Travel in (Relative) Style: Before You Go

This post is part of a series called Travel in (Relative) Style. It is the first post in the series.


For the past three years, I’ve lived out of two suitcases. For the four years before that, I was back and forth between college and home, so I can pack my things up pretty quickly and go. Well, now. It’s taken a lot of practice and packcrastination (procrastinating on packing, which I do frequently enough to name), but I’ve finally sorted out the best ways to get ready to travel.

Tip #1: Sort yourself before you go.
There are a few things I always make sure I have sorted out:

  1. Where am I going?
  2. How am I getting there?
  3. Where am I staying when I get there?
  4. How do I get from how I got there to how I’m staying and back?
  5. How do I get around once I’m there?

These are all things that I list as the utmost important parts of travel. A lot of times, I’ll need to plan for something like sleeping in an airport because I’m flying the 6:30am RyanAir flight (not only is the flight cheap, but sleeping in an airport is free). Sometimes, the airport isn’t open 24-hours (LOOKING AT YOU PARIS), but luckily I’m not the only one trying to sleep in airports.
The point of this anecdote, is that I need to make sure I know that I’m not going to end up without a place to stay when I’m traveling and that I’ll be able to get around (to and from the airport/train, to and from attractions). If I’m in a familiar country, it’s not a big deal, but if I’m traveling pretty far and can’t change my flights, then I need to make sure I check these things before I book.

Tip #2: Don’t worry about it.
I know, I know, I literally just listed things to worry about before you go. However, chances are if you’re going somewhere, you already have a reason you’re going. Maybe you’re visiting a friend or family, maybe there’s something you really want to see there, maybe you’ve always been interested in visiting this place. These are all things that you already know. If you try to make Big Plans for your trip, you won’t be as flexible when you get there and you’ll start to feel sort of guilty if you can’t get done everything you thought you would.
One of the best trips I’ve ever had came because I was in Shanghai with no plans. When I went, it was just because I was living near Beijing and Shanghai is “one of those places” (you know, the ones you have to visit). Since I had no plans, I was flexible to spend the week with Lisa, Alex, and Victor. That was over a year ago, and I’ve made plans to see all of them again! If I’d had Goals or Big Plans when I went to Shanghai, that never would have happened.

Tip #3: Make a list of what to pack, then cut it in half.
First, count up how many days you’re going to be gone. Then, think about your laziest days around the house. How many days in a row are you comfortable wearing the same clothes? How often do you change your pants/shirts? After living in China, I started wearing the same two pairs of leggings until I got camel knees or there was something spilled on them. Sounds gross, right? Well, it means that now when I pack, if I’m only going for a week, I only need one pair of leggings! See how great that works out for me? LESS LUGGAGE IS BEST LUGGAGE.
I also always bring a “Bag o Stuff” with me:

  • Medication(s)
    • Allergy meds
    • Aspirin
    • Alka Seltzer Cold Plus
    • Lemsip
  • Bandaids
  • Feminine products
  • Chapstick
  • Hair ties + Bobby pins
  • Small thing of vaseline (HEAT RASH IS NO JOKE)
  • Deodorant (get the rolly kind, it’s not a liquid and it won’t break)
  • Tissues (I started carrying these in China because the bathrooms never had TP)
  • Pen + something to write on
  • Napkins
  • Tape
  • Gum

These are things I always used to go “DANG I WISH I HAD THAT” and now? NOW I DO.
As for electronics and things, think about what you absolutely need. How long are you going to spend with dead time (layovers, getting to the airport early, etc)? I bring a paper book and my iPad with books on it (sometimes there’s no plugs nearby), my wall-to-USB, a power pack, and my headphones. Some airports won’t have WiFi (looking at you London, 1hr WiFi in airports people frequently sleep?? Madness).

Tip #4: Bring a camera (or don’t).
Good question. I have a digital camera, but I pretty much just use my phone camera. I used to take a bunch of pictures until I lost my camera and then realized I spent more time looking through my camera screen than looking around. I know some people like to make scrapbooks or have prints, I kind of want an instant camera, but I don’t NEED one. I do like that my digital camera is good for low-light photography, though, since I spend a lot of times in museums taking pictures inside without flash.

Tip #5: You don’t need to be pretty. Also, your hair dryer/straightener/curler is going to blow up anyways (if you’re traveling abroad).
Think of it this way: You’ll likely never see these people again in your life. And they’ve never seen you before in their lives. Save space in your luggage and leave your cosmetics behind. Otherwise, you have to deal with the liquids rules and plus, it means you’d get to sleep later while you’re traveling, which will be especially important if you’re jetlagged.

Tip #6: Bring a pillow.
Airplanes will have blankets and pillows, but the pillows might as well be non-existant. They’re great for lumbar support if you fold them in half, but they’re not great for sleeping. Plus, you might end up in a hostel that has super flat pillows you can’t sleep with, but hey, good thing you brought that neck pillow with you!

Tip #7: Bring a journal.
I always forget what I’ve done on trips. It’s best to write down what you did, even if it’s just a bulleted list, that day. You can fluff it out into more of a piece later, but the reason all of my travel posts are rambly and lengthy is because I’m literally typing out things as I remember them. And sometimes, I never write a post because I waited too long and then I forgot what I did.
You don’t need anything fancy, just make sure it’s not going to fall apart. If you’re worried you won’t be creative enough, don’t. But like if you’re really worried about it, there are some “premade” travel journals. Find something you like that will work for you and won’t fall apart.

Tip #8: Start a blog.
If you’re going to be traveling for a while, start a blog! Take that journal and… type it. People you know will be excited to read about your adventures, although I’m still convinced the only people who read this are my parents. (My dad is, like, the only person who comments on my posts, even though I know people are seeing my posts on Facebook and Twitter!)
This website started as a journal that got typed. May 2012, I went on a river cruise with my gramma, aunt, and cousin, so I started a blog to keep my family up-to-date on our trip, then I studied abroad Fall 2012, moved to China in 2014, and moved to Ireland in 2015. Now, it’s 2016 and this is post #125, so who knows. Maybe you’ll stick with it. (Still convinced it’s just my parents read. HI MOM)

Tip #9: Have some sort of fitness tracker.
Most smartphones have this feature (not sure about Android, but Apple Health will do it and I know that Fitbit’s iOS app will use your phone to track how far you’ve walked), so you don’t need a fancy fitness tracker. But trust me, when you climb the Great Wall of China, you’ll be curious to know how many flights you climbed (227).

Tip #10: Packcrastinate.
Seriously, this links back to #2. Don’t worry about it, packcrastinate. If you forget something, you forgot it, not a big deal. You’ll be able to buy a new one and it’ll be a story later. Make sure you check the airline’s luggage regulations, I usually travel with a large suitcase (checked), a small suitcase, and a small backpack (which is basically a two-strapped, large purse) because most airlines don’t care! The cheaper the flight, the more they’ll care about your luggage. You didn’t pay them that much, so you’ll just have to suffer. But if you stick with the “calculate what you might need, then cut it in half”, you’ll be fine.

And that’s the final takeaway here:
You’ll be fine.

You might have some bad travel days (I have a theory on that I’ll cover later), but it’ll be fine. You’re going somewhere new, so don’t hold on to the “Oh no, this isn’t working out” and keep in mind the “even the shittiest experience will be a great story.” It might just take a (few) month(s) for it to be a great story.

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