Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Top Ten Travel Tips

Some day I hope that the list of places I've enjoyed will outnumber the list of places on my "to go" list. Isn't traveling always such a thrill? From that first little spark in your mind, where you think "oh hey that sounds cool" to the insane amounts of time spent researching travel deals and details about where you're going (apparently the anticipation of the vacation is just as, if not more, important as the vacation itself!), to the actual plane ride (okay maybe the plane ride isn't quite the thrilling-est, but more of a necessary evil) to first setting foot in an unknown world, and eventually to reciting the stories of your travels to (hopefully) eager listeners.

I've especially been thinking of travel because we've got a trip coming up that I'm really looking forward to, so of course it's coloring everything I do.

And so, I'm starting a series called Travel Tuesdays. Going forward, each Tuesday I'll post something travel-related. Perhaps a list of my favorite things in a city I love, or maybe just a travel-related article I've come across in my browsing of the vast interwebs. And so, without further ado, to kick off Travel Tuesdays, here's my Top Ten list for a perfect vacation!

Kerala Backwaters

Top Ten Tips for a Terrific Trip (yeesh I got a little carried away with the Ts!)

1. Pick the right travel companion
This is perhaps the most important tip. You might love your best friend, but if she's the sort who wants to get up and go at 7am, and you'd rather lounge around absorbing the local coffee from your bed, it's not going to be a good mix. Travel with someone who travels like you do, or with whom you're comfortable doing your own thing. Your travel companions have the power to fill your vacation with laughter and relaxation or stress and arguments, so pick wisely! And if you're traveling in a group, make sure you have at least one person who's interested in doing the same things you are - much easier to split off from the group if you have some company!

2. Pack appropriately
Notice I didn't say pack light - although I much prefer having just a carry-on and no check-in luggage, not all trips are equal, and sometimes you just need to have three extra pairs of heels and a fluffy ball gown. Perhaps you're traveling to a beach and a hilly (and chilly) resort, perhaps you know you'll have to change each evening for dinner. Think carefully about what you'll actually need while on vacation. While you don't want to be 'that' person who carries three huge bags for an overnight trip, you also don't want to find yourself stranded in a new place, where you might not even speak the language, without something you need (and that might be difficult to find and super expensive to buy on the spur of the moment) just because you didn't feel like carrying anything more than a backpack. And always pack a scarf (they're life savers! I might dedicate a whole post to waxing poetic about traveling with scarves!). 

3. Set apart some time to relax
Even though it's easy to fall into the trap of seeing and doing absolutely EVERYthing from dawn to dusk (and beyond), try and set aside some time either every day (maybe an afternoon coffee break or a lazy lunch?) or an entire day or two during the vacation. Sure, this might be the only time ever in your life that you're in that particular destination, but it's also a vacation, where the goal is to relax and have fun - and that means taking some time to enjoy a glass of wine at a cute restaurant or savor a walk on the perfect white sandy beach.

4. Eat the local food
When you're staying a lovely resort it's so tempting to just become a recluse and never venture to any of the local eateries. Even more so when you're in an unfamiliar place where you don't speak the language and don't have much of an idea of local food and culture - it can get scary when you don't know what you're eating! But the best food experiences are always at the place on the corner overflowing with local clientele. One of the best meals D and I had during our trip to Budapest was this little Jewish eatery where nobody spoke English and we basically pointed at what other diners were having to order. I still lick my lips when I think of that meal. Deelish.

5. Plan it out
No, I don't mean you should know what you're doing every single hour of the day. I do mean that you should have an idea of what you want to see and do while you're traveling. It doesn't do anyone any good to wake up the first day of your trip, when you're jet lagged and half dead from the airplane, and have to set about figuring out what to do and how to get there and whether it's open. Research whether the museum you really want to visit is closed on a particular day so you don't leave it for the last day and then find it's closed. Make a list of the top five things you want to see and eat while on vacation, and have at least one fixed goal (and a restaurant) for the first day when you really don't want to have to think too hard, and just want to jump into enjoying it already. 

6. Leave some space in your bag
Related to packing appropriately, you want to make sure you have at least a little space for souvenirs. Even if you're really truly not going to buy anything and just going to focus on the experience of traveling and don't need anything really truly. Just on the off chance that you see a gorgeous wall hanging by a local artist, or you happen to stumble upon the ideal lamp for that kind of blah corner in your living room. When that happens, you don't want to kick yourself for either not being able to buy it for lack of space or for having to lug around your extra purchase outside the protective confines of a suitcase.

7. Pack some snacks
If you're going to be traveling by road in a different country, you're going to have a good chance of finding that perfect hole in the wall eatery that serves up deliciousness by the spoonful. On the other hand, you might be driving for hours upon hours without coming upon a single eatery that looks like it has a modicum of sanitation. Granola bars to the rescue. Also good for those late night airport transfers where things should be open but they aren't (I'm looking at you Heathrow - why wouldn't you have a single restaurant open when you know people have midnight layovers?!). 

8. Splurge on one pricey meal
Yes, yes, you're on a budget and hole in the walls are the best, etc. etc. Eat those granola bars if you must, then pick one night to dress up and go out to a nice restaurant, have some good wine, and enjoy being part of the glitterati. That's part of traveling too. And if your whole trip is glittery, then perhaps pick one meal where you do the opposite - having an escape within an escape can be fun!

9. Bring a good book
Perhaps this should be number 1 above the travel companion. With a good book in hand, every obstacle is surmountable. Delayed flight? No problem. Waiting for a museum to open? Psh whatevs. Get in a fight with your travel companion? Well your book's not going to say the wrong things! Need some silence? Retreat into your book to avoid over-chatty neighbors on your train or plane. Yes, this should definitely be number 1. Think of this as number 1.

10. Leave your troubles at home
Even if that means turning your phone off. It's hard to disconnect, but if you're truly going to enjoy your vacation, you need to be able to step away from the million billion things crowding your head when you're at home. Even if you can't completely step away (you still want to have a job to get back to don't you?!) set aside some part of each day when you turn off the phone, stop checking email, and shut down social media (yes, even Instagram, even though you're about to see a spectacular sunset that you absolutely must share with your gajillion - or two - followers). That sunset is going to be more special if you see it without a little camera screen between you and it, and those are the moments you're going to remember fondly when you get back and all your usual cares and concerns come rushing back in.

What are your top travel tips?

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