If you’re an avid traveler you’ve probably seen – and read – lots of articles about how to get the most out of your trip. They’re usually pretty similar, stuff you’ve heard over and over – pack light, watch out for pickpockets, where to buy the cheapest tickets, etc etc, blah blah blah. These are well and good, but kind of boring, right? So here’s a list of real travel tips, ideas that will get you through the bumps and set-backs and help keep you on track. Here are Ann’s Best Travel Tips (So Far)
1. Always bring a candy bar. Yes, that’s right. I took a candy bar (Milky Ways to be exact) with me to Paris, the culinary capital of the world. I bring them not because I’m worried about finding enough to eat (ha!), but because they’re something familiar and comfortable when things go crazy. Your plane is delayed and you miss your connecting flight, or your jetlagged system decides it is starving at 2am local time. A candy bar can be just the life saver you need. It also helps keep the crankies away – maybe it doesn’t bother you, but being hungry makes me tired, cranky and feeling overwhelmed. Now, it doesn’t have to be a candy bar; I’ve recently discovered Lara Bars which, while not low calorie are a healthy alternative and quite tasty. The point is to bring something familiar that will fill a need and sit well with an out-of-whack digestive system.
2. Follow the Eleanor Roosevelt Rule of Travel which is: Every time you come across a public restroom, use it. You never know when you’ll find the next one.** Public restrooms can be surprisingly difficult to find. Many cafes in Europe only allow customers to use the facilities, or charge you to use them. Or they can be somewhat less than pristine. And if you do find one, the lines can be very long. (This is yet another reason to invest in a museum pass if the city you’re visiting offers one – prepaid admission and, frequently, shorter entry lines which means easy access to bathrooms!) **I actually did some research to cite this quote but could find nothing even close, so maybe Eleanor never said this. However, she traveled extensively as a UN Ambassador and probably knew a thing or two about practical travel tips.
3. If the first ATM doesn’t work, try, try again. When we arrived in Paris last fall, Michelle and I went to the airport ATM to get some Euros. Neither of our cards would work. We tried another machine a little further into the airport but our cards didn’t work there either. Finally, a third machine near the exit accepted Michelle’s card – but not mine. I wasn’t able get cash until we were in the city and I used the ATM near the hotel. In Amsterdam I never did get an ATM to accept my debit card. Mostly I use my credit card – you generally get the best exchange rate with a credit card – but it’s nice to have some cash on hand. In Amsterdam I fortunately had brought some US cash and used the currency exchange counter to get some Euros – not a great rate, but I only changed a small amount and it was enough. As the chip and pin system becomes more common in the US, this problem should fade away, but it’s not a bad idea to have a Plan B.
4. Bring something analog. I love my iPad. I drag it around with me everywhere. I have lots of books stored on it, hundreds of pictures and I even write my blog posts on it. But I like to bring a honest to goodness paper book with me, especially for a long flight. The bright light of the tablet screen starts to bother me after awhile and getting away from that can be a relief. I also like to do things with my hands, so I often bring knitting or my lettering worksheets. For me, this kind of activity calms and centers me and makes time go by quickly. The trick is to bring engaging small projects that fit in your carryon and don’t annoy your seat mates.
5. Don’t skip the less popular/smaller/off the beaten track museums. Museums like the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum are popular and well known for a reason – they are fabulous places filled with beautiful things. But don’t miss out on the smaller, more obscure museums either. They often have unique collections or specialize in one subject or artist and are often in neighborhoods away from the tourist center. Often less crowded, they can make for a better experience and give you a bit of a break from the masses of people at the big museums.
6. Go ahead and take a picture of your food. I mean, don’t be obnoxious about it, just quietly get out your phone (which is small and unobtrusive), snap a quick pic, put the phone away (that’s important) and get on with the job of eating something delicious. Food is intrinsic to so many of our memories and stories – exotic new flavors, local specialties, culture and tradition. A photo of a meal can bring back many personal memories, not just of the food itself but of where you ate it, who was with you, what was happening that day, what that trip was like. And food pictures are always interesting, especially if it has a story attached (which they almost always do.)
7. When in doubt, follow the crowd, or, alternatively, panic. Now, use some common sense – if the crowd is waving placards and shouting angry slogans, walk away as quickly as possible (that happened to me in Paris although it was a peaceful, relatively calm protest). In many cases though, if you’re a bit lost, try following a group that’s moving in a purposeful way in the right direction. This is how I found the correct entrance to the Willis Tower in Chicago, and how I found my way through the winding streets of the Marais to the Picasso Museum in Paris. Sometimes, though, there’s no crowd to follow at which point I indulge in a few minutes of panic (Amsterdam) which seems to clear out the feedback loop I’ve gotten myself in to and allow me to think. Your mileage my vary.
8. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Things happen – delayed transportation, lost tickets, strikes, unexpected closures, bad weather. Getting lost. Arriving too late or too early. Traveling helps you develop the skills of adaptation and optimism. There is usually a way around (or thru) a problem, you just need to figure it out. And sometimes, the alternative is better than the original plan. Embrace it. Acknowledge there will be difficult moments, but remember that the very experience will return in value a thousand times. Go. See. Do.
This concludes my travel tips – so far. To travel is to be learning constantly, so I expect to continue adding to this list. Unfortunately, any immediate travel plans are on hold; bad knees requiring surgery and some needed home repairs have meant I that I’m postponing major travel for several months. This is frustrating, but I’ll use the time to enjoy my garden and house – and make plans for upcoming trips! Allons-y!