I thought it might be nice to start a thread for all of us to share good travel tips with one another. (I am going abroad in 3 weeks and starting to have a one track mind!) Sometimes people have really cool ideas that you may not have thought of...they could be packing tips, airport trips, safety tips, etc. Anybody care to share?
Travel Tips?(39 posts)
I went when I was much younger and I sent messages back to my friends with audio tapes rather than post cards. It was easier and I also got to capture local sounds. Town clocks, trains, etc.
Although I'm not sure it would work for me now that I'm older, I did enjoy staying at hostels. I went alone, but don't like to go do things alone. There was always someone around who wanted to check out x with me. Of course, quality of hostels differ by country and I'd definitely go for a smaller rather than larger room. Having 11 roomies is 6-8 too many.
It helps getting through the airport to pack neatly - my other half has proved that a messy suitcase will get picked through everytime. On my recent trip my carryon was not packed messily exactly, but it was densely packed with unexpected things together - camera gear, a kb and food (slices bread, sliced cheese, sliced salami). It got hand searched coming and going. I also flew right around the time they needed to keep up appearances of vigilance and the searchers were super nice and congenial.
Dress nice. Alot of who gets targeted is based on appearance. Someone in super nice clothes who is quiet and calm is perfectly capable of being a terrorist, but we don't perceive it that way. "How could that suit wearing, nice guy and pillar of the community be a child molester?" Again, the other half magically got the Super Secret Sucky Search when he wore a shirt through the airport that said "2600: hacker quarterly" on it. First words out of the searcher's mouth as he stepped into the cubicle? "Are you one of those hackers who put the viruses on my computer?!????" Yikes.
Personally, I always *always* take food with me. This is largely because I need to eat frequently and have a strange diet. But it is very nice not to be at the mercy of the airline's schedule and selection. I made sure to bring all sliced foods because it was easy to see there was nothing to hide in an unsliced salami (thin sliced and splayed out package), I even got swiss cheese slices - nothing to hide there! I would stay away from string cheese (could hide a nail file) if you're nervous. I have never had a problem with bringing food thus far. In fact, you can even take frozen water. It just has to be frozen. Folks didn't even look twice at it.
- As dorky as it might look, with international travel, it is very handy to get a passport necklace holder. Depending where you go--You want to keep your docs in front of you--not zipped up behind you.
- Make a copy of your passport, drivers license, insurance info to leave with a friend/neighbor/family member. Also, leave your flight info and hotel info, itinerary.
- Have people check on your house, have numbers to call as well as how to contact you if something happens at your house.
- Write your passport number on a piece of paper and tuck it in your luggage somewhere, write in a shoe if you can. If you lose your passport, having the number will be hugely helpful. Again, depending where you are going you might want to have the local U.S. Embassy phone number available and also Senator Murray/Cantwell's office numbers.
- Don't keep money in your passport. It's really awkward if you had your passport to an agent and money falls out (and these days, god knows what they might do!) :)
- If you are travelling for pleasure, I would recommend packing as light as possible, wear things multiple times during your trip. Mix and match things, hand washing things where you are lodging (or going to a laundromat during your trip).
- Plastic bags! Reuse some plastic grocery bags/bread bags for your shoes and dirty clothes.
- Multiple zip lock bags for lotions, liquids.
Edited to second Phoo's food comment. Especially at the airports/during flights.
Painfully obvious, but do your best with the local language...even if you've no idea what you're doing. Effort goes miles.
I'll never forget standing in a gift shop in the Vatican when I hear this horrible shrill and loud voice (shouting)...fat and dumb American lady yelling "HOW MUCH IS THIS IN AMERICAN MONEY??" at the clerk. This is back when Italy used Lira. I actually considered assaulting her.
Having said that, Americans are not seen as the rudest tourists in the world. That honor goes to the French.
I second everything Amy said. I kept two copies of my documents on me, not to mention the ones at home. These days passports even come with a little card that has the number on it.
Oh yeah, I used a moneybelt when I traveled. However, I think a necklace may be better. For one, I eventually had trouble using the passport years later because it was slightly bent with an edge peeling up from being worn and sweated on for 3 weeks and one airport (but not another) was all freaky about it.
I stayed at places where I could also do laundry, so I probably traveled lighter than at most other times.
