It’s no surprise that I love to travel. I was about to turn 10 years old when I went on my first official trip. It was October 1998, and it was going to be a special birthday vacation with my family to Florida. Not only were we going to visit Disney World, but I was going to witness a historical moment – the Discovery Space Shuttle was about to make its 25th journey to space, carrying John Glenn and crew. I remember the moment well. We were across the Banana River from Cape Canaveral, and the countdown began. The ground started rumbling, smoke filled the air, and it was off! So much excitement filled my little body as I stared in wonder at the shuttle taking off. In that moment, as a young, impressionable child, I realized that the world was actually so much smaller than it had originally seemed. That we, humans, can literally fly off to wherever we want. The world was my oyster, and one day, I was coming for it.
It’s been 19 years since that day. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to 15 US states and 13 countries around the world. I’ve been privileged to have explored some of the finest museums, jumped out of an airplane, have eaten spaghetti and drunk the best red wine in Italy, served children in El Salvador, explored the historical streets of Spain and train journeyed throughout the UK. One of the most amazing things about traveling is just how many stories and friendships you collect along the way. I have found that, most of the time, traveling not about ticking the tourist attractions off your list, but rather the journey itself.
I’ve had some unforgettable adventures! However, as you can imagine, each of these trips has been a unique learning experience for me. Not only did I learn profound lessons about other cultures, traditions, and ultimately, who I am as a person, but I also have picked up a few of the more basic lessons. Gathered from my 19 years of traveling, here are a few travel hacks to make your journey more comfortable, memorable and a more exciting experience!
1. If you have the time, take the train rather than fly.
While I love that flying mostly saves you time, you can miss out on some incredible views. Taking the train allows you to slow down a little. You can watch the passing scenery, read a book, stretch your legs when you need to, and even interact with your fellow travelers. The other great thing about traveling on a train is that there really isn’t a strict luggage limit, so if you know you are going to want to buy a few bottles of wine from France, take them with you on the train!
2. Do a bit of research about where you’re going and plan your trip, but not too much!
I would describe myself as a very easy-going traveller. I rarely go somewhere and have a full itinerary of what I want to do. In fact, I usually have a list of maybe 3-5 places I really want to visit or things I want to do, and then I just see what happens. I may not even end up hitting all the items on that list, but I am fine with that. However, I know there are a lot of people that are quite the opposite of me. They must have every minute planned out. This tendency will often leads to stress and overall unhappiness. When you come with very high expectations for what your adventure will be like, you may end up disappointed. Researching a little bit about the place you are about to visit can enrich your experience immensely, but don’t let it own the trip and still remember to go with the flow!
3. Bring a power bank.
I don’t know if each Apple update is accidentally killing my phone’s battery or if this is an actual ploy from them to convince me to buy the iPhone X. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve had my phone die on me in some crucial situations. A lot of airline and train tickets are on our phones these days, so having a power bank is ESSENTIAL. Additionally, you may miss out on some Instagrammable moments if your phone is not working, and we all know that this is a travel crime.
4. Pre-pack snacks.
Since I’ve been trying to eat healthier overall as well as not eat gluten and dairy, I have found it really difficult to make healthy snack choices when there aren’t many options. Nowadays, before I go on a long journey, I try to pack almonds, and some fruit, just in case I can’t find anything else to eat. It’s often cheaper than eating on a plane or train, so that can help save your money for that pint of Belgian beer you always wanted to try in a bar in Brussels or that café con leche in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid!
5. Don’t just stay in hotels. Try out hostels too!
Although I am at a place in my life where I prefer the comforts and the privacy that a hotel will provide, some of my most memorable travel stories came from me staying in hostels. I won’t sugarcoat it: some hostels are just grim. However, there are some good ones in some of the most central locations. Besides saving loads of money, you also get a chance to meet other travelers!
