Tips for the Would-Be Traveler From a Seasoned Trekker
Number One Travel Tip: Don't Overpack
After years of traveling, this is still my most important piece of advice. My husband likes to tell the story of being in the Nashville airport one Friday and encountering a group of teenage girls going to Florida for a cheerleading competition. The amount of luggage they had was astounding, so he asked how long they were going to be gone. One of them replied, "Oh, we'll be back Sunday".
I have traveled to over 30 countries around the world and most of the states in the continental United States. Some of the countries and states I've visited more than once. Our trips are usually about two weeks long, sometimes a little longer. The longest trip we took was for about three months. And for most of these trips (except the one for three months) we packed everything into one carry-on and one overnight bag each. I also carry a small day pack that we use when sightseeing. We travel light because it makes travel much easier. We have watched tourists struggle with heavy luggage in hotels, on metros, trains, and vaporetti and always wonder, "Why do they do that?
On our three month trip with the larger luggage, we traveled through several countries in Eastern Europe by train. Maneuvering metro and train stations and struggling to get that larger piece of luggage on and off trains, up steps, and on luggage racks confirmed for us that smaller is better when it comes to luggage. That piece of luggage has remained in our attic ever since that trip.
If you have just a carry-on and an overnight bag you don't have to check luggage. We did this for years until the airlines began charging more for checked bags and more people began carrying on luggage so that the overhead bins become too crowded. So now we usually check our carry-on.
My Top Travel Tips
Learn about your destination before you go.
Be flexible and spontaneous, but set priorities.
Don't forget to explore close to home.
Find a good travel companion.
Don't overthink travel. Just go!
Luggage and Packing
I am not a luggage connoisseur, so I don't have any good advice about buying luggage except to say that the most expensive luggage is not necessary. If you want to look cool while traveling, buy expensive luggage. I have been using the same set of luggage for at least ten years and I think I paid about $25.00 for the set. It still works as well as it did when I got it, so it's very durable and has everything I need. It's been to a number of countries and I think it may make it to a few more.
If I were going to buy another one, though, I think I would choose one that we bought as a gift for our son recently. He has traveled more than we have (he is the relative who works for an airline), and he did research before buying this piece of luggage. I like the looks of it, and with the matching tote that should be enough to take you around the world. It was the TravelPro Maxlite 22" expandable. The luggage set I carry now is an expandable one. I do like these because they allow for more items (such as souvenirs you might buy along the way) to be added when necessary. And if you check these bags they can be filled to capacity.
I would also advise buying a luggage belt that is distinctive to go around your luggage to easily identify it when collecting it on the luggage belts at airlines.
I personally like Chicos Travelers and TravelSmith clothing for travel. They are comfortable, easy to pack and take up little room in a suitcase. In order to save money on these, you can look for them on eBay and thrift stores. I have collected several of these through the years that I can mix and match, so I always know what I'm going to take on a trip. I also have a lightweight rain jacket with several pockets that is perfect for inclement weather and for going through airports. I love the inside pockets for keeping my passport, boarding pass and cell phone at hand. I comfortable pair of walking shoes and a pair of flats, and that's my wardrobe for travel. It seldom varies much.
Check out this video about how to pack a carry-on.
Priorities and Planning
I can remember when I was younger, working full time and raising a family, I wanted to spend my vacations relaxing and resting. That's not the type of travel I want to do now. We're retired so we can rest and relax just about any time we want. And most anyone, if that is their goal, can find a nice vacation spot close to their home where they can rest and relax. We travel to see the world, as much of it as we can in the years we have left. Truthfully, we usually come home from our trips exhausted--but happy and filled with memories.
By the time we are rested from one trip, we are planning the next one. I do have one rule, however, that I've made in the years I've spent with my husband: we are not allowed to begin planning any future trip until we are home from the current trip.
After you have decided what your priorities are, begin planning your trip. This is one of the enjoyable parts of travel for us. Your first priority should be deciding on a destination. What interest you? What activities do you enjoy taking part in? Plan your trip around your interests as you read and study about the location you have chosen.
Much of the information you need for travel can be found online. We also like to read travel books, such as those Rick Steves writes, about the area we're going to visit. I especially find the maps included with these books helpful. Steves's DVD's are also helpful.
The more you read about and study maps of a city, the more familiar it will feel when you arrive. After reading about the area you want to visit, decide which sites in the city you want to visit. Many of the tourist attractions in a city are located in the City Center or the older area of the city. After you decide what attractions you would like to visit, find a hotel nearby, and then from the hotel get directions from the airport or train station to your hotel.
If you can be flexible about the time of year you travel, it is best to go in the off season.
My husband likes to say that anyone going to Europe in June, July, or August is paying for his own time in hell. It's hot during this season and that's when other people are traveling. It will be more crowded and prices will often be higher. So, if possible, go in the spring or fall. Traveling off-season also allows you to take advantage of travel deals. If you are flexible about when you travel you can save money on these travel deals for flights and hotels.
