Travel Life Lessons
September 5, 2015 4:18 PM   Subscribe

I consider myself a fairly savvy traveler yet one who still makes noob mistakes that end up costing me disproportionately in either in time, money, or enjoyment simply because I didn’t know better. Although I’ve gotten better with each trip, it leaves me wondering what easy changes I still have left to make that can boost my travel skills without having to learn them the hard way? Bonus points for recommendations that take advantage of a smart phone!

I live in the USA and have a decent amount of travel experience via car, plane, train, and bus. Enough to manage but far from where tracking miles and having reward cards is worth the hassle. I have my first trip to Japan scheduled (yay!) and since it’s a big trip I want to do it well. However, for the purposes of this question I’m seeking general travel advice and amazing travel apps that broadly apply to travel rather than Japan-specific suggestions. I understand the ability to travel is a luxury and I am already in a privileged position to enjoy it. I'd just like to learn how to travel better and smarter.

For reference, I’ve spent a few years living in an Asian country and did some travel in the region, but this was all pre-smartphone. A lot has changed since then. When I visited Europe more recently I found Google Maps to be the best! Especially on solo trips where I did not speak the language or have a guide, which this upcoming Japan trip will be. While I find using Google Maps to be great advice, I didn’t have the foresight to consider the hit my phone’s battery would take by constantly searching and needing directions. I learned that lesson the hard way and now consider the corollary to great apps is to have a backup battery like this one to carry around. Similarly helpful travel advice I commonly hear is packing a pashmina because it’s warm but light, and having an eye mask and headphones is wonderful for long flights and train rides. I didn’t know about this on my first international trips, but now I definitely see their value while on the road. In addition to the ones mentioned, what are your go-to resources or gadgets/items for travel? Favorite apps or websites for navigating a foreign language, getting reviews, or figuring out train schedules? Perhaps a great photo app or a specific series of travel guides or walking tours?

Over the years I learned the value of pre-travel planning research and the difference it makes once I arrive. For example, on my first trip to New York City I figured out my key destinations in advance and found a hotel close to the main subway line that serviced those destinations. This had a double benefit. By staying someplace close to my main subway line I had an easy time getting around and seeing more of the city than if I were staying several blocks away from the subway or had to change lines along the way. And because transportation was so easy, staying further away from Manhattan was literally no big deal, which meant my hotel cost less. Another example when I go away for a business trip or conference I like to identify a few eating spots in the area and star them on Google Maps ahead of time. Since time is always in short supply while on the road, this way I know where to grab a meal in a pinch which saves me time and helps me eat something decent. Besides eateries and subways lines, what do you make a point of researching ahead of time?

Finally, a category I call ‘travel instinct’ - considerations and decision-making abilities that take many years and many miles to build up. Advice in this category includes when I’m exhausted and it’s blistering hot/cold outside it’s suddenly worth the extra expense to hail a cab or patronize the closer-but-more-expensive-and-less-interesting cafe because doing so will leave me more happy and energized for the rest of my trip. What other upgrades or splurges make the higher price worth it because it almost uniformly does make for a better trip even at the higher price? Or, conversely, what services are rarely worth it in your experience? And *gasp*, at what point does it become worth it to sign up for those travel reward programs?

