With my many commitments, I don’t get to explore new parts of the world as often as I’d like; however, I’m often thinking about the next place I want to visit. Over several years and several trips, I have found that a few simple steps, many of which you can take before you even leave home, will give you more time to enjoy your destination, visit landmarks, meet new people, make memories with loved ones, and have unforgettable experiences—without avoidable stress and delays.
1. Reserve Everything
As soon as you know where you’re going and when, book everything—hotel rooms, restaurants, activities, tours, and anything else that requires tickets or reservations—well in advance of your visit. And then, double-check everything before you leave. This helps you avoid wasting time standing in line or trying to communicate in a language you’re not fluent in. It also gives you time to find alternatives in case of cancellations.
2. Convenient Currency
If you’re going to be spending euros, yen, yuan, or anything other than US dollars, keep them separated from your home currency and you will be set to buy anything you need. Don’t mix money from different countries. Separating dollars from pesos while you’re purchasing something will only cause confusion and slow everyone down. And after you’ve just gotten off a long flight and have been in the airport longer than you want to think about, the last thing anyone needs is a preventable delay. Better yet, when you return from your trip with extra cash, keep it highly visible in a safe place. It will be ready for your next trip if you stash each type in its own Ziplock bag.
3. Don’t Get Weighed Down
Let go of inclinations to cram every object you might need in case of fifteen types of disasters into a huge suitcase. Luggage, even on wheels, can be a huge burden, especially when you’re navigating unfamiliar places. Choose the smallest suitcase you can possibly use. If you can get away with just a carry-on bag, that’s even better! Don’t check luggage unless you absolutely have to. You risk loss, frustration, and extra waiting time.
If you enjoy shopping, an empty, foldable duffle bag is a smart and small addition to your suitcase. You should also plan to leave space in your suitcase for any purchases that you might make during your trip.
4. Choose Sensible Clothing
Speaking of suitcases, traveling well doesn’t mean lugging around twenty costume changes so you look flawless in your Instagram photos. When you choose your wardrobe for the trip, lay out everything you want to take with you. Now, choose just half (or less) of that to pack. Rolling up your outfits instead of folding everything prevents wrinkles, keeps everything together, and saves space. Make sure to consider the weather in your destination and what activities you’ll likely be doing. I also suggest not leaving home without a packable raincoat. It definitely comes in handy!
5. Reconsider the Purse
Do you actually use everything you have tucked into your purse, or is it just kind of a security blanket? If you choose to carry a purse, make sure you only carry things you will absolutely need, like medications. Other small items can add up. Do you really want to be toting around ten pounds of jingling miscellany? I recommend taking a simple fabric bag and keeping it mostly empty. You can stash a water bottle and your wallet in there as well as anything you pick up when you shop the local markets.
6. Extra Time (and Patience) Pays Off
Most trips are smooth and straightforward, but depending on the weather, holidays, and a million other factors, you may face something unexpected at the airport. This is why you can’t give yourself too much time on the day you will be traveling. If there are delays or changes, no matter how prepared you are, dig deep to find your extra stores of patience. Letting yourself get grumpy when you have no control over the situation will only make you (and your traveling companions) miserable.
7. Read the Regulations
Especially if you don’t travel often, measure and scrutinize your travel items, and look up regulations beforehand! Will your overhead suitcase fit? Are your liquids in small enough quantities? Did you check your bowie knife? This may seem like a basic tip, but it is astounding how many people don’t critically evaluate their packing choices. Don’t be the person who holds up the line because you didn’t check. You don’t want to spend time getting to know security personnel when you could be boarding your flight.
8. Don’t Play “Pass the Passport”
Develop a ritual with passports, boarding passes, IDs, and any other important documentation you will need. These things should all go in one place and only be taken out to be checked by an official. When you get to your destination, lock up your passport in the hotel safe. Don’t risk setting it down in a boutique, on a ferry, or in a restaurant. This would be a disastrous waste of valuable exploration time. If you’re traveling with others, get everyone on board with their own plans for their important documents. If you’re traveling by yourself, simply decide on one pocket of your carry-on luggage where everything can safely wait to be used.
9. Rest a Bit
It’s hard to reel in the excitement of being in a new destination, but let’s face it: A cranky traveler is a bad traveler, and lack of sleep is a surefire way to make anyone unhappy. Lots of energy and a sharp mind will help you adapt to unfamiliar conditions, stay safe, and take in all kinds of new information. Get on the local schedule as soon as possible to avoid jet lag. Nap on the plane and sleep at night, local time, even if it still seems like the middle of the afternoon. A simple sleep mask helps a lot, both in hotels and on the airplane. On day one of your trip, take it easy. Sleep in a little and relax so that you’re ready to enjoy the sights without fighting the urge to lie down instead of marveling at the Sphinx.
10. Roll with the Unexpected
Ditch rigid itineraries and expectations. One of the most exciting parts of travel is when the unexpected hits. (Luckily, it’s usually not a literal disaster.) You can’t control every aspect of your trip, but you can control how you react. Make the best of derailed schedules by choosing something else you enjoy and, most importantly, keep a positive attitude. The good news is that, sometimes, deviating from the plan leads to the best stories.
Remember the Reason
Traveling, in addition to being a good way to unwind, provides us with new perspectives and knowledge to apply to our everyday lives. It temporarily releases us from our daily routines and personal bubbles so we can learn something from a different culture, landscape, and history. When we are sensibly prepared to set out, we have more time to let the change of scenery inform and refresh us.
Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 2012 from Boston University School of Medicine. She holds a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erika is the Executive Director and Founder of Science from Scientists, an award-winning, National non-profit which sends real, charismatic scientists into classrooms to improve the attitudes and aptitudes of 3rd-8th-grade students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). She is also the CEO and co-founder of Ixcela, a biotechnology company aimed at developing tests and interventions to improve gut microbiome efficacy and health.
Star Trek photo credit: Enterprise-D_crew_quarters.jpg: Derek Springer from Los Angeles, CA, USAPatrickStewart2004-08-03.jpg: Cdt. Patrick Caugheyderivative work: Loupeznik [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]