I made the mistake of being go, go, go 100% of my time there. But that’s no way to really see the world. It’s important to take a few minute to absorb everything around you – the sights, the sounds, the textures, the tastes, the smells… Daydream for just a minute about what your daily life might look like in this new land. Understand the heart of the city, not just the exterior beauty.
7. Let some moments go unplanned
Leave open time in your schedule to truly wander. Some of my favorite memories have been the German street musicians Lex and I stumbled upon after dinner (and stayed for 1.5 hours), cold midnight gelato in Rome, a matinee at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road… not to mention all those quick cuppas when the mood strikes. There is true joy in spontaneity and true reward in being aware of the beautiful chaos happening all around you.
8. Be outgoing
One of my top recommendations is to get to know the locals. Not only do they have some great advice for what to do and where to eat (especially where to stay away from), but you get some great insight into the world from their eyes. Naturally curious, I love getting to know people’s stories and learn about the things that are most important to them. Really helps you gain perspective on just how big the world is. Same goes for speaking to fellow travelers. If you’ve been traveling alone or even with the same person for a while, it’s nice to have good conversation and good company, and it’s amazing to see how your paths were able to cross at that exact moment in time. Just in being outgoing, I’ve been able to make new friends from Australia, New Zealand, France, Macedonia, Scotland and more – how cool is that??
9. Be adventurous
Coming from a picky eater, this is saying a lot. Take a step back and think about how often you’re in this place (answer – probably never), then decide to take the plunge. Whether that’s tasting the local cuisine or conquering your fear of heights to go hang gliding in Interlaken, do things that scare you. Make memories. Surprise yourself. And these will be the things you tell your kids about one day.
10. Start a collection
Pick one item (ideally small and light) from each place you visit to commemorate your journey. When you put them all together, it’s amazing to see the differences country-by-country. A few of the pieces I’ve collected through the years include magnets, ornaments, bookmarks, postcards and (I broke my own rule here) ceramics.
11. Do a city bus tour
I know, I know. This is a crazy tourist trap and you wouldn’t be caught dead on a double decker bus with a loud speaker. But trust me when I say a couple hours of embarrassment will save you lots of time (and more embarrassment). Tbh, this is the best way to familiarize yourself with a new city because it gives you a quick look at how all the landmarks, neighborhood and transportation stops connect. And having that real world picture in your mind will help you loads when you’re studying the bus grid later on.
12. Research the weather
Seems obvious, but when you’re packing, it’s easy to think more about what looks cute than what makes sense. The last thing you want is to get to a country to find it in a heat wave or flash flood without coming prepared. So be smarter than me and check the weather app before you go!
13. Get Traveler’s Insurance
I’ll admit it, I’m pretty stingy with my money and have this unshakeable feeling that I’m invincible. But the truth is, people get sick, luggage gets lost, and flights get delayed or canceled. And the last thing you want to be when something like that happens is unprepared. You can get insurance for a single trip or invest in annual coverage for a one-time fee of approx $30. Go to comparethemarket.com for different price quotes and invest to save.
14. Leave the heavy stuff at Left Luggage
Guys. This is the best. kept. secret. There are actual lockers (usually at the city train stations and airports) where you can store your heavy bags while you explore the city! This is such a great resource if you’re backpacking or if you arrive in a new place well before your hotel/airbnb check in or check out time. The prices are reasonable and it will most definitely save you a pain and a half.
15. Book any high priority items in advance
There’s nothing worse than building up anticipation for a tour or restaurant and then it being full once you arrive. One of the biggest culture shocks to me when moving here was the fact that walk-ins are generally not able to be served… especially at nail salons. Even a week in advance can be pushing it too close, so if there’s a must-do thing on your bucket list, DO NOT WAIT!
16. Don’t let Pinterest drive all your choices
This has always been my Achilles’ heel because it’s so easy to come across these gorgeous images to pin to your Wanderlust board and thus build anticipation for visiting said location one day. But the truth is, it’s so easy to make a city look nicer than it truly is #lightroom. Pinterest can be a great guiding resource, and I rely heavily on it to this day. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you should do full research to make sure the time you spend in a new place will be well worth your while. Don’t choose a destination simply because of that pretty street or harbor, because honestly it might be the only wonderful thing there. It’s just like seeing a movie that had all the best moments in the trailer. So be smart and don’t fall into the irresistible Pinterest trap!
-You’ll find lots of canine patrons in shops + restaurants… pet as many as you can!
-Spritz yourself with some perfume at Duty Free before leaving the airport to feel fresh
-Watch the sunset in every place you visit. It’s one of the greatest natural wonders of the world (one we often take for granted), and it’s amazing to see from different landscapes.
Hope these tips bring you great joy + save lots of time and money along the way!