It’s been a while since I’ve posted about trip and travel planning, so I thought I’d do an updated post all about my very best travel tips. Check out my previous Euro trip planning post here. In this post I’ll show you where to buy a few of our favorite travel items and I’ll share travel tips I’ve learned since my previous post. I’m in no way an expert, but I’ve found that other blogger’s honest opinions and travel posts have actually been one of the most helpful tools for me while trip planning for us. I’m pretty Type-A and I’m all about budget friendly travel, so if you’re into that, this post is for you!
1. Pack in a carry on backpack: My biggest travel tip ever since we packed in a backpack for our two week honeymoon to Italy has been to pack light in a backpack. I thought it was impossible. But, it’s not. If I can do it, I think anyone can. It simplifies so many aspects of your trip and streamlines your travels. However, packing in a backpack does require a bit more planning and careful consideration. (More about that in a later post.) We have the Osprey Porter 46 bag and these are hands down the best bags for traveling anywhere. I especially love how it opens like a suitcase and even a relatively smaller person like me can comfortably carry it on my own. I also recommend the Osprey Daylite Backpack for daytime excursions, a carry on travel purse and Ebags packing cubes from Amazon. Don’t forget to find a good toiletries bag to keep things organized. Shop my travel bag recommendations here…
2. Pick [good] travel dates: I mentioned this in my last post, but definitely try to travel in the off or shoulder seasons. You’ll get better prices on hotels, flights, and other tours. Europe in general (especially the major cities) tend to get PACKED in the summer. After traveling a few times in the summer to Europe and then traveling there in the spring (the shoulder season), I can honestly tell you that you’ll see far fewer crowds in the shoulder season. On that note, be sure you’ve checked to see if there are any major festivals or airline strikes (that’s not a fun one…because you might get stranded) or major political issues or unrest in the city you plan to visit. You don’t want to unknowingly end up in the middle of a mess or some crazy scenario when you’re supposed to be enjoying your vacation. Use the US Travel Alert website for up to date warnings for travelers.
3. Choose budget flights or most convenient flight: Don’t be afraid of budget airlines or random airline deals or multi-city flights with stopover deals. Realize that if you do go with a budget airline, you won’t be getting a lot of things (like free water or snacks or super comfy seats), but you just have to decide if it’s worth saving the money. For us, there have been several times where it’s worth the money to sacrifice some comforts and other times, it wasn’t. You also have the option of flying somewhere other than your local airport and then catching a flight from another city before arriving at your final destination. Sometimes, this is actually one of the better ways to get cheap flights. Also, my favorite times of the day to travel are either evening flights or early morning flights, but if I’m going to Europe from the US, I prefer evening flights. I think you end up making better use of your time with the time difference. Be sure you have an updated passport before you book a flight or a travel visa if needed. Help yourself have a more comfortable flight with a few of these things that I’ve found really do make flights a bit better.
4. Do your research and make an itinerary: Make a list all of the places that you and your travel buddy want to visit. Consult Rick Steves guides (I especially love his Italy and Europe guides), Lonely Planet guides, travel forums, Trip Advisor and travel blogs for info. One of my biggest tips with planning a loose itinerary is to think about how you feel when you are stressed or tired and plan accordingly. For example if you arrive on a red eye flight going to Europe from the USA, you’re going to be tired. Unless you’re an amazing sleeper on planes or you happen to be sitting in first class, you’ll likely be exhausted. So don’t plan a full day of heavy walking, excursions and stressful activities for that first day if you know you’re grumpy when you’re tired. Anyway, my point is to know yourself and your travel buddies…and then give yourself some down time if needed.
Also, I can’t say enough great things about Google Trips (which will help you plan things that make geographic sense) or Google Drive (which will keep all your notes and budgets in order). Over plan your days and go with the mindset that you won’t do everything. If there are certain places you REALLY want to see, be sure to check out if it’s a good idea to get tickets in advance. I don’t recommend buying tickets in advance for everything though…because flexibility is often the name of the game. On the other hand, if you know you’re going to be needing to get to another city (for example, going from Venice to Rome) and you’ve already booked your hotel, definitely book your train or car transfer in advance. This frees you up during the actual trip to not stress about how you’ll get from place to place.
5. Utilize super touristy bus tours: I know these can be cheesy, but we’ve found that sometimes our very favorite travel memories are on these booked day tours with companies like Viator. We love to do a mixture of traveling on our own and going on day tours with a group, because day tours take care of EVERYTHING for you. So, it’s always really relaxing to have someone else navigate for us, pick us up at our hotel and do all the planning. Also, we always end up with the most hilarious people on our tours and we love getting to meet people from all over the world. People are pretty much people no matter where you go and that’s one of the beautiful things about traveling. 😉
6. Plan to help yourself stay healthy: Go ahead and plan to pack a water bottle with a handle (for easy clipping onto your bag), granola bars (these are our tops pick), pick up some Vitamin C packets and pack some over the counter meds. Without fail, on just about every trip I’ve gone on, someone has needed my Tylenol (which is oddly expensive in a lot of countries), allergy meds, melatonin (for help with time zone crossing), band-aids or hydrocortisone cream (there are a lot of itchy things in the world). Trust me, you don’t want to have to ask for a gauze bandage in Italian at a little pharmacy when you could just as easily bring it with you. Save yourself and your travel buddies by bringing your travel medicine cabinet. And please, for the sake of everyone, drink a ton of water before and during your trip. Dehydration is actually a major issue while flying and when your body is adjusting to a new time zone. If you do get sick and you’re in a foreign country, the US Embassy’s website for that country has a list of American and/or English speaking doctors in the city you’re visiting. Sadly, we’ve had to use one of these doctors while traveling, but it was good experience all things considering. Some of my favorite first aide or health items to pack can be found below.
7. Be budget friendly: I highly recommend always traveling within your budget. Know what you’re getting into. Set your budget and stick to it, even if that means you have to cut your trip short by a few days or shop around a bit more for affordable hotels. For example, we are planning a trip to Iceland and we’ve been told to expect to pay twice what we’re used to for any given meal. Plan for things like this and don’t let yourself be shocked by these types of potential issues. I use Google Sheets to budget out all of our trips. I literally list everything from cell phone costs to food to hotels to excursions and estimate costs. As we book our hotels and excursions, I update the budget so that we have the most accurate budget as possible before we leave.
8. Make credit card points work for you: I also can’t say enough good things about credit card points and using them to pay for travel. We love Chase rewards points and have used them many times to buy plane tickets, pay for fancy hotels we’d normally never stay in and other travel expenses. Do your research and try to sign up for one of these cards while there’s a bonus or some incentive. I really like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. If you want more info, check out the Points Guy for tips.
9. Electronics and cameras: Have a plan for storing photos whether on your Google Drive, Facebook, external hard drive, etc. If something happens to your phone or camera, you don’t want to have all your photos lost. As far as what takes the best photos…well, that’s up to you. We kind of hate to bring our nice camera, because it’s so bulky. iphones take amazing photos and videos, for that matter. We’ve done both and regretted both decisions, so that’s really a personal choice. But, just be sure that you have the proper adapters. This is my favorite pocket battery charger. As far as cellphone service goes, just be sure to book hotels with FREE wifi (most have that). Decide whether you want to activate your US cellphones international plan or buy a SIM card. If you’re traveling to several different countries on one trip, just go with the international plan. If you’re staying in one country for a week or more, go with a local SIM card. Neither option is outrageous.
Hope these tips were helpful! Happy travels and happy planning!