I loved cash machines and used them frequently. You get the best exchange rate that way and don't have to carry a crazy amount of cash on you. MAKE SURE you check all the policies of your bank before you go. Awhile back I got into a situation where my bank activitated an ATM card for me and deactivated my old one, but i didn't know what the PIN was on the new one. Their policies were such that if I had been overseas, I would have been SOL. In that case, it's helpful to have a friend stateside that can bail you out someway in an emergency. IIRC, I brought traveller's checks for just such an emergency, but didn't use a single one.
Do learn at least the alphabet of a language. Even if you don't understand a word, you can at least pronounce it in a way that others may have a hope of understanding.
I was told "if you try to speak their language, they'll be nice and speak in yours." I did not find this to be true (I went to germany), but nonetheless was far better off trying to speak their language.
One of the first things I did when I arrived was buy a telephone card. Back then there were payphones and while it was very nice to be able to call friends back home, it would have been *critical* in an emergency.
The other thing I did is look up where I would go in an emergency/semi-emergency. How does the hospital system work? The name of the local police? If you needed over the counter meds, where would you get them? In germany the "drugstore" doesn't carry any meds, just stuff like diapers and whatever. When I had ankle pain, I knew to go to a different store (I forget the name now) and get something.
Find out where the American Embassy is where your planning to visit.
Make note of phone numbers and the names of people in the embassy.
This may be obvious to the point of absurdity, but I'll post it anyway. Wear really, really comfortable shoes. Slip-ons for the airport and good, already broken-in walking shoes.
My sister (super straight, super cute, always nicely dressed, petite, blonde, blue-eyed, devout Mormon wife/mother/grandmother) almost ALWAYS gets the Super Sucky Hand Search. I guess she just looks too good to be true. And Hubby got searched when he wore a slighlty baggy T shirt that covered his belt. Don't fuss if it happens to you.
Have a fabulous trip!
Make sure you let your bank know where and what dates you will be traveling. Otherwise they might put a stop on any charges that are out of the norm.
See! I have travelled quite a bit, and I knew a lot of this, but there were some I hadn't even imagined. Frozen water is an awesome tip as are the plastic bags. Very practical and very smart.
I never travel without at least having some cursory bit of their language memorized. To my benefit I took 3 years of French and am an avowed Francophile so I likely won't have trouble there. As for the Italian, the husband is fluent as he is a native, and I have picked up quite a bit. If nothing else, I can understand even if I can't reply as well. I completely agree that it is amazingly rude to not *try* to speak the language there. It is a sign of respect.
Well here's a few after having been around a while:
- Second the recommendation about the shoes - I actually make sure mine don't smell even remotely and I slip them off and keep my socks on
- Get some decent earplugs - 2-3$ can knock off 20-30 decibels especially with a crying baby on board.
- Get one of those neck-rest things and a comfortable sleeping mask.
- Make sure you adhere to TSA's recommendations about liquids/gels with carryon
- Put a few chocolate bars in your carryon/personal luggage...again I do this while flying US airlines. British and Lufthansa have been way more nice about free candy and alcohol.
- Make sure you have your anti-allergen tablets (and any other medicines like inhalers) really close. Do not take medicines unless you have to. I once took 2*Nyquil and couldn't get to sleep and it was hell of an 8hour flight.
- Always tag your luggage, print/write out your local address on a small sheet of paper and paste it on your baggage/luggage.
- If you are going to spend a lot of time in Europe, get a cheap unlocked (quadband unlocked go for 60-90$ on Amazon) phone or get your cellphone provider to unlock your phone, make sure the GSM frequencies are supported and buy a local pay-as-you-go sim card.
That's all I can think of. Most places if not all accept US$ and give back change in their local currency. I usually keep this aside to tip. Have a safe and fun trip.
Just got back from Europe. Going through security here was a breeze; much more challenging coming home. After going through a more thorough security screening, we also had a pat down and complete go through of our carry on bags right at the boarding gate for flight home.
Pick pockets are out in force. We did not have any run ins with them but the hotel we were staying at had a warning flyer at the front desk which is something they had not done from previous stays with them.
Ask for tap water when dining at restaurants as they gouge deeply for bottle water. (Almost as much as a glass of wine!)
