At the beginning of 2017, it was safe to say I was a pretty novice traveler. I’d only been on an airplane a handful of times, and most of those trips were just quick weekend getaways. But by the time I rang in 2018, I’d spent more than 50 days of the year traveling. I went to Paris (twice), Rome, New York City, Chicago, and Orlando all over the course of eight months. I’m happy to report that I no longer feel like a novice traveler, and with some more big trips coming up, I’m taking time to reflect on what I learned and how I can ensure my travel experiences are as seamless and relaxing as possible.
How to Stay Organized
Even when everything goes perfectly, traveling is hectic, that’s half the fun. But I’ve learned some organization tips that leave me less flustered and able to travel with a little more ease.
Leave Your Wallet Behind
Bear with me on this one, I know it sounds reckless, but I do not use a wallet when traveling, I use a “pouch.” Before I leave, I pack a zippered pouch with the bare necessities: my PNC bank card, driver’s license, and health insurance card. Then I add paper money to use while traveling or to swap for foreign currency. If traveling abroad. I also include my passport in this pouch. If necessary, I include any printouts of tickets, boarding passes, or booking confirmations in this pouch as well. As I travel, I stash receipts, newly purchased tickets and coupons in here too.
I use this pouch from TDE. It’s big enough to hold a boarding pass and a passport, has a credit card holder, and a zippered pocket that’s perfect for cash and coins. I’ve even used it as a clutch when I don’t want to carry a purse as it can also stash keys and a cellphone. I love that it’s monogrammed with my initials and that they have vegan leather options. I have my eye on the matching vegan travel case that includes earring hooks to keep jewelry organized, plus it’s the perfect size to store miscellaneous valuables and tech items you don’t want floating around your bag.
I keep all of my receipts in the same pouch, but when traveling for business, I take photos of receipts as soon as I make a purchase and I store the photo in a special folder dedicated to the trip on my iPhone. That way it’s super easy for me to submit my expenses for reimbursement or write them off when tax season comes.
Keep a travel journal
Before my first trip abroad, a friend gave me this Moleskine travel journal. It was intended to write down my memories each day of my trip, which I shamelessly didn’t do. But I never travel without it because it has become indispensable in regards to staying organized. This particular journal comes with online templates you can print out and paste into your journal, so before every trip abroad I now create a couple special pages in my journal. I’m always worried my phone will die while traveling and I’ll be without necessary information, so I include everything important in my journal: My hotel name, address, and phone number, plus directions on how to get there from the airport; the phone number and address of the closest American consulate, and other phone numbers that might be needed in an emergency. If I plan on making any day trips to other cities or attractions that might be difficult to get to, I include directions for that, too. It’s also a great place to jot down notes about restaurants, shops, and attractions you’d want to return to one day or recommend to friends.
Use The Right Tech
There are a lot of travel apps out there that claim to be life-changing, but in my opinion, they take up a lot of space on your phone and you’ll never use them. Do you really need an app that’s a guide to what food is available in your airport terminal? Yep, that exists. But the Google Trips app is unbelievably helpful. If you book your travels using your Gmail address, this app pulls all of the vital information from each booking into an itinerary for your trip. All you have to do is open the app (once it’s been updated it can even be accessed offline) then click on your trip and you’ll be able to see all of your transportation schedules, confirmation numbers, and tickets. Plus they include a link that takes you straight to the original email you received after booking in case you need to reference it. The app also makes suggestions for local restaurants and attractions based on your schedule.
Like many people, I only use a carry-on bag while traveling. I usually have no trouble fitting what I need into a carry-on, but for longer trips or ones that require bulkier clothing items, I try to be strategic about how I pack. I always pick a versatile color scheme for my clothing, wear a coat on my flight to save space, and I wear my bulkiest pair of shoes while traveling.
This Away carry-on suitcase is a total game changer. And yes, I got the pink one. But as someone who can’t easily reach the overhead compartment, it’s much easier to ask for help when you can point to a very identifiable pink bag. You don’t have to worry about any valuables being crushed thanks to its hard shell, it has a TSA-approved combination lock that will make you feel secure, a compression system to help you fit more clothes, and a hidden laundry bag to keep your dirty items away from your clean items. I also really love that it includes an ejectable battery that you can charge your phone with. I like to take the battery off before I board so I can use it to charge my phone in flight if needed.
For my smaller “personal item,” I bring a backpack for longer trips simply because they can fit so much more than a purse, and they are easier to carry around with you.
How to Stay Healthy
When you’re traveling, it’s pretty normal to feel a little off. I mean, you have jet lag and long days of sightseeing working against you. But after dragging through business trips and running myself into the ground on vacations, I realized that there were a few small tweaks I could make to my behavior that would help me feel my best no matter where I am. I’ve found that when I follow these rules, I’m less likely to get sick too. No Emergen-C required.
Skip the Alcohol
I like to indulge in the occasional cocktail on a Saturday night or a glass of wine when a friend comes over, but I never have an alcoholic drink multiple days in a row. During a recent business trip, each day involved an event or dinner where wine and cocktails were readily available. It was fun at first, but I realized a few days into the trip that even though I wasn’t drinking that much each day, it was still too much for my body to handle. For the most part, I now skip drinking alcohol when I’m traveling. I’ve found that without it in my system, I sleep better, don’t feel dehydrated, and have a lot more energy.
