My top 10 travel tips

By Caitlin Kelly

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Whatever medications you might possibly need, bring them with you!

I learned this the hard way when I wrenched my arthritic knee in Berlin — and assumed I could pick up some anti-inflammatory pills at the pharmacy. Nope! Not without a prescription, so I had to wait until I got to Budapest. Then (bad luck trip!) I cut myself in London, and the wound was painful, so I went to buy Neosporin, a terrific antibiotic cream easily available in Canada and the U.S.

Not in England! I had to settle for some gel. Note that my journey took me not into remote jungles or desert areas of developing countries, but major European cities.

 

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Make note of landmarks

Whether you take a photo or simply use your memory, make note of some basic landmarks, especially on the route(s) back to your lodging. And be sure to have the complete address and phone number with you and written down (in case your phone dies!)

Again, I did this the hard way in London, limping the entire length of Waterloo Bridge (!) after mistaking the north side of London for my destination on the south bank. A day later I found the right bus because I’d watched the route carefully so I knew where the correct bus stop was by remembering its location outside a college.

Yes, you prefer to use apps on your phone, or a map — but what if your phone dies or, as happens, is snatched from your hand and you’re disoriented?

 

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Make time to rest and totally relax

Yes, you’ve possibly paid a fortune for your travel and lodging and dare not miss a minute.

But racing around for eight or 10 or 12 hours every day, especially in summer heat and crowds, is truly exhausting for even the most fit.

Travel is a huge privilege, certainly, but it’s also disorienting, tiring and sometimes anxiety-provoking.

Build in downtime for yourself and your travel companions to sleep, read, listen to music, watch a video or go to a movie.

Hydrate!

I was impressed by huge posters in the London tube, suggesting that passengers eat before a journey and to always carry water with them. The single best buy of my trip was a $10 metal water bottle that I filled each morning and carried everywhere, refilling it as needed.

Especially in summer, it’s too easy to scarf down calorie-laden ice cream, beer or soda instead of healthy, no-cal water.

 

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Vary your normal schedule

Get up at 5:00 a.m and watch the sun rise — or stay up late and watch it set, (that can be as late 11:30 p.m. in Scandinavian summer.)

Places are wildly different at sunrise and sunset. It’s so fun to watch a place come awake or locals emerging into the cooling dusk for their passeggiata.

Get out onto the water!

Every time I meet someone eager to visit New York City, I remind them that it’s an island — i.e. with water you can get out onto, whether in a sailboat, a rented kayak or a ferry. Few sights are as memorable and gob-smacking as watching a city light up around you.

Take a brief river cruise in cities like New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Chicago or Budapest — anywhere that offers one!

Toronto has gorgeous harbor islands reachable by ferry, as do Stockholm, Vancouver and others. You can even land on an island in the Toronto harbor at Billy Bishop airport, (if you fly Porter Air.)

You get a totally different perspective of a place from its adjacent waters, whether a lake, river, sound or ocean, certainly in summer (and even in winter.)

Talk to locals, at length

Some of my best memories of my six-week journey have been the candid conversations I had with hotel staff, taxi drivers, a sailing instructor, a tour guide, with professors and students.

I would have had no idea that the average Croatian monthly wage is about 700 kuna — $109 U.S. dollars — a sum I fact-checked with others and which still leaves me shocked.

Remember that every safely completed journey relies on the skills and talents ofย  many people, some invisible to us, no matter how essential

From pilots and fight attendants and maintenance crew to the chambermaids cleaning your room to the wait-staff to the bus and train and boat drivers.

I made sure to leave healthy tips for the chambermaids at every hotel and was deeply touched by the kindness I received while coping with my injury — even from Venice’s overwhelmed and harried vaporetto staff to busy London cabbies.

Say thank-you! Leave good tips!

 

Your best travel skill — flexibility!

I love Paris, but recently overheard two London businessmen discussing their holidays — the younger one, maybe late 20s, early 30s, said he’d found that legendary city a huge disappointment.

Much I as want to love London, (and I enjoy elements of it a great deal), I inevitably leave it behind with a sigh of relief: for me, it’s just too big, too crowded, too expensive and it takes an hour to go anywhere by public transit. It’s not my favorite city, no matter how hard I try.

So when you arrive at a place you’ve worked hard and saved hard to get to, you might love it — or not. Prior research helps, of course, but things happen: there might be a strike or lousy weather or someone gets ill or (rarely), you might (be cautious and smart) get robbed or pick-pocketed.

Don’t expect perfection!

 

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Have some emergency savings or access to additional funds through a credit card

I certainly didn’t plan — two weeks into a six-week big-city European trip — to badly injure my right knee. But I did, and that meant much slower days, less sight-seeing than I hoped for, and a few more taxi fares — which cost additional funds I hadn’t planned on.

Same thing for getting to and from airports/bus/train terminals, especially with luggage — if you’re exhausted/ill/injured/coping with children or frail companions — prioritize comfort and speed over saving a few dollars.

Here are six more excellent tips from travel bloggers, through USA Today.