Advice and learnings I’ve come across so far:
*Review the city/country’s Wikitravel site ahead of time
*I’ve heard excellent things about Hyperdia for Japan
*Turn my phone on airplane mode or turn it off completely when I won’t be using it to save battery
*Bring an extension cord that can charge multiple devices in case I’m low on juice, stuck in an airport, and all the seats near the power outlet are taken.
*Bring an ATM card that works overseas and a credit card with a chip, both with no foreign transaction fees.
*Pack light and avoid checking baggage whenever possible
*Check in for flights online and ahead of time
*Arrive at the airport early and give use the extra time to relax or bring something to do
*Walk or exercise before and after a long flight to keep my body from falling apart and help minimize jetlag
*Keep well-hydrated before and during travel
*Bring a refillable water bottle
*Schedule buffer time between returning home from a trip and returning to work so I will be less tired and less stressed and have time to stock the fridge, wash laundry, etc.
*Direct flights > multi-leg flights whenever possible
*Pace out activities and sights rather than trying to do everything as if it were my last chance, ever
*Plan enough to know my around but stay flexible enough to go off schedule and off the beaten path
*Given limited time, shopping is rarely worth it if the item can be bought from home and shipped over because X% markup is generally always less expensive than using limited paid time off and the flights and accommodations required to buy it in person. If I must shop, choose something memorable or unique
*Enjoy a mix of sit-down meals, on the go meals or snacks, and picking up items from the local market to save time and money while experiencing the local flavors
*Learn the language or at least key phrases (and have a handy app for the rest?)
*Have comfortable shoes and socks!
*Locate a convenience store or market and bakery near where I’m staying in order to pick up things in a pinch and stock up on the liquids and supplies I didn’t pack
*People standing outside restaurants beckoning me to come in is usually not a good sign (lower quality/price ratio)

These tips have been a great help to me so far, what further advice is worth sharing?

tl;dr: What are your pro go-to tips for having balanced trips in terms of enjoyment, price, and convenience that are so worth it and leave you with a positive experience and less frazzled at the end?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Goblin Barbarian to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 118 users marked this as a favorite
Triposo makes great travel apps with offline maps that don't require a data connection. I never pay for data when I travel internationally because that app is so wonderful. It's saved my confused ass a dozen times.

One thing I also learned the hard way traveling in a third world-ish place is to ask how much something costs before you commit to buying it. It's really obvious when you're an American in a place like that and small shopkeepers will often assume they can get away with making you pay many times what they would charge a local.

I also always go to a national (or city) history museum on my first day in a new place, to give me a good overview of the region's history and culture.

And I never go anywhere with packets of instant coffee in my purse. But maybe if you don't have a potentially debilitating caffeine addiction you don't need to worry about that.
posted by something something at 4:27 PM on September 5, 2015 [6 favorites] is another offline map option. You can search for destinations (hotels, restaurants, etc) and get directions offline.

Your battery lasts an amazingly long time when you have data/cell/wifi turned off.

You must download the maps for the country (or in the case of larger countries, state/district) you are visiting ahead of time--which can require a bit of forethought/planning.
posted by flug at 5:35 PM on September 5, 2015

I didn't see an external battery pack in there. A good sized external charger like this can charge your phone several times over at a cost of $36. Smaller, cheaper options are also available. Just throw it in your bag with a charging cable and you're good all day.

This one will even jump-start a car, as well as charging phones, tablets, and laptops.
posted by irisclara at 5:53 PM on September 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Having extremely versatile clothing is useful for traveling light. For example, you can rarely go wrong with a lightweight black cardigan because it can be dressed up or down, and wearing layers is generally good for traveling. I also have a windbreaker because it packs extremely well and can keep me dry-ish in rain.

I also use pretty much the same bag every time I travel somewhere, and keep my passport, money, and other documents in the same zipped inner pockets so that I never have to think twice when checking my bag/pockets.

Also, the first thing I do when I go to a new place is check out the grocery stores. Not only is it a cheaper way to eat, but it also gives me a feel for the foods that may be unique to the region I am visiting. Even if the difference is only in the way that it's packaged, I find it to be a generally educational experience: e.g. milk sold in plastic bags in Canada, unrefrigerated eggs in Germany; World Cup-themed EVERYTHING in Spain; very large flags that denote country of origin, along with the high prices they command in China because foodstuffs are perceived as being somewhat unreliable there. Entertaining and educational!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:41 PM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's lots of good information in this Flyertalk thread. In addition:

* Use the TIMATIC database to figure out the visa and health requirements of wherever you're going, even if you're just transiting through.

