Just how prepared you are really depends on how you like to travel. I hate getting lost, especially when traveling alone, and I have to eat gluten free. For me, it’s really important to have access to maps and safe places to eat. For maps, I usually use the hotel WiFi each day to load a map of the city I’m in on my phone, and then leave location turned on so I can see where I am on the map. For food, I do lots of research on Yelp and bookmark the safe places I find. Then I bring them up on the Yelp app on my phone in map view so I can match up my safe list with where I am. I also always travel with snacks because getting hangry in a foreign country sucks.
Other considerations include making reservations for popular tourist destinations or tours, knowing what public transportation options are available, and bringing along enough cash in the local currency and/or knowing how to get more if you need it.
No matter how much you’ve prepared, you’re still probably going to have to change your plans at some point during your trip. Your beach day might get rained out or that museum might be closed for renovations. When something goes against your plans, try not to let it ruin your whole trip. Maybe you can shop for souvenirs when your beach day gets rained on, or you can discover a different museum you didn’t know existed when the one you planned to visit is closed. Be willing to go with the flow and adjust plans as required.
Also important: it is okay to spend a day, or your whole trip, holed up in your room watching movies or at a café with a book in hand. Just because there are sights to be seen doesn’t mean you are obligated to see them all. If you need to relax and chill out, do it! It’s your vacation, you do what you want. Remember too that you can always go back!
We tend to be so busy all the time that multitasking is our default setting. We might be updating social media on our bus ride home from work, or checking emails when our companion steps away from the dinner table to use the restroom. When we travel, it can be hard to shut that instinct off – we still feel like we need to spend every minute DOING something, even if that something means having our faces in our phones.
PUT THE PHONE DOWN! You saved up money and time off to get away to this new place. Enjoy it! Instead of busying yourself with your phone, look out the window on that bus or train ride and really see the place you’ve traveled to see. Spend quality time with the people you’re traveling with, and even if you’re alone, savor the experience of eating a meal alone. The flavors, the people-watching, the atmosphere are all new, and it would be a shame to miss them in favor of looking at whatever mundane things your friends are doing back home. It is okay to be quiet, and to be still now. The emails and Facebook updates will all be there when you get home.
In this day and age, personal safety has to be a concern. Check the news and see what’s been going on in the area you’re about to visit. Does the country have a stable government? Have there been terror warnings issued for that area? Check with your government for alerts and country-specific travel information before you go (if it’s a really questionable place, check before you book.) Have an idea where the closest embassy for your home country is where you’re traveling, in case your passport is lost or you need legal assistance. Americans can register with the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which puts you on the mailing list for the US Embassy closest to where you’re traveling. If anything happens, they’ll reach out to you with information about how to stay safe, and how to leave the country in extreme cases.
Otherwise, personal safety is just about using common sense. Don’t wear fancy clothes or expensive jewelry when you travel. If I’m going abroad, I like to take a look at how the locals dress and try to blend in as much as possible. Keep your money secure, and have a backup plan in case there’s a problem. I like to keep a little money in my purse and a little in my pocket in case someone grabs my bag. I also like to use a sturdy, cross-body bag, which makes it harder to grab and run, and harder to slit open and empty.
Pay attention to who is around you and where your stuff is at all times. Try not to look lost (even if you are) – duck into a shop with people around if you need to consult your map or phone. This all basically adds up to not being an easy target – thieves are looking for distracted people who won’t notice something’s gone until they’ve made their escape.
Travel is a great opportunity to experience new things, but that often means stepping out of your comfort zone. Chat to someone in the local language – even if your skills are pretty rough, they’ll be tickled that you’ve tried. Take a group tour and make a new friend. Try something you wouldn’t do at home – stand up paddle boarding, a bathhouse, or even just renting a bicycle. Are you more likely to regret renting the bicycle, or that you didn’t? You’re not at home, and no one knows you here – what do you have to lose? Embrace the opportunity to try things outside of your usual routine.
You’re all set for an awesome summer vacation now! Where will you be traveling this summer? What are your best travel tips? Tell me in the comments!
Summer vacation series
Part one: Choosing a trip destination
Part two: Planning your vacation
Part three: Best travel tips