Travel in (Relative) Style: Making the Most of Making It

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


Alright, you’ve made it to your lodgings! Since we’re not planning a trip for the purpose of this series, hopefully you’ve figured that out already… Now, how to make the most of being where you are?

Tip #1: Don’t stress it.
Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be fine. A lot of times, something not fine will happen. I have a theory about this: for every 7 days of travel, there must be 1 bad one. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but if you think of it this way it’s a lot easier to shrug off the bad ones. Don’t stress even the worst ones (unless, like, you’ve been arrested and someone took all your stuff or something like that) because that’ll detract from the other 6 good days.

Tip #2: Embrace the tourism.
A lot of people will tell you not to look like a tourist. They’re full of shit. You’re gonna look like a tourist unless you keep your head down, ignore everything around you, and just go from point A to point B without looking at the sights. Just enjoy yourself. They’re not paying for your holiday, so why should they tell you how you should look?

Tip #3: Don’t be a dick.
That being said, you being a tourist is not a free pass for you to be a dick. Self-explanatory.

Tip #4: Ask for help.
Some people will say no and wave you off, whatever dude. Chances are, your best bet to find help is in a shop or something. If you’re in a big tourist city, especially in Europe, there’s going to be a tourist center somewhere, those people are literally paid to help you. A lot of times, if you’re somewhere where you don’t speak the language, people will be less helpful because they might be embarrassed by their English. Just be patient and reassuring, even though you’re the one who needs help. And don’t be afraid to ask for clarification about something. A lot of times, someone I’m talking to will use slightly the wrong word in English, so I’ll ask them what they just said but in native-English to double-check.

Tip #5: Travel cards.
A lot of cities (at least in Europe) have travel cards that tout discounts. They’re usually not worth it unless you’re traveling with a group and going to see everything they offer a discount for. Look at what the discounts are/are for and then check how many of them you were interested in and see if it’s cheaper that way. A lot of times, you’ll feel the need to “get the most of it” and spend the time crunching to see enough to get your money’s worth and that does not sound like fun to me.

Tip #6: Day tours.
Sometimes, day tours can be a pretty good deal. Dublin, for example, has some really good ones. They’re around 50EUR each in Dublin, but they include the bus there and back and to a couple of places. It would probably be about the same for a train ticket and you’d probably have to take a rounder way because of the travel method. If you’re spending a lot of time in a place and you’ve run out of things to do, check for day tours.

Tip #6: Everybody loves post cards.
Get people’s addresses before you go and send post cards if you can. You don’t need to write them a long letter, you’ve got limited space. If every post card is going somewhere different, you can write variations of the same simple “This card is from ____. Today I went to ____ and saw ___. The weather is ____. Miss you!” (NOW YOU KNOW MY SECRET TO HOW I WRITE TENS OF POST CARDS AT A TIME.) They’re a cheap souvenir, too. I love visiting people I’ve sent post cards to and seeing them hanging up on their wall. Plus, they’re everywhere. Finding stamps might be a bit harder, but usually a shop that sells post cards will also sell stamps, or at least know where the closest shop that sells stamps is located. You’re not the first tourist to ask and you won’t be the last.

Tip #7: Gifts.
A lot of people turn their noses up at tourists in tourist shops (refer back to #2 for how I feel about those kinds of people), but a lot of those places will have 2-for-whatever deals or something like that. Gifts that are small and pretty universal are a good idea. My brother, for example, collects shot glasses and I’ve only had trouble finding them in Milan and China, but everywhere else they’re everywhere. I collect pins and buttons, my cousin and I collected bracelets in every country we visited in 2012, etc. If you’re stuck on what to get someone, send them a post card.

Tip #8: Universals.
There will be some things you didn’t/couldn’t pack that you can buy when you get there, but just be aware it might be a little more expensive. Just today, the day I’m writing this, I had to buy a 100mL thing of sunscreen and it was more than buying a big bottle of sunscreen back home, I just couldn’t bring my big bottle with me. (I have so. many. bottles of sunscreen, I ALWAYS have to buy it when I travel….) You’ll be able to get pretty much whatever you forgot/couldn’t bring where you are, unless it’s something really specific. The actual details of whatever it is might be slightly different, but it’ll work.

Tip #9: Relax.
I’ll admit, I’m still working on this one. I always feel the need to get my money’s worth during a trip, so it’s hard for me to have a day where I didn’t “see anything” or whatever. It’s good to have some down-time though, it helps you enjoy the trip that much more. And you can use that time to write your journal/blog entry and those post cards you got!

Tip #10: Have fun, but be aware.
You don’t have to be paranoid, everything will probably be fine, but you should still be aware of where you are and what’s around you. Little things like turning your backpack around to the front when you’re in a crowd to keeping your wallet and phone in a zipped bag instead of your pockets might make things a little inconvenient, but safer. I am always fidgeting, so even in the most crowded Beijing subway, I could tell when someone was even lightly brushing against my backpack because I’m always shifting back and forth. Be aware, but seriously, don’t go overboard. Unless you’ve gone somewhere really dangerous, in which case, why are you even reading this, this is not that type of blog??