Don’t Eat Every Meal Out
Alcohol isn’t the only thing that can make your body feel off. Eating three meals a day at restaurants can really start to take its toll. I try not to eat out more than once a week at home, so when I travel it’s a pretty big adjustment. Restaurant food can be heavy, greasy, salty, and makes me feel weighed down. When I’m traveling, I always pack healthy snacks with me, and as soon as I can after reaching my destination, I hit the grocery store. I never cook when I’m traveling, but I get enough supplies to make some pretty solid makeshift meals. My general rule of thumb is to only eat two meals a day in restaurants. And then whichever meal I choose to not eat out, I replace with fruit, vegetables, nuts, hummus, pita bread, or other hearty yet healthy food. As a bonus, it can save me major time and money.
My boyfriend and I visited the Palace of Versailles in France and we spent the entire day exploring the beautiful grounds. The lunch options were expensive, had long waits, and were probably not the best quality as tourists had no choice but to eat there. So we were super relieved that we had packed a picnic lunch that we could enjoy in the lovely gardens.
Rest When Needed
Hectic business trips are a little out of my control, but even my vacations tend to be a lot of hustle and bustle. I went to Paris with my mom last year and we were so excited to explore the city that we would walk 14 miles a day without taking many breaks. There is a lot to see in Paris! But by the time we finished dinner, we were ready to crash and often found ourselves settled into our hotel for the night by 6 pm. When I returned to Paris with my boyfriend four months later, I played things a little differently. It was very hot when we went and I found myself exhausted by the early afternoon. So we made a habit of going back to the hotel mid-day to shower and take a nap. We would wake a few hours later feeling refreshed and ready to head back out for many more hours of sightseeing. And our feet really appreciated the break.
How to Save Money
There’s no way to get around it: no matter how savvy you are, traveling is expensive. But I’ve found a few tried-and-true ways to make my trips cost less, which means I can afford to travel more than I ever thought would be possible.
Fly Into a Major City
If you can be a little flexible while traveling, you can save a lot of money. We’re so lucky to live in a time where airfare is getting cheaper and cheaper, but there are exceptions to this new rule. I’ve found that major European cities can have very affordable flight options and I try to cater my travel plans to those deals. For example, my boyfriend needs to go to Stockholm for work this summer, and I’m planning on joining him so we can squeeze a vacation in. Unfortunately, flights to Stockholm are really expensive the week we have to go, but we realized there are plenty of other European cities that were cheaper to fly into. So we’re planning on making a stop in a more affordable city like Amsterdam, London, or Edinburgh for a few days and then take an inexpensive and quick flight to Stockholm for the remainder of our trip. The plan’s not foolproof, we’ll have to pony up more money for the flight home from Stockholm, but our little detour is estimated to save us $1,500 in airfare costs
You Don’t “Have” to Do Anything
Some people feel passionate about art. Others food. Some religion. When planning a trip, it’s easy for people to say you “must” do something, and that something can oftentimes cost money. I’m so fortunate to live near Los Angeles where we have world-class art museums. I’ve spent so many wonderful days at local museums like The Getty and LACMA, but when I travel I don’t enjoy spending time in large museums. I love exploring new cities, and my favorite part is simply walking around outside. If you’re a technical support engineer or a systems architect who is in New York City for the first time, there’s a chance you would rather go to the National Museum of Mathematics instead of the world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s completely fine.
So I’ve learned to skip museums in favor of activities that I’m more drawn to. I’ve made exceptions to see exhibits or artists I’m very drawn to, but I no longer feel guilty about not spending half a day in a museum, even if there are some true masterpieces inside. Not only can I allocate that time to activities I care more about, but the ticket money can be better spent. The same concept applies to tours, expensive restaurants, and shops you don’t care about.
In Paris, a cup of hot tea is about $5, but the Metro system is inexpensive and easy to use. In Rome, water in a restaurant would set you back $4, but a plate of pasta was cheap. Every city is different and each comes with unexpected costs. I try to be mindful when traveling of small expenses I can cut out. A two mile walk sounds far, but it only takes 30 minutes, is that worth the $10 Uber? Can you bring a water bottle with you to that restaurant? It’s easy to splurge when you’re on vacation, and while I would never not buy something I really wanted or needed, I try to be just as mindful of my spending as I am at home.
How to Extend Your Trip
Do Your Research
Traveling can be a big commitment, financially and time-wise. I’ve always found it to be worth it, and there are ways I’ve been able to extend the joy I get from traveling. Before a trip, I do a lot of research about my intended destination. Not just on attractions and food, but on history and culture. I’ve found YouTube to be a great resource for watching travel videos. Not only does it get me excited about upcoming trips, but I feel like I learn so much and am entertained at the same time, and there are actual helpful videos out there – not just ones made by product marketing managers.
Take Time to Reflect
After a trip, I really take time to reflect on what I enjoyed while traveling. Was there a delicious meal I can try to master? Is there a local park I might enjoy as much as one I experienced elsewhere? Is there a custom or tradition I can try to replicate? My mom and I loved the simple French breakfasts that consisted of fresh orange juice and a toasted baguette with jam. So when we got home, I found a local French restaurant that served a similar breakfast and surprised her on Mother’s Day.