* Most travel rewards programs are free to sign up for, and your best bet is to concentrate your spending in one or two hotel/airline alliances that work with your location and spending patterns.

* Get travel insurance that covers cancellations/interruptions as well as provides medical coverage while abroad.

* If you plan on doing lots more international travel within the next five years, apply for NEXUS/ Global Entry.

* YMMV, but I get cankles on long flights, so I wear compression leggings or hose.

* Tom Bihn's Travel Tray is great for corralling all your bits and bobs. Similarly, the Lay-n-Go Cosmo is a fantastic twist on ye olde cosmetic bag.
posted by evoque at 7:28 PM on September 5, 2015

HERE maps let's you preload the data for the area you're visiting, so you have map access on your phone even if you don't have data.
posted by kickingtheground at 7:39 PM on September 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Travel insurance is worth it. Also, have a major credit card like AmEx and make use of its travelers' benefits.

When you get to a new city, pick up any freebie arts and culture newspapers and peruse them while having your first dinner. It's a great way to know what opportunities are coming up that you might not want to miss as well as to become familiar with their cultural scene.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2015

If you're visiting a city with good public transit, use it! Before your trip, check out the transit website so you have an idea of the fares, etc. Lots of transit systems are encouraging people to use smartcards or other passes instead of a single-ride ticket and you may be able to order one online beforehand. You can also find out if that transit system has a smartphone app - many of them do.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:30 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I carry a battery pack in my general bag AND a battery case for the phone itself. Lower capacity, but impossible to forget at your lodging and a lot easier to deal with than a battery pack+cable.

I didn't try this until my most recent trip and it ruled. Plug the phone in at night and you charge the case+phone, then during the day you have about 2.25x the available run time.

It makes the phone bulkier, but honestly most modern phones are way too thin for my giant meathooks so I wasn't complaining there.

I have a $$$ mophie brand one, and a super cheapo generic one from amazon. They both hold the same amount and work just fine. The mophie one is a bit slicker with a nice battery meter rather than just a color changing light, but I'd get the cheap one every time in the future.
posted by emptythought at 9:00 PM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get a water bottle that has a filter. Better yet, take one with a filter and one without so you can transfer the filtered water over to the one without the filter to make tea or coffee. I have travelled to places where other visitors were fine drinking the water, but it ended up giving me stomach cramps, and nothing can ruin a trip faster than something like that.
posted by LilithSilver at 9:41 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Keep your toiletries bag (there's probably a word for that, but what do I know) packed and ready to go. That extra stuff won't break the bank (since you will use it up anyway) and it's SO practical not to have to think about it every time you are packing for a trip. Stock it with miniature-everything: shampoo, vaseline, tiger balm, an insect repellant. Also pack some band aids.
If it works for you, pack an alum stone instead of deodorant: not a liquid, compact, can't leak, will last forever. But try that one out at home first.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:18 AM on September 6, 2015

This is not quite what other people are recommending, but it's worth knowing that if you take a flight from an EU destination or with _any_ EU-based airline, there is a particular piece of EU law that means you are entitled to consumables and financial compensation (up to €600) in the case of delay or cancellation - that is above and beyond any insurance claims.
posted by AFII at 3:20 AM on September 6, 2015

Staying hydrated before a flight is good, but don't drink anything carbonated; the gas bubbles will expand funny in cabin pressure and you'll end up with a case of gas. (That tip was something I picked up via a cartoon Virgin Airways showed us all before a flight, which they illustrated with a farting airplane.)

Other than that...I think you're good. The biggest piece of advice I was going to give was to be willing to go off-schedule and be spontaneous, but you've got that. I would add to check in with yourself daily to see if you're still having fun sticking to a plan; I was "sticking to a plan" during my last trip to London, and started feeling out of sorts after three days, because it felt like I wasn't really exploring, I was just sort of doing homework and checking things off a list. So I spent an afternoon doing exactly what I felt like, which turned out to be just going back and forth in Regents Canal in a little ferry; I took pictures of the other painted narrowboats, and during a break between trips I got into a fun conversation with a coffee shop owner who gave me a free cupcake.

