From how to deal with an over-scheduler to what not to pack in your checked luggage, we have 50 tips for traveling with everyone from family to friends (as well as how to have a great time on your own!).
Whether you’re headed abroad or on a short road trip, remember these tricks to make the most out of your time away from work and your normal daily responsibilities.
1. Practice patience
So what if your kid forgot their toothbrush or you missed the bus you meant to catch? Life goes on.
And if you’re visiting a place where the pace of life is a little slower, read up on it first. Your food might not come out as quickly as you expect, you might take a wrong turn somewhere, or a museum you wanted to visit might be closed for repairs.
Overreacting to things that go wrong on vacation defeats the whole purpose.
2. Time it wisely
But if you have a choice about when you can travel, try to avoid the high seasons when everything is full of tourists and prices go up.
Then again, some places virtually close down certain times of year, so while that may seem peaceful, you want to make sure you don’t end up on an island somewhere where all of the restaurants are closed.
Do some research about pricing, weather, and activities before you book your trip. For example, summer in Europe can be chaos, but if you choose to go in August when the tourists have gone home, you may end up in a little French town where all the shop owners are on their own vacations.
3. Bring spares and copies
And always be sure to make a photocopy of your IDs (passport, birth certificate, driver’s license) and put them in a separate bag away from the originals. That way, if something goes missing you don’t have to spend too many extra hours getting a replacement.
And these things rarely take up too much extra space. But if you’re worried about being weighed down, snap photos of your IDs so you can print them out if you need to. Just be sure to store them in the cloud so you can access them if your electronics go missing.
4. Find a safe spot for emergency cash
A lot of travel gear is made with secret pockets where you can store a few extra bucks.
5. Talk to locals
You don’t necessarily want to try to make friends with people on the street who aim to sell you something, but if you meet someone in a restaurant or strike up a conversation with your tour guide, you’re likely to get some great advice about the area and even make a future long-distance friend.
6. Take photos of your rentals
If you return your bike, car, or even apartment keys without taking photos of the property first (while still on the lot), you could be at risk for extra charges if the owner points out damage later.
If you have photos, you can protect yourself from bogus charges.
7. Learn some lingo
But if you’re headed overseas, it’s both fun and respectful to learn just a few words of the local language – even if it’s just hello, thank you, and goodbye.
And trust us, your accent will give you away immediately, so there’s no chance someone will assume you can speak the local language just because you greeted them in their mother tongue.
Adapters are something you don’t want to skimp on, especially if you have high-end electronics you need to charge.
And those of you who use heated styling tools need to be extra careful – sometimes these devices will overheat in foreign outlets and you’ll end up burning off some hair in the middle of getting ready for dinner.
9. Pack wisely
If you have the means to shop while on vacation, you might just pack your essentials and pick up some extra things once you know your plans.
But if you’ve already blown enough cash just getting there, your best bet is to pack some classics that travel well. Choose fabrics that are hard to wrinkle, choose neutral colors, and plan outfits carefully so you can minimize the number of shoes you need to bring.
But make sure you bring things you like to wear – otherwise you’re going to want to crop yourself out of those vacation photos later!
10. Ladies, big scarfs are your friend
Scarfs are also popular tourist items, so if you pass a shop with lots of scarfs on hand, it might be a great chance to grab a souvenir.
11. Don’t get sucked in by street performers or sellers
Always beware handing over your camera or striking up a conversation with someone who wants to gift you a trinket or sing you a song.
Not only are they likely to ask for money in the end, but some are simply distracting you so that a second person can pick your pockets.
12. Eat local
No one will be offended if you ask for extra details about what you’re eating – just be sure not to act grossed out by dishes that others consider staples of their diet.
Even if you’re traveling to the next town over, they’re sure to have a local brew or special seasoning you can try out.
13. Watch your hands
If you’re in someone else’s home, it’s best to try to follow their customs, and that includes reading up on gestures that might seem innocent to Americans but are offensive to those in other countries.
