September 26, 2017

Travel Tips & Tricks

Travel tips & tricks

A lot of you have asked for a blog post focused around travel.  I do my fair share of travel and I have learned some things along the way, so why not share?

I am not an expert by any means and in no way endorsed by anyone or anything.  I just enjoy travel and I make it a part of my life.  It’s a mandatory part of planning my year and it’s something I strive to get better at with time.

That being said, I have learned a few things and I have a few posts over the coming months that cover everything from packing, to traveling light, to traveling with camera gear, to deciding what to see and what to skip.   Today though, I want to cover the initial fears and concerns.  That seems to be where a lot of people decide to call off a trip and forgo a wonderful adventure for many reasons.

In blue are some real-world examples from my personal experiences.

Some of the things I hear about why people don’t travel ….

  • It’s expensive
  • Airlines are a pain
  • Fear of other cultures
  • How will I know what to do?
  • Food concerns.

These are all 100% valid concerns.     But, they are valid concerns that can be mitigated by planning, research and asking questions.  I promise.

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It’s Expensive.

Myth.  If it was expensive, I wouldn’t do it.   Part of the reason I travel, actually, is because it is the best bang for my buck and the best way to spend my money with the best value.  Let’s put it this way:  Last December I went to Nice, France.  For $500 per person.  That is the equivalent of a Starbucks Drink every business day for 5 months.  I can sacrifice Starbucks for 5 months to go on vacation.

Tips & Tricks :

  • Be open to switching it up.   I never go into trip planning with a designated date.
    •    Example: Right now, I am trying to plan a trip for December.  Ideally, I want to leave Dec 16 and return Dec 23.  But, I am searching anywhere from Dec  10 departure to Dec 28th return. 

If you don’t have that luxury, that’s understandable.  I have a flexible job that allows me to move around vacation time.   If you don’t, consider some of the options below

  • Be flexible with the location.  Now obviously, if you’re going to Disney World, you’re going to Disney World.   That doesn’t leave much room for change.   However, if you want to go on vacation but aren’t sure where, be open to anything
    •  Using the December trip I am planning as an example.  I want to go to Asia because I absolutely love China and Japan and we have had great experiences.  But, for some reason, it’s almost $500 more per person to go to Hong Kong than it was this same time next year.  So instead, I am looking into all of Europe, some of Middle East and different parts of Asia. I have a bucket list of place I want to go eventually, so I am running through each one to get the best possible deal.  (more on this in a blog post next week!!)  To me, I would rather visit a country during their “off season” and have cooler weather with less people and get the trip for way less money.
  • Don’t make expensive choices. Okay, let me explain here.  Often, when I talk to people who say travel is expensive, it’s because they have built-in preferences.  Yes, if you fly first class without using award miles and if you must stay at the Ritz, your trip will probably cost more than mine.  BUT, if you are willing to look at different airlines, explore things like Ryanair and EasyJet, fly economy, and stay at a nicely rated but unknown hotel, it gets more affordable.
  • Use forums and other reputable travel sites to make an educated and financially wise choice.
    • I am active on TripAdvisor and I recommend that you go through TA anytime you travel.  Even for cities that I have been to a dozen times, I look at TA first for things to do, restaurants and good adventures.  You get the occasional whiny traveler who will never be pleased, but it’s easy to see which restaurants, hotels and businesses are good and which you should steer away from.   People don’t hold back, which I love.
      • Example:  When I booked our London hotel, I read reviews on dozens of hotels before settling for the Hilton Tower Bridge.   I think we paid in the neighborhood of $150 a night.  I walk a lot in London, so I wanted a comfy hotel, otherwise I would have gone with a cheaper choice.  But its far from the $220-$300 a night I see other paying for a similar hotel.

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Airlines are a pain.

Wish I could label this a myth.  Sad truth is that they are a pain.

Example: Last Christmas, I surprised my husband with a trip to Nice.   On the trip home, I was somehow booked on 2 separate flights through American Airlines.  One arrived in Las Vegas (home) at 2pm, and the other at 11pm. Naturally, I wanted the one without the layover that got me home 9 hours earlier.   They realized they had us booked on 2 flights and they said of course I could have the better fight.  Except that it was at a gate across the airport (Heathrow) and I would never make it, as it boarded in 10 minutes.  Oh well.  No biggie.

5 minutes later, I hear them boarding a flight to Las Vegas at the next gate. THE NEXT GATE.  I went to the agent and said what the heck.  She admitted she didn’t realize it was the gate next to us and unfortunately in that small timeframe they had booked the flight and I wasn’t able to get on.

To this day, I will not fly American.  I loathe American.  You cost me 9 hours of my life because you didn’t know that gate A34 was right next to us.