Oh, one other thing - keep a journal. It's a good way to have something to do if you're dining alone, and those things are hella fun to read later on when you're home. Plus if you see or do something totally stupid or something goes comically wrong, it'll help you keep your perspective. (My account of a performance art piece I saw in Montreal, which was entirely in French even though I had expressly asked whether some bits were English before they sold me the ticket, is really, really funny.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on September 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

When taking pictures, at the beginning of each day take a picture of a map, sign, or piece of paper indicating which city you are in or which landmarks you are visiting that day. It makes sorting pictures easier when you get home.
posted by rakaidan at 4:33 AM on September 6, 2015 [21 favorites]

When I'm travelling, I usually only use my phone for one thing - maps. But generally, my take is that if you're using your phone a lot when you're actually at the destination, you're simply wasting time there. A phone is an extremely poor substitute for decent research, and you may find that you enjoy your trips more if you plan sufficiently beforehand to de-phone your hand.

Tourist information offices are there for a reason. Free or cheap maps, hints on the fastest transportation options, tips on how to save money and all the rest of it.

Tip 1: Don't feel obliged to stay somewhere that turns out to be uninteresting or underwhelming. It's a lot like reading novels - if it isn't working for you, just quit.

Tip 2: Don't plan your trips based on what everybody else thinks you should visit. Decide what interests you and plan around that. For example, a huge proportion of visitors to Japan follow the exactly the same itinerary of Tokyo -> Kyoto -> Hiroshima. They won't give you any justification for visiting those places except "oh, we're in Japan, we have to see them." The other common approach is following Lonely Planet, which is a lot like following propaganda and expecting to think differently to other people. Go do some proper research: check out blogs and trip reports to see how things work in reality, rather than how they worked a few years ago when the guide books were written.

Tip 3: Don't take anything larger than a carry-on size case. If there isn't a washer and drier available, washing in a sink and using a travel laundry line works. Post souvenirs back home as soon as you get them. There's nothing worse than having to lug too much stuff around. Also - Japan related tip - luggage lockers at stations and yamato's cheap luggage delivery service are there to make your life easier.

Tip 4: Learn how the locals eat cheaply. For Japan, this is buying discounted bentos and other prepared meals from supermarkets from 6pm onwards (it will depend on the ultimate closing time). Other popular places are Sukiya, Yoshinoya and the like (often these places have ticket vending machines outside or in the entrance). Again, this involves research, because if you're searching for this on your phone at 8pm and the supermarket has just closed, well, that's a shame.

Tip 5: Take people's advice.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 5:21 AM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

toiletries bag (there's probably a word for that, but what do I know)

I call it a toiletry case but in recent years I learned the term Dopp Kit which I like.
posted by Miko at 6:17 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not specific to Japan, but:
1. If there are bottles of water on the counter by the sink, it's a good idea to brush your teeth with that water.
2. If the lights and such in your hotel room won't go on, look for a slot to put your key in near the entry door.
3. Copy (front and back) your credit cards and passport, and keep those in a safe place separate from the actual cards/passport.
4. Register for STEP.
5. Put your ICE on your phone.
6. Schedule a buffer day when you arrive there too. Your time will be so much more enjoyable.
7. Melatonin in the evening and exercise in the morning really helps jet lag.
8. Researching information for expats can provide great information on local culture.
9. Registering for a hotel rewards program can have big unlisted benefits: later checkouts, assistance with arranging things, etc. it can make things just all around easier.
10. Most American credit cards, even if they have a chip, still don't work in chip and pin stations that aren't connected to a network. I've usually encountered this at train stations. You'll probably need cash, and sooner than you think.
posted by susiswimmer at 6:27 AM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ooh, also, keep an "everything notebook," preferably one with a back pocket and one that is reasonably moisture-proof. I use one that is 3x5 inches so it fits everywhere. It's a good backup in case your phone dies on you for addresses and phone numbers. I've also used it to exchange contact info with random people I've met during my travels, jot down memorable quotes that I come across in a museum or something, and store stamps and stickers and ticket stubs, and even though it's not a journal or all that well organized, I enjoy flipping through it and remembering the random sights I've seen.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:32 AM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Get an external battery *and* a case battery. Emptythought does exactly what I do. Case means no anxiety during the day; charger means charge the case & battery.

