Over the last 25 years, I’ve traveled a lot, both with my husband, with friends, or alone. In that time, I’ve learned how to make the most of my adventures. My friends and readers ask me for tips to help them when they travel, and while there are too many to put in this article, here are 10 Essential Travel Tips.
Buy Travel Insurance
Travel insurance covers more than trip interruption/cancellation or lost luggage. A medical emergency overseas and/or medical evacuation are very costly and probably not covered by your American health insurance. If you travel a lot, you can get annual plans, as I do.
Make Copies of Your Documents
Always make copies of your passport, insurance cards/papers, and any other important documents that you need while traveling. I always have a copy of my passport hidden in both of my travel bags, in my purse, and on my phone and laptop.
I’ll add this as an aside: Don’t leave your passport sitting around your room or apartment. Keep it in the safe or close to you while you sleep. A burglar broke into our apartment in Prague and helped himself to $2000 worth of our things while we slept. He didn’t get our passports or electronics, though, because we had them in the bedroom with us.
Don’t Over-schedule Yourself
The first time I took friends to Italy with me, I wanted to make sure they saw and did as much as they could. I planned almost every minute of every day, and by the third day, they were all exhausted. Instead of visiting the Colosseum, they spent one afternoon sprawled on their beds.
Make a list of what you want to see and do while you’re in a particular place, and make sure you give yourself a few hours of downtime every day.
Don’t Forget Where You’re Staying
You may laugh at this tip, but I know many people who have checked into a hotel or apartment, have gone out to explore, and have forgotten where they are staying. It even happened to me on one of my first trips to Italy. If you are excited or fatigued, the streets and doors may all look alike. It happened to me on one of my first trips to Italy years ago.
We and another couple had rented adjoining apartments in Spoleto, and on our first full day there, we took off exploring. We walked around for three hours or so and decided to head back to the apartments when we realized we knew neither the address nor the location. It took us another hour, but with the help of a policeman, we found the street. Even though I speak Italian now and am more familiar with most places I go, I still make a photo of the addresses where I’m staying just in case I need it.
Be Financially Aware
Before you travel, there are several things you should do to make sure you don’t get stuck without money overseas. First and foremost, advise your bank and credit card companies that you are traveling. You don’t want to be thousands of miles from home and have your cards blocked because the bank sees you attempting to pull money from a foreign ATM.
Almost as important is that, on arrival, you have some currency of the country you’re visiting. You’ll need it for small tips or taxi rides. In addition, some small stores and cafes do not accept credit cards.
The easiest way to get money in Italy (and Europe) is via ATM. They are easy to find and use since they have English translations. Make sure your bank doesn’t charge outrageous fees, though. Our bank doesn’t charge us a fee at all.
Finally, don’t carry all of your cash and all of your credit cards in the same wallet or purse. I also use RFID cases, purses, backpacks, etc.
Respect the Culture
Nothing irritates me more than hearing someone ask, “Why can’t I wear shorts in church?” “Why do I have to pay for water?” “Why can’t we go to dinner at 5?” “Why don’t they have real coffee?” “Why don’t they speak English?”
You are not at home, and you cannot expect people to change their culture to accommodate you. Do a little research on the places you’re visiting. Learn what dress is acceptable and pack accordingly. Check out restaurant menus in advance. Learn a few words in their language. Making an effort to say hello, please, and thank you in the country’s language goes a long way.
Most travelers have a hard time when it comes to packing for a trip. A woman on a seven-day river cruise that I took last summer complained to me that her cabin was crowded because her luggage took up so much space. She told me she had three full-size suitcases with her, and her husband had two. One of the woman’s held only shoes.
No matter how long I’m going to be gone, I travel with one carry-on suitcase and a personal item. In the carry-on are my clothes, toiletries, and other essentials, and the personal item holds my electronics, camera, medicine, and a change of clothes.
Pack only what you think you will need. If you are staying in an apartment with a washing machine, take advantage. Pre-plan your outfits and try to keep them to one color scheme. Remember that no one where you’re going knows you, and they certainly aren’t going to remember if you wore the same jeans twice.
Pack a First Aid Kit
In addition to your necessary medications, be sure to bring aspirin, bandaids, Neosporin, and cold medication. I also alway bring lip balm, cough drops, medication for heartburn, bug-bite itch relief stick, moleskin and anti-blister sticks There is nothing worse than walking around with blisters. I’ve used Compeed and Gold Bond, but there are other brands.
Bring Electric Adapters
Electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall socket at 220 volts alternating at a 50 cycles per second. In the US, electricity comes out of the wall socket at 110 volts, alternating at 60 cycles per second. European sockets are different from American sockets, and most Italian sockets are different from European sockets.
Make sure you bring adapter that work in the country you’re visiting.
Being prepared is more than making sure you have all of your tickets, reservations, and clothes packed. While all of those are important, you need to realize that you may have some small—or big—challenges during your trip.
Let me add one more tip: Enjoy. No matter why you are traveling, go with the flow and enjoy your time.