Your passport has arrived in the mail and your first summer trip abroad is booked. You’ve scoured the blogs and reviewed the travel alerts. You’ve read up on the most popular attractions to visit and best places to eat. Now what? Travel sites may give you insight into all the things to do and how much money to bring, but how do you make the most of your trip and avoid the pitfalls that can put a damper on even the most exciting itineraries? A little practicality goes a long way in providing the little creature comforts you’re used to while traveling internationally.
1. Pack light
Ask yourself if you really need five pairs of shoes and those cute knee-high boots for “going out.” Chances are, you’ll resort to wearing your sneakers most of the time anyways. Consider the basics: a light jacket, jeans or pants you can wear more than once and something nice for evening outings. Leave the large and bulky luggage at home. You’ll appreciate the mobility when you run across cobblestone, uneven pavement, and less than well maintained sidewalks.
2. Wear comfortable walking shoes with good insoles
Not every city will have the same transportation infrastructure as London’s underground tube system. Unless you want to pay a fortune on taxis, get ready to do a lot of walking. Even bus stops can be situated a good distance from your hotel or hostal. Uneven walkways can do a number on your ankles and soles after a few days so make sure your shoes have good heel and arch support. If you’re on a budget, drugstore in-soles can turn a cheap pair of tennis shoes into luxury footwear. If you have room in your luggage, pack an extra pair of shoes so you can alternate between the two every few days. Your sore feet will thank you by the end of the trip.
3. Bring a good set of travel headphones or ear buds
You never know when you’ll be sitting on a two-hour train ride next to a bunch of screaming children or that loud salesman making a business call to a client. Headphones pumping out music from your iPhone playlist will be your saving grace for those couple of hours. Whether it’s a train, bus, or plane, the transport from one location to another is much faster and easier when you’re in your own zone.
4. Plan for travel sickness and unfamiliar cuisines
Prepare your pill bottle with over-the-counter medication for motion sickness and stomach indigestion. You never know when local food or drink may cause digestive uneasiness.
5. Don’t forget the little luxuries of home
Bringing your own toiletries, a tube of chapstick, a hat and your favorite pair of sunglasses will make you feel like a first class traveler no matter where you are in the world. Even the littlest things can make a long trip more comfortable.
6. Don’t let the bed bugs bite
Bed bugs have made a frightening comeback at hotels all over the world. Even five star luxury hotels haven’t been spared from the invasion. Spurred on by the constant movement of travelers carrying infested luggage in and out of hotel rooms, bed bugs have made an unwelcome foothold in the hospitality industry. Book your accommodations using a trusted travel site that posts user reviews. Once you check into your hotel, place your luggage in the bathroom while you conduct a thorough inspection of your bed and nightstand. Check the headboard and under the mattress for small red and brown stains. Bed bugs can also hide out under alarm clocks and bedside lamps. Once you’re satisfied with the inspection, use a luggage rack for your suitcase. The last thing you want on your vacation is to be bitten by bed bugs while you sleep. Even worse is bringing them home in your luggage.
7. When in Rome, do as the Romans do
As best as you can, observe local etiquette. There may be local customs and practices you’ll want to observe when eating, greeting shop owners and service staff, or even while taking an escalator. In London, travelers who wish to stand on the tube system escalators should do so on the right hand side. This leaves room on the left for those walkers in a hurry to catch their next train. You’ll find the phrase “mind the gap” used unsparingly throughout the tube system. Knowing local etiquette will help you avoid confrontation and awkward social situations.
8. Attempt to communicate in the local language
While Americans should be grateful the universal language is still English, it doesn’t mean everyone knows how to speak it. Your international trip will be much more enjoyable if you can understand the train conductor when he calls out your stop or you can order a pint of beer at the local restaurant. The locals will also appreciate the attempt, regardless of your grammar.
9. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask a local shopkeeper for directions or a waiter for his culinary recommendations. There will be a lot you won’t know and chances are, those who live where you’re visiting are happy to help. Tourism is a huge boost to many economies worldwide and the locals have a vested interest in contributing to a traveler’s good experience.
10. You’ll see more if you walk
Now that you’ve packed those extra comfortable walking shoes, put them to good use by bypassing the local taxis. You may be surprised by how much of the city you’ll be able to see on foot rather than inside of a taxicab. By walking to the popular tourist attractions, you’ll get to experience more of the culture, observe the locals in their daily lives, and explore parts of the city most tourists wouldn’t normally see.
You can never be too prepared when you’re embarking on a trip away from home. Thinking ahead before the trip will allow you to live in the moment when you’re on the adventure of a lifetime.