Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ten Travel Tips

Ten Travel Tips for Weekend Exploring


1. Limit yourself to a backpack you would feel comfortable carrying literally all day. I will never forget my friend's and I struggling to carry our heavy bag across cobblestones as the sun rose in Lisbon, Portugal or over 5 bridges in Venice, Italy to get from our train to our hostel room. If they gave out gentleman awards, it would have been given two years ago to my friend for carrying not only his bag, but our best friend's bag as well over those bridges. 

2. Don't always be in a rush to get to where everyone says to go. Look at where you fly into and plan out your morning. I can almost guarantee that if you're backpacking in Ireland you'll want to spend time exploring the city of Dublin. However, you are flying into Dublin at 4 AM! Use the morning to sight see, then hop on a bus in the evening to stay in nicer and relatively cheap B&B accommodations in Galway. Don't be afraid to look outside of major cities, you'll be rewarded with a more authentic feel for the culture, and often a cheaper stay, by doing so.

3. Learn to sleep on transportation. This is imperative. I could not do this until the later part of my study abroad period. My friends would fall asleep mouth open, clutching valuables tight. However, I was too nervous and excited to sleep. On bus rides across country sides, I would keep my eyes and ears open so I would not miss a thing. Stupid. As soon as we'd get to where we were going I would need a nap or be grumpy the rest of the day. Force yourself to shut your eyes and zone out. You'll need this moment of peace before being bombarded by cultural differences, strange sounds, and weird foods.


4. Call ahead to see if there is a secure place to keep bags until Check In. Most flights get in absurdly early, if you book late you really will have a lacking when choosing flights. Realize this flaw, see it as yet another reason to pack lighter; otherwise, you will be stuck lugging your bag from 4 AM when you fly in, until 1 PM when you can check in. This is another reason to check where your hostel/hotel is relative to your arrival location. You may want to explore where you land/debark before continuing to your sleeping quarters, and realize that is all your hotel/hostel is: a place to sleep. Amenities; other than perhaps free WIFI, should not really entice you. Ideal is clean, safe, and cheap. Remember, you're plan is to be off exploring all weekend, the most you should be spending at your hotel/hostel is 4-7 hrs a night.

5. Spend the morning of the first day doing a walking tour. While a tourist will eat this up and do as many tours as possible, some travelers do all that they can to avoid these. My belief is that an hr long bike or free walking tour,in the early morning, is the perfect way to get your feet wet and get your barrings in a new city. Then it's time to wander into the small cranny cafe, get a coffee, and talk with the people over a recommended pastry and see what a local suggests for city sights and activities.

6. Try to Speak The Language and be mindful of culture.  "Do. you. speak. American." is the first way to drive a local off. Nothing is as repellent as a tourist who is not respectful of the culture they are traveling in. Learn a few key phrases and cultural cues. For instance, in Paris, do not forget to say Bonjour or Bonsoir (pending on the time) and Au revoir when entering and leaving a true Parisian Shop. You might not even be served if you forget this simple politeness - it will be seen as extremely rude. When partying in cities, I have seen tourist of all nationalities completely return to their old habits and this is relatively fine as everyone is looking for a good time. However, if you plan on staying out late night with locals, do your best to remember that this is their turf! You'll end up putting a damper on everyone's night and your memories of the city by not doing so.

7. Hit up a local food market for lunch or take a cooking class at dinner. This is the perfect way to interact with locals. Two of my favorite food markets were in Rome and Barcelona. The olives and nuts in Rome were so fresh and the exotic fruits from Barcelona were so fun to try. Trying new raw material to cook with can be such a liberating experience. 

8. Keep a Wandering Journal/Blog. I promise everyone will ask about your trip when you return home. "How was it?" Unfortunately, a simple answer will not cut it. Additionally, you will be asked for recommendations when a friend of a friend learns you have been there before. Having a journal to reference with places (food, hotel, sites) starred or slashed, will help you sound well traveled, mature, experienced and less like the kid we all are wandering around lost in a big city.

9. Your best purchase prior to backpacking will be a comfortable/stylish pair of flat boots.  Don't underestimate the power of a good pair of flat boots and a water resistant light trench coat. Keep your feet dry all day and blister free from the cobblestone horror stories that can occur while wearing heels. I will never forget my friend hoping out of a cab late at night and falling face first into the street thanks to her heel getting stuck. Do yourself a favor, don't pack heels. Keeps your pack lighter and will save you from embarrassment. Also Travel in Layers.  You can always unzip/carry over your purse if it gets too hot. Learn from my mistakes. If you don't bring it out with you to begin with, you won't have it later and will be complaining for the rest of the night much to the annoyance of friends.  Wear your heaviest/bulkiest clothes on the plane.  That should help maximize the room in your backpack. (I will be sure to make a post for what to pack on a backpacking trip & another for carry on needs!)  

10. Do not get frustrated when things are not going your way, learn to remain calm and let go. So many times while traveling things can go awry. Whether it's a booking problem with the hostel/flight, flight delays/cancellations, communication problems, confusion while navigating a new city, lost luggage ( another reason why carry on backpacking is ideal), lost passports, ids, credit cards, stolen goods. You think none of it will happen to you, until ALL of it does.
Just remain calm, and backpack on

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