10 Tips for a Better Vacation

Travel tip (and random picture of the Duomo in Florence. Go visit. It is better in person.)

Americans are the worst. We are terrible at using up all of our vacation time, and then some people are not too good at maximizing the time they have taken off. SAD! As a travel professional, I can help, and I am here to tell you: use your vacation time. You deserve it.

Whew. Once you figure out where you are going, there are several ways to make your trip better. Here are my Top 10 Tips for a Better Vacation:

  1. Pack extra underwear in your carry-on. Should the airline lose your luggage, you are welcome to drop me an email, or tweet, and thank me. Rewearing clothes is a manageable problem, but underwear? Clean ones make all the difference.
  2. Print out everything. All your confirmations, tickets, and reservations should be printed and in a file. Is it old school? Yes, but do you want to be trying to get into the Anne Frank House and have your phone – with the tickets on it – die? I don’t think so.

    Travel Tip: Perhaps pack an extra pair of cheap sunglasses. I lost mine in a wave at Manuel Antonio Park, simply by not paying attention. Oops.
  3.  Learn two key phrases. When traveling to another country, it is helpful to make a bit of effort. In many parts of the world, people do speak English in addition to their native language, but you can still try. Learn to say “please“, “thank you“, and “where is the bathroom?” Your efforts will likely be rewarded.
  4. Buy travel insurance. You never know when you will need it and the peace of mind knowing that if things go wrong (and they do), you are covered, is priceless.
  5. Plan your wardrobe carefully. Mix and match and re-wear things. What? You don’t want to be in all your photos wearing the same three outfits? Learn to use Photoshop and change them later, but meanwhile, pack less. As you schlep an extra bag through a train station turnstile, you will remember this post and wish you had listened. Also, the pants that barely fit now are not going to be any better at the end of your trip, so leave them home.

    Travel Tip: Sometimes the best plan is a self-guided gelato tasting.
  6. Drink more water, and figure out if it is safe to drink tap water wherever you are going. Plus, if you are properly hydrated, you will get to test out your handy new phrase: ¿dónde está el baño?
  7. Ask the locals for help. I give directions every day to tourists looking for Hemingway’s house, or a great restaurant, and I am not alone. Most people will help you if you’re not a jackass. (See point #3.) Look for people walking dogs, or someone on the street speaking the local language. (Perhaps you should also learn to say “excuse me.“) Ask for their favorite restaurant to try something off the beaten path.
  8. Let your credit card company or bank know where you are going. Well, you should probably leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted friend or family member, but you are also going to want to access your own money. The last thing you need is your bank thinking your ATM card has been stolen, while you are simply trying to enjoy some croissants at a café along the Seine.

    Travel Tip: Pack meds. I had no idea I would get motion sick in this tiny seaplane. Now I know.
  9. Bring prescription and non-prescription medication that you use on a regular basis. You may not want to end up in Mexico with a raging headache, explaining to the bodega owner that you have a “dolor de cabeza” and forgot your Advil. Similarly, if you get seasick, or carsick, bring some meclizine. That stuff can make all the difference between misery and merriment, and the merriment is much more fun.

    Planning ahead may mean finding brie stuffed with porcini mushrooms. I assure you, it was worth the research.
  10. Plan. Seriously, just plan out what you want to do. I am not suggesting that you need to plan every second of every day but cover the big stuff. For example, if you are going to Rome for the first time, plan a tour to see the Vatican. The guide will give you far more insight than you would glean on your own. Leave yourself some free time, but get advance tickets for the Coliseum. You don’t want to spend all your free time waiting in line.