Tips for Successful Travel from an Inexperienced Traveler
Or: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
Pack conservatively and wisely (this seems obvious, but seriously). Don’t do what I did and bring six pairs of leggings and one pair of shorts. Yes, winters are indeed cold, but summers are still hot. Just bring a few of each item, and you should be fine. There are inexpensive places to purchase clothing everywhere, and countries that have extreme weather will more than likely offer all sorts of weather-appropriate clothing at any price point.
When trying to decide which items to bring due to the 23kg weight limit on most international airlines, bring the more expensive or hard to locate item. Don’t decide that you’d better bring your heavy sketch pad and coloured pencils instead of your lightweight running shoes. *facepalm*
Portable chargers are awesome, in case you didn’t know. If you bring at least one (two, depending on what devices you use while traveling) then you won’t have to be one of those people clustered around the charging trees during your layovers. I have accumulated two over the years, and I not only used them on the plane to charge my phone and my iPod at the same time, but I’ve used the newer one while here in Germany to keep my iPod going while I’m out running around. Super, super convenient.
Bring maps and directions to where you’re going, as well as important addresses and phone numbers that you can use while in the country to which you’re traveling. I was foolishly confident in my ability to find the youth hostel where I stayed for my first few nights in Germany…at 21:00 in the pouring rain. Don’t kid yourself: you don’t know the area, you don’t know the language, and you don’t know the bus stops…be prepared!
On that note, do your best not to fall asleep on buses or trains if you’re alone. I don’t think I need to explain how lost you can get when you’re asleep in a moving vehicle.
Prepare for the worst! Pack several extra pairs of socks and underwear, as well as an extra pair of pants/shorts (the opposite of what you’re wearing on the plane) and maybe an extra top or two. I did this when I flew over (minus the shorts – AAAGGH SO HOT), and I actually wore three shirts on the plane to save space in my carryon. British Airways did a fantastic job of sending my checked bag to who knows where, so I lived out of my backpack for three days. Carry the basic toiletries that you will need, which for me was just a toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste. Also, my mom had bought me some to-go sanitary wipes, which were awesome when I didn’t have anything with which to wash myself in the shower, so I survived. Unfortunately, Germany was experiencing an entirely abnormal heat wave in the week that I arrived, so the pants I wore were delightfully sweaty by the time my bag arrived.
If your bag does happen to get lost, don’t worry. It will be found and brought to your location (that list of important addresses comes in handy when you’re reporting a lost bag at the airport in a language you don’t know). What you do need to worry about is getting through the days while you wait for your bag, so I must again stress, prepare for the worst! And not worrying is always a good tip, too; do your best to enjoy being unencumbered by a large bag that you have to lug around and keep organized in a hostel or hotel, and enjoy the freedom that having only the necessities brings. Consider it a blessing in a sweaty disguise!
Carry a pocket dictionary in the language of the country you’re in while traveling. It’s quite useful when you’re preparing to ask a question or trying to read signs and menus, and you can practice translating billboards or notices to pass time while on the bus or train. You can never expand your vocabulary too much!
Carry cash at all times. Many German stores do not accept cards, especially eateries, so you will find yourself in a pot of very hot mineral water if you receive a bill and you have no way to pay for it.
Take photos. Take lots and lots and lots of photos. Each time I go somewhere new, I keep my camera in my pocket for the majority of the time, thinking things such as how I need to enjoy it while I am there, and my photos won’t do it justice anyway (which is true), and I will remember what it looks like, and other people would be better off visiting the place in person anyway. Well, each time I go back through my photos, I feel disappointed in myself for not capturing the things that stand out to me in my memory, and I find myself wishing that I had taken more photos. I can’t think of a time that I have ever regretted snapping a photo, and if there are too many photos in the end, they can always be deleted to make room for more.
Research currency conversion rates before you travel. This way, you will know exactly what you are paying when you look at something in Euros, Swiss Francs, Hungarian Forint, Turkish Lira, etc., and you will avoid monetary issues. Additionally, learn how to read the boards at exchange bureaus so that you can do your best to ensure you are getting a fair price.
Stay in hostels when possible, not hotels. You’re traveling to get out and see the world, not to stay in and enjoy a comfy bedroom. Hostels are generally not incredibly comfortable, and you can share a room with anywhere between 3 and 15 other people, but they are a much better value. Chances are, if you are really trying to get out and see the country you are in, you will not spend a lot of time in your room, so don’t be picky. You will also get to know people from all over the world: in Istanbul, we met people from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and China. You never know what sorts of connections you could make by staying in a hostel, and at the very least, you will have some interesting stories!
SNAX. I repeat. SNAX. Pack all sorts of things: fruit, pretzels, cookies, sandwich materials, etc. Not only will you save money, but you won’t have to worry about finding something to eat during your travels, when you might not have a lot of time to hunt for food. In addition, you will eliminate the likelihood that you will get crabby from hunger, and you will make new friends when other people realize the mistake they made by not bringing food.
Keep a reusable bag in your purse or backpack – one of the kinds that folds up really small. Chico Bags are a great option – I absolutely love mine. I mostly use it to carry groceries (we pay for bags here in Germany, and I believe the US has actually incorporated that since I left), so bringing your own bag is wise. I also have used it to carry all kinds of other things – water bottles, leftovers, extra layers when the sun comes out, souvenirs, etc.
When you get to a new city, grab a map at the nearest information center. You can also find them at travel bureaus, hotels, and many tourist attractions. They should be free, and if not, they will be quite cheap. Maps are a great way to get to know your way around a city fast, and they’re quite easy to use on a city scale. Plus, the battery will never die!