Your author, I. Reid, has traveled extensively. Travel can be a rewarding experience, as long as one expects reality not perfectionTip #1 – Research your destination
Researching your destination allows you to be properly prepared and prioritize places to see or things to do. Good sources are current travel guides from reputable publishers, official tourism websites, and people who have actually visited the site (and whom you trust).
Research includes the actual weather of your destination (for the time of your visit), operating hours, food choices, and prices of places you want to visit. If you are a student, some tourist attractions offer student discounts. Knowing prices and hours can help prevent disappointment or sticker shock.
Download any travel or destination related apps to your phone before you go. You cannot count on free wi-fi. If travelling overseas, FX rate calculators are quite useful. Translation apps can also help, although if the alphabet is different, I also carry a small phrase book in case the app isn’t available.
Tip #2 – Plan ahead but allow for flexibility
Big cities can be surprisingly difficult to get around. Downloading the city’s transit app and practicing using it before the trip can minimize stress. Big cities can also have areas where it is very dangerous; it’s important to know where these places are to avoid them.
Prioritizing will also help to prevent you from going home disappointed because you didn’t get to a must see attraction. What is most important? What can be skipped if you are tired, the weather is bad, or you decide it costs too much?
Don’t plan for activities you wouldn’t enjoy. For example, if you are afraid of heights, you may not enjoy ziplining, crossing the gorge to Neuschwanstein Castle, or climbing the 1,000 some steps of the Strasbourg Cathedral. On the other hand, if you have an intense interest in castles, make visiting castles a priority and plan other events around it (and if you are visiting Germany, visit Southern Germany not northern Germany).
If you are traveling with children, plan quiet times during the day and anticipate random hunger or thirst. Children need to rest when they are tired and eat when they are hungry; these are not things you can plan. Also keep in mind that while you may enjoy a museum like the Louvre, a small child might find it incredibly boring.
Last, being flexible will also help to keep from being stressed or disappointed. If the weather is terrible outside in Washington D.C. is it perhaps better to go to the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum today rather than tomorrow as originally planned? Is it more important to feel more rested for the next day or go to an attraction you feel so-so about?
Tip #3 – Pack reasonably
Some tips to pack reasonably are: clothes you can wear more than once, clothes that coordinate for mixing and matching, and clothes you can handwash, and appropriate for the locale.
For example, if you are going to Arizona, aside from monsoon season, you can generally leave the umbrella and rain gear at home. However in London (or Seattle) rain gear is an absolute necessity.
Appropriate attire can also vary. It’s important to know what the typical attire is to avoid standing out too much. For example, if an American is going overseas, it might be a good time to leave the local football team t-shirts and white sneakers at home.
What you can probably leave at home are items for remote what ifs. If you are not likely to swim, don’t bring the swimsuit. If you are going to Disney (not attending a wedding) and not likely to eat at the Victoria and Albert restaurant, you can leave the dress suits and dresses at home.
Tip #4 – Bring necessities
While your author has just advocated not packing for remote what ifs, if something is an essential, bring it with you. That includes the favorite blankie or toy for children. You cannot assume everything available to you at home will be findable at your location, especially if you are going on a remote trip like a safari to Kenya or hiking at Macchu Picchu.
Some recommended staples are: suncreen (in some countries you can only buy these at pharmacies), Tylenol (it’s available by prescription only in Europe), and other over the counter medicines such as digestive relief and allergy relief. Note: aspirin is widely available in Europe but sometimes it’s a tablet meant to be dissolved in water.
If you have food concerns, bring snacks with in case you can’t find food you can (or will) eat. Your author is allergic to shellfish and fish so while traveling in oceanic locales, peanut butter and granola bars are a necessity.
If you are traveling to Disney World, bring a reusable water bottle with you. Disney has water stations at which you can refill your water bottle. Otherwise expect to budget a good chunk of money for water. Florida is quite warm most of the year and walking (or squealing in joy when you see your favorite character) makes you thirsty.
Tip #5 – Bring a digital camera
This is the reality: taking photos and videos with your smartphone drains its battery. Do not expect to find a recharging station in short notice and it’s not smart to not have a phone to call police or emergency services in an emergency.
Also make sure you have enough memory cards. At tourist traps, they are outrageously expensive and may be sub-par quality.
The following 3 tips are for those traveling overseas, particularly Americans.
Tip #6 – If traveling overseas, register with your embassy
Sadly the world is a scary place and unexpected events both man made and natural disasters can strike at any time. Registering with the embassy helps them know to account for you in case of a major catastrophe. Also if you suddenly go incommunicado (hopefully just your phone running out of battery) and your family needs to contact the State Department because they think you are MIA, registering gives the embassy or consulate a starting place.
Americans can register online on the Department of State Travel website.
If you have a smartphone, download the Smart Traveler app. If you are traveling for business, some businesses will pay for a security service and the associated app. If this is offered, take advantage.
Tip #7 – Buy an international data plan
If you have a smart phone, bring it with even if you keep it off most of the time. You never know when you might need it in an emergency. Also it is worth buying a reasonably priced data plan. This will allow you to text with people or to use apps that require data such as local transport maps, train timetables, or translation apps.
You can purchase an international data plan by going to the carrier store, changing your services online, or calling customer service. Most smart phones allow you to track how much data you have used.
Learn how to dial internationally. You will need the + to dial a country code. This is typically accessed by holding down the 0 button. The country code for the US is 001. Os (zeros) in country codes and city codes are typically dropped when dialed internationally.
Last, learn the emergency services #s. It’s not always 911. 110 and 119 are common in Europe. Some countries have different emergency #s for police, fire, and ambulance.
Tip #8 – Learn a few phrases
It pays to take the pains to learn a few basic phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. I recommend: please, thank you, excuse me, help, police, and bathroom.
Part of this is common sense: you are more likely to get help if you actually need it. More importantly most locals are quite delighted if you’ve shown some effort to learn about your destination. They typically respond in a friendlier manner and you can never have too many friends.