 

 

30 thoughts on “My top 10 travel tips

  1. these are such great tips, caitlin. i agree with all of these, and find that the ‘be flexible’ tip to be most important. this kind of covers most everything for travel experiences. i love not rushing around, generally find a couple of things in a city that i really want to see, and then go with the flow. i love losing track of time and not having a schedule. that’s how i know i’m really on holiday.

    1. Thanks!

      So many people I met were shocked that I kept going with my injury and brace — but what else to do? I was fortunate that nothing major went wrong in all my travels, and the only disappointment (hardly crucial) was Venetian crowds and the food in Rovinj.

      1. Absolutely.

        The $$$ is very strong right now against the euro and pound, which really helped — I remember trips where the pound was at $1.50 to $2 and a $1.30 euro. Budapest and Croatia were very reasonably priced and my entire week (!) of Berlin hotel (with some meals and laundry) was only 1,000 euros.

  2. p.s. have you ever considered writing your next book about travel? maybe your real life tips, based on experience, mixed in with some of your stories, and things to buy in each city, things to eat, experiences to endeavor…..?

    1. Interesting you should say this — another blog reader suggested it recently as well.

      Not sure if there would be a market as there are SO many travel bloggers now with enormous followings on social media — I doubt a publisher would choose me over them.

      1. you never know, it may be worth exploring and doing some market research. while you would most likely not appeal to the backpacking/lonely planet crowd, you might find your readership in a more discerning group with a certain taste and quality over quantity outlook. the way you lay out a place, honestly, the good and the bad, the gems within, the treasures to be found, the people, the geography, and a slower, more meaningful pace, holds a certain appeal. even your photos of treasures, places, and people are so interesting.

      2. Thanks for the encouragement…:-) Lots to think about.

        I plan to open a photo-only website soon (helps to have a skilled photo editor in the house!) with hopes of selling some of my images from there. Have already spoken to a very busy interior designer in our building, a friend, about the possible use of my images in some of her projects. I have some terrific stuff I haven’t yet posted.

  3. Good tips, Caitlin. I agree with you about London. My feeling is: London is impressive, but Paris is beautiful, and if I’m going to spend time in an expensive city, I’ll choose the latter. (In fact, I did just visit London for the first time in a long while, but limited my stay to three days.) I also agree about noticing landmarks. and I have a good trick to add. I take photos of prominent features before I leave the area so I can use them to orient myself when I return. Better if you use a real camera, though, since cellphones do have a habit of going dead. Just remember to charge your camera before you leave in the morning.

    1. Exactly!

      I think so many people now stumble about, heads-down staring into their damn phones, and do not pay attention to WHERE THEY ARE. It’s a really serious issue. esp. when you travel solo, to be safely independent.

      I was only able to afford a week in London because I had friends to stay with and museums are free and I took public transit 95% of the time. I never find Paris as expensive, and so much easier/faster to navigate.

  4. Yes to all these tips! So many I could relate to the trips I’ve taken. But I’m going to say, yes especially to taking time to rest and having alternatives to your phones when on a trip and need to remember place information. You have no idea how many times those two have saved me from exhaustion or getting lost in a place I’ve never lived in.

    1. Thanks!

      It was a really embarrassing moment to cross a LONG bridge in the wrong direction when I was already exhausted and in pain — the next day, finding the right bus stop (which had been around the corner) was a triumph!

      I felt a bit guilty on the few days I lay in bed and listened to (!) NPR or watched a video on my laptop — but in normal life, that’s what we do.

      1. We all need a break to keep our sanity. My first time in Europe, I spent most evenings in Berlin trying to reenergize in my hotel room. And in Boston a couple weeks ago, my dad and I would end most evenings relaxing in our hotel rooms for a little while before going out. They were Godsends, those few hours.

      2. I might tell him you said that.

        Oh, another tip I would recommend is asking people who have lived or visited a place before to give you recommendations. I’m tellingyou, my Boston trip was really enhanced by the suggestions of friends and people we met of places or things we should visit and try.

      3. Of course!

        I have contacts worldwide through my professional network — and my travel Twitterchats have proven immensely helpful. I would never have chosen Rovinj nor Istria without those and what I learned from them; a travel agent in Zagreb found me on one, chose and booked my hotel for me; is now a friend IRL. Perfect.

  5. I like the idea of leaving tips for the hotel staff.

    When I travel, I bring along a small flashlight in case the power in the hotel goes off. I also bring an older pair of reading glasses as backup. I bring prescription drugs with me and carry enough for my travel plus a few extra days just in case. A rest day is also critical. I once had to take a long afternoon nap after jetlag and walking in the heat caught up with me.

    1. Tips are a MUST!!!!! They work so so hard and people don’t even realize the physical toll it takes on their bodies.

      A small flashlight is super-smart, for sure.

      Rest days are key. Jose and I slept most of our first day in Paris after an overnight flight. I always prefer day flights for that reason.

  6. such great tips! I really like that you mentioned to make note of landmarks. I also like to grab business cards if I’m staying at a hotel. I take a picture of it and also keep a copy in my bag.

    1. Great idea — thank you! So smart. We can easily get lost and disoriented, esp. in a place where we don’t speak the language. I was very very fortunate — in every place i went, 90% of people spoke very good English.

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