So yes, they are a pain.  However, here are some tips and tricks to make airports and airlines a bit easier to deal with,

Tips & Tricks:

  • Use Twitter.   Most of the airlines are pretty active on social media, so sending a tweet to see what going on with a flight or to get customer service tends to be way faster than waiting at a gate or calling at 1800#.
  • Get TSA, Global Entry, CLEAR, or something.   It bypasses the lines domestically and sometimes internationally.  Global also allows you to go through an expedited Customs and Immigration process when returning to the US.
  • Try to be loyal.   I don’t like to switch airlines.  I prefer to fly with United.  Why?  Because it’s a habit. Because I know how they board, how they act, how they treat their MileagePlus members and I know their routes and rules
    • Example:  For the record, I do have the United credit card.  Therefore, I prefer to fly United because I know I board in Group 2 (fast as heck), I know I am eligible for an upgrade and I know I am guaranteed a certain amount of luggage on board the plane.
  • Be on time.   Okay, let’s be real.  How much of the travel headache is self inflicted?  Ladies and gents – A LOT OF IT.  A lot of it is your own fault.  I really hate to say that, but it’s true.   If you schedule down to the minute and are not a frequent traveler, it might backfire.  So you take off at 8am? So you board at 720, so you need to get to the gate at …. 718?  So you leave your house at 630 because it’s a 10 minute drive to the airport and you’ll give yourself 30 minutes for security?
    • NO NO NO NO NO.
    • Give yourself time.  There will always be a problem somewhere.  Security lines, malfunctioning transit, problems at the gate, etc.   Give yourself an extra few minutes instead of throwing yourself into a panic because you don’t give yourself any time and then screaming at a gate agent because you missed your flight and she ruined your vacation because there are no other flights out that day.

Fear of other cultures.

This is one that is out there, whether we admit it or not.  The best way to handle this is to do your research and be open to learning something new.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Use things like TripAdvisor to see what others have recently done in that location.
  • Learn about the food, customs  and cultural norms before going.
  • Google is your friend.  Research research research!
  • Instagram!  I search by location and see what other people are up to.
  • Reach out and ask!! I find people on Instagram in that country or city who seem nice and authentic and send a message asking if they know of any good restaurants locally or a good spot to hang out.  It should go without saying, don’t plan to meet them, don’t offer or accept to meet anyone, etc etc.  Just use them for information seeking online.

Fear is a real thing. It shouldn’t be overlooked  but it also shouldn’t rule your life.

A location on my bucket list is the Middle East.  But, I am slightly afraid to go because of the cultural differences we have.   I am following my own advice and doing research to understand before I go. I want to know what I can expect for food, what the cultural norms are, how I can expect to be treated differently as a woman in the middle east, what I need to do to make sure I am socially acceptable to their society, etc.

When we went to China and Japan, we did a lot of research ahead of time.  We learned things such as:   1) pointing is considered rude.  2) When you hand someone money you should do it with both hands. And 3) English is not common in China. Knowing all of these things ahead of time helped us not only appreciate the culture,  but do our best to be polite guests in their country. 

At the end of the day, this is another persons country and culture.  It isn’t the same, and you should travel for that reason! To learn and experience.  

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How Will I know what to do?

There are a few things here.  Research is a big one.   Below are some tools for travel research.  The other big component is planning and having an itinerary, or deciding to just wing it.  That’s a personal choice, but I will explore how to make both work.

Tips & Tricks:

  • TripAdvisor :  I have mentioned it a few times and I am a big supporter.  Use it to do research ahead of time and then leave a review after!  It helps you keep track of your travel and favorite spots and also helps point others in the right direction.
  • Hard copies of maps: This is on you.  Some people like it, some don’t.  We prefer to keep a hard copy of a map with us.  1) I don’t like relying on my phone and it is generally only used for photos when I travel internationally.  And 2) they service as a souvenir, with our favorite spots circled and notes made.
  • Social media:  Okay, this can backfire FAST my friends.  Let me tell you why.  I think we all know that social media can be a great tool.  It can also be a detriment to living your real life.  So many people have opinions, advice, insight and tips that are genuinely helpful.  And then a lot of people are really bitter and don’t want to get out of their comfort zone and instead just make you really worried about your vacation.
    • An example …. I know a friend who has never left the country.  She is preparing a trip overseas and people on Facebook are telling her how dangerous it is because of terrorism, how they heard about this part of town being bad and how they saw on facebook that you shouldn’t do this and that. Well, maybe some of those people are being helpful.   But a lot are just being downers.  Do your legitimate research, based on accurate and factual accounts by people who have been there  recently.  Do not base your travel plans on the word of Facebook. It is not gospel.
  • Social Media for the win:  Browse around and see what people are up to.  I mentioned before that I love to go on Instagram and browse by location.  I get to see where people are, what the local spots look like, and almost scope it out before I go!  It also gives me new ideas AND geographic locations so I don’t get lost.