Yes, get a universal adapter and a multi (4-5) USB charger.

Totally worth having an unlocked phone and a local SIM with data.

I did this when traveling to tokyo - had a SIM waiting for me when I arrived.

It meant: I had maps...including travel maps with schedules (fantastic on train transit everywhere in Japan. Even thought I didn't speak the language, it was possible to tell it where I was going - i'd get on the right train *and* know how many stops.)

It also meant, that i could use Google/Translate and if absolutely necessary, have my phone ask some basic help in Japanese.

I recently tried the T-Mobile international and it was very disappointing - 2G, slow, slow data in Dubai.

I pre-mark all sorts of useful locations in a google map - meaning those locations are accessible from my mobile ready phone.



Treat yourself right. If you're over 40, think about compression stockings (I use them as a male.) Safer flight (reduces chance of deep vein thrombosis) and extends your ability to walk.

Flight gear with good wheels - when possible, I don't check a bag. That works for about 5 days. At over 5 days, I'm resigned that I'm going to have to check a bag. Since I'm going to be lugging a bag, don't skimp. Get someone with great wheels and easy to move around. I travel with a bag + a backpack (usually for a computer/carryon)

Noise reduction headphones.
I have the bose in-ear ones. They set me back a pretty penny ($300), but I've broken 2-3 pairs of external headsets. Knocking out the sound of rumble in flight is huge, and has been shown to create stress.

Eyeshades + earplugs.
Get a good, comfortable eyeshade. I have a pillow-ish silk one that feels great (and doesn't overheat like the cheaper ones do.) Earplugs - grab at least 3 pair. When you want either of these, it'll be great to have them.

Usually I can pick from at least 4-5 hotels near to where I want to be.
I use Tripadvisor. Every hotel has some bad reviews - but trip advisor seems to give much better info than yelp (who I have no trust for anymore.)

Credit cards.
Check to see if there is a foreign transaction fee. Call them before you go to alleviate any flags.



I really like having some wicking underwear. I don't sweat/feel discomfort as much. They also can be washed with soap and water in a hotel and dried overnight.

I try to have appropriate temperature clothing. Just keep this in mind. If you're going to a major city, they have stores for everything. Last year I've only had to deal with this once - to buy a jacket to provide warmth when Chicago got too cold. I spent something like 2 hrs (on foot) to find a light/cheap jacket that i could layer. Wish I had brought one and save the time/money.
posted by filmgeek at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Last time I went on a trip (that was Japan in '11) my phone was incompatible with the local networks so I could only use it to take pictures and load them up with the hotel wifi, so I loaded up my ebook player with screenshots from Google Maps and pages saved to PDFs from Wikipedia (the most direct application is to *save the articles on train routes*). Ebook players have a lot more battery life than phones or tablets.

As for clothes, I usually carry a light hoodie and a heavier jacket, so I can wear them separately or together for extra warmth.

Japan-specific travel tip: carry a small blank notebook (those Moleskine passport-sized ones are ideal), and when you're in places like train stations or museums, look for stamp stands and stamp your notebook. Get a collection of stamp prints from the places you've been to.
posted by sukeban at 1:50 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Frankly, you sound like a pro. One other thing I find useful, though, is to make, the day before I leave, a small, card-sized currency converter table for my wallet. $1=Xcurrency, $20=Xcurrency, etc. The other side is for Xcurrency=$1, etc. Saves me from having to do much COMPLICATEDMATH when I am tired and disoriented.
posted by Morrigan at 7:11 PM on September 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

Big thing I'll add to your rigorous list is to check if cities will be having big events that might affect lodging when you plan to be there.

