Twenty-six travel tips to make your next vacation go as smoothly as possible.
A is for ASK
Most of us don’t want to impose on other people so we’re afraid to ask them for help but it means we’re wasting one of our best resources. Post on Facebook and ask your friends if any of them have visited and what recommendations they have. Your local library, bookstore, or AAA location may have travel guides for your destination if you ask. Ask directions if you need them when you get to your location. Question a native about local customs if you’re going somewhere new (politely, please!).
B is for Battery
Keep an extra battery or charger with you if you’re out and about for the day. You’ll probably use your phone a lot more than you do at home since it will likely be serving as both your camera and your GPS and neither of those are things you want to be without!
C is for City Pass
If you’re visiting a large city like New York or Chicago and planning to do lots of local activities, check and see if they offer a City Pass. You may be able to save both money and time wasted waiting in line at many popular attractions.
D is for Downsize
You’ve probably heard the old travel adage “take half as much stuff and twice as much money as you think you will need” and it’s one of the most tried and true travel tips for a reason. If you pack for every inevitability, you’ll end up lugging around a lot of stuff you don’t need. Instead, check the weather before your trip and pack according to that and your itinerary. If there’s only a twenty percent chance of rain, for example, forgo the umbrella. If you end up with a sudden shower, duck inside somewhere and wait on it to pass. When the weather shifts and you get a truly rainy day, buy yourself an umbrella and let it be a souvenir from your trip.
E is for Emergencies
Smart travelers don’t stress about what they can’t control but they do make sure they are ready in case of an emergency. There’s a reason airlines and cruise ships start each trip with a safety debriefing so follow their lead and make sure you know your exit routes wherever you plan to sleep. If you’re traveling internationally, keep copies of your passport, visa, and any other important papers separate from the actual documents. It’s also a good idea to make sure someone at home knows your plans and when to expect you check in.
F is for Flexible
If you travel often enough, it’s not a matter of “if” things will go wrong but rather “when” they go wrong so one of the biggest travel tips I can give you is to learn to roll with the punches.
G is for Go
OK, I realize I just said being flexible was one of my biggest travel tips, but it might be superceded by this one: JUST GO! So many people put off traveling because they’re waiting for the perfect conditions but life doesn’t work that way. If you have the chance to go and can make it happen, take it! I’ve never once regretted taking a trip anywhere.
H is for Hop On Hop Off Tours
People complain that this is “too touristy” but a Hop On Hop Off tour can be a great deal if you are traveling under a time constraint because you get unlimited transportation between all the major sites in the city along with a guided history and a driver to ask if you have any questions.
I is for Insurance
Friends often ask me whether I buy travel insurance. Here’s the answer… sometimes. If we are taking a short trip that we got a great deal on, it’s not worth it to me to spend the money on trip insurance. However, for any big trip that we spend a lot of money on, I always buy travel insurance because we would be devastated if something happened and we had to cancel that trip. It’s a calculated risk.
J is for Join
Travel companies like hotels and airlines love to ask you to join their loyalty clubs. Yes, this means they will send you emails, but it also means they will send you deals & discounts and sometimes you can earn free hotel nights and things just for staying where you already would have in the first place. Pro tip: create a separate email address that you use JUST for loyalty clubs from stores, restaurants, travel sites, etc… that way, you still earn the benefits but don’t clog up your main email inbox with their junk.
K is for Kids
As in… don’t be afraid to take them along! If that notion scares you, check out this blog post where we talked about exactly that!
L is for Locals
One of my favorite ways to find the “best of” in any given area is to ask the locals! The clerk at the front desk of your hotel, cab drivers, gas station attendants, and the stranger sitting next to you on the subway, are all great resources for questions like “If you only had one day in this city, where would you go eat dinner?” They might send you off the beaten path, but that’s a good thing!
M is for Money
Traveler cheques are a thing of the past. These days, you want to travel with a bit of cash and a debit card. The ATM is often the cheapest and most efficient way to get some local currency. Just make sure you call your credit and debit card companies before you leave the country so they don’t freeze your accounts when you try to use them outside of your home turf.