If you are staying in one city for a period of time and are planning on using public transit, buy a multiple travel card on-line before you leave. If not enough time to purchase the travel card then buy one day use card instead of purchasing a single ride ticket. This saves big.
Pack light. Add a scarf to your outfit if you need to dress a little nicer. Two pairs of shoes were more than enough - I might just try going with one pair of decent looking walking shoes for my next trip.
Take a reusable shopping bag with you - preferably with handles long enough that can be slung over the shoulder. It can stay folded in your pocket or purse when not in use but is very helpful in toting multiple bags and beats having plastic bags handles digging into the fingers.
Internet communication is now my only method of communicating to home. Even small hotels have computers available for their guests.
Was able to bump up to next class when doing my internet boarding pass for a little extra. It was cheaper than if I had initially purchased tickets in that class.
Don't forget to slow down, relax, and enjoy.
Have a great trip.
kitty - Thanks for the information on the security check on the way back. I figured it would be more stringent, but that sounds a bit ridiculous. Apparently Milan Malpensa (our departure airport) has just added the scanner dealies, too. Hopefully they won't confiscate the giant jar of Nutella I plan to smuggle back in my checked luggage! :) The Nutella from Italy tastes different than the stuff made in Jersey or Canada.
wolfden - Chocolate. Check. I plan to do all my communication via e-mail while abroad. I have had the massive phone and texting bills in the past. Never again!
It's actually quite cheap to buy a data enabled SIM locally as long as your phone can support the SIM/local frequency. It's pay as you go - so once you run out, you don't overpay. That's what I do and I tether my phone to my laptop so I can be online on demand but if you get cheap/free internet/wifi, you are good anyway.
You probably already know this :-)
packing - use packing cubes and/or those bags you can squeeze air out of - saves room and helps keep organized
Make 2 photocopies of passport, credit cards, and id - take one set with you, leave one with a friend who could easily send/fax in emergency
Tell your bank/credit card co that you're traveling internationally so they know it's you and not stolen
If you don't get a sim card there, get your current phone unlocked so you can use it internationally.
Get currency from ATMs there - read your policies so you know the charges. Same with credit cards, read the policy so you know which has the best rate (they all charge something).
Don't walk around with your passport unless you absolutely have to. Leave it in the hotel safe.
Don't walk around with all your cash/credit cards, leave some in the hotel safe.
Don't walk around with your camera dangling from your neck, esp if it's a nice one.
I think you mentioned you're already going to do things off the beaten path which is more enriching of an experience to see everyday life.
If you do get a chance, check out Bologna, home to La Sorbiteria (http://www.lasorbetteria.it/) worlds best Gelato.
wolfden - I wouldn't know where to go to get that SIM card, and my phone is already unlocked for International calls because we have family and friends all over Europe. The SIM card sounds like a viable idea, but where would I find it? I don't want to waste time on a hunt for a card if I won't use it much, know what I mean?
twintown - Ohhh, "world's best Gelato" are fighting words!! haha My favorite has been in Brindisi, thus far, but the one we frequent near Lake Como is pretty astounding, too! :) That said, we could likely get to Bologna and if we do I'll check it out! :)
Regarding phones, you may want to have your company note on your account where you are going to be, or at least that you'll be "overseas," whether you plan to use your phone or not (as opposed to just using the wifi portion). I had a terrible experience with AT&T when the other half was on a business trip. They called me up, I told them it was legitimate. They ended up sending me to fraud and insisting I had just a few hours to come down to the store with my info proving I was for real. I had to talk them into letting me wait til after work! When we bought the phones an overseas trip was mentioned and was told it wan't any problem. The cell portion of the phone was never used, they just caught that it pinged in from another country. If I had not been able to take care of things, he could have ended up with a severed contract. Heck, I nearly severed the contract myself after that run around. It should be noted that I haven't had problems with them since. OTOH, I haven't had to talk to custserv, thank god.
The shopping bag idea sounds like a good one, but I would suggest the ones made of super strong, super light material that you can get. They wad up super duper small (it'll fit in your palm) and are less likely to tear than a paper bag.
I always pack trash bags with me, not just to quarantine the dirty clothes, but also the clean ones. This helps ensure that I will not be introducing bugs into the house when I return home. Not everyone gets bit by bed bugs, so you could ostensibly get them and not know right away. If you use the cube bags, those will work too. If you do use the vaccuum bags, make sure to pack one or two extra. They tear easily.
