A couple of years ago I wrote a post detailing the 20 things I think every smart traveler should know. Some of it was basic stuff like learning how to wash clothes in a sink and other tips were a little more advanced, like learning how to drive stick shift. They are all important though and since that post was so well received, I thought I’d take some of your comments and suggestions and write a follow up post. No matter how often you travel we can all stand some self-improvement, I know I certainly can, and I hope this list helps a few folks as they get ready for their next big adventure! What else would you add to this and my original list?
1. Master the art of using public transportation – Personally, I love using public transportation in new cities. There’s a certain beauty in a well-designed subway system, not to mention the fact that metro is usually faster than cabs or certainly walking and it’s incredibly cost efficient. It’s also a way to get to know the destination in a new way, to feel like a local if only for a few days.
2. Always roll your clothes; never fold – I’m not an expert packer by any stretch of the imagination, but one thing I do know is that you should always roll your clothes in your bag and never fold them. It reduces wrinkles and is more space efficient.
3. Pack sunscreen and bug spray – It’s not just beach locations and dense jungles when we need these items and too many times I’ve been left wanting for one or both of them. Invest in small bottles of both sunscreen and bug spray that you can always pack wherever you go. You never know when you’ll need them.
4. Protect your documents and credit cards – Especially in this day and age it’s vital that we protect ourselves when we travel. Make copies of vital documents and either email them to yourself or upload them to a sharing site like Dropbox so that you always have them in case of loss or theft.
5. Buy a travel power strip – I’m not trying to sell you anything here, I won’t even provide a link, but purchasing a small travel power strip was one of the best decisions I ever made. Several companies make them and they fold up to easy to stow sizes and better yet, allow you to easily charge multiple devices with just one outlet. Many times I’ve camped out in airports charging everything using only that one rare outlet.
6. Eat smart – By this I don’t necessarily mean healthy, although that’s good too, but eat intelligently. In many countries around the world we all know to avoid the water but that also means you should avoid anything washed with that water. Salads, fruits you can’t peel and so on should always be avoided if you want to remain healthy and not stuck in bed. When eating at food stands, always look for the popular ones. That means they’re moving their food faster and that it hasn’t been out all day.
7. Reduce effects of jet lag with water and sun – Sadly, there exists no full-proof cure for jet lag but there are things we can do to reduce its effects. The night before a trip eat a dinner with plenty of protein and throughout the day stay hydrated. During the flight drink water whenever you can and avoid beverages like coffee or alcohol. The key here is hydration. Also when you first arrive to your new destination, try to spend as much time in the sun and go to bed with the new “normal” time zone. Sunlight triggers a hormone called serotonin that aids in our recovery process.
8. Never lose your curiosity – Ultimately we travel because we as humans are curious. We want to know everything and traveling is the best way to do that. Never lose that innate sense of curiosity and never lose the desire to learn about the world around us. Sure, spending a week on the beach somewhere is nice, but trips that help stimulate this need to learn are also vital and when balanced ultimately make us better people.
9. Invest in an excellent pair of walking shoes – I wish I had learned this one earlier in life, but the right walking or hiking shoe/boot makes all the difference when we travel. When flying I use a comfortable slip on perfect for dealing with the swelling that naturally happens. When I travel I walk a lot more than at home, I think that’s true for all of us, so be sure to go with the comfortable pair of shoes. If they also look great, fantastic, but comfort is key. Personally, I use Forsake shoes for just about any trip I take.
10. Buy experiences and not things and take photos instead of buying souvenirs – I know, I know this is really hokey but it’s also true. When I travel I invest as much as I can in the experiences, what I can see and do when I visit a new place. And aside from a Christmas ornament or other trinket, I very rarely buy anything when I travel. I just don’t need more STUFF in my house, and I’d much rather take photos to help me remember amazing adventures. One thing I usually do after an especially great trip is to select one photo from the experience and have it framed. All around my house are nice little photographic memories of great travel moments.
11. Learn local lingo – In my original post I wrote about the need of learning how to say “No, thank you,” in local languages, but I want to expand that. If you’re visiting a country that doesn’t speak your language, take the time to learn a few common phrases before you leave home. Practically, you probably won’t accomplish a whole lot to be honest, but you’re sending a signal that you respect the people enough to at least try to communicate with them. That goes a long way in my opinion.
12. Keep a journal – I don’t always do this, but I usually carry a small Moleskin notebook with me as a way to keep track of my thoughts and emotions. Photos tell me what I saw and did, but many times I forget about the emotions, smells and other sensory details. Journaling also helps me go through the process of mentally digesting and ultimately evaluating a trip, which in turn makes it a much richer experience.
13. Pack more efficiently and smarter – I’m actually a horrible packer but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the importance of packing lighter and smarter. Be very realistic when packing and take only what you need. Stop creating scenarios that will never happen, instead pack for each day and nothing more. If you’re checking a bag, then be sure to include at least one day’s worth of clothes in your carryon. Having had an airline lose my bags before, I know from experience what a pain buying a new wardrobe in a foreign city can be.
14. Smile – Granted, in some cultures this probably isn’t a good idea, but in many places around the world it’s a simple way to demonstrate that you’re a positive person. We’re communal creatures, and subconsciously we are drawn to those with whom we think we can get along. A smile is a simple way to communicate that to strangers. But, as I said, be careful, not all cultures feel the same way about grinning like an idiot.
15. Power of plastic bags – I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve spent on plastic Ziploc bags, but it’s a lot. I use them when packing my suitcase for undergarments, socks and toiletries that may leak. They can also be used during a trip to keep dirty clothes segregated from everything else. I also use smaller ones in my carryon bag as a way to organize everything from medicines to power cords and even my makeshift in-flight amenity kit.
16. Weather awareness – This may sound basic, but even the best of us don’t plan efficiently before traveling. Even consulting weather apps can be misleading and I’ve been stuck in countries with clothes that were mostly totally inappropriate. Do your research and find out what you really need in order to get by in your travel destination. Also, small single-use ponchos are cheap, easy to pack and incredibly useful in case of a sudden downpour.
17. Have an interesting story – I included in my original list the need of being able to tell a few, good jokes. We always meet new people when we travel and we always have the need to get along with them. That means humor, but it also means being able to tell a decent story. Have one ready to go so that you can share it with your new friends and you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make. People ALWAYS ask me my favorite country and city and since I love almost every place I visit I had a horrible answer to that question and no real story. So I spent some time, thought about it and now have a nice little story that I share with those who are interested and the simple difference it’s made in getting to know new people has been amazing.
18. Unplug and relax – Since so many commenters on my first post added this, I felt it necessarily to include it on this new version of the list. We all suffer from having too much to do and too many ways in which to do it. My life is made up of a variety of gadgets and gizmos, all telling me what to do and when. Travel is our opportunity to get away from these modern pressures and to unplug and relax a bit. Similarly, instead of trying to see and do everything on a trip, realize that’s actually impossible and instead focus on getting as much out of the experience as possible. Skipping that museum and instead spending a couple of hours people watching at a café isn’t just nice, but you’ll learn more about the destination and it’s people than you ever would at that museum.
Are there other things you would add to this or my original list?