Certain hand gestures and finger movements could mean something quite crass in another country.
And it only takes a few minutes to look into it and save yourself some embarrassment.
14. Get going early, if you can
Sketchy areas are less dangerous in the morning too since most people are headed off to work and the scammers likely haven’t started their days yet.
15. Relax and observe
If you want to get the most out of your spare time, chill out a little. Sit in the park or at the bar and observe local life.
People-watching is just as fascinating as sight-seeing and there’s a lot less waiting in line.
16. Get out from behind the camera
Unless you’re taking a photo with a person in it, get out from behind your phone and enjoy the view. No one needs to look at 30 photos of the waves crashing on the shore.
Pictures make great memories, but you don’t need 1000 of them.
17. Don’t judge
You’re the one who chose to travel to their homeland and you can complain all you want when you get home. But while you’re on vacation, you’re playing by someone else’s rules. And if you don’t follow them, don’t be surprised if you end up getting kicked out or glared at.
If you think you’ll be uncomfortable in certain situations, do your research first and avoid places that you might have a tough time.
18. Log your travel plans with family and credit card companies
And be sure to tell your bank and credit card companies that you’ll be traveling, otherwise you risk getting your card declined if you’re using it too far from home.
19. Know what your insurance covers
If your luggage is lost, for example, some credit card companies will pay for you to go out and buy essentials until it shows up. But know the rules ahead of time to avoid costly mistakes.
20. Be good to your body
Go ahead and have an extra glass of wine or two or eat that local pastry. Just stay hydrated and take a nice walk so you don’t have to skip a day of vacation recovering.
21. Stay in touch
Someone you trust should have your itinerary in case of emergencies.
22. Don’t give too much away on social media
Letting your 400 Facebook friends know your property is unattended isn’t a great idea.
Same goes for taking a taxi or Uber to the airport. Never reveal that your home will be unsecured to strangers.
23. Pack an extra bag
On your way home, you can fill that duffel with dirty clothing and use your sturdier suitcase to hold all your fun souvenirs.
24. Don’t be afraid to use a map, but move aside while you find your way
But if you’re not sure where you are or where you’re going, don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk or path to look for directions. Step out of the way to get your bearings – otherwise you’re going to inconvenience people AND look utterly clueless.
And clueless people are great marks for scammers.
25. Don’t dress like a tourist
Most people have no interest in doing you harm, but you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb to the few who do.
26. Bring band-aids
Travel often means walking around more than you’re used to and you can get some next level blisters on your feet.
If you keep band aids on hand, you can avoid getting back to your room with a big raw spot that will hurt for the next few days.
27. Pre-book your tickets for attractions
Then you can skip the lines and spend more time doing what you want.
28. Take online reviews in stride
Places with hundreds of positive reviews are just as likely to be scamming the system by giving customers discounts for writing nice things as they are to be good.
And what one person considers a two-star experience might be perfect for someone else.
29. Bring sunscreen and wear it all day, everyday
But the sun is not your friend in the long run. Enjoy it all your want, but through a veil of sunscreen of at least SPF 45 (especially for little ones).
Don’t let your good times now come back to haunt you later at the dermatologist. Skin cancers are on the rise despite sunscreen being widely available.
And remember to put it everywhere – feet, hands, ears, and even your hairline (unless you have a hat).
30. Parents, read up
Everyone knows it’s hard to travel with kids, but you’ll get a lot fewer dirty looks if you read ahead about how airports handle strollers and other kid paraphernalia, how to keep your kid entertained on a flight, as well as talk to your child about airplane and hotel etiquette.
If this is their first time traveling, you need to teach them how to behave.
31. Know the rules for rentals
It’s likely that with more posh rental accommodations someone will be there to greet you and show you around, so you won’t be able to sneak in that extra guest.
32. Try grocery shopping
The best part is it’s a great place to grab some inexpensive snacks so you don’t have to shell out for a sit-down meal three times a day.