That’s it. That’s what I’ve got so far. Feel free to comment on any of the posts if you think I missed something or if you have a question. I might make a separate series about packing and maybe another about planning trips, if that’s of interest to literally anyone. Or maybe I’ll do it because it’s my site and I’ll write what I want to!!

Travel in (Relative) Style: On Your Way

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


Your trip is booked, your bags are packed, your ride to the airport is here. The panic starts to set in, a lot in airports has changed in the past few years, maybe even the past few months. I’m here to tell you Rule #1 of travel:

HHGTTG
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. Perhaps the most remarkable, certainly the most successful book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor – of which no Earthman had ever heard of. … it has the words DON’T PANIC printed in large friendly letters on its cover.

Well, ok, at least don’t visibly panic. It’ll be fine. Airports can be confusing lines and lanes and terminals, but you’ll be fine. If something goes wrong (which it usually doesn’t), there’s always a way to fix it.

Step #1: Arrive on time and dress appropriately.
I always wear a lot of layers when I travel. Sometimes one part of the airport will be freezing and another part will be hot. If you have a delay while you’re on the plane, it’ll get hot because they’ll shut the system off to save fuel. A lot of times, the plane is freezing once they get the facilities back on.
Most airports have suggested arrival cushions for how long you should arrive before your flight. They usually give you extra time, which is good. They know what they’re talking about, but if you have the option of arriving 2.5hrs early or 1.5hrs early and the airport suggests 2, go for that 2.5hrs. You definitely won’t need more than what they recommend, though.

Step #2: Check-in and check your bags.
Chances are, you’ve checked in online (or tried to), but if not, don’t worry. There’s plenty of places to check you in and you have plenty of time. It’s best to have some kind of ID handy (driver’s license or the like if you’re traveling domestically; passport if you’re traveling internationally) and the reference number from your booking. Also make sure your tags have the information for where you’re going. If you’re staying at a hostel or hotel, put their number on there.
If you’re checking a bag, you’ll need to make sure you haven’t got stuff they won’t let you have in your carry-ons and that kind of thing, but you should’ve at least thought about it before you left the house anyways. A lot of airlines have weight limits where they literally will not take your bag if it weighs too much. The number of people I see who think “oh, it’s extra heavy, it’ll just be oversized” and then find out that it’s extra, extra heavy and the airline won’t take it at all.

Step #3: Security.
This can be like WOAH, super anxiety-inducing. Here’s a tip: if you have nothing to hide, don’t sweat it! You’ll be fine. You’ll have time to fuss around with your things as you’re standing in line, so use that time to:

  • Get your laptop, iPad, and liquids out of your bags (not every airport will have you take out the iPad, but it’s better to take it out now than have to do it later)
  • Empty your pockets into your bag
  • Same thing with jewelry and the like, just pop em in your bag
  • Put your passport, ID, and boarding pass somewhere in your bag (you’ll need it at the gate)
  • If it’s winter, you can shove all this stuff into your coat pocket because you’ll have to remove your coat anyways

One trick I do is to take my coat off with my backpack. Then, when I go to grab my stuff again, I just slide my arms in the sleeves and go! I did that once with my sweater AND my coat and a little boy getting his shoes back on next to me went “Woah…” Yeah, buddy, I do this a lot.

Step #4: Find your gate.
Sometimes, you’ll arrive earlier than you have a gate, which is fine. It just means you’ll spend some extra time in the food area. Don’t worry about food or snacks just yet. Figure out which terminal you need to get to and get there. A lot of airports will have designated international terminals, so that should be pretty easy. Other airports are the central hub for a particular airline, so you’ll go there. Chances are, your terminal and gate are on your boarding pass, but if the gate isn’t there, the terminal definitely should be.

Step #5: Get some water and go to the bathroom.
If you brought an empty water bottle, fill it. Unless you’re flying to/from Asia, they’ll probably make you dump it out. Or buy a water. Again, unless you’re flying to/from Asia. I’ve gotten bloody noses on flights before, so to avoid that: stay hydrated!
Now that you’re near your gate, go to the bathroom. Airplane bathrooms are tiny and I always have to pee while we’re taxing or the fasten seatbelt sign is on or there’s a line. It’s the worst.

Step #6: Have a breather.
Have a seat! Relax! I like to sit on the floor during this part of the journey because I’m going to be sitting on a plane for the next however long and then the transport to where I’m going. Also, I like sitting on floors.

Step #7: Time to board.
Have your boarding pass and ID out and ready. They’ll board by zone, so if you aren’t worried about there being enough room for your carry-on luggage above you, there’s no need to be That Person standing really close to the gate desk. Seriously, no reason. You’ll just get in the way of people who are boarding or people with stroller or BOTH. Don’t do it. There’s time. They’re not going to leave without you.
When it’s time to board your zone, hand the person your boarding pass and ID at the same time. They might not need the ID, but it’s better to just hand it to them. Sometimes, they’ll tell you to board through a certain door because of where your row is. Sometimes, you’ll have to take a bus to the plane or walk outside for it, so be ready for that.

Step #8: In-flight.
By this point, you’re on the plane! You’ve made it halfway. There’s a few ways this can go:

  • You leave on-time and land a few minutes early!
  • You’re a little delayed on the runway before leaving and/or in the air before taxying and arrive on time (airlines usually add a bit of time to the estimated landing time for this very reason)
  • You’re very delayed on the runway before leaving and/or in the air before taxying and arrive late.
  • Everything is so delayed they offer you the chance to reschedule your flight.

In case of the last one, don’t panic. They’ll reschedule you for a flight or figure out a way to compensate you for the flight cost, but they probably won’t get you a hotel for the night. The airline isn’t on the hook for weather.
Once you’ve taken off, there will be a drinks/snack cart coming around. There will be complimentary things (if you’re not flying super cheap) and the longer flights will have a meal. When you booked your ticket, there’s the option to pay extra for the better meals and you’ll be able to buy alcohol, just don’t imbibe TOO much, it’s expensive.
Finally, for plane etiquette:
Don’t be a dick.
There’s going to be people in your space, people making noise, children who are screaming, etc. Don’t be a dick about it, that just makes it worse for everyone. Try to be aware of where you are in relation to those around you, too. Yes, sometimes it’s a long flight, but it’s a long flight for everyone around you. Also, the babies on the planes are literally in the worst pain they’ve ever experienced in their lives, try to have a little compassion for the babies and their parents.

Step #9: Disembarking.
Listen, friends, if you don’t have a connection to make or a screaming baby or a really pressing engagement, sit tight. People are always in such a rush to get off a plane, but then they end up standing there like doofuses for 10min waiting for the plane door to open. Plus, if you checked a bag, you’re going to have to wait for that eventually anyways, so just hang tight. There might be some people in a hurry to catch their next flight or get their poor baby off the plane. If you’re expecting someone to pick you up, they’ll understand.

Step #10: Connections.
Most of the time, you’ll have plenty of time. Sometimes, it’ll be a little tight. It’ll be fine. The gate agents once you disembark can sometimes let you know which gate you need to go to for your connection flight, but your best bet is to check one of the boards. Getting to the next terminal might be a little difficult (LOOKING AT YOU CHICAGO), but you can ask someone who works at the airport for directions. If you’re flying with the same airline and you’re worried about making it to the next flight, you can ask the gate agents to call the connecting gate.

Step #11: Customs and Border Patrol.
If you flew internationally, you might have to go through customs and/or border patrol. There’ll be signs about “EU Passport” or “Non-EU Passport” or something like that, just get in line! Also, be patient. There’s nothing you can do to speed this up and you can’t skip it. Have your passport and any other documents you need ready to hand to the person. They’ll ask things like “What’re you here for? Where are you staying?” That sort of thing.

Step #12: Baggage Claim.
From the plane, follow the signs to baggage claim. Once you’re there, your flight will have a turnstyle that might be shared with another flight. Because of the number of bags you’ll have to glance at to find your own, my family always puts colored duct tape on the handles. Make sure that there’s at least one kind of tape visible no matter which way the bag is laying. I have some striped duct tape on the top, side, and bottom handles of all of my suitcases.

Step #12: Leaving.
However you’re getting where you’re going, this is that time. You might have to go through customs at this point, it depends on the airport. A lot of the airports I travel through Europe have a little like customs box with automatic doors and it’s a breeze. If you’re meeting someone, they’re probably waiting out past baggage claim or out where cars wait. If you need a bus or train, there should be signs. SHOULD BE. There might not be, though, but you can ask airport staff for help.

The takeaways here are:
Don’t panic.
Don’t be a dick.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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.

Article Series: Travel in (Relative) Style

So as my time in Ireland nears its end, I have a lot to get done. A lot of traveling, some thesis writing, and my best friend from high school is coming to visit! She’s been asking me a lot of questions about traveling, so I’m going to compile a list of travel tips and tricks that I’ve picked up since I started this blog (and started traveling internationally) in 2012.

The way I travel has vastly changed since then, and only part of it is due to my increased experience! (Most of it is due to my decreased budget since I primarily travel alone and out of my own pocket…)

So, to ease my friend’s travel anxieties and to sort of compile some of my travel tips, the posts will start tomorrow and post every other day. They are split up into the following categories:

  • Before You Go [scheduled for 29 Aug 16:30] – This will primarily cover packing, since that can be so hard to do!
  • On Your Way [scheduled for 31 Aug 16:30] – From check-in to leaving the airport, this will cover the journey through the airport
  • Making the Most of Making It [scheduled for 2 Sep 16:30] – This will cover what happens after you have gotten to your accommodation, although some of these things will be useful to look up before you leave

As of the time of writing and on the post date for the entire series, I am on holiday. I have my computer with me, but y’know, Barcelona and Paris beckon!