Traveling is all about getting away from it all, exploring new and exciting places, experiencing different cultures, and allowing a little spontaneity into your life. It’s supposed to be fun.
When you’re bogged down with luggage, waiting in line all day for a must-see tourist attraction, rushing to and from airports and hotels and points of interest, or suffering from any number of other maladies that can sour a trip, traveling turns into a real drag.
A few travel tips
Packing for 200 . . . Sometimes I don’t take my own advice. My most memorable packing fiasco happened while I was trekking through Europe with a huge, heavy suitcase and overnight bag in tow. I can’t tell you how much fun it was lugging all that baggage around—through airports, on taxis, on trains, down streets, to and from hotels, up and down escalators and staircases, and in crowded elevators in every country we visited. I promised myself never again . . . ever . . . would I travel with more than a small carry-on or, better yet, a backpack. So what do I do? This past summer, while on a two-week road trip through the American West, there I was again with a large, heavy suitcase loaded with half my wardrobe just in case I might need this, that, and the other thing to wear.
- Travel light. No matter where you’re going, no matter how long you plan to be there, no matter what you think you might need to wear, pack light. No more than three shirts, an extra pair of pants or jeans (or a couple pair of shorts, if it’s warm), a swimsuit and sandals if you’re going tropical, comfortable walking shoes, a light jacket or sweater, underwear, and the clothes on your back. That’s it. Toiletries, too, but only what you absolutely need. If you use a small carry-on bag or backpack, it will help limit what you can take.
- Length of Stay. To really see a place, you need to stay for at least two or more full days. Unless it’s a podunk town, you can’t see or do everything in a day. You might be able to get in some of the sights, but you’ll miss the real flavor of the place if you don’t take the time to soak it in slowly.
- Accommodations. For me, travel isn’t about staying in boutique hotels or luxury spas. All I need is a place to sleep and shower; and as long as it’s clean and comfortable, any hotel will do. We try to stay at hotels where breakfast is included at no extra charge—it’s a nice leisurely way to start the morning and plan our day. If you’re thinking of staying a week or more, a short-term house or apartment rental is cheaper and far more comfortable than a hotel. Bed-and-breakfasts and homestays are also good choices, allowing you the opportunity to mingle with the locals. If you’re adventurous, think outside the box and try house swapping. More and more people in major cities around the world are willing to swap houses or apartments; so if you’re able to coordinate vacations, you could get a real deal.
- Plan your trip. Pour over travel brochures and websites to collect information on points of interest, tourist attractions, and general things to see and do in the places you plan to visit. Map it all out on Google so you can see where everything is. Make notes to take with you. Write down brief descriptions, addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation, fees, and any special instructions or information like whether reservations are needed, shoe requirements, restaurant specialties, things not to be missed. Plan some must-dos, but leave the rest to chance. Unless there’s something you REALLY want to see, try to stay away from big tourist spots. No matter where you’re going, don’t feel you have to spend big on the main attractions. Some of the best things to see are low cost or have no entry fees at all—Venice Beach in Los Angeles . . . Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris . . . Covent Gardens in London . . . Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic area . . . Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, KY . . . a drive through the Rocky Mountains. Reading visitor reviews will give you excellent insight into whether something is worth spending the time and money to see.
- Sightseeing. Get up early. In warmer climates, this will help you avoid the heat of the day. In any climate, it will help you avoid the crowds. You’ll get more out of your day and be able to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace. Do the things you really want to do first, and then let the day take you where it will. The best way to explore any place is to walk. Walk all over with no set direction. Get lost. Leave room for the serendipitous. Smile and talk to the locals. Ask for recommendations—things to see and do, places to eat. Keep your itinerary loose, light, and fluid so that you can soak up the atmosphere in each place you visit. Having no set agenda and going with the flow means you aren’t pressured to get anything done each day and you’ll enjoy your trip more fully.
- Eat, eat, eat and savor the flavors. Don’t be afraid to try local food. Regional specialties vary, so do some homework—know what you’re ordering and where you can get it. Look for authentic cuisine on the menu for a fine dining experience. Street food, too, can be excellent. Pick stalls that are popular with the locals—watch what they order and get the same thing. Eating outside is a real pleasure. It gives you time to sit and observe people. Eat anything you want, but don’t eat a lot. You don’t want to walk around feeling full and heavy. If money is an issue, with a little advance planning, you can feed yourself every day for minimal cost. Here’s how:
- Pack plastic plates, bowls, and silverware.
- If traveling by car, take a cooler with seasonal fruit, yogurt, cheeses, and water.
- Find a local market and buy fresh. Fresh bread, ham, tomatoes, and cheese . . . or whatever your heart desires . . . make a simple, nutritious meal.
- Bring a small plastic jar of peanut butter with you and save big time. A thin layer of peanut butter on fresh bread—it can’t get easier than that.
- Make room for memories. Take plenty of photos. Sure, you can find pictures of just about anything on the Internet if you know where to look; but you may not remember the name of that little shop in Barcelona that sold antique lace, or you may always wish you had a photo of the big white sheepdog you saw walking in Oxford, or you may be sorry you never got a picture of yourself sitting with the birds on Trafalgar Square. We bring a laptop so we can download the photos from our cameras at the end of the day. Sending yourself postcards with a line or two about each place you visit is easy to do if you remember to bring stamps. Keeping a journal is also a good idea, but don’t stress over it. Just jot down your thoughts and impressions when you have spare time. For souvenirs, pick up stuff that’s easy to carry, lightweight, and won’t take much room in your suitcase. We bring home business cards (from the stores where we shop), shot glasses, and souvenir pins.
- Rest and relax. Too often a vacation becomes a check list of things to do. You try to do too much and find yourself rushing around to get everything in. Travel to get to your destination . . . and then be. Be present. Don’t think about what you’ll be doing later. Make space to relax and savor the moment. Stroll casually. Find good coffee shops or restaurants to relax in, or a good sidewalk café to enjoy a glass of wine. Find parks where you can sit and watch the people walk by. Take time for naps. Seriously. Stop rushing, relax, enjoy, and see what happens.
In a nutshell, it’s easy as 1-2-3. (1) Pack light . . . (2) make plans, but go with the flow . . . and (3) relax and enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it. You’ll have an amazing, fun-filled, stress-free trip.