- Don't try to see everything at once: Can you imagine trying to see America in a week? Ridiculous! It takes a week just to see one state. "Experiencing" Europe via a quick run through the major cities is like trying to read a book by skimming the chapter titles.
"But I'll see the highlights and then go back!"
No. No, you won't. There's an entire planet to see. While there are places that I've been to 100 times and still love to go back to (I'm looking at you, Paris!), for the most part you won't go back. You'll go somewhere new. Also, you'll be so exhausted from rushing between point A and point B, you'll see a lot but experience nothing.
Travel is about meeting other people, taking in the food and culture, experiencing new things. Take your time. Enjoy it. Limit your trip to a smaller area you can fully enjoy. One to two weeks in most countries (not continents!) is the perfect amount of time to experience them.
- See some small towns: New York City is really awesome, but would you reeeeally consider it an accurate representation of the United States? Well guess what.... neither is Paris. Or Cairo. Or any other major city. See them because they're terrific cities, but don't be fooled for a second that they represent the country. Get out, see some small local towns. The people there are friendlier and you'll have a totally different (and far more cultural) experience.
- Talk to the Locals: If you're planning to take a tour, make sure to pick one that includes a home stay and a dinner with locals. That's always my favorite part of the trip and there's no better way to experience the culture. If you're not taking a tour, ask your taxi driver. Believe it or not, they're really connected to the pulse of all interesting things in a city. You can also just ask a local in a cafe.
- Don't look for your home country in the destination: "Look how different McDonald's is here!" Seriously??? Just, no. "Euro-Disney was so super cool!" Really??? If you're traveling you're on limited time. Don't let your own culture hold you back. Try to forget about your own culture and fully take in and experience the culture you're visiting. Take chances, try new things. Save the culture comparison for retrospective moments when you're back home.
My very first home-stay ever was in Turkey and I was not prepared for sleeping over a barn. It turns out it was a terrific experience and now one of my favorite parts of any trip!
- Don't believe everything (or anything) you see in the media: Media prays upon the ignorance of the masses to sell headlines. Other countries are not the crazy violent places the media tries to sensationalize. Technically, the stories they tell are true. But what about all the murders in New York City or Philadelphia or Chicago? There are so many of them they're not even interesting news. The story that gets the headline is the extreme single instance of something weird happening in a far off land with unicorns and "savages". I've been all over Mexico City and there was a police officer (no joke) on almost every corner. Corrupt? Possibly. But they were always very polite in providing directions or advice when needed. None of them kidnapped me or sold me to drug lords. (BTW, Mexico City should definitely be one of your destinations!) I've also traveled all over Egypt, Jordan and right up to the border in Afghanistan and absolutely loved it. Only once did I feel like I was about to be the victim of a crime. While you should always be aware of your surroundings, you're far more likely to be assaulted in your own hometown. Violent crime in the U.S. is far more prevalent than anywhere else in the world.
- Asks lots of questions: Don't be shy! People love to talk about their culture. Ask lots of questions and you'd be surprised at some of the interesting things you'll learn that otherwise won't be found in guide books.
In Egypt, homeowners paint their home to show things they've experienced or places they've traveled
- Try the local food: If you're a picky eater, get ready to try something new. One of the most interesting aspects of traveling is trying the food. While I firmly draw the line at goat heads and fish eyes, I've definitely pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone (I'm looking at you, Peru!). It's worth mentioning that I've noticed people trying to be "safe" by eating vegetarian food are the only ones I've ever seen get food poisoning. You're more likely to get sick from uncooked vegetables (via e. Coli) than you are from cooked meat.
There was one time I drank a pisco sour (which contains raw egg whites) from a roadside stand in a warm blender on a cardboard box. It was a bumpy and explosive week, but it produced the thinnest vacation pictures ever! LOL If you're really worried about food poisoning, ask your doctor for a few 500mg Ciproflaxin antibiotic pills. Just one pill cures about 90% of food poisoning in just a few hours. You can buy it over the counter in most countries but bringing it with you will save you from doing the poot-scoot down the street to find a pharmacy.
The dinner we shared with the family in Egypt was definitely one of my favorites to date! A true Nubian feast with another family in Egypt
- Skip the trains for basic travel: Unless it truly is the most convenient way to get from A to B, skip them. (Exceptions are when the train is specifically for sight seeing like the trains in Alaska, to Macchu Piccu, or through the fjords in Norway.) I realize this is contrary to everything you've ever heard, but once the novelty of riding a train wears off, you'll find yourself hopping from connection to connection trying desperately to grab a couple of hours of sleep. Over sleep and you're hosed. The trains do connect everything, just not directly. Imagine going from Dallas to Denver to Cincinnati to get to New Orleans. That's 4 connections and 19 hours of train time for something that could have been a 4 hour drive or a 30 minute flight. This problem is compounded if you're trying to cover all of Europe in a single vacation. The journey is often extremely long (over 10 hours) and may have 2 or 3 connections.
