After spending more hours on planes than some flight attendants, being exposed to more viruses than many nurses, and losing my sense of direction one too many times, I have almost perfected the craft of traveling. I blend in while visiting foreign cities, decipher street signs written in languages I don’t understand, and zoom through airports, rolling my eyes as if flying was an inconvenience rather than a privilege. So to learn from my mistakes, and also feel comfortable and safe in any corner of the world, here are five tips I swear by when going abroad.
- Beauty Products are a Must.
The first tip I have for any traveler, and probably the most pertinent, is to always bring beauty supplies. When boarding a dreaded 12 hour flight, I make sure to have a change of clothes, especially underwear, to change into halfway through my journey. Also don’t forget face wipes, a toothbrush, and any other basic products which will make you feel slightly less radioactive and gross. Planes are so dirty: I’m sweaty, spill food and crumbs on my lap, and don’t like touching any surface without wiping it down. So, nothing is better than changing my T-shirt, washing my face, and casually spraying myself with perfume samples at the duty free shop.
- Research, Research, Research.
Thanks to my mom, who planned family vacations down to the minute when I was growing up, I have learned the importance of researching before going on holiday. Not only do you need to plan activities, restaurants, and hotels, but I also highly recommend researching transportation. Whether it's finding the cheapest taxi company, utilizing public transportation, or mapping walking routes, I always make sure I know where I’m going when on vacation so I can see the best sites, avoid being scammed, and explore the more local parts of cities.
- Karen's Get Their Way.
I have had my fair share of travel disasters, ranging from missed flights, stubborn ticket sales people, and language barriers, but through my stress, I have discovered sometimes pitching a fit goes a long way. When I was traveling alone from Germany to the US and missed my connecting flight to Chicago because of snow in Berlin, I cried to the airline agent until I was put on the next connecting flight and driven to a hotel for the night, free of charge. When I had an eight hour layover in London because of another missed flight, I complained to the flight desk and was given a meal voucher. Especially when the circumstances are out of your control, it is important to know your rights as a traveler and ask for what you want. The worst they can do is say no, and then you can write a steaming review if you’re still irritated.
- The Secret to Public Bathrooms.
Another travel tip for people with small bladders like me, is to never pay to use a public restroom. Too often I’m exploring an ancient city on the verge of exploding and the nearest bathroom is a nasty outhouse reeking of pee which charges $1 for use; the mountain girl in me would rather squat in the bushes than pay for a UTI. So, keep your eyes peeled for museums, Starbucks, fast food restaurants, and busy restaurants with cleaner and cheaper toilets. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve walked into a McDonalds like I own the place while my family pretended to look at the menu, I could afford a personal port-a-potty.
- Blending In.
Finally it is helpful to not stand out too much as a tourist. As a foreigner you might be overcharged, stereotyped, and miss out on the local experience just because of your accent. Stereotypically, tourists are affluent members of society, so if you sway away from the social and cultural standards while overseas, locals might take advantage of you. This doesn’t mean everyone you meet in foriegn countries is out to manipulate and deceive, but it doesn’t hurt to keep your voice low, wear conservative clothing in more religious areas, and not flash your Gucci purse in a local market.
Travel bloggers and instagrammers make traveling seem so easy, but many times fail to post the frustrating side of vacations: sweat and body odor, long commutes, upset stomachs, jetlag, and more. Hopefully these five tips will help your next trip be as stress-free as possible. Bon voyage!