I went to Europe for the first time a few years ago and that released the wanderlust in me. I’ve traveled to different countries and lots of new cities here in the states so I’ve learned from many mistakes I’ve made. Here are my favorite tips to make your trip smooth and way more enjoyable.
1. Always wake up early. No one likes waking up early. Trust me, I know. However, you didn’t go out of your way to save money and plan a trip to sleep in. There are lots of perks to waking up early. For instance, if you plan on going to touristy areas, you can have them all to yourself by getting there first thing in the morning. Not to mention, if you’re planning on visiting a sketchy side of town, you’ll feel much safer in the daylight.
2. Make local friends. Make it a point to start a conversation with your server at dinner or the cashier from the souvenir shop. Coffee shops and bakeries are some easy places to start a conversation also. English is very widely spoken, so even if you don’t speak the native language too well, there’s a huge possibility you will still be able to hold a conversation.
3. Get lost. Seek out places where the locals go and where there’s not so much tourism. These are the places where you learn the true culture. This may sound scary to some, but the world is not as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. We are tiny creatures on this giant world. Yes, it seems like there’s more bad than good out there these days, but I’d rather take a risk experiencing the world than staying home out of fear.
4. Try couchsurfing or Airbnb. In case you haven’t noticed, I like to try to get an authentic feel for my destination, hence getting lost and making local friends. Couchsurfing and Airbnb contribute to that as well. Couchsurfing is a community where people share their spare rooms or couches with travelers for free. Airbnb is a place where people rent out their spare rooms or sometimes their entire home. The rates on Airbnb can often be less expensive than a traditional hotel. Just be sure to read the reviews and research the area you will be staying in. You can also save some cash because you will have access to a kitchen in most cases so you easily cook there. These places are usually a lot more tranquil than a hotel which aids in a more relaxing experience.
5. Eat local food. I’m a pretty picky eater. Well, it’s not that I’m picky it’s more that I’m comfortable with the same few foods. It’s convenient to order something your familiar with because if you’re like me, you want to avoid getting hangry or wasting money on something you didn’t like. It may seem scary but trying new food gives you so much more experience and stories to tell later. I’d never imagined trying escargot but when I was in France, there was no way I wanted to leave without saying I’d tried it. I swallowed my fear and tried it. After that, I wanted every French type of food there was! You never know until you try!
6. Keep a journal and make lists. This probably sounds silly but both are very important. The journal is great to keep track of cool places you came across and also to utilize as a true diary. I read about this on Pinterest before I took off to England and thought I’d give it a try. It was a little bit of a hassle because I used actual pen and paper, but if you prefer something electronic, definitely try Evernote. I wrote things like the date and how I was feeling that morning; I wrote what my plans were, what I actually ended up doing, whether or not I met people, and just anything that came to mind. Pictures say a thousand words but actual words give you this indescribable feeling. The lists are something I use to keep track of what I want to do, not to be confused with an itinerary. [I hate those.] I also use lists for remembering what to pack and ideas of souvenirs to buy. By “list”, I actually mean spreadsheet. I do lots of research before I go somewhere using TripAdvisor to find out about the location’s climate, biggest attractions, and sometimes even history. It’s important to know what to wear! This also helps me figure out where else to go besides all the touristy places. I get really specific with my spreadsheets, but you don’t necessarily have to. My first spreadsheet was just a list of places I wanted to see. Now they have evolved into attractions, prices, locations, tour information, and maps. It really helps me be efficient and get the most out of my time there. Like I said, I don’t make an itinerary because I like to go with the flow. But I also don’t want to miss something which is why I started my lists. Obviously you don’t have to be as in depth as I am, but a general idea will help guide you when you’re packing and when you’ve arrived.
7. Do your research. As I mentioned above, doing research is a big thing for me because I like to get the most out of my time at every destination. Knowing where things are saves a lot of time and cab fare. I am a huge fan of music and some of my favorite bands were from Seattle. So when I went to Seattle, I had to do everything I could that was related to music. I found a music tour that really interested me and found that really the only thing I was paying for was the transportation. What I ended up doing was mapping out all the places the tour went, and did it myself. This saved me $50! I had a very gas efficient rental car so that helped a lot.
8. Make copies of important documents. You never know what can happen! If you’re anything like me, you will probably forget or lose something at some point. Having copies of your driver’s license and passport stashed away in your suitcase definitely come in handy. If you were to lose either of these, security will more than likely let you slide by with just the copies. They might pull you aside for added security checks, but at least you’ll get to travel. It’s definitely worth it in the grand scheme of things.
9. Pack essentials in your carry-on. Things like electronics, medications, an extra pair of underwear and/or a shirt, and a toothbrush are always great to have with you. If your luggage gets lost in transit, you will have these essentials to get you buy until you are reunited with your precious luggage.
10. Travel more. The world is big, beautiful, and fascinating so get out there! Travel for me is like a drug. I always want more because it’s so exhilarating! People who wait for the “right” time to travel, never do. There’s never enough money, time, or people to watch your kids, pets, etc. If you want something bad enough, you will make time for it. Trust me, these life experiences are priceless compared to that big promotion you want or that Vineyard Vines outfit you just bought. Think less, do more!