The train from Cairo to Luxor was an experience that could've been skipped. Sleeper car from Stockholm, Sweden to Kiruna, Sweden
- Bring extra medicine: Not all countries have the same medicines available, and you don't want to spend your vacation time searching for medicine. I always bring a Ziplock with cold medicine, antacid, anti-diarrhea tablets, Ibuprofen (good for headaches and sore muscles), and Cipro for food poisoning (which has only happened twice in years of traveling but I thought I was going to die both times.) The Ziplock can lay flat with tablet packs in it and doesn't take up any room.
- Pack light: If you can fit your luggage in a carry on and a small bag, you're golden. The more you pack, the more you have to drag around with you. If you have to check a bag, you risk it getting lost. And lots of historic places have cobblestone streets, uneven pavements, big hills and multiple flights of stairs. You'll be sore. You'll be tired. You definitely will not want to be lugging a trunk with a giant hair dryer in it.
- Be in the moment, not the photo: Unless you're truly a professional photographer or trying to win a National Geographic photo contest, take your photo and move on. You know how many people have taken the exact same photo you're trying to perfect? Everyone. How many people are really going to look at your photo later? Almost no one. They'll click "like" as they scroll through their news feed onto something more interesting. But, they won't look at it for more than a second at best. Having a better or worse photo won't change your memory, except that all the time you spend hogging the photo spot will have been wasted on a photo vs actually enjoying the view and your vacation. Plus, others who also want photos in that spot will appreciate you not being an a-hole. And let's be honest, unless you're a dinosaur you've already spent countless hours practicing selfies and know your best angle. So just snap a couple of quick selfies and move on.
You know where the best photos are taken? NOT in the typical photo spots. They're taken in an alley, of locals, or something unexpected. But never of the Eiffel tower. Or Big Ben. Or whatever other stereotypical photo you're probably planning. And the photos of you jumping or holding up the leaning tower of Pisa? More basic than a Pumpkin Spice Latte. (Yes, I've done this. And in hindsight, these basic photos are my least favorite.)
- Bring comfortable shoes and a pair of flip flops: When I say comfortable, I mean comfortable. Like... imagine yourself wearing them while pounding the pavement for 12 hours a day for two weeks. The flip flops can be the emergency back up if your shoes get soaked in the rain (I'm looking at you, Antalya, Turkey!) You can also wear them if you find yourself having to use a questionable shower. But flip-flops are by no means appropriate travel shoes. Your body will hate you.
- Bring LOTS of sunscreen: Few things can make a vacation more miserable than getting a horrid sunburn. Unless you work outside, you'll probably find yourself spending more time in the sun that you're used to. The worst sunburn I've ever had in my entire life was at the Aran Islands in Ireland. Yes.... IRELAND! I spent the next 5 days wearing a hoodie tied over my head in the dead of summer to keep sun off my crispy sunburn.
After that sunburn in the Aran Islands, I wasn't taking any changes on this Felucca on the Nile River in Egypt!
- Travel Off-Season: I'd heard horror stories of waiting in line for hours to see the statue of David in Florence, but I walked right in. And the pyramids in Egypt? Easy breezy!
Bent Pyramid during off season. Look at all the tourists!
- Schedule Time to Relax: Sometimes it can feel like a death march trying to take in all the sights. Make sure to schedule in time to relax at least every 3 or 4 days so you can recuperate and continue enjoying your vacation. If you don't actually schedule this is, it probably won't happen until you collapse or get sick. This is a key element in not getting sick during vacation.
After days of climbing pyramids and ancient ruins in Guatemala and Mexico, it was time to relax in Belize Floating in the Dead Sea was very calming
- Take a cooking class: A cooking class is a great way to understand culture and food, even if you don't like to cook. It's one of my favorite parts of every trip, and they're very easy to find! Just make sure to book this part in advance because they tend to fill up early.
In Jordan, sneaking up on your tabbouleh! Learning to make homemade croissants in Paris
- Take a hot air balloon ride: They're not cheap but I've taken a few anyway. It's not so much about the experience of the balloon ride itself as much as it's about seeing the view from a different angle.
A hot air balloon ride is always magical and is always a great way to appreciate the view of a destination.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Top 17 Travel Tips
The prospect of traveling the world can seem so overwhelming people don't even know what questions to ask. There's lots of advice on the internet for travel, some of it obvious, and most of it repeated. Here are my top 17 travel tips that I didn't find elsewhere on the internet: