Spending the last nearly eight years as a nomad wandering this planet with 195 countries, 7 seas, and nearly 8 billion people, I have picked up a few helpful hints along the way. In 2021, I visited my fortieth country. To some people that probably seems like a lot, but it is a mere twenty percent of this incredible world. Sometimes I am amazed that I have seen so much while other times I think how much is still there to explore. I have been in places where my skin shade, my religion, and my language have put me in the minority.
I have sat in Hindu temples and experienced spirituality I can’t put into words. I have sat in rooms where no one spoke my native language and I knew but a few basic words in theirs. I have relied on the kindness of strangers when I found myself in unknown parts and a mobile phone with a dead battery. I have shared a meal with locals and had no idea what I was eating and honestly decided it was best I didn’t know. I had a six-hour back surgery 7000 miles from home in a small town in China. I have slept in a home in rural North Vietnam where the animals lived under the house and meals were cooked over an open fire. I have slept in a home with no running water. I have also dined with a ship’s captain floating somewhere in the middle of one of the seven seas.
I was at the procession for the Queen Mum’s funeral in London, have stood in Red Square in Moscow, and sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Out of all these experiences, the most important thing I have learned, and it is not part of my “tip list”, is that no matter the country, the culture, the language, the skin shade, the religion, or the political situation, is that people are inherently good. I would describe myself as an optimist, but I don’t see the glass as half full and certainly not half empty. I see it as having room for more. I like to think I always have room for more…more room to grow…more room to learn. Maybe you already know most of my “tips”, but these are some things I have picked up along my journey. Hopefully, you too have room for more and maybe you will pick up just one thing that will make your travels go more smoothly. As a side note, for most of these tips, I am thinking about travel of a minimum of one week or longer. Without further ado my top ten and a spare:
- You Don’t Need All Those Shoes: Do you really need three different pairs of sandals? Let me answer that for you…NO! What you do need are comfortable walking shoes. If you are going to a warm climate and those shoes happen to be sandals, so be it. Although, I prefer to have my main pair of comfortable shoes as closed-toe. These are also usually the ones I travel in. Depending on the time of year, I like a Born Mayflower II (flat) or the Toby Duo (slight heel). These are good for fall, winter, and rainy weather. I also like my closed-toe Keens. The Skecher GOwalk slip-on is another good choice. It comes in several colors, but I tend to stick with black or grey. For warm weather, I can’t be without a pair of flip-flops. I love my croc flip-flops and Keen has nice options also. An essential shoe, in my humble opinion, is a shower shoe that can double as a pair of slippers for your room. If you have the room or are planning a fancy night out and need a dressy pair of shoes, that is your choice. For most of my travels, I can make do with the pair I am traveling in, a pair of flip-flops (depending on the time of year or destination), and a pair of shower shoes. I rarely have more than 3 pairs total including what I am wearing.
- Stick to Black, Grey, Brown, and Navy: I know, I know….BORING. I’m not suggesting you don’t pack anything of color. Choose the core pieces of your wardrobe in these basic colors. A pair of jeans and 3 other pairs of pants can get me by for 2 weeks of travel. This includes the pair I travel in. I usually travel in a pair of dark-colored yoga-type pants which can be dressed up with a nice blouse or tunic. You need color in your life/wardrobe you argue. No problem, a couple of colorful tops will easily match your bottoms. Accessorize with color…take a couple colorful scarves which can double as a wrap if it gets chilly or a headcover should you get caught in the rain. Always expect the unexpected. This means even if you are going to a tropical climate, throw in a long-sleeve item or wear it on the plane as it often tends to be chilly onboard. I’m not going to tell you how much to pack in the way of clothes, just don’t pack more than you can easily manage on your own. Especially because traveling in many countries you won’t always find the convenience of an elevator or escalator and may find yourself hauling your 50lb (23 kg) suitcase up a flight of stairs. My rule of thumb…if I have extra room in my suitcase and it doesn’t make it too heavy, I usually throw in an extra shirt or two. It’s easier to wear pants for multiple days than shirts. I also don’t usually pack an umbrella because they are cheap to buy on the street should the need arise.
- Buy Shampoo and Stuff at Destination: Okay, I know they make most everything in travel size nowadays. But, even in travel size, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion all add unnecessary weight to your luggage. Unless you can give me a good reason why you can’t do without your favorite shampoo for a week or two, use what is available at the hotel. If you absolutely hate what is provided or they don’t have everything you need, buy it at your destination and leave it behind or use those zip-lock bags I’m going to talk about and take it home at the end of the trip. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Trust me, the space and weight you save can be of a better use for something else. AND, if you can afford the trip, you can probably afford to buy those things when you arrive.
- Baby Wipes: I just got done telling you to buy stuff at your destination and now I’m telling you to pack baby wipes. I don’t think you will need to shampoo your hair between leaving and home and your destination, although never say never. You may want to freshen up between here and there. I throw a packet of baby wipes in my carry-on to wash my face, wipe my hands, clean the tray table, etc. Believe me when I tell you they will come in handy. Ever gone to the restroom and discovered there is no toilet paper…aha…I have baby wipes. Need to blow your nose and no tissues…baby wipes. Baby wipes are more versatile than a pack of tissues, although it never hurts to have tissues on you either.
