Since posting my email address, i’ve received a number of emails inquiring as to whether or not i had any informative tips to proffer concerning the realm of exploration. Whilst i still consider myself to be something of a quasi-amateur voyager, in the interest of answering these questions i thought i’d post a few of my most well-employed and usefully gleaned insights here. Cheers!
(UPDATE: for a road-trip specific edition of lizzie’s traveling tips, i suggest you go here!)
When traveling, i find it best to do the following no matter where you’re going:
1. Do your research. It may seem a little obvious, but it’s shocking how many people make incredible blunders due to a lack of conscientious foresight. I myself am plenty guilty of this, and consequently do my best to do as much investigative searching prior to departure as possible. Study the map, learn a few key phrases in the language, and make yourself aware of some major cultural customs. Picking up a guidebook and reading a blog or two can do nothing but help you. I like to search “American expatriate traveler [COUNTRY]” when going abroad, just to poke around and see what people of my own culture are saying about where i’m traveling to (but bearing in mind that these are personal opinions, not Gospel Truths). As far as guide books go, i’m generally a big fan of the Lonely Planet and Culture Shock series. No, they’re not paying me (but if you’re a representative, i am so definitely available for hire!) i genuinely like their products.
2. Pack accordingly. Check the weather both in terms of the immediacy of your trip, but also historically. I’m never without the following:
- a light jacket
- at least three extra pairs of underwear (the one clothing item you never want to repeat in the event of extended stays or luggage loss)
- my REI quick-dry towel (which, to be fair, i forgot when in Africa…big mistake)
- comfortable walking shoes
- my power adaptor
- nalgene water bottle
- sleep mask (a.k.a. eye shade)
Granted, that list grows contingent upon where i’m going, but those are the absolute essentials i try never to leave without! Again, an unpaid endorsement (but solicitors of the company: you are most welcome): REI has the best equipment around. I could be a postergirl for ExOfficio underwear (sorry for the over-share, but you did ask) and am a massive fan of their hiking shoes, packs, and lightweight but highly functional gear.
3. Be flexible. Yes, please make plans. My father and i had a two-page spreadsheet color-coded for our five-day stay in London – but we allowed ourselves room for transit, and were okay with the itinerary going out the window in the interest of the present moment. For example, neither visiting the Cabinet War Rooms of WWII nor seeing Top Girls were on our lists, but we happened upon them at opportune moments – moments we capitalized upon with no regrets. I suggest making a list of your top three desired activities, sights to see, museums to visit and making an effort to hit those three. By prioritizing your destinations, you’ll find yourself more prepped, researched, and excited to delve into their histories and less overwhelmed by the pressure to accomplish one hundred things in four days.
4. Travel with people you really, really like. Seriously. Make sure your buddy (or family, or whomever) is someone you can communicate clearly with, and someone whom you think will travel in similar style to yourself. Especially if you’re going to be together in particularly close proximity, or together for a long while (or both). Remember that prioritizing thing? Do that collectively; each pick your top destination choice, assure each other you’ll get to go there, and respect those choices. Be flexible with one another, and respect that sometimes your friend/partner/whoever may need a nap when all you want to do is go to the Globe Theatre or make a pilgrimage to the Moon. Concurrently, COMMUNICATE CLEARLY WHAT YOU WANT AND NEED. Saying “oh, we can go there if you really want to” / [insert passive aggressive statement here] is never a good idea (this is also true in life!). If your feet hurt, you hate Shakespeare, or forgot the moon suit, tell your traveling partner so you can both deal with it, TOGETHER. Tension among companions on adventures makes for Ron Weasley and Harry Potter splitting ways and subsequent pools of icy regret.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask! Where you are, how to get where you’re going, where the HELL the nearest coffee joint is. Seriously! Asking for directions is a sign of strength.
6. Be a good tourist. Ask before you take the picture, thank museum receptionists, and don’t shove your way onto public transportation. Avoid fanny-packs, flashing your map in public, and talking about how “slow” or “strange” or “bad” the traffic/food/people/culture/architecture is. Tip well when service fees aren’t included. When you encounter the inevitable difficulties, handle them with dignity and without shouting at the top of your lungs at someone underpaid and overworked. Don’t be afraid to do the touristy things, but also don’t confine yourself to hanging out with people exclusive to your home culture or only seeing the main attractions.