Category Archives: Health/Safety

Helpful Tips for New Travelers

736221_10203015057150083_7684945168442220415_oWhen I started out traveling more on my own – as part of an escorted tour or now going by myself – I read a lot of guidebooks and sought a ton of personal advice from people I trusted.

Now, thanks to travel blogs, community forums and pretty much the World Wide Web, you can find information on just about any travel-related question you have. Yet there are still a few lessons you learn from traveling itself. Here are eight tips that are helpful for new travelers.

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Photo by Jasleen Kaur via Flickr.com

Don’t bring more than you really need.
I’m still a bit guilty of over packing but lugging around my bags has taught me to lighten my load. Depending on where you’re going, chances are that you will at least once have to carry your bags up a flight of stairs. So make it easier on you. With clothes, I bring clothing that are mainly conservative (in the case of going into a sacred place) and can be worn at least twice (think jeans/pants) and can be layered or removed easily. And that one or two pieces that could pass for semi-formal attire. For shoes, I mostly wear flats. With luggage, I prefer using nylon bags since they seem to handle getting tossed around and can also be easier to stack or maneuver into spots.

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Photo by http://www.directline.com via Flickr.com

Get familiar with first aid.
Accidents can happen, and it can be tricky to get to a pharmacy. It’s good to pack a small all-purpose safety kit with you for any small scrapes or cuts you might encounter. Having over the counter medicine like pain relievers or stomach aids is good too. Plus, it saves you money. When I was in Switzerland last summer, I had to buy ibuprofen for a throbbing toothache. The price of the smallest bottle I could find: Nine Francs. That’s roughly $9.30 US Dollars. And teach yourself a thing or two about first aid. I badly banged up my ankle during a trip to New Orleans in 2011 and thankfully I had someone with me who could tie a bandage on it the right way.

photo 1-2Grab a brochure or business card from where you’re staying.
In the excitement of being in your new destination, it can be easily to blank out on where you’re staying. Though you should still print out all of your info like with your accommodations, grab their business card or brochure when you get there. Put it in your pocket or purse. Personally, I’m terrible with names so it helps me to do this. Plus, after I get settled in my room, I often head out the door right away and can forget to take a mental note of where I started from. And as more people are using non-hotel accommodations through sites like AirBnb, keep a Google Maps printout of your digs with you.

photo 1Pace yourself.
There’s a term floating around now called “slow travel” and it means staying in one place longer to enjoy it. If your trip is limited, focus on spending time (perhaps a half or full day) in one particular area of your destination. Maybe it’s a museum or a national park or street market or a people watching public space. Typically, Americans only get a limited amount of vacation time, so it’s understandable to feel the need to “jam-pack” your itinerary or schedule. I’m just as guilty. But then, if you’re rushed to get through a place like a museum, focus on one wing. Or if you have only one day, let’s say in New York City, focus on one district. And adopt a “go with the flow” attitude.

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Photo by gosheshe via Flickr.com

Be mindful of your money.
As a saver or a spender, you should be financially flexible with your money when you travel.  If there’s one thing, you should allow some wiggle room in your budget to not miss out on sudden discoveries like a walking tour or impromptu plan changes. Also, don’t carry all your cash and cards in one place in the case that you might be robbed like I was. I don’t mind using a money belt, but I also try to be creative in using hidden compartments like an empty trial-size bottle for keeping extra bills from getting lost.

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Shop locally.
Another way to delve more into the local culture is to go to the nearest grocery store. If in need of anything like a drink or a snack, it’s also a good source to get an item at a reasonable price. On the last day I was in Jamaica, our guide took us to a nearby supermarket where I was able to get a few items I could bring home (there are some foods you can’t due to US Customs laws) for much less than buying the same items at the airport gift shop. Even just browsing at the different shelves is neat. Food markets are a neat way to see what products are part of the local diet.

270297_423430587766911_1575752810_nLearn Your Way Around.
It’s easy nowadays to pull up your iPhone ask Suri for help or use an app to get directions. But having a good sense of direction is important. Get your bearings by picking a local map from your hotel or even tourist office (which are also great resources). Another way to get better at getting around is to use public transportation. Often you will find ticket options such as daily/weekly/monthly passes, which can also help in getting a layout of your destination – even if it’s underneath or on a set of wheels.  Or brush up before you go by looking up information on sections or neighborhoods.

What tips would you offer a new traveler?

 

 

 

Year In Review: Travel Highs and Lows in 2014

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In getting ready to unplug for Christmas and other holiday fun, my last post for 2014 is about this year’s top travel moments. Here is a list of both my high points and low points with some takeaways.

Highs

  • Traveling across country by rail. In late August, I went to Germany with my cousin and we decided to use the Deutsche Bahn railroad system to get around. We started from Berlin to Hamburg, then on to Heidelberg, Cologne and Munich and then ended our trip in Lucerne, Switzerland. The overall experience was great and a money saver. Months before we went, I bought each advanced ticket online (my cousin gave me all the dates, times and destinations I needed to select) and printed out all of them to bring along with me. By doing this, I paid maybe between 35-55 Euros (roughly 40-60 in US dollars) per ticket. If I had waited longer, the prices would have gone higher. The D-Bahn is a very reliable service and it’s nice to be able to stare out the window while en route from one city to the other. I definitely recommend taking the train when traveling, especially abroad.
  • Going to my first TBEX. TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) is an annual conference season for travel bloggers of all types and levels that happens usually at destinations in both North America and Europe. This year marked my first time going. In September, I was at its North American conference in Cancun and overall I had a nice time. Many friends went, and some even spoke, and I got to meet well-known travel media pros like Johnny Jet and The Planet D. Next year’s TBEX Europe is in Costa Brava, Spain and there is also going to be a first-ever TBEX Asia in Bangkok. Some might debate about whether TBEX is worth going to or not but there are perks like vendor discounts and good networking ops. Plus, if you’ve wanted to go to the destination TBEX is being held in, now’s your chance.
  • Visiting Jamaica. Another travel first this year was going to the Caribbean. I got picked by Visit Jamaica’s tourism board to go on a Bucket list themed press trip in four quick but fun days. My media group ventured along Jamaica’s north coast and spent time in Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. I’ll be writing about each part of it soon but overall our trip involved cultural, culinary and thrill-seeking activities. Like going on a bobsled ride.

