Some of you have emailed me about your upcoming adventures. I’m so excited for all you!
I know that travel seems really luxurious and wonderful to all your friends at home. But on the road there are lots of little challenges that seem big in the moment but disappear in retrospect. Once you’re home telling the stories about sharing a shower with a rat, using a squat toilet on a moving train or getting lost in a rice field it feels more hilarious than it ever could when you’re actually living through it.
Before you jetsetters reach your gate, I’d like to share some suggestions that might help you to enjoy you travels even more – and come home feeling rested, healthy and happy instead of exhausted, stressed and broke.
Before you go
Print out your flight confirmations before leaving. In India, Thailand, Bali and Australia I needed a physical paper copy of my flight information in order to either get into the airport or to check-in. I didn’t have a printer with me so I really wished I had done this simple task before taking-off.
Write down the destination address for each flight. Many, many countries require a destination address on their customs forms. Writing “main street, Honolulu” won’t cut it. Having an address to write down will save you some hassels.
Register your plans with your country’s embassy. Someone should know where you are and how to reach you…just in case.
Live out of your carry-on. I did buy an extra bag after two months of travel but only to hold souvenirs for other people – a nice gesture but it would have been way better to travel without it. I found dry shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste at Lushso that I wouldn’t go over my liquid allowance. Sticking to carry-on means saving baggage fees, no risk of lost luggage, and extra time to explore instead of watching a carousel after each flight.
Pick a carry-on backpack with a rain cover. Especially if you’re travelling alone, I would suggest taking a backpack as your luggage (I loved my Deuter one). A backpack leaves your hands free to carry a hot cup of tea, a snack, to open doors, etc. I used the rain cover when I’m at the airport, or traveling on trains or buses. It provides an extra bit of security as it keeps all those pockets and zippers safe behind the big blue cover.
Bring fold-up shopping bags. If you’re living out of a big carry-on you don’t want to have to empty it and bring it along with you for everyday exploring. Pick up a few cloth bags that you can take to the store, farmers market and to tote around water, snacks and maps for your day. If you have a big purse then that might work just as well.
Pack zip-top bags. They are so versatile. I packed a bunch of empty ones that were used for wet clothes, packing snacks, toiletries, etc. They came in very handy.
Bring Postcards as thank you notes. Many people opened their homes to me over the last four months. At each spot I left behind a small gift and used a postcard from Canada to write the thank you note. You could write your address in the address line in hopes that you’ll stay in touch. My niece and nephews picked out the cards for me before I left. I really enjoyed seeing what images they selected (lots of bears and loons).
For long flights bring compression socks and an airport outfits. I like to pick a really comfy outfit for long flights. It is nice to have something clean and cozy to look forward to wearing, especially for the flight home. I usually wear black yoga pants, a long black shirt, a colourful scarf and slip on shoes (if I don’t need to wear my heaviest pair home). The scarf can double as blanket or a pillow and the black stretchy clothing means I look fairly descent when I arrive at my destination.
Pack a small camera. The best camera to travel with is one that won’t be a pain to bring along everywhere. If you’re packing into a carry-on bag this probably means you’ve got to find something compact. Most smartphones do a pretty good job but I found my Mom’s Nikon Coolpix(12.1 megapixels) offered enough flexibility for me to capture shots day and night and was tiny enough that I always had it with me.
Stock up on snacks. You never know when they’ll forget your meal on a flight, when you’ll arrive in a city after the stores have shut, or when you’ll be starving just a mile before you reach the summit. For me, being hungry means being grumpy and uncomfortable. I like to travel happy so I bring snacks :). I usually pack Larabars, dried fruit, packaged nuts and oats (for oatmeal or muesli) and haven’t had any issues moving through customs.
Upload ebooks or podcasts to your MP3 player. Sometimes when my head was swirling on a long train ride or flight because of all the discussions happening around me – that I couldn’t listen in on because they weren’t speaking any language I recognized – I put in my earbuds, relaxed and listened to a familiar voice tell me a story.
Some of my favourites are: This American Life, The Dinner Party Download, Marathon Talk, Vegetarian Food for Thought, NPRs Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Indie Travel Podcast, Amateur Traveller, NPRs Pop Culture Happy Hour, Our Hen House, and Freakanomics
Use a site like TripIt to keep your family and friends aware of your whereabouts. I discovered TripIt a few weeks before I left. It is a great site that organizes all of your travel confirmations. It sends you reminders about upcoming flights and can be shared with others to keep them informed of your itinerary (like when to meet you at the airport).
Get smartphone savvy. There are great travel apps if you have a data plan (if not TURN OFF YOUR NETWORK) I found iTranslate, currency converter, Vegout, and Veg Passport to be very handy. I also used the weather app and world clocks app on my iPhone everyday.
Sign up for Skype. These days, if you can find an internet connection then there is no need to feel far away from your loved ones. Skype accounts are free and allow you to have video phone calls with anyone who has an account.
Fill an external hardrive with movies and tv shows. If you’re traveling alone and will be in pretty secluded spots it is a nice treat to have a movie to watch in the evenings after a long hike. I was in a few places without tv, radio or internet during some major monsoon storms – having some great entertainment made those nights relaxing and enjoyable rather than boring and lonely.
Pick up a universal adaptor. I had my laptop with me everywhere – without a universal adaptor it would have been a useless, heavy addition to my luggage.
Walk. There is no better way to really see a city than at your own pace. Stroll, smile, and discover the little secret spots that you’d miss if you were racing past in a car/bus/tram or train. I would draw myself little maps each day of where I wanted to wander.
Visit local markets. I love the markets in Toronto but there is nothing like learning about the great ingredients that exist around the world from the people who grow them. Many of the fruits I had tried before tasted incredibly different when they hadn’t travelled across the world to get to my store. Starfruit in Hawaii was my biggest surprise. I also discovered a ton of new plants that offer unique flavour profiles and nutritional benefits. Markets can be a great place to pick up souvenirs as well. They often have unique crafts or ingredients that aren’t marked up with the “tourist tax”.
Connect with locals.Reach out to bloggers, twitter friends, like-minded associations (vegan, runners, religious, knitters…whatever) in the places you plan to visit. I didn’t read a single guidebook before my trip (only because I did not have any free time) but I did read blogs, search out organizations and send out many, many, many emails to connect with people in the places I would be. It turned out to be my most rewarding investment :). I met amazing people and experienced the cities from the perspective of the people who know it best.
Make a list of your must-sees in each place. You don’t want to leave disappointed but make sure the list is really your “musts”. Then free yourself to discover something new that you never would have considered. Ask locals for advice, read the newspapers or type some search terms in google and see what comes up.
Keep you immune system strong.Zinc supplements can be a great boost. I forgot to bring it this trip but often use it at home when I feel a cold coming on. I know everyone says, don’t eat raw foods…but I did the opposite. I ate as much raw fruit and greens as I could and I stayed super healthy. Be careful about who you buy food from but don’t be afraid to eat fruit and vegetables – your body needs them.
Travel with a great attitude. This is really my most important piece of advice. Remember why you’re traveling. Open up your mind and your heart to places that are different. It is okay to be challenge by the experience, but embrace the opportunity for discovery that experiences outside of your comfort zone allow. It’s worth it. Those are the unforgettable moments you’ll reflect on when you’re back in your cozy routine, with the coffee you like, the climate you enjoy and all the clothes you love.