Oh, it's a tiny thing but anytime I fly I bring some kind of mint, lifesaver, etc to eat during takeoff/landing so my ears normalize quicker from swallowing.
angelatini: You can buy a SIM card pretty much anywhere in Europe. I am sure you can grab one near your hotel / train station / souvenir shop. That said, you might have to do a country by country purchase.
http://www.coveragemaps.com/gsmposter_europe.htm might help.
I've never used the cross-country SIM (in Europe) although I've heard you can buy those.
I think TSA might take the frozen water when you go through security.
lots of great advice so far!
tricks that worked for us on our 3 week tour of italy in one small rolling bag each.
we bought rolling bags that also had backpack straps. these came in incredibly handy in Venice with it's boats and stairs and bridges. They're also good for in and out of metro turnstiles and the like. The bags themselves were nice and light, which was a nice bonus when lugging them around often.
pack clothes that mix and match. aim for things that work well in all situations (churches, dinners, etc). wear things more than once. dark clothes work well because they hide dirt! we had a 5 day break in Florence and washed things in the sink. lightweight unmentionables dry super fast!
since our bags were light, we found room to easily pack our ibook. we used it to download and edit pictures at the end of the day or the following day while taking our post lunch rest. It made things so much nicer when we got home to not have to go through all of the pictures to be able to share them with family. it was also nice to reflect on the day.
if you plan to see a lot of sights and are okay with getting up early, do it! we were the only two people viewing some of the more popular works, because we got to the museum/church early and had a nice plan. we had nice full mornings and left our afternoons for leisurely lunches with a bottle of wine followed by a nice nap!
bring a journal. you only see a place for the first time once. i'm a sap (yeah shocker.) and like to reread our adventures.
know when buldings/exhibits are open or on display.
it's been mentioned already, but comfortable shoes are a must! also pack good socks and band aids! I really like the Band Aid brand advanced healing blister bandages. They become like a second skin and stay on for days.
I'm pretty well traveled, but since I'm fuzzy today, I'll be brief. You've received some great info here but
"Tell your bank/credit card co that you're traveling internationally so they know it's you and not stolen"
not only plus one to that, plan on calling again after you get there, one of our banks never gets it right and always turns off one of our cards. It can take 24 hours to fix depending on the time of day you call, and you'll need to have some kind of card ready, and a quiet place to make the call.
Justcurious: their site states that frozen water is ok, but it must be 100% frozen. When I went through with my bag that had camera, wireless kb, salami, bread, cheese and small frozen water bottle, they didn't even pull the water bottle out or think twice about it. Just to be on the safe side, I always print out the guidelines on their site saying I can bring food and frozen water. The rules are sometimes made up as they go along, so I bring a little insurance against that. Fortunately, I've never had to use it.
BTW, if you buy technical clothes off of steepandcheap or sierra trading post, these will dry a million times faster than cotton and will breathe better too. It may sound crazy, but I am way more comfortable in thin merino wool than I am in cotton in the summer. Expensive if you buy brand new, but not at all bad if you buy off of one of the discount sites. It will also pack smaller. When I travel I always take convertible pants. Talking about a real space saver! If you think it's gonna be cold, pack a light thermal pants to wear underneath. It's both warmer and less packing then having heavy pants. Additionally, they usually have lots of awesome pockets, frequently with velcro and/or a zipper. When I traveled overseas I actually sewed velcro in my pockets to make them less vulnerable to pick pockets.
Edog - I have had the SAME problem with my bank. I had to call them the other day about something else so I asked them to make sure to make a note on our debit cards AND our credit card. The woman I spoke with hadn't even thought to ask if I wanted the credit card to have a note on it. My first thought was...duh...who doesn't bring their cc?
I'll call again the day before we leave. Good call!
Angelatini - Its maddening but our the call center for Amex is pretty good. Still, its nuts, once abroad the person on the other end can read back notes left on our record left from our pre-trip call. So they know, they just don't connect it all.
All of the above are good and I second letting your credit card company know. We had to call the US one time from the rental car company at Heathrow because of that.