LOWS

  • Getting pick-pocketed in Cologne. I’m usually pretty good with nervously keeping an eye on my stuff. I messed up in Cologne when I kept leaving my purse open when I took out my camera or iPhone to take photos inside the Cologne Cathedral. I can’t remember how long it took before I realized that my wallet had been stolen. I probably was distracted or maybe it was a bump and grab move. Still, it sucked to lose my credit card, driver’s license and insurance card. Thankfully, my passport and extra Euros were still on me. I wrote about it here if you want to learn more.
  • Running out of money in Lucerne. Another thing I think I’m decent with is travel spending money and bringing enough with me. But I really misjudged prices in Switzerland. The Swiss Franc is higher than the Euro, so something as simple as a fast food combo order can equal out to 12 Francs. Or even an over-the-counter bottle of ibuprofen can cost 9 (And that was for the smallest size I could find). My cash stash ran out two days before I was to head home and I had no cards on me (I didn’t bring my debit card). My cousin gave me some money, which made me feel bad, but thanks to him I didn’t go hungry.
  • Discovering how (not so) far my dollars go. Being a freelancer for the past four years has opened up some cool travel media invites and opportunities for me. At the same, I’ve been spending more this year than I should without balancing out the difference. For 2015, I’m also looking more at closer destinations with shorter stays. As of now, my set plans start in May, as I’ll be heading up to Toronto for a weekend getaway. My goal is to get to Asia next fall (hopefully for TBEX), so in order to afford to do that I’m planning in advance now by cutting spending and cutting down on debt. And getting more work going.

Hope this year was a good one for you and that 2015 will be even better. Happy Holidays and safe travels!

What to Look for in a Travel Partner

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Photo by dichohecho via Flickr.com

As much as I think people should not be hesitant with solo travel, I have to admit that it’s nice to have a travel partner. But how you pick one is very important.

Drawing from my experiences, here are my suggestions on how what to look for in a travel partner.

1)   Be upfront about your travel expectations before you leave.

It’s exciting to book a trip together to a place you’ve always wanted to see or if the opportunity strikes to go somewhere. However, you and your travel buddy may or may not share the same sense of travel style. While your idea of seeing a tropic destination is pursuing local activities, your travel partner may be more down for a ton of beach time. Or while you plan to visit museums, your friend may want to explore the local scene or the outdoors. Before leaving, talk about what you both would like to do. When I go overseas with my cousin, we email and text each other the names of places and things that we want to see and do—a few weeks beforehand. We also set up a general day-by-day itinerary, with some wiggle room for changes, solo activities, and downtime.

2)   Be honest about what you both can afford.

Slightly or greatly, spending limits and habits can differ, so talk openly about what financial shape you’re in. With making reservations and purchases, I find it’s best for each person to buy his/her airfare. It’s also important for both of you to be very clear, as well as mutually agree, on how to divide up shared expenses like lodging or transportation. Figure out, too, how you both might respond to unexpected costs. For one girls’ getaway, I booked our hotel reservation with my credit card; my friend gave me her half in cash. When we got to our hotel, we found out our reservation had listed us as arriving the following night. We were still able to get a room, but a new and higher price (which I fought against but lost) was charged to my card. So, I asked my friend for the difference. To my surprise, she said no, arguing that she had paid the amount I had told her it was going to be. Whether she was right or wrong, her answer made me leery about traveling with her again. (We’re still friends.)

3)  Make sure you both can adjust to situations, or at least compromise.

Since no travel plans are fully secure, it’s important for both of you to be able to go with the flow—or be open to switching up your schedule. At your destination, you might learn about a great scenic tour or a hit up a locally recommended nightspot. Food can also be tricky, so see what and where each of you will eat—and won’t. I’ve been lucky in that most of my travel partners are pretty open to trying new things or agreeing to last-minute changes. I’ve gotten better in these areas too. A college friend of mine is very spontaneous, especially when traveling, and by doing things on a whim (like driving one night from Chicago to Gary, Indiana for riverboat gambling) we had some great times on the road together.

4)   Know when to let certain things go.

In following Tip 4, remember that people react to issues in different ways and reactions can change the course of your trip. When tensions get high, and depending upon what’s happening, remember to not take it personally. If possible, step away for few seconds or more, or just stop what you’re doing, so you each can calm down. It will also help you both out in addressing the problem better without initially responding with your emotions. During stressful scenarios, I’ve discovered that some people I’ve traveled with can get “tough” on others and I learned quickly when to ignore them and when to push back. And don’t be afraid if you or your travel partner needs alone time. If you’re both comfortable about splitting up, just check in with each other about where you’re at and if everything is okay, and set a certain time and place to meet up later.

In all, remember that with your travel partner it’s the journey that should really matter. Make sure you’re both on the same route.