My tips and tricks for traveling

HB and I have had a wild first year of marriage, let me tell you what. To top off this year, I spent the day after our anniversary in the ER and had surgery the following morning. (I knew the surgery was coming, but I guess my body scheduled it before I could.)

Our wedding day. 9.29.19

I’m on the road to recovery, and as tempting it is to sit and mindlessly watch movies all day, I figured I’d be intentional about getting back into the things I love.

If you haven’t noticed, I love to travel. It is one of my purest joys and greatest excitements. Don’t get me wrong, I love the routine vacations at a familiar beach, but I love getting on an airplane to a known destination but an unknown experience. I’ve been traveling for a number of years, and have fine-tuned what works the best for me.

Of course, it is most important to me that you find what works the best for you! Not every thing that I offer will work for everyone, and that is totally okay. My goal, rather, is to create, perhaps, a springboard of ideas from which to pull from!

Invest in a good travel bag. I can not stress this enough. Find a bag that suits your needs, is secure, durable, and compact (for any plans), etc. I currently use the REI (Trail25) backpack (as I much prefer backpacks when I’m traveling), and let me tell you what. I used this backpack for college, for studying in Italy (and living out of for a weekend to Capri, and to Rome), and for hiking the Fimmvörðuháls hike in Iceland, just to name a few. There are plenty of inner pockets for securing documents, additional clothing, umbrellas, water bottles, phone/wallet, etc. This particular pack came with places to secure walking poles and a cover for rain, and it has lived up to all the travels and adventures I’ve thrown at it.

My brothers, sister-in-law, and I in Iceland (SU ’18)

Purchase and use a shammy. This was something I didn’t use too much of until Iceland and then again in St. John, and it is such a beautiful invention. This small towel wicks up moisture without becoming too wet itself. This is an absolute lifesaver, and space saver, as the one I have is tiny and compact (though I know there are larger sizes out there). I highly recommend this for hiking, jumping off waterfalls, general adventuring, etc.

Roll your clothing for packing. I started doing this several years ago, and have no reason to go back (let alone that all of our clothing currently is tucked and rolled into a tiny dresser). I have found that rolling clothing creates more space in a suitcase and it helps minimize wrinkles. When I pack my bag, I start by using any/all shoes to “firm” up the edges of my duffle, and then build outside in. I leave the space in the center for towels/ toiletries, bulkier items, etc. I’m also a bit of a minimalist packer, in that I really only pack just enough clothing for each day I’ll be away. With these tips, I’ve never been over the allotted weight limit for airplanes.

Chafe stick. This may seem like such a random item, but trust me, this is such a lifesaver. This is the one I use (though there is no difference between it and the blue one), and really, Vaseline even works. Because I do a lot of hiking, I like to carry this, just in case. I also use it as a beauty secret for when I’m wearing dresses, regardless if I am traveling or not.

Throw items out. I figured out this particular tip during my trip to Europe in 2012, and have pretty much used it ever since. When the time comes to pack up to leave, I throw out things that are empty, ruined, etc. I purposefully pack to throw things out. For example, if I have body wash that is almost empty, I’ll take that and throw it out instead of buying a brand new one. I do this with clothing too. For example, when I was in Italy, I took a pair of Elephant Pants, but the second time. I wore them on the trip, they ripped in an unfixable way. I have found that packing what I have instead of buying new, and having the intention of throwing things out as they become empty, broken, etc., has further kept me conscious of what is in my bag, and helps me stay under the weight limit when I bring souvenirs home.

A hike outside Westendorf, Austria (SU ’12)

Bar of laundry detergent. This is also something I learned from my trip to Europe. During that trip, we were in Europe for three weeks, and were nomadic, moving from hotel to hotel. This meant that we had to hand wash our clothing. We were required to pack a bar of detergent so that we could scrub away. Some of the places I’ve traveled, have washers and dryers, but not all. For example, I took a bar of soap to Italy, as I was not fully confident in there being a washer/dryer, or being able to completely translate the steps of the dryer. Spoiler, we did have a washer, but having that bar of soap allowed me to clean more delicate items more carefully.

Reef safe sunscreen. This might sound kind of silly, to take reef safe sunscreen, if you’re going somewhere that’s not near the ocean. But think of it this way: you’re okay taking sunscreen that’s not okay for the water systems if you’re not in the ocean? I’ll save my more “zero waste, good for the earth” stuff for another post, but I highly recommend you take sunscreen that is good for you and good for the world regardless of where you go.

Learn culture (basic greetings). I mentioned this in a previous post, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn basic components of the culture. I mentioned it here, but I also want to provide a more recent example. When my family and I were in St. John, we learned that one of the fundamentals of their culture is to say “Good morning/ Good day/ Good evening” when you greet someone. I had forgotten this when I ordered pizza, and I was surprised when the person on the other line sounded short and rude. I was my normal, happy polite self, but when I reflected on why the other person may have been rude, I was reminded that I didn’t say “Good evening” before I ordered the pizza.

