I have now traveled for about 15 years (wow that makes me feel old) and that has provided me with quite a few life lessons along the way. I absolutely love traveling and allowing wanderlust to take over my mind, body, and soul – but there are a few things that I’ve come to realize are essential when traveling. Here are some tips that will hopefully make your travel life a bit easier:
1. First and foremost: make sure you have all the necessary documents for travel
…this includes your ID, your passport, insurance, etc. Make copies of all those documents. This will come in handy if you ever lose them or they get stolen. Also, as a second measure of preparedness, email them to yourself because it is entirely possible to not only lose your actual documents but to also lose the copies of those documents. *Looks down, ashamed.*
2. Check the expiration date on your passport
Even if your passport doesn’t expire for another 5 months, there are countries that require your passport to be active for at least 6 months after your travel date. Example: Europe – they require the 6 months + a blank page (why not just a blank SPACE?) for a stamp. I’m not sure of how strict they are with the blank page, hopefully, someone from Europe can speak toward this. Heyyy Europe readers.
3. Pack Light(ish)
If you can…I mean, I know there are families that are traveling together all the time, and it is sometimes inevitable to carry a lot around. However, if you’re traveling on your own or with a group of friends, you can limit yourself on what you really need. If anything, pack extra socks and underwear – I’ve learned this the hard way; apparently, the laundry machine isn’t the only place my socks get lost. If you’re looking for sturdy, durable, practical, and not to mention stylish luggage that will help you pack all your essential needs PLUS charge your phone, you need to check out The Carry-On from Away. My boyfriend has the one in blue and needless to say, I’m extremely jealous. I might just take it away from him. *budumtskk*
4. Pack your credit card
More importantly, pack a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and has you covered for travel insurance. It’s also important to let your bank know when you’re traveling so your accounts don’t freeze. I once had a transaction declined in Mexico because my bank had no idea I was traveling. My bank froze my account thinking someone in Mexico was splurging on really good food. I really appreciated this in retrospect, not so much at the time. For all this and travel rewards, I rely on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I still love them even though they didn’t let me purchase the delicious food in Mexico.
5. Carry Cash
In instances where your card may be frozen or an ATM runs out of cash, or you’re just prone to lose everything – like me – it’s convenient to have extra cash with you. Just be wary of where you store it. Money belt, anyone? In the wise words of Dwight Schrute, “you wanna wear that puppy right up on the breast bone like a bra.” JK about the money belt, though – absolutely not needed but no judgment if you have one.
6. Plan your flights effectively & efficiently
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve saved a ridiculous amount of money by traveling multi-city and by planning my trips ahead of time. I usually get the cheapest route by stopping at different cities, traveling overnight, and booking flights myself. When flying, you don’t need a travel agent to do the work for you, make the time to plan your trip and explore different options. I personally don’t mind stopping in connecting cities as it’s a chance for me to get to know new places (even if I can’t leave the airport). Skyscanner & Google Flights are usually really reliable for giving you the best prices. I have to brag about this: I once flew from Baltimore (BWI) to Germany for $156. WHAT A DEAL. I was literally on cloud 9 from that deal and don’t think I’ve come down yet.
7. Fly to Cancun when flying to Mexico (AND Europe)
Guys, I cannot believe it took me this long to realize, but flying from the US to Cancun and vice versa is usually really cheap (they’re able to keep prices cheap because I guess it’s a really popular destination). I flew to Cancun in 2018 for $146 and then flew to multiple cities within Mexico for $35-$60. I was blown away by how much I saved and how economical it was to get around once I was in Mexico. Not to mention, the prices of flights from Cancun to Barcelona are hard to compete with – so book Cancun as your connecting flight to Europe if you can!
8. Take an empty water bottle with you to the airport
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about bringing an empty water bottle with me to the airport. I never actually acted on it until pretty recently. I told myself – I can’t continue to wish I had brought a water bottle once I get thirsty at the airport and have to pay $5 for freaking water. Most airports, if they’re designed by decent and kind human beings, have water dispensers. Don’t pay for water if you can help it. Unless you’re at risk for E. Coli…well then do pay for your water.
9. CHECK THE FINE PRINT
By this I mean, check the fine print on all documents when traveling to foreign countries. Even if you just want to mentally say “I agree to all terms and conditions” without even reading – don’t. I had to pay a pretty hefty fine to leave Mexico once. By once, I mean last week (as of 1/8/2019). I was livid, not only because it was partially…mostly — ok, ok, completely my fault, but because it was never required of me to hand in that document before AND because they only took cash. So you know that money went into the right hands. Yeah, I’m still trying to get over it. Apparently, this immigration form has always been required. I never once had to hand it in until 2018 and I travel to Mexico quite often. Anyway, the fine print does indeed say you need to hand it in to get out of the country. I’ve learned my lesson, Mexico.
10. Download the Culture Trip app
Culture Trip was amazing when I traveled to Paris and Germany. I even kept it afterward because it offered so much insight on local restaurants, hole-in-the-wall places, art, and entertainment, I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. It automatically refreshes based on your location and gives you the inside scoop on all things local. The coolest part? The articles are all written by local freelancers.
11. Set a reminder to Check-In
This is something I still struggle with. I tell myself oh I don’t need to set a reminder, I’ll obviously remember to check-in for my flight that I’m super excited about…only to forget the next day. So yes, set reminders about 2 minutes ahead of your check-in time to get better seats and to be on one of the first boarding groups (this depends on the airline). I will say though, being last isn’t always horrible as I have been upgraded to first class because there weren’t any more economic seats left. Procrastinating isn’t always a horrible thing. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
12. Strike up conversations with the locals
I know language barriers exist, but you’d be surprised at how much English is used throughout the world, especially in very touristic areas. I do recommend, however, learning about the native language of the country you are visiting; basic phrases and words will come in handy and, sometimes, all you ever really need is universally accepted: a simple smile. People often have fascinating stories to share and there’s nothing better than forming connections throughout the world. It never ceases to amaze me how much we have common despite our different walks of life.
13. Last but not least: keep an open mind
When traveling, we usually have a vision of what we would like to experience. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and that’s ok! Usually, the twists and turns of life are what make our experiences memorable. The more we try to control everything, the more disappointed we will be. Don’t be afraid to change or accommodate your plans based on the circumstances. B
Bonus tip: journal every day while you’re traveling, this will help you remember and relive everything more accurately.
Do you have any traveling tips to share? I’d love to hear from you!
I hope these tips help you with your next adventure and that this is the best travel year for you yet!
Cheers to exploring new places!
Photo by Chris Lawton