This one is a bit macro, but here goes. I like to plan for me-at-my-worst as well as me-at-my-best. Which also means thinking about what things will trip me up more than others. Like, it bothers me more to not have juice than to have to wear dirty clothes, so I prioritize juice over laundry.
posted by mermaidcafe at 9:06 PM on September 6, 2015

One other thing I find useful, though, is to make, the day before I leave, a small, card-sized currency converter table for my wallet.

This site creates pocket sized tables in the currencies of your choice - very handy.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:30 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh yea, another one that i don't do but i know/know of people who do is to buy a cheap phone with excellent battery life like this*, pay $2-5 on ebay for a SIM unlock code, and use it only when traveling. You just preload all your apps, and stuff like here maps with offline maps, charge it to ~75%(which is the best amount for long term storage of lithium batteries), turn it off and throw it in a drawer... And then charge it up all the way the night before you leave and pop your sim, or a prepaid sim you buy there, in.

If you lose your phone or it gets stolen you're only out a $50 phone and you have your regular phone waiting at home. If you break it, same deal. And that's a good phone. It's not a super duper awesome phone, and the camera is meh, but it has amazing battery life and a $50 phone is a solid phone now if you know what to look for.

I haven't done this yet, but i do have a spare phone and i might try it on the next trip i take. And i completely, 100% understand how and how much of a stress reliever it could be.

This ties into the greater thread of people i know who literally just don't travel with anything they'd care that much about losing, which is a knifes edge to ride of not bringing things that actually make it easier/you'd enjoy having... but i recently took a trip with only my dying older phone i'm limping for the next couple months, battery pack/case, only a couple changes of clothes, and a $25 value used ereader... and it was fucking glorious. My backpack could have gotten chucked in a flaming dumpster and i would have missed the backpack more than anything in it. Seriously, least stressful trip i've ever taken because i didn't kitchen sink it. Really made me understand the mentality of "buy cheap things just for traveling and as general spares".

*This phone might not work or work well in japan, probably even if it's unlocked. Infact, it's hard to find phones that do besides iphones or certain world/asian market unlocked models(BLU brand would be good here actually if i'm remembering frequencies right) because almost all the japanese carriers aren't GSM like... the rest of the world besides verizon and sprint in america. And the ones that are, i think, don't use the US and european frequencies usually(?). Like, you might only get 3g in certain places or only 2g and voice or something. It's a good general thing to think on though.
posted by emptythought at 12:24 AM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

- plan downtime into your day and week. This downtime can sometimes be in a nice coffeeshop or garden, just watching the world go by or reading your book, but some of that downtime should also just be in your hotel room or rental apartment, dealing with laundry, laying on your bed, mindlessly tuning out to some music or favorite TV. This isn't "wasting" time - it's letting your senses and brain and body decompress so that you can be more fully present when you are are out in the new scenarios. It's super easy to just want to go-go-go and be organized and Do All The Things, and...then get sick. Take care of your body and let it completely turn off in order to decompress and get settled again.

- Before you leave: scan your passports (first few pages), driver's license, any travel visas, and your credit cards with the emergency number that you call if things go awry. Put these documents in your secure Dropbox or another cloud service. Make a master list of the things you need to call/cancel if everything gets lost or stolen so you can just tick them off one by one. When your adrenaline is rushing and you're trying to figure it out on a weird phone and money or a phone card or whatever, it's nice to just have a list to go through yourself.

- For these long flights -- see if you can pay a bit extra for a bulkhead or exit row with more seats. It can really really make the difference between a crappy sleep over there, and a pretty decent sleep. If you can afford Business Class or have enough points, it's awesome and very much changes your perspective on how exhausting travel is without it. But even so, the "Economy Plus" or whatever the equivalent is, can be well worth the extra cost.