N is for Negotiate
In many places around the world haggling is not only accepted but EXPECTED. In other places, trying to negotiate a price or discount can be seen as highly offensive (same goes for tipping service staff). Do a quick google search before you go so you will be prepared for whatever the locals prefer.
O is for Off-Season
Whatever the Off-Season is in a particular area is generally the cheapest time to travel there because you have less people vying for flights and hotels (think winter in Alaska). But, this is also the time where you may face things like shortened daylight hours, seasonal closures, and rough weather. Peak Season is whatever the best and busiest time of year in a particular area may be, but it’s almost always substantially more crowded and expensive (July in Alaska, for this example). We try to travel in the “Shoulder Season” to strike the best balance between these two. Visiting Alaska in May, perhaps, will likely give you reasonably good weather with fewer crowds and lower overhead fees. Pick the time that best suits your budget and sensibilities to ensure you have your best trip possible.
P is for Planning
Don’t dread planning a trip! Grab a guidebook or hit up the internet and start daydreaming about where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do there. Planning can be half the fun of the journey if you let it!
Q is for Quiet Time
One of my favorite travel tips is to schedule some quiet time into your itinerary. If you have young kids, this may mean going back to the hotel for lunch and a nap in the middle of your day at Disney. If you’re walking 10 miles a day trying to see every landmark site in New York City, it may mean going to see a movie at a nearby theater so you can sit with your feet up for 2 hours. Just remember to take a break.
R is for Reasonable
Keep your expectations reasonable! If you plan to be out adventuring from 7am to 2am every single day, you will be so tired that you won’t even remember the trip. If you have serious back problems and can only sleep on a luxury mattress, don’t plan on staying in a hostel.
S is for Souvenirs
Remember that you do not need to spend money and waste space in your suitcase bringing home a souvenir for every person you know. Most kitschy items will end up being tossed out once the recipient gets over the guilt of getting rid of your gift anyway, so only buy something if you truly think they will love it. As for souvenirs for yourself, memories and photos will make excellent ones!
T is for Trip Advisor
Trip Advisor is one of my absolute favorite tools for planning and travel tips. You can get real-life reviews, search for everything from flights to home rentals, and find the coolest attractions in the area you will be visiting.
U is for Uber
Uber and Lyft can be a little scary if you’ve never used their services, but they can also be a great way to save time and money. Download the apps before you travel and play with it ahead of time so you will know how it works before you’re standing in the rain trying to hail a cab that is never going to come.
V is for Verify
Verify whether you need a visa or other documentation for the country you will be visiting. Verify that your passport is up to date and that it is not expiring within six months of your trip. Check the CDC Website to see if you need and particular vaccinations before your trip. Oh, and if those travel tips are too common for you here’s a bonus: if you booked your flights and hotel rooms pretty far in advance, it’s always a good idea to email and verify that your room or seat is properly reserved a week or two before your trip. That way, if something is amiss, you have time to figure it out before you ever leave town.
W is for Walking
I love cute shoes as much as the next girl, but travel generally means A LOT of walking. Opt for function over fashion and pack some blister bandaids just in case.
X is for Excursions
If you’re traveling on a budget, look for ways to save money on lodging, transportation, and even food, but don’t skimp on the excursions. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank every single day of a trip but I do try to ensure every trip I plan has at least one major excursion that will make the trip memorable from any others.
Y is for You
It’s your vacation, so make it about you! If your friends say you HAVE to go see MOMA on your trip to New York but modern art makes your eyes glaze over, don’t feel obligated to spend your time and attention there. Even if you happen to be traveling with modern art loving companions, it’s totally acceptable to split up and do your own things for a couple hours. You’ll have more to talk about at dinner that night anyway!
Z is for Ziploc Bags
ALWAYS pack Ziploc bags in various sizes. This is one of those travel tips that doesn’t have a specific reason, but rather you will find a reason during your trip. Trust me on this one.