I used to keep a travel journal, but now I buy postcards that show the places we have been. They are often shots you can't get with your camera anyway. I write down all the fun stuff we did, memorable meals, etc., and put the date on it. When we get home I punch holes in the corners, thread some ribbon through it, and tie it together. Then we can go through them years later and remember each day and the things we saw.
Travel light. You will be glad you did. If you buy lots of cool stuff you can ship it back, use a lightweight bag you brought, or buy a suitcase there.
Letting your credit card know is a good idea but check with your bank about extra charges for purchases made outside the US (vs fee for ATM withdrawals and/or carrying travelers cheques).
Also, don't make your kid fly as a pet to save money, switch to boost mobile. J/K - hate that ad.
It may be too late for this trip, angelatini, but if you don't already have one, get a credit card with Capital One. They are the only company that doesn't charge any international transaction fees.
Also, you may already have heard about this, but most of the civilized world outside of the US is changing to PIN and Chip credit cards. Because of this, you *may* end up in a situation where a credit card issued by an American bank will not be accepted. While it is true that an establishment which accepts Visa is technically supposed to accept all Visa cards, try arguing about this with a clerk in another language.
And, some unattended machines for tickets, parking, petro, etc. will simply not work unless you are using a PIN & Chip card.
While there is nothing you can do about this (aside from getting a credit card issued by a foreign bank in a foreign currency, the details of which, I'm sure, are not simple), it is good to be aware of this so you aren't surprised when it happens and can research ahead of time if things you need are purchased from an unattended machine that may give you a problem and/or have enough cash to cover your purchase.
And the good news is that the requirement for PIN & Chip cards is not yet widespread.
PlantLover - I buy postcards of every place I've been, too. :) I have a large bag with all the accoutrements to start a scrap book. It'll happen when I get back this trip. (as I say every trip! haha)
It's kind of hard to travel light when you're bringing presents for all of your family and friends in Europe, but I do plan to just bring one large bag and leave it at that. I've overpacked for years and downsize each time I leave now.
silly_girl - Thanks for the heads up. I think we'll likely be fine, but it's good info to have just in case!
wilson - Thanks for the link...going to check it out now! :)
"Don't walk around with your passport unless you absolutely have to. Leave it in the hotel safe." I was just told last night by an Italian friend to always carry your passport with you. It's your only recognizable form of ID overseas. If there's a problem, you'll need it. Would you leave your house here on a trip without your ID?
If someone can tell me how I can get AT&T to unlock my iPhone so I can use it in Europe without getting raped and pillaged on their phone plans, I'd love to hear it! I don't plan on using the phone part as much as the apps (transportation schedules, translator, currency converter, walking tours...).
When I travel, I always dress nice, but comfortably, and in layers. I just feel better and seem to get better treatment that way. In my smaller carry on I have: Inflatable U shaped neck pillow, inflatable square back pillow (be careful not to over inflate, the air will expand as you get to altitude!), thin blanket, ear plugs, eye mask, headphones, iPod/iPhone, Kindle, gum, and definitely my own food. Cheese, crackers, salami, nuts, a little something sweet. I have been the envy of many fellow passengers this way! I also bring an empty metal water bottle that I fill once I'm through security.
It's usually cheaper to check a second bag than to over pack the first one, so I'll bring an empty duffel type bag just in case.
I have TSA locks on my luggage, but if you don't, small zip ties can be handy in a pinch. Just put them through all the loops... easy for them to cut if need be, and lets you know right away that someone has been in your stuff so you can check. Make sure to keep a small pair of nail clippers with you though or in an outside unlocked pocket... otherwise you'll have a heck of a time getting into your bags!
I had missed that part about the Passport. I would NEVER EVER leave my Passport unattended. Bad idea. Definitely make copies and leave them at home with a trusted friend or family member, and put a copy in your luggage, just in case.
I also just got new combination, TSA approved locks that they have a master key to and will not cut. They were pretty cheap - $11 for two, they set them to the combination you want and shipping is free and FAST. I ordered them Monday and had them Wednesday from NY. :)
As far as dressing nicer, that sounds like a great idea in theory, but I don't want to be uncomfortable on an International flight. I'll have to see if anything in the closet fits the bill!
I'm replying to foo's nice posting. I took frozen water with me one time through the airlines security, and they made me through the whole bottle away, because the ice would not come out of the little opening at the top of the bottle!