Wing it or plan it?

Tips for Winging it:

  • Have a map downloaded to use without Wifi or internet access.
  • Have a basic idea of the structure of the city.
  • At least know where a train station or bus station is in case you get lost .
  • Have a basic plan… “today we are going to wander and see pretty architecture” or something.
  • Know the weather.  Just me personally, I don’t wing it when it comes to weather.   If there is a typhoon coming my way, I like to know.

Tips for planning it:

My husband is the ULTIMATE itinerary maker.   I mean, I wish I could share one with you.  Literally, he puts gorgeous backgrounds on them of the cities we are going to and on and on.  Amazing. So, here is what he does that I love:

  • Have a “Must do” list.
    • Example: we are taking my MIL to London in October.  I had her write out a list of the things she absolutely has to do.  The things that she cannot get a plane and leave without having done or seen or tried.   The things that will keep you up at night for the next 20 years because WHAT IF?  Make a list.
  • Plan geographically around your list.  We like to cluster.  One day we hit all of the spots around this part of town, the next day another, etc.
  • Get everyone on the same page.  Just because you want to see the Eiffel Tower doesn’t mean I do.  (I mean oh my gosh of course I do, but you get the point.)   Make sure this is a group effort and each person gets a say.
  • Plan food.  If you are going from the Tower of London to London Bridge and then over to Buckingham Palace, and you are walking (I’m a walker!) maybe there are some places you can stop for tea or snacks or lunches along the way.
  • Transit.  Plan how you want to get around.  You can get transit maps (London underground etc) online and even order transit passes online!   We always get an Oyster Card before we travel and then we can drop right into London and travel on the underground without having to worry about passes etc.
    • Example:  We travel by foot and public transportation.   My husband can read a map like a freaking map savant.  I…. can’t.   This train is going sorta to the left and then I think It’ll stop at the blue thingy and then  I can walk the rest of the way.  That’s how I travel.  He downloads and prints a tube or transit map before we go and studies it so become familiar.  And then holds my hand and tells me where to get on and off of the train.
  • Know the weather.  Pack accordingly and be prepared. Plan inside activities for poor weather and outside activities for nice weather.

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Food Concerns

This one comes up more and more throughout the years.   It used to just be “what if I don’t like the food?” and now it tends to be centered more and more around dietary restrictions.  So, I will vaguely address both as an individual without any sort of medical training or education and with just some common sense traveler tips. K?

Personally, I don’t take risks with food when I travel.  I have some food intolerances and a vicious fish allergy, so I plan ahead.

  • Know before you go.   Get to know what the food is like.  Pick out spots on TripAdvisor or Yelp that align with your staple diet and you know you will like.  Read reviews and look at menus.  Write down the restaurants you want to try ahead of time, as well as their addresses.
  • Pack some snacks.  When we went to China, we read that American food was hard to find.  They were right.  We had authentic Chinese food a few times (thank goodness we had a tour guide to help us order).    But I packed pretzels, protein bars and other snacks to hold me over.  No kidding, I brought 10 protein bars to China.  And thank goodness, because there was one night that we lived off of those and Pringles.  Because we attempted to order our own food and it backfired oh so bady.
  • The common staples.  This kind of goes with the know before you go rule.   Find out what their common staples are and what you can expect to find.  I know that when I go to Nice, I can find 100 restaurants to serve me pasta, pizza and wine.  When I go to London, I can expect Hunter’s Chicken and Fish and Chips.  If you have a dietary restriction, know what you can live off of.
    • A lot of places in other countries don’t have the same dietary concerns that we do.  I grew up in Europe and still have family and friends there. We visit annually. I have never heard anyone mention a Gluten intolerance.   The way food is made in the US is different.  Our dependency on processed foods makes us a unique culture.   So don’t go to another country expecting them to understand your intolerance or allergy.  In a lot of these countries, they use fresh ingredients and everything is made from scratch daily.    While allergies such as fish, dairy, etc are common throughout the world, understand that the American diet has created food intolerances that are not common throughout the world.
  • Use your head.   I have a fish allergy. Do you know where I don’t eat?  Fish markets.  Seafood restaurants.   I just avoid the things I know will get me in trouble.  Could I find something on the menu to eat? Probably?  Will I regret it? Probably.
  • Carry Benadryl, an Epi pen or whatever you need to get you through a situation.
    • Don’t assume it won’t happen and that you have learned how to manage it.  Be prepared just in case.

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Okay friends, SO MUCH INFO!!!!

This is super preliminary obviously, but I’d love your thoughts.  Does any of this info help? Message me or leave a comment below!

Next week, we look into how to score affordable deals for travel!

Hint: I went to Nice, France for 5 days for $500 per person last year. Without using award miles and without staying in a hostel. Tune in to see how I did it 🙂

xo

Jen

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