- It seems like many people bring little hand sanitizer bottles, but I love traveling with a package of wet wipes. Along with being able to sanitize and clean your own hands after being on public transit or before eating, wipes can clean your hands off when they're sticky after a meal or snack, they can wipe off the tray table or armrest in the train if you're sitting in a yucky seat, and they can help wipe off a little spill on your clothes or if you have nice shoes and it's been muddy.

- Stock up on little mesh zippered bags and travel cube organizers. I always keep my iphone cords and laptop cords in one of the medium sized mesh zipper bags -- that way they're not all tangled up and stuck on stuff in your bag when you need to pull them out. I keep spare cash and a card in one in my suitcase when I'm out for the day. I keep a small kit with contact lens drops and my migraine pills in another mesh bag, for day trips. The travel packing cubes are completely life changing. They don't rip (like ziplocs) and you can squish them down very easily. They keep everything organized so it's easy to pull out the bags and put them on the hotel counter or in the drawers in a few minutes -- this is helpful while travelling so you keep organized and don't feel like you're living out of a bag. If you need to reach into your packed bag while en route (e.g. on a train from city to city), you can remember that your socks are in the teal square or your tshirts are in the black rectangle pouch. It's a million times better than everything just shoved in your suitcase! It's also easier to keep track of how many clean items you have left, since all of your underwear are coming from the same pouch.

- I have more but have to get up early for another trip :-) Have fun!
posted by barnone at 2:36 AM on September 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you don't already have a system you like, consider setting up a travel checklist on your phone - gtasks works for me - and put everything you need on it. I have one generic one that has more stuff than I need for every trip (e.g. swimsuit, winter coat), but is probably 90% stuff I need for any given trip. It makes packing on either end much easier.

Compression socks are great for not only flights but long bus or train rides. I would definitely consider wearing a pair for, say, a day-long bus excursion, even of I was going to be doing a fair bit of getting on and off the bus.

Speaking of buses, if you're in a city that has one of those hop-on, hop-off circulating tour buses, give it a look. Sometimes it doesn't go anywhere particularly interesting or costs a silly amount of money, but sometimes it'll get you around a bunch of places pretty effectively in a day, which can be helpful if you only have a little time or would like to get somewhere that's not particularly transit accessible.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:38 AM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh! Oh, consider studying the public transit map for a given city to see if there is a regular city bus route that will take you past some of the Big Sights. The Rough Guides guidebooks are good at letting you know specific buses in each city. It's a perfect way to do the "hop on, hop off" type of tours, for much cheaper!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2015

If you can't see well without your glasses, always have a cheap spare pair on your person just in case. Which brings up having a good travel jacket with lots of pockets, some of which are secure against pickpockets.

A doorstop for those times when you're in a room with no lock and you need to be safe.
A whistle for when you need to get attention quick.

Pack all kinds of plastic bags - ziplocs (small and large), plastic shopping bags, because they are super handy for all kinds of things. Browsing in a farmer's market unexpectedly? Whip out a shopping bag for those veggies. Caught in a downpour? A plastic bag will help keep you dry. Need to recover your cellphone from someplace icky? a plastic bag's an instant glove...and um, personal sanitary emergency? --a bag will handle it. Need to tie something up? Roll up a a bag lengthwise and use it as a plastic rope.....
posted by storybored at 6:15 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bring a spare set of contacts! Or at least your prescription! I will never forget having to do an eye exam in Spanish in a little port in Honduras. The eye doctor and I were giggling at our attempts to communicate and my attempt to read the letters in Spanish- i-griega! (Yes, I had my glasses, but they don't quite work as well while scuba diving.)

I guess that brings me to - don't fear things going wrong. Some of my best memories were created this way. Keep your cool in the moment, be kind to those around you (both those you know and those you don't), and figure stuff out. It'll be okay.
posted by valeries at 8:19 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

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