Ahh…summer vacation! These are the days when everyone is eager to go on trips anywhere around the country because the sun is shining bright and it’s the perfect time to hole up in beach resorts to relax, or out of the country to escape this infernal heat and have an excuse to wear those trench coats, boots and scarves in your closet. Whichever the case, it can only mean airports and are jam-packed especially towards the weekend…and with the queues upon check-in, the x-ray machines, the luggage restrictions, the screaming kids, immigration, customs and other such pains in the derriere, it’s going to take a lot more than a strong shot of alcohol to calm the nerves for a smooth trip. I was fortunate enough to go on a long-awaited and highly anticipated vacation abroad with two of my closest friends, and we had a fantastic time thanks to all the reminders and tips everyone sent us in preparation. Happy to share these with you in the hope they can help diminish frazzled nerves when travelling with family or friends.
- Pack light. Nothing is worse than having to lug 30 kilos of luggage up and down staircases in metro stops with no escalators or elevators. So just bring pieces you can wear multiple times and match with other things-mostly neutral colors dressed up by a colorful scarf, jeans, a good jacket and comfortable, sturdy footwear. I can’t stress the footwear part enough, because you’ll be walking quite a bit and ballet flats won’t cut it on cobblestones and other such uneven terrain. Painful feet will most definitely ruin your day, it’s not worth the vanity (only in this case!). Try wedge boots, Aerosoles or the new Fitflop sneakers, they should make quite a difference while still looking cute.
- Bring the essentials. It’s tempting to forego some ‘boring’ stuff so you can stuff in more clothes in your suitcase. Don’t underestimate the powers of a small foldable umbrella that can not only ward off rain but also sun (and resulting sunspots and wrinkles!). Use a universal adaptor to be sure, since you can’t always predict what types of electrical outlets other countries use. Bring a small portable luggage scale that can help you gauge whether your shopping spree is still within the airline luggage allotment coming back, otherwise you’ll end up having to buy a second suitcase (which I’ve had to do a couple of times before!). Use a light carry-on bag (7 kilos or less) to put some toiletries and one change of clothes and undies in just in case your luggage gets lost in transit. Make sure there’s enough room in the bag to put in some of the souvenirs and trinkets you’ve picked up along the way. And don’t forget your new best friends- A lot of Sky Flakes, Berocca (works like a charm), vitamins, Bactidol (to ward off the beginnings of tonsillitis), Diatabs for a troublesome tummy, Eficascent oil or Salonpas spray for aching muscles after walking up a storm, and my ever trusty Bonamine for motion sickness and to get you to sleep throughout the plane ride.
- Always get travel insurance. Oh this isn’t an option, anything can happen and you’ll never know when you’ll really need it. You luggage could get lost or stolen, you could get sick or get into a vehicular accident on the trip, you could even get bitten by a dog. Trust me, I’ve seen it. So don’t scrimp on this and stay safe.
- Check weather forecasts of your destination a day before leaving. Sometimes weather forecasts sent out a weeks before the actual date of travel could be wrong. For instance, you could have packed for 17 degree weather only to arrive and discover that the winds have changed and it’s a chilly 5 degrees out, you have no gloves, muffs or hat, your nose is starting to resemble Rudolf’s and your fingers have frozen up. Or you could be expecting a cooler temperature and brought bulky clothes only to find out that it’s actually scorching and you could have packed much lighter and smaller clothes.
- Get your finances in order. Clear your credit card balance off first before leaving, and make sure to call the bank to advise your whereabouts as well as possible big ticket items you plan to buy so that you will not have to go through blocked transactions when you’re trying to pay for your purchases. You could ask for a temporary increase in your credit limit in advance, or better yet bring another credit card as a spare. It is preferable if your ATM can be used internationally to dispense cash in the local currency for emergencies, but if not then conserve your cash for last minute stuff like cab fare for the airport, food, etc and use your card instead where possible. It’s not fun to realize you’ve run out of cash and some necessary extra expense came up from outside your budget. Then again think twice before swiping because bank conversion rates are pretty steep. So unless you can’t live without it, don’t buy it!
- Be practical. Think through your itinerary clearly and do a lot of research to find the best deals for everything, from getting to and from the airport (cab, bus or airport express), finding reasonable places to stay (without sacrificing comfort, cleanliness and safety), planning your route, getting pre-booked tickets to concerts and events, etc. That way you can keep expenses at bay and you’ll have more moolah left over to enjoy little luxuries—better food, better shopping, etc. That’s how you travel smart!
- Get up early. From the beginning till the end of your trip, train yourself to get up early to get more things done—early check-in could mean better and more comfortable seats on the plane, waking up early means you can get ready at a relaxed pace, fix your hair and eat a good meal without the crazy rush; plus you’ll get to cover more items off your itinerary. Of course allow for the occasional night out and lazy morning, but in general the early bird always catches the worm.
- Look for things of value. It’s easy to get distracted and buy trivial things like clothes, makeup, cosmetics and whatnot, but try to curb the temptation to hoard quantity just because it’s cheaper abroad. Instead, if you want to buy something, look for things of value like art, jewelry, or other investment pieces that you can keep for a longer time and will always remind you of that adventure.
Of course, the last and best travel tip is to enjoy! Life is too short to waste it away getting upset over trivial things. So things didn’t work out exactly as you planned—so what? Make the most out of every situation, be a little more flexible and allow yourself to have fun. After all, it’s a blessing in itself to be able to see the world. Au revoir darlings and catch you again next week!