Grabbing some granola bars or fruit to take back to your room is sure to save you some cash.
(Just remember, the grocery store is the ultimate place for locals, so if you’re in a foreign country, you may not be able to find anyone who speaks English.)
33. Be kind when communication issues arise
Don’t panic. We have so many tools now to help you communicate, including your smartphone.
Try downloading a translation app or have a website queued up for the correct language in case you need to look up a word on a menu or street sign.
And it’s ok to ask if anyone speaks English – just don’t be rude about it. Ask nicely and don’t assume that if you speak loudly and slowly they’ll magically understand a whole new language.
If you’re in a restaurant, simply look up some dishes online, point to what you want on the menu, and look up the word for “thank you” – and use it often.
34. Relax your schedule
You might wake up earlier or later than usual (especially if you have jet lag), or be in a place where lunch doesn’t start until 2 or 3pm and the first dinner seating is at 7 or 8pm. Sunrise and sunset might be at drastically different times than you’re used to as well. That’s all part of travel.
Don’t freak out about keeping strict hours every single day of your vacation – after all, you’re there to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If you stay up a few hours later than usual, that’s all part of the fun. The more you freak out about it, the worse you’ll feel.
If you need to get back on track and hit the ground running upon your return, use the last day as well as airplane time to readjust your sleeping schedule.
35. Parents, find a way to share a special moment
Ask about child care for an evening while you go out to dinner alone or even trade off for an afternoon while someone takes a spa break or a long walk by themselves.
If you make your vacation entirely about your kids, you’re missing out on some relaxation potential that you might desperately need.
36. Chat about your day
Use meal times, bed times, or even walks to chat about what you liked most about your day (and what you’d like to avoid trying again). Don’t make this a time to complain, but rather focus on what’s going well.
Keeping it positive during the trip will help you enjoy it more while you’re there and make it feel like time and money well spent.
37. Consider a travel agent
Especially when you’ve got multiple generations going on a trip, they can make recommendations about the best accommodations, suggest activities to keep everyone happy, and do all the research on the documents everyone will need.
In many cases, they can often get the best deals as well.
38. Set guidelines ahead of time when traveling with friends
Everyone is taking time out of their schedules and money out of their pockets, so you need to chill out when it comes to planning everything together or demanding everyone chip in equally on an expensive restaurant that you chose without running it by the group.
And be honest – allowing other people the same courtesy – when you need a moment to yourself. Constant companionship can get a little overwhelming for introverts or even just someone who wants to finish their book before heading off to the next planned activity.
Chill out and let everyone enjoy themselves.
39. Don’t let work ruin your vacation
But make sure you’re setting boundaries when it comes to how much of your vacation you devote to work.
Put a vacation notification on your e-mail (but don’t give away too much info – just say you’ll be out of the office, unable to respond promptly, and give someone a contact who can help them out) and let your colleagues know that they might have to wing some things on their own once in a while.
You’re going to be a much better boss or employee if you truly get to break away for a few days every now and then.
40. Rent a wifi hotspot
Try renting a wifi hotspot for your trip so you’re never without connectivity when you need it.
Even in places with free wifi, you’ll be competing with everyone else for a signal – and that can get intense with certain apps.
You’ll need to make sure it’s charged, but renting one of these little guys is only about $10/day – a small price to pay for sanity.
41. Employ some packing hacks
The more time you spend carefully rolling clothing or layering it up and folding it into the center, the fewer bags you’ll need to bring, the less time you’ll spend steaming out wrinkles, and the more room you’ll have for that spare pair of shoes or souvenir on the way home.
42. Never check the bag with your essentials
Make sure you have a few days worth of medication and your valuables in your carry-on bag. Most other things can be repurchased easily. But some medications aren’t carried in other countries, so you want to have it on you in case of an emergency.
You’ll also need to make sure your carry-on will fit in overhead bins on smaller planes, so save it just for emergency supplies so you can keep it small.