This airport security is not about making us safe, it's about getting Americans, especially the younger ones, used to the idea that they have no protection against government or corporate intrusion into their private lives and persons.
On my recent shopping trips to Value Village, I shopped specifically for clothes that would travel well. I roll my clothes when I pack (like a sleeping bad, less wrinkles than folding) and bought clothes that would work together in the same color palette. Black, grey, ivory, white with a couple of bright splashes of color thrown in. Clothing that already has texture built into the fabric works great for this.
Being uncomfortable in "nice" clothes totally defeats the purpose, so being comfortable is a must!
Try reading novels set in the locations you'll be visiting. It ties you to the destination in a completely different way than as a tourist.
I have traveled quite a bit but one belated realization is this:
- I wish I brought a small atlas or map of the world.
I am two weeks into a 3-week trip through Vietnam (my 2nd) and I can't count the number of people who have asked "Where are you from?". Many simply want to try out a little English they have learned. But when it comes time to answer, "Seattle" (or even "USA") can draw some blank stares. Wish I had a little map kit.
Testament to the penetration of cable TV: In Hanoi I could say "Just south of Vancouver!" and many people would say "Olympics!!!", but further south in (smaller) Hue, the Winter Olympics didn't get much coverage, it seems.
angelatini.... I highly recommend travel insurance. I have had clients who have had to use their insurance overseas. If you want
more information, just let me know and I can help you purchase it. The insurance covers so many areas from medical, travel delay,
dental, baggage, trip delay and trip cancellations. There is more coverage but it is too lengthy to cover it all here on the forum.
I'm pretty darned well-versed on airports being that I've worked at them for about ten years.
Definitely comfy clothes. Be able to move smoothly while getting ready to go through security. People complain about lines and yet they are the ones patting themselves down taking off watches, etc., when it's their turn to go through. I start slipping off my shoes and belt, etc., right after I get to the table. Definitely adhere to the TSA guidelines because people tend to become very forgetful and pack stuff they shouldn't pack.
This goes without saying and if you read airline disclaimers you'd know (but who reads them) but do NOT pack medications in checked luggage. Be prepared, just in case. That means basic toiletries, clean undergarments, and medications...keep that in your carry-on. Anything you THINK you might need in the next 24 hours, take with you. Don't pack your keys (house or car) or identification in checked luggage. Yup, it happens.
Lastly, remember your TSA and airline personnel are just people. Usually the guidelines are there for a reason and despite the uproar about the taking away of personal freedom, there are things going on that you don't know about. The TSA folk don't really want to pat you down nor do they really want to see your feet. They get no joy from that. If you're carrying anything quirky, say something. I've gone through with silverware, large amounts of tea, and other stuff that would scan strangely. They might want to look but that's ok.
Bring some clothes that you are ready to retire. You can then leave them there at the end of your trip and use the extra space for gifts and souvenirs.
Have a little bit of local currency before you leave so you can get a cab, make a phone call, or buy some food in the event that you arrive at a time when banks/kiosks are closed and can't change money.
Find out about local holidays and/or celebrations before you go. You may go somewhere only to find that everything is closed or miss out on a celebration had you known to go a day before or stay on an extra day. Train and bus service can be disrupted as well.
If you are going to a rural area or staying in B&B style lodging, it's nice to bring a few small uniquely American or Seattle items that you can give kids and/or your hosts. Candy, pocket photo calendars, keychains, etc. all work well. Endear yourself to people and they will go out of their way for you.
Have fun! I'm a big travel bug myself and also lived in Berlin, Germany for five years and did lots of traveling then. I recently went to the Galapagos Islands and am off to Hawaii in a couple of weeks.
Great idea about retiring clothing.
I also take solid deodorant (no limitations), a lotion bar (solid, doesn't take up baggie space), and travel sizes of things I've collected. Every time I get a free sample of make-up or whatever, it goes in the travel drawer. I tend to take makeup that is almost done so hopefully it WILL be done by the time I come home. There are solid shampoo/conditioner bars but I'm pretty set in my ways about what I use so I haven't tried those.
Shoes take up a huge amount of space. Try to bring shoes that will do double-duty...ie be comfy walking shoes but can also be used for dress-up.
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