On the Road Again: Travel without Hassle

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TRAVEL PREPARATION

How to be ready for (nearly) anything before and during travel

You booked the trip, you have some general idea of where you’re staying, and you know what you want to see and do. Now, why are you so nervous?

Planning a trip abroad is always exciting, but it’s funny how, as the date approaches, it can become more and more daunting. What if you get dragged off the airplane? Lord knows you’re not getting off that flight if they overbooked! What if they lose your luggage? Now you’re stuck using plastic bags as flip flops! What if someone uncovers an ancient burial site, removes a precious stone, and the ground forms a black hole which swallows up the restaurant you were dying to try out? What if you get a boo-boo?

Travel plans can go awry.

The good thing is, you can’t plan everything. You can’t prepare for every scenario. That means you can only do so much, then you just have to accept whatever may be! Your hands are tied.

That’s part of traveling! You wanted adventure and mystery and change? You’ll absolutely get it. Whether you book your flight, hotel, and tours in advance or you wait until last second, something will likely not go as you expected. After all, how do you expect to work out every last second of a trip while in a different time zone or speaking different languages or whatever other variables may challenge communication? Heck, it’s hard enough ordering take-out down the street, what makes us think we can plan a week across the world without any problems?

More good news! You’re not the only one to ever experience problems while traveling. There are phone apps and services to prevent problems, as well as clean up after the fact. If you’re prepared, maybe your moment of, “Ohmygod, where is my…” won’t be so tragic!

Limit what you bring along. Mo’ stuff, mo’ problems! Everything you bring should be minimal and, ideally, serve multiple purposes. Clothing that can function as day or night, casual or formal, toiletries that can clean, soften, and moisturize you all in one, a pack of supplies that can save your life, save your evening, or just save you time and effort. Obviously, also consider where you’re going. If you’re heading to a major city, you can probably buy anything extra. If you’re heading out to Bumblefart, Nova Scotia, you may want to prep a bit more. Though, if your luggage is lost or stolen, this can be a doozy of a challenge. As long as you put an extra set of clothing in your carry-on, at least you have a temporary backup. Your hotel, host, or a local market may be willing and able to help you get back on track until you sort out a Plan B.

Don’t skimp on a first aid kit. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that no matter what I’m doing, I end up getting hurt. My first day in Zürich, I cut my knee up so bad that people were offering me rides to the hospital (http://sweettoothtravels.com/my-week-in-zurich/). Even if you’re not as clumsy as a koala on Quaaludes, you still might get a paper cut from your boarding pass or find yourself suffering from a stomach emergency, or maybe a homeless man will grab your hand and lick it. It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. Whatever the urgent matter, it never hurts to be prepared. Just keep it simple, Tylenol, Tums, bandages, hydrocortisone cream, and antibacterial. You can even throw in lotion and lip balm if you consider dry skin a catastrophe. If matters are worse or if you know you have a “pre-existing condition”, just know the insurance situation and what doctors and hospitals are nearby. As well as how your medication situation can be dealt with, if need be. Let’s hope there is no be needed.

Do your research. Don’t be like me. I usually plan to research where I’m going and know what to prepare, but then I get distracted and completely forget. Not to mention, since I’m always going off the planned course, I typically go in blindly. This is fine if you really have no concern for safety, time, or other factors that may affect you and your trip. However, if you want to be prepared for cultural rules and laws and things you MUST see and do, it’s smart to plan ahead. If you are a hiker or love museums or absolutely need to eat at a specific place, you’ll want to know how much time, money, and effort it will require in order for you to accomplish those things. Otherwise, you might go home disappointed for missing out. Again, as opposed to me who just has a frickin’ blast even if I just end up sitting on a bridge staring at trees for 4 hours. I’m easy to please, I suppose.

Know the local language… just a little bit. There are some phrases you’re inevitably going to pick up as you travel to a foreign country, if they speak a different language. Greetings are usually easy, words of respect and gratitude, how to announce your name, and definitely how to say, “CHEERS!” Asking about the restroom is usually a bit more complicated. No matter how many times you repeat it, chances are, when you gotta go, it’ll slip your mind. Either learning it beforehand or having it written down on paper will come in handy. Fortunately, chances are you’ll meet plenty of people who will try their darnedest to communicate in English. Though, this isn’t the case everywhere. Such as the time I was lost in Israel and everyone spoke Russian! Thus, I ended up making a panicked call to the United States to ask a family member to look on Google maps. I literally didn’t know anyone locally and no one was able to give me directions. Eventually, I found my way, but if I just knew how to say, “How do I get to…” and if I understood “left” and “right”, I might have been fine. Then again, how was I to know I needed to learn Russian before heading to Israel? Sneaky, sneaky.

