I read recently that the experience of a vacation begins with the planning. I agree that for the post part it’s best to live in the moment, but when the anticipation of a trip can actually create pleasure in the moment, that kind of future-tripping can be positive. This is great news for someone like myself who likes to dig deep into research, skimming Instagram and blogs for inspiration. I have a trip coming up next month, so I’m revisiting all the travel tips that made my last international vacation successful. I thought maybe they’d be useful for you, too.
The itinerary, or how to have more fun at your destination and spend less time en route
I use two tools, a spreadsheet and Google Maps, to loosely plan my days. It’s easy to create your own map where you can label all the places you’d like to visit. You can learn how here. Search for each place – historic locale, museum, shop, restaurant, hotel, etc. – and add it to your map. Then you’ll have a map plotted with all the places on your potential itinerary.
Next, I use this map to create the first tab in my spreadsheet. I label columns “place,” “category,” and “neighborhood.” You can add others that you might find useful. The place is the name of the destination. For category, I list whether the place is a museum, restaurant, shop, etc. The neighborhood column is perhaps the most important for planning purposes. Here you’ll list the name of the area where the place is located. Once you’ve filled in all your places, you can sort the sheet by neighborhood, and then category. This will give you a starting point for your itinerary.
On a second tab, you’ll create your itinerary. You can organize this any way you like. By using the first tab, you can see what might make sense to visit each day. Be sure to check to see when each place is open. Some destinations may be closed on Sundays or Mondays, for example, or restaurants may be closed for a few hours between lunch and dinner service. To avoid disappointment, check their hours before your trip and include this info in your sheet. Depending on the size of the city you’re visiting, try not to include more than two neighborhoods in a single day. You’ll think you can tackle more venues than you’ll actually be able to, especially if it’s your first time visiting. Taking in everything around you should be a luxurious experience, not a rushed one.
The carryon, or how to survive too many hours in a tin can
Now that you have an idea of what you’ll be doing, you can focus on the getting-there part. And I have some travel tips that will make your plane ride more tolerable, and your visit easier once you arrive at your destination.
First, pack any medications and a change of underwear (at the very least) in your carryon. This way, if your luggage is lost, you’ll have essentials. A small bag of TSA-approved toiletries is a good idea, too.
Bring a USB cord so that you can plug your device in at your seat (if a port is available). Also, get a portable charger/power bank. I got one cheaply (for around $18) on Amazon. This will be a lifesaver for you, not only for the plane or airport, but for when you’re traipsing around sightseeing, using your phone’s camera and maps app constantly. When you search for a charger, be sure to get one that’s compatible with your phone. A popsocket or phone stand will also be handy if you want to watch video on your phone (don’t forget to download Netflix shows and movies to your phone for offline viewing BEFORE you leave home).
Sitting for long periods of time demands some items that will help you stay comfortable. I didn’t understand the concept of compression socks until I wore them. And boy do they help on a long journey. Normally I’d get leg cramps from a combination of air pressure and being stuck in my seat. But these socks were a lifesaver (and they can really save a life if you have a potential for clots; however, if you are, be sure to get up and move around the cabin regularly to improve circulation).
There are so many travel pillows on the market that it can be confusing to sort through them. I found this one on a travel tips blog and am so glad that I did, because it suits my usual sleeping style, which, when I’m in bed, is to gather my comforter snugly up to my head. Its infinity shape means you can loop it around your neck in different ways: once, twice (to create a more standard travel pillow), or like I do: once, twisted, with my hands tucked in to mimic the feel of being bundled up. The fabric feels like a comforter, so it helps me feel like I’m in bed. It also manages to feel cool and cozy at the same time.
A light blanket is helpful, or just bring a sweater, fleece, or if you’re packing a coat anyway, keep it at your seat. I bought this packable puffer from Madewell. It’ll be warm enough for the streets of London in November, but packs into a travel pillow. I’ll keep it in my carryon and use it if I get cold on the plane.
A travel wallet will help you feel organized and prevent the need to dig through your bag when you need a pen to fill out customs forms or find receipts or your passport. This one comes in a zillion colors, looks like leather and will be more useful than you could have imagined. I liked using mine so much that I continued to use it after my trip as my everyday wallet.
Eat and sleep? Maybe.
There are two other travel tips that I followed that I found immensely helpful. For a long journey especially, eat a meal at least an hour before boarding (giving time for digestion). Light snacks on the plane are okay, but avoid nuts (I know, right?) and heavy items because they can lead to bloating, which is the last thing you want on the plane. Air pressure can lead to bloating anyway, and eating a lot on the plane will only add to this misery.
The other tip, for international flights, is to act as though you’re at your destination the moment you get settled in your seat. That is, set your watch to the time it is at your destination, and if it’s time to sleep there, try to sleep. If it’s daytime, try to stay awake. This will make it much easier to adjust once you’re there.
I hope these tips help you to enjoy not just your vacation, but the planning part, too! If you use any of these tips, let me know how they work for you. Do you have any of your own travel tips? Share them in the comments!