This is an ever-expanding list of travel tips I’ve learned that hopefully can benefit you:
- Beat jet lag by matching your destination’s time zone. On a past trip to Europe, exhausted after an overnight flight, I caved to tiredness and took a nap the first day. This sparked an out of sync spiral that lasted a whole week. I wised up on a more recent trip, making a pact with my travel partner to stay awake our first day until at least 8:00 pm. We actually made it to 11:00 pm, and the next day woke up refreshed and on track. I’ve had some luck with Melatonin and No Jet Lag, though proving they actually work is difficult.
- Pack light. You won’t have to wait at baggage claim, you’ll be more agile, and you won’t look like a clueless tourist. As Rick Steves said, “You’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: ‘Every year I pack heavier.'” Check out his packing tips and maybe even mine.
- When it comes to shoes, only bring broken-in ones that you know for a fact are comfortable! Your trip is not the time to try out a new pair of shoes, no matter how comfortable they seemed in the store. Blisters are joy-killers.
- Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain before boarding the plane. A reusable one especially saves money and plastic.
- Keep your luggage with you. A family member learned this the hard way when one of her suitcases was stolen from the storage rack on a train. Keep your stuff in the overhead rack right above you, at your feet, or on you. This will be easier if you pack light.
- Research. Knowledge is power. You’ll have a more pleasant experience if you know basic things like sites’ open hours. And if you arm yourself with information like what the exchange rate is and what a site’s ticket price should be, you’ll guard yourself from being taken advantage of.
- Book transportation, accommodations, and some activities in advance. You might disagree with this if you prefer a by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel style. But I’ve learned that planning in advance gets the most value for your time. Once, on a month-long trip to the British Isles, I left the last week in Ireland pretty open, but then had to waste time while I was in Scotland frantically making arrangements. I could have just done everything from the comfort of boring old America. As for activities, I like to have some day-to-day flexibility, but some popular attractions have extremely long wait times if you don’t book in advance. Who wants to wait in a line for hours on their vacation?
- Consider Airbnb for your accommodations. This is what I choose most of the time when I travel. Options include everything from a spare room to an entire villa. Airbnb can be cheaper and better located than hotels but nicer than hostels. Plus your hosts can give you great insider recommendations for restaurants and places to see.
- Don’t take too many photos. This sounds strange, but seeing the world through your phone or camera harms your mind’s ability to save memories. Don’t take a photo of every single interesting thing you come across. When there’s something I really want to capture, I soak it in with my eyes, snap a pic, then look at it again.
- Take photos of accommodations and food. This might seem like a glaring exception to the above, but I’ve often found myself trying to describe cool places I stayed or delicious things I ate and wishing I had taken a picture. Please note I’m not advocating Instagramming every meal you eat.
- Put people in photos. Trust me, when you look at photos after you return, you’ll speed through ones of landscapes and sites but linger on ones that include you or loved ones. Here’s a case in point, though it technically involves a video: my mom found an old home movie of my dad’s family visiting the Grand Canyon. My dad, then about eight years old, got in my grandfather’s panorama shot, who told him to get out of the way. The Grand Canyon is still there. A rare video of my dad as a child would have been precious.
- Sneak photos. If you really want a photo of some merchandise – assuming it’s for your personal use only – do it sneakily. Many merchants don’t appreciate photos without sales.
- Look up tipping practices. Most places aren’t like America, where you tip 15% and leave cash on the table. Know what a reasonable percentage is and how to do it.
- On moving walkways and escalators, stand on the right so people can pass you on the left. Even in the UK. Again, if you pack light in a backpack, you can be on the speedy left side! In general, be cognizant of surroundings so you can go with the flow rather than getting in the way.
- If you and a travel partner are splitting a dish at a restaurant, don’t tell the waiter. Avoid split plate fees, which are common, by just not telling your waiter. Once, mentioning splitting a dish resulted in receiving two orders rather than one. Avoid suspicion by having one person order an appetizer and the other ordering the main course.
- Disconnect. Alright, you don’t have to 100% disconnect. I like having Wi-Fi access but don’t feel the need to purchase international service (I just put my phone in airplane mode when leaving the US). I don’t even bring a laptop or tablet (though a tablet is a much better choice if you must have one or the other).Try to resist the urge to check email and social media and focus on your travel experience. Your Facebook friends and Twitter followers will survive without your constant updates, and so will you.
- CityMaps2Go. I really liked this app for downloading offline city maps; marking our base, sites to see, and places to eat; and even reading Wikipedia articles about noteworthy places.
- Look up. I can only speak to Europe, but tearing your eyes from the path in front of you has great rewards. There are beautiful architectural details to be seen if you just look up!
- Donate to churches. If you visit a church that doesn’t have an admission price, be a gracious guest and put a few coins in a collection box. In Europe I donate about a Euro.
- Keep track of stuff you wish you had packed, and stuff you brought but didn’t need. Keep refining your art of packing.
More travel tips: Travel tips from Rick Steves, the god of travel. 40 Genius Travel Tips That Will Change Your Life Forever – a lot of these are really clever.