Make sure things are settled at home. Did you close out that bar tab? Did you leave the dog outside? Is the tea kettle still whistling? Don’t leave the appliances turned on, yo. That’s amateur hour. Yet, it happens. People get so worked up about this paperwork and those socks and these layovers, sometimes we forget the very key, simple things… like forgetting your keys. You may not need your house or car keys while away, but when you return… yep, you’ll be quite upset if you’re locked out of your house. Remember to have mail re-routed or held up until your return. Make sure your credit card company and job and family and friends all know you’ll be out-of-town. Don’t let the whole neighbourhood know, though. You might come home to an empty house. You think you know your ‘hood until they rob ya! Just make sure no one and nothing is going forgotten. This is why lists are handy, rather than trusting what you’ll “totally remember” or what you “totally won’t forget”, just write it down and check it off as you do it. Don’t take any chances, unless you’re into self-sabotage and secretly love stress and grief. Meh. If you leave a trusted ally in charge of things, most of this will probably be handled, anyway.

Spend some time looking at technology. Most things that are convenient and expected in your part of town, may not be the norm where you’re going. Or, you just might forget that they’re additional things that aren’t a natural-born right. Phone connection, internet, data, credit cards (and money, in general), washing machines, etc. All of these modern conveniences are not always easily and immediately available. If you desperately need your internet and phone use no matter where you are, look into a SIM card and international data packages. Also remember to prepare cash, the right kind of cash, and find out if credit cards are an option at all. If you’ve never washed clothing by hand, you might want to start learning now. No matter how technologically advanced your trip is going to be, it never hurts to be prepared for things that may fall through. In Taiwan, I didn’t realize that most shops wouldn’t take my credit card, so I had to rely on what measly cash I had on me (http://sweettoothtravels.com/fall-love-taiwan/). There are also countries like Morocco and Cuba, where I am told credit cards are pretty much useless and you’re only allowed certain currency (without an added surcharge.) Yeah, you betcha, some countries do not want your crumpled, sweaty, doodled upon United States dollars! On the nice side of technology, also look at what phone programs are available. For your airline, your hotel, your destination, and whatever else you positively know. Personally, I always have Couchsurfing, HitList (for cheap flight-finding, just in case I’m bored), and offline maps and local information. Maybe a currency converter and language translator, too. You don’t want 10,000 of these since it kills your battery faster and limits data, but if those aren’t big concerns for you, stock up on information, updates, and time savers such as these. You also may want to figure out photo storage, because running out of space for new photos is quite the bummer!

Know all your last-minute necessities. Don’t forget that you might need to check your luggage unexpectedly or you might require a visa or 3 ounce liquids or… a bunch of other small but not minor flight and travel stuff. In the end, there’s not too much to travel, but there are little details that can make your relaxing vacation/trip more hassle than necessary. Avoid one extra, unnecessary eye roll, if possible. I always get frustrated when my airline doesn’t speak much English and I have no idea what they want from me and visa versa, but really, if I just had done and prepared everything, the conversation could be avoided altogether.

Prepare to be respectful. Whether you agree with a country’s rules and customs or not, you really ought to respect them. In many countries, there is limited freedom of speech. You can’t dress and speak and do anything you please. If you’re going into a holy space, cover up those arms and legs and boobies, please. If the locals are fasting or don’t eat certain foods, don’t bathe in pork grease and bourbon and then wonder why people treat you differently. They don’t hate you because you’re American, they hate you because you’re indecent. Yes, even if you’re not home, you have to obey local laws, as well. Seriously. Don’t steal, don’t pose inappropriately, don’t mock them, and if you’re working on your new racist comedy bit… don’t. Be a normal human being, if you can manage it. If you end up in prison, I hope you know a good attorney.

Be prepared for a perfectly imperfect adventure. Without putting pressure on yourself and the trip, try to expect that it will be life-changing in one way or another. Sure, something’s bound to get slightly tripped up, but with most culture’s hospitality and today’s technology, you’re typically covered. Whatever issues arise, just remember that they don’t have to ruin your trip, unless you them let. It’s all dust in the wind, man. No one wants to deal with it, but for the sake of seeing a new part of the world and being wowed and laughing maniacally and being confused and lost and absolutely astounded, it’s probably going to be worth any discomfort and inconvenience. You’re not home, you’re not in your own bathroom or kitchen and maybe you’re not even on your own continent! So, things are different. Sometimes this is wonderful, sometimes it’s exhausting. There you are, you might as well embrace the new situation. Either way, it will be over before you know it, so soak it in!

Please comment if there are any special tips you have to help myself and other travelers avoid hassle before or during travel!

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