- Scan Docs and Email Yourself: I am old school and like a hard copy of everything, but it isn’t always convenient to have a folder full of paper you must root through. I try to scan or take a photo of important documents. This would include, any identification (driver’s license, passport), boarding passes, tickets for museums and shows, confirmation numbers for hotels, etc., important phone numbers (bank, credit card company, hotels, emergency numbers), and in these days of coronavirus, proof of negative covid test, recovery, or vaccination. Once I have scans or photos of everything, I create a folder on my phone and store them. More importantly, email a copy of all the documents to yourself. This way, should you lose or have your phone stolen, you can always access your email at any computer and retrieve the documents.
- Pen: Always, always, always have a pen on you. If traveling internationally, most often you will need to fill out some type of immigration form (usually on the plane). Also in these days of coronavirus, a health questionnaire is sometimes required. Even if I have filled out forms online, I have, on occasion, had to fill them out hardcopy. Even if not traveling internationally, it seems as if there is always something I need to jot down.
- One Splurge: I never want to be the typical tourist and do all the touristic things. I have saved up for this trip and want to be as economical as possible. I know I said earlier if you can afford the trip buy the stuff there. That doesn’t mean I want to spend crazy amounts of money to have and do the best of everything or eat in 5-star restaurants every night. In other words, I don’t want to spend stupid money either. Do find at least one “special” thing you want to do or treat yourself to…Maybe it’s a special wine, a massage, a trendy restaurant, a special purchase, a touristic dinner cruise on the Seine at sunset, whatever your little heart desires. Splurge on at least one thing that is going to make your trip magical.
- Learn Some Basics and an Unusual Phrase: This may be one of the most important things on my list, in my opinion. Learn the basics!! If you are traveling to a country where you don’t know the language, learning at least hello, goodbye, please, and thank you will make life so much easier. People will appreciate the fact you tried to speak their language. If you can find and learn an unusual phrase even better. I have also found it helpful to learn how to ask for your check in the local language at restaurants and cafes. Numbers….learning the basics of numbers has been beneficial when using taxis. Of course, you should only use official taxis or take the chance of being ripped off. Another useful phrase is to learn how they toast in the local language. I always get a smile when I say, “sante”, “ganbei” or “na zdrowie”. If you aren’t traveling to a place where the language is different, it is still nice to learn if they have any local custom, history, or phrase and then use it. Locals are always happy to discover you know something about their town’s history or culture.
- Eat Where the Locals Eat: I get it that maybe everyone doesn’t want to try exotic foods, but are you really going to Paris and eating at McDonald’s? Okay, that may be a bit extreme and when I lived in China, having a McDonald’s burger and fries seemed like a luxury, a little taste of home. But I seriously know people that have gone to a faraway destination and eaten only at American brand fast food places. I understand you don’t like raw fish so I’m not saying that you must eat sushi if you go to Japan. Maybe you eat chicken. Find out how chicken is typically prepared at your destination and try it that way. Vegan and vegetarian options are becoming more popular and easier to find all over the world. When I say eat where the locals eat, ask the person who works at the desk at the hotel where they take their family to eat and go there. Of course if, they direct you to a sushi place and you don’t like sushi, let them know. Explain what you do like, and I am sure they can direct you to somewhere the locals eat. Not only will it probably be a bit less expensive, but you may also discover something new. My favorite places to eat worldwide usually end up being the simple café, warung, bistro, or corner diner the locals go to.
- Zip Lock Bags: Ziplock bags take up very little space in your luggage and for me, have come in handy many times. Try to take several different sizes. Of course, nowadays, any liquids in your carry-on must be in zippy bags. They also come in handy when packing to return home. Maybe you spilled something on a shirt and washed it out by hand. It didn’t get dry before time to go…put it in a zip lock bag. Took a last-minute swim…suit in a zippy. They are great for separating dirty clothes from the clean on the way home. That shampoo you bought and don’t want to leave….zippy bag so it doesn’t leak in your suitcase. Long layover, great to put snacks in. Put your cords and chargers in zippy bags to make them easy to find and grab. Again, just trust me on this. They take up minimal space and you’ll be surprised how they come in handy.
- WhatsApp and Other Useful Apps: Here’s your bonus, useful apps when traveling. If you are traveling, especially out of the USA, most people use WhatsApp as a communication platform. You can send texts and make calls, including video calls. The best part, when using Wi-Fi, calls aren’t charged to your data. Traveling to a country they don’t speak your native language? Google Translate is in my opinion the best option. It is also a good idea to download the offline package, so you don’t need the internet for translation purposes. Although, I would recommend Pleco if traveling to China since Google is blocked. I mostly use Google Maps for directions and download the offline map for whatever city I am in. Baidu Maps for use in China. For transportation service, Uber is pretty much universal and reliable. I also recommend downloading any other public transportation apps for cities you may be in. For example, the Paris Metro for Paris, Jakdojade for Warsaw buses, trams, and metro…most major cities with public transportation will have an app. Probably the most useful app, if you are travelling out of your home country, is XE Currency Converter.
There you have it. A few tips I tell my friends when traveling. I’m sure you may not agree with everything, I mean I have been known to spend 3 weeks in Europe with a carry-on roller bag and a backpack. On my most recent weekend in Paris, I took an 11 L crossbody bag. I know that’s not for everyone, but I hope you picked up an idea or two. If you decided to leave that extra pair of shoes behind, it is always a good idea to toss an extension cord in your bag, and don’t forget the converter/adapter if traveling to a foreign country. Peace! Love! Travel!