Don't over think travel. Just go. Find a cheap flight, book a moderately priced hotel and go.
Travel Frugally and See More Places
I know people who travel to shop. A friend of ours spends almost as much money on shopping when he travels as he does on the travel itself. For us, shopping is definitely not a priority and we don't do much souvenir shopping at all. We'd much rather spend our money on travel than souvenirs. And because we travel lightly we never have much room for souvenirs anyway. When we do buy souvenirs they are usually just small remembrances of places we have visited. One thing I like to buy is a small magnet for each place we visit. I made a display board for these and we keep them in our hallway where we can see them as we pass by and remember our trips.
Another thing that makes a good souvenir is jewelry that represents an area you are visiting, like lapis from Chile, jade from China or amber from Poland. Such items as these are small and take up very little space in a suitcase.
We also don't stay in the most exclusive hotels when we travel. We usually find our hotels online on reputable travel sites. A good, clean adequate hotel near the sites we want to see, moderately priced, is what we aim for... We've had a few misses through the years, but for the most part, these hotels have met our needs. They are mainly just a place to sleep and rest a bit before the next lap of our journey.
Our objective is to see the world, as much of it as we can before we die. We are not wealthy people but we have traveled a lot because we have made it a priority. We'd rather travel than have luxuries. We budget for travel. We have an item in our budget for that purpose and put money into it every month, so when we get ready for a trip, the money is there. If the money is there, in our budget, designated for travel, I never worry about spending the money. And worrying about spending money is rather common for me.
I would also advise travelers to be a little adventuresome when you travel. If you want to play it safe you can always go on a tour with a group, but when I look back on the trips we have taken, my favorite trips, by far, are the ones that we went on by ourselves. We planned these trips, made our reservations, and did the things that suited us when we arrived. On these trips we were not waiting for a tour guide to get a group together, waiting for the bus to be loaded, or struggling to hear our tour guide. I don't think I ever want to go on a tour again. I'm just not cut out for that type of travel. Traveling on your own can be more stressful, but that's the good kind of stress in my book. So if you think you can handle the stress, go for it. It gets easier after some experience. Having a good travel companion makes it easier.
If you are traveling on your own you can definitely be more spontaneous and for me, that adds greatly to your travel experience. But I must admit I have a very good travel companion. I married a wandering man, and we make a good travel team. It is easier if you have someone with experience in travel to travel with.
I was standing in an airport line recently waiting for a gate to open, listening to fellow travelers talk about their travels. Some of the travelers were older adults who had obviously been on a cruise. They were comparing different cruise lines, different destinations, and different resorts. And they mostly had way too much luggage. Then there was a young woman with just a backpack who talked about how she liked to stand in airports, look at the destinations and think about where she'd like to go next. And then just go. Oh, to be young again.
Always allow room in your schedule to make a detour if something catches your fancy. We were traveling across South Dakota once when I saw an interstate exit sign for a Laura Ingalls Wilder home site. It was late in the day and we were on our way to another destination, but when I saw the sign and said impulsively that I wanted to go there, we left the interstate and drove about 100 miles out of our way to visit the shores of Silver Lake that I had read about as a child, had later read to my daughters, and would then read to my granddaughters when they came along. I called my daughters on my cell phone when I got there and told them I was standing on the shores of Silver Lake. They knew exactly where that was. It was worth the detour, and one of the things we both remember most about that trip.
When I was in Salzburg I wanted to go to see the little chapel where Silent Night was first sung, but we didn't have time to do that, and I've always felt I missed something in Salzburg. Now I think I need to go back just to see that chapel.
I think one of the reasons I don't enjoy tours is that they do not allow for much spontaneity.
Make the detour; change the schedule; be flexible
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.— Mark Twain
Road Trip Anyone? Don't Neglect the Places Close to Home
When I was a child we could not afford to travel much, but my father was a wandering man at heart. When we could not afford a trip he would often take us on imaginary trips, usually at bedtime. He would describe in detail what we would be doing each day, including the places we would stop to eat along the way. I suspect that these stories contributed to my current love of travel. Even though I've been to many far away places I still love a good road trip. So every now and then, I get the urge to go "On the Road Again."
A few years back we were driving on the wrong side of the road in the United Kingdom, finding our way around when I looked at my husband and said, "We may be getting too old for this". He was 70 years old that year, and we've decided that we are not going to drive internationally anymore. But even in our home state, and in neighboring states there are many sites that we like to visit or revisit. And we're always ready for another road trip.
How would you describe your travel experiences?
People often say they don't travel because they cannot afford to, but there are often other reasons that keep them from traveling. It could be that they would rather have other things (like a nicer automobile, a bigger house, or a bigger television). They may be afraid to try new things, go to a country where they don't speak the language, afraid they won't be able to find their way around a strange place. Neither of us is fluent in a language other than English, but I don't remember a time when we have not been able to find our way around because of a language barrier. We are lucky, in a way, because English is the second language for many places around the world.
So if you would really like to travel, examine your priorities, make a budget, plan your trip and go. Bon Voyage!!