6. Reduce plastic.
I only started taking note of my environmental footprint in the last 6 years or so. After plenty of education, watching some videos and reading some really convicting articles, I try to recycle everything that I can. However, the step before you should be doing before you even recycle is reducing your consumption! You can do a few simple things while traveling such as bringing your own water bottle or reusable silverware. Doing these things while traveling may seem like an extra step, but future generations will thank you for it!
7. Roll your clothes.
This was a massive game-changer for me. A friend once showed me how she packs when she saw that I had everything folded in my suitcase. She was able to fit everything so comfortably, whereas I had to struggle to close my suitcase. Not only does this method allow you to take more things with you, but it keeps stuff from getting too wrinkled!
8. Use solids.
In addition to reducing plastic from plastic water bottles and plastic silverware, you can also reduce how many small plastic toiletries you consume buy using solid soap and shampoo bars. This is extremely useful if you have loads of make-up that you want to take with you on a flight, because you can save space in your carry-on liquids baggie by using solid bars of shampoo and conditioner, and replacing the shower gel with a bar of soap.
9. Download mobile train or plane tickets.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Most airlines and railways have downloadable tickets these days. All you need to do is open up your app, show your barcode and you’re done. It helps to keep you better organized, especially since your phone is never far from your hands! Imagine how much time you’ll save having to fumble through your backpack searching for the tickets you print out!
10. Invest in noise canceling headphones/earphones.
People are noisy. It’s a fact of life that we need to accept. Sometimes, you will end up next to the young family with a crying child. Sometimes, you end up across from a person who is playing their music very loudly. Other times, you may be sat on a 9 hour flight with a person who won’t stop talking. These are all unavoidable situations, but what you can do, is invest in a good set of headphones. You can’t control the people making the noise, but you sure can control what you have to hear!
11. Don’t drink too much alcohol or coffee.
The last thing you want to feel, on top of your jet lag, is severe dehydration. Sure, a glass of wine or beer won’t kill you, but it won’t leave you feeling your best when you’re traveling. If you want to maximize your time in your future destination you probably don’t want to be hungover for the start of it. Coffee is another culprit. It’s a diarrhetic, which causes you to lose fluids. Not only does it mess with your nerves on a whole new level when you’re already anxious from travel, it causes other issues too! Limit your consumption, of these things so you can feel fresh as a daisy for when you arrive.
12. Download a map.
If you’re going to a place where you know using your phone data will cost an absolute fortune, you can download a map onto your phone to use offline. Google Maps has this option, as do many map apps. This is been a life saver when I was exploring Amsterdam and my phone service did not cover the Netherlands. I was able to navigate around the city using Google Maps, and it didn’t cost me a single cent.
13. Arrive early.
If you can help it, be at the airport or train station as early as you can be! One time, I arrived 3 hrs ahead of time, went through security, settled in for an hour, whilst sipping on coffee, only to realize that I had my dad’s keys, and no way of getting it to him, and was leaving to travel internationally. I had to run out of the airport, to the post office, send his keys to his address and then go through the process again. Consequently I missed my flight, and was lucky to be able to catch the next one. Leave yourself plenty of time because you just never know what can go wrong in the last minute.
14. Bring (reusable) grocery bags.
This may seem like a silly one, but it is actually quite essential. You will need bags during your trip, at some point, whether it’s to separate your dirty laundry from your clean clothing, keep your stinky shoes from stinking up your suitcase, or even carrying your shopping, extra bags are one of the most useful (albeit underrated) things you can pack!
15. Capture your trip somewhere!
Nowadays, I tend to capture my travels through my blog, Instagram and Facebook, but before social media became a thing, I was a faithful journaler. There is something so nostalgic about sticking old train tickets and photos onto paper. Physically writing your thoughts and experiences gives your experiences some longevity, and they are a keepsake for you to look back upon later in life. If that does not float your boat, find someplace where you can be reminded later about the amazing adventure you just went on! These are precious memories that deserve to be remembered!
Do you have any travel hacks that that you live by?
What have you found most useful on your journeys?