When you think about traveling you probably imagine an exotic white sand beach in South America or a cobblestone road somewhere in the European countryside, trying the local food and exploring the area while adapting to the culture. Sure, this is part of it, and it’s the good part – it’s what makes the not so fun parts of traveling all worth it. Before you plan your next big trip make sure you know the sometimes ugly truth about what traveling really entails.
First of all, I want to point out that there is a major difference between going on vacation and traveling. Being on vacation is great. You usually get to relax or partake in some fun activities while avoiding your job or your kids or whatever else. You might have someone waiting on you or cleaning up after you. Traveling (or at least my kind of traveling) involves plane, train, car, boat etc. rides to different locations with everything on your back with no real downtime.
I travel a lot. Just this past month I’ve been to Sarasota, FL and Austin, TX and I am taking off to Sedona, AZ in a few weeks. This is what life looks like as a travel writer… or even as a freelancer – I can work from anywhere. I’ve learned a few hard truths about traveling over the past few years but I’ve also learned how to make the journey easier and hassle-free. I’ve also learned how to save a little bit of money.
Perfect your toiletry bag. Your hygiene standards might drop below average. It may sound gross but it’s true. When you’re hopping on and off planes and living out of your backpack you’ll quickly learn that sanitary wipes, mouthwash, dry shampoo, and deodorant are your best friends. You may not have the luxury of showering or even freshening up while you’re jet-setting so having those essentials in your bag is a must. Flying can also really mess with your skin. For me, being on a plane dries me out and can cause breakouts – plus I always look extremely tired when I get to my destination. I always have hydrating facial cleansing wipes, acne spot treatment, and an under eye roller in my bag to fix the flaws caused by flying.
Invest in a good pair of shoes. Comfort and capability are important here. I once found myself sprinting through an airport in my Birkenstocks and that was a big mistake – I saw them closing the door as I was running up to the gate and I ended up missing my flight. Damn shoes. I know that wearing tennis shoes with jeans is a fashion faux pas but seriously no one cares if you look cute at the airport. Get a good pair of sneakers that are not only comfortable but can also get the job done if you need to make a last minute take-off. You’ll also be on your feet a lot while traveling – walking to your transportation or hotel, walking to the local coffee shop to work, around wherever you are, walking, walking, walking – so you’ll need a good pair of shoes if you don’t want sore feet.
Get a carry-on bag that does it all. You want to find something that’s easy to carry, small enough to fit in an overhead bin or even on your lap if you’re taking a bus or train yet big enough to fit all of your things. You also need something that is easy to keep organized – so look for a bag with pockets and sections that make sense and provide easy access. You shouldn’t have to completely unpack your bag to find one specific thing.
Pack smarter. I used to be one of those people who packed way too much and ended up wearing the same thing over and over on every trip. No more! Before I head out I plan out exactly what I need. Usually this consists of jeans and both a casual top and a nicer blouse, tank, or sweater in case I go out to dinner or the bars, a work-out/hiking outfit, a jacket, PJ’s, either a pair of cute sandals or boots depending on where I’m going, sneakers, socks, underwear, and toiletries. I always have my laptop, camera and cellphone and their respective cords with me as well. What I just described can get me through about 5-7 days traveling and I can fit this all into my carry-on backpack. You can make it work with limited options and still look good.
Bring a Nalgene. Airport water costs about $5. When you travel as much as I do, that adds up. Bring your own empty water bottle with you and fill it up at the water fountain. Not only will this save you money at the airport but other places as well – think about hotels, parks, the gym – basically anywhere you would need to purchase water.
And snacks. Always bring a snack. Like water, food at airports is expensive. Bring something simple and easy to pack like trail mix or a granola bar. This will save so much money by not having to grab something at an airport shop. Something I always like to do is save my in-flight snack (if I’m not hungry) for later.
On that note, stay hydrated and don’t forget to eat. This is not something that happens to me because I guzzle water like a fish and I never skip a meal. But for some people, I’m sure that with all the hustle and stress that comes along with traveling it might be easy to forget to drink some water or have a snack. Being dehydrated is no fun and can seriously ruin your trip so here’s your friendly reminder to drink plenty of water and eat throughout your day of travel.
Coffee is your friend. Traveling is exhausting. Even if you’re just sitting on a plane or in a car or a bus or whatever, traveling drains you. I usually take the red-eye flight because it’s cheap and you get an entire day at a location rather than a half day, and I’m always pooped. You don’t want to travel somewhere just to sleep (unless you’re on vacation – remember, there’s a difference.) You want to enjoy your surroundings and in my case, I want to do my job so I can’t afford to sleep. For this, there’s coffee.
You need to be adaptable. Flights get delayed. Reservations get messed up. Baggage gets lost. You lose your wallet. Your phone dies. People don’t show up. This is life. Learning to not totally freak out and feel like the world is ending when something like this happens is so important. I recently missed a flight (totally my fault) and instead of losing my mind and letting it ruin my day, I went online and got a ticket for later in the day, left the airport, got a Bloody Mary, and then went and sat on the beach for a few hours. It turned out to be a great day and I still got to where I needed to go before sundown. If you’re prone to “bad luck” I suggest using Southwest when you fly – this is not an advertisement for them but I want to give them a shout out because in my experience they are the only airline that lets you change flights with no charge (as long as the prices match up) and they are just overall flexible and the best. They don’t even charge you for a carry-on and one checked bag. They will reimburse you if they make a mistake – plus, drink tickets! Thank you, Southwest.
Create an on-the-go workout plan. For me, this applies more to when I’m on a road trip. If you’re traveling and staying in a hotel you can use their gym or go for a run through town which is what I usually do. When you’re on the road, it’s not that simple. You should create a workout plan that requires no equipment or weights. You can pull over at a rest stop every couple of hours or do it first thing in the morning. Your plan doesn’t need to be intense but enough to counter the miserable all day sitting that is a road trip and also get your blood pumping and endorphins up. A few simple stretches, some squats, lunges, high knees, pushups and arm circles should do the trick.
For my final piece of advice – enjoy the journey. Cliché, I know, but it’s great advice.