My family and I, Trunk Bay, St. John USVI (SU ’20)

Learn basic phrases (thank you, bathroom, etc.) This is good in all settings, like knowing how to ask if someone speaks your native language, asking for the bathroom, etc. When I was in Italy, I took it upon myself to learn how to ask for help. I figured this was super important, because in the case of an emergency, I wanted to be able to get the help/ attention I needed. So, I guess, simply, this tip is to learn how to ask for help (and pro tip: double check that it is conjugated correctly).

Locate Embassy. The previous tip and this one were ones that I stressed to a friend who was going to Italy for her honeymoon (side note: if anyone wants to visit Italy, let me know! I’d love to walk you through planning a trip there!). I stressed learning how to say “help” and finding the Embassy, not as a matter of fear, but a matter of diligence. For example, when my roommate and I were prepping to go to Rome for the weekend, riots and marches were happening throughout the city. I wanted to make sure that, if we were to get caught in something like that, we would have a safe place to go. Think of knowing where the Embassy is as a safety net, or a back-up plan.

Use a travel card. I can’t stress this enough, especially if you are planning on going somewhere with high rates of pickpockets! I use a AAA travel card, and this does several things. One: it helps me stay more mindful of how much I am spending (as you independently move money over). Two: it strengthens protections against my account if the card were to be stolen. And three: it helps keep my wallet looking smaller, so if in the off-chance, a pickpocket were to see where I kept my wallet, it wouldn’t appear to be overflowing. The other thing I will say is some countries are more reliant on cash than cards, so even if you use a travel card, you may just need to pull out the money in cash form. Please also note: I do bring my regular card along, to account for cases of purchasing train tickets, pre-paying for tourist attractions, etc.

The Vatican, Rome (SU ’18)

Voltage adapter. This is more an item of common sense. Not even country uses the same electrical current. If you attempt to take a US plug to Europe and attempt to plug it in, everything may short circuit. Please save yourself (and any electronics you may take along) and get an adapter. I have two, but there are a plethora of options on Amazon.

Download Spotify playlists. This has been a bit of a game changer. I do pay for Spotify premium, and with that, comes the ability to download playlists to listen off wifi. For longer flights, I like to make sure that my worship music playlist is downloaded, as well as a playlist of rain sounds. These help me sleep, and also help keep me calm as I sleep in newer places.

Travel shirt/blanket. If there is space in my backpack, I pack a thin blanket I grabbed at Walmart for the purpose of traveling. (I’m not kidding, it’s home is in the car.) If there isn’t space, I grab one of HB‘s old flannels that doesn’t fit him anymore, and use that as an extra shirt/blanket. I get cold easily, especially on planes, so I always make sure I have something to cover up with (since not all flights provide blankets).

Buy local. I even try to do this when I’m at home, but when I travel, goodness knows I want to take in everything this new place I’m in has to offer. I want to try novel fruits (like I tried ube in Hawaii and loved it). Even apart from local markets, try the local fare. Dependent on where you go, the dishes may vary in different parts of the country. If you want to get a good idea of the food, eat at local spots. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I’ll ask a local where they recommend to eat.

Porchetta sandwich, Perugia, Italy (SU ’18)

Multiple copies of docs. I’m hoping this is a common sense type tip, but have several copies of your important documents. As much as possible, I try to have several copies of my itinerary, my passport, and any other relevant info. With this, then, I never keep my actual passport with me when I’m out exploring. I also generally keep my wallet with my photo ID on my at all times.

Say yes to adventure. Oh I can’t stress this enough. If you have paid the money to go somewhere and explore, get the most of it! If it means jumping off the back of a catamaran in full snorkel gear, do it. If it means, impulsively jumping off a waterfall, do it. If it means trying a new food, do it. If it means spontaneously doing a crazy hike, do it. Allow yourself to try new experiences. Of course, there is something to be said for being diligent and cautious, but I urge to not let that outweigh your joy of adventuring.

Invest in Wifi hotspot/ Jetpack. This one comes more from learning from a bad experience. In Italy, my apartment did not have stable WiFi, which made completing school work quite a tedious endeavor. My dad has a Jetpack, and let me tell you what. Having this would have been such a game changer in Italy. This is def on the more pricier end of things, but if stable WiFi is important when you’re traveling, I highly recommend this.

Miscellenious. This is just a group of smaller tips, that don’t need a ton of explanation.

  1. Invest in a good hat and/or pair of sunglasses.
  2. If you get sunburn, shower in cold water and keep the aloe in the fridge.
  3. Find a good WiFi active messaging system (like WhatsApp or FB Messenger).
  4. Invest in a power bank for your cell phone.
  5. Carry a first aide kit. (I really like the Welly products.)

What are some of your travel tips and tricks?

Ciao for now,

Julia Xx

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