Some people have amazing memories of past vacations while others hate it because of bossy, over-planning companions who suck the fun out of everything.
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
Don’t ruin vacation for yourself and everyone with you by freaking out at every little thing that goes wrong.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
For most people, vacations happen during school breaks or holiday weekends.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 the 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
Spare batteries, spare passport photos, etc. can be your best friend if things go missing on vacation.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
Having a little cash on hand is always a good idea, but you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket (or handbag).A lot of travel gear is made with secret pockets where you can store a few extra bucks.
5. Talk to locals
Whether you’re taking a trip to the nearest city or settling in for an exotic beach vacation, do your best to chat up the 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
One common vacation scam is trying to charge people for damage to property that they didn’t inflict.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
English speakers are lucky – many parts of the world can accommodate your needs without you having to learn the language.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.
Make sure you know what kind of adapter you need for your electronics if you’re traveling abroad. You can’t just stick your plug into a wall socket and expect it to work.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
Ok, this is a hard one. You never know what you might end up “needing” on vacation, so sometimes a few extra pairs of shoes seem necessary.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
From temperature changes to cultural cues that need to be followed when you walk into a religious building, having a lightweight scarf on you while you travel can save you from lots of uncomfortable situations.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
In popular tourist spots, you’re likely to find performers, vendors, and amateur photographers offering you something for free. Nothing is ever free on vacation.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
You can eat at a chain restaurant anywhere. Use vacation to try out the local cuisine.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
Don’t be the oafish foreigner who thinks they can act however they want wherever they go.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
Unless you’re on vacation to get some much-needed shut-eye, try getting up early to start your day, especially if you want to participate in touristy activities and get the best light for photos.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
It’s no fun to be around someone with a checklist of everything the “need” to do on vacation.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
That beautiful building or beach? There’s probably a better photo of it online.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
If you’re on someone else’s turf, keep your opinions of their lifestyles to yourself.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
Let your close family know your travel plans when you’re leaving town (especially when you’re leaving the country).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 you don’t invest in travel insurance, at least do some research on your health insurance and credit card coverage so you know what can be reimbursed when you return home.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
There’s nothing wrong with indulging on vacation. But be sure to drink some water and get your rest as well so you can enjoy activities without wiping out along the way.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
No one wants to see 400 photos of your feet on the beach while you’re away, but do be sure to keep in touch with people while you’re out of town, especially if you’re traveling to more than one place.Someone you trust should have your itinerary in case of emergencies.
22. Don’t give too much away on social media
If your whole family is on vacation and there’s no one watching your home, maybe you want to wait to post those vacation photos until you’re back.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
A foldable duffel bag is a great thing to have on hand when you’re headed somewhere fun where you might want to do some shopping.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
Everyone needs to look at a map to find their way around a new place. Now that we’re always looking at our phones, it’s much harder to tell a tourist looking for directions from someone checking Instagram.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
Fanny packs may be back in, but money belts, backpacks with flags sewn on them, or wearing your souvenirs while you’re still in town just scream “take advantage of me.”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
For some reason, most people forget to pack band-aids, but they can be one of the most useful tools while traveling.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
Don’t waste more time waiting in line than you have to. If you know you want to see a landmark that requires tickets, go online in advance (even the morning of the day you want to go) and see if you can purchase tickets before you head out the door.Then you can skip the lines and spend more time doing what you want.
28. Take online reviews in stride
If a place gets consistently negative reviews, there might be something to it. But sites like Trip Advisor are better used for getting more information about a place, not judging it up front.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, every day
You might be dying to get into the sun after a dark and rainy winter and spring or just enjoy the rays not filtered through an office window.But the sun is not your friend in the long run. Enjoy it all you 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
If you have little ones you’re traveling with, be sure to read up on what kinds of travel documents and vaccinations they need for new areas of the world.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
Staying in an AirBnB or other rental property? Know the rules on kids, pets, parties, etc. in advance. You’re going to agree to them when you sign the rental form, but it’s best to take a close look so you don’t have any surprises.It’s likely that with posher 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
Especially if you’re in a foreign place, the grocery store might give you some great insight into local culture and cuisine.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
In tourist places, it’s usually safe to assume that people speak English, but when you’re off the beaten path in a foreign country that’s less likely to be the case.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
Unless nap time is truly sacred for a member of the family, go with the flow when it comes to timing your day.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
Maybe you’re no longer planning European vacations if your kids are going to cost thousands of extra dollars in airline tickets, but even a short family road trip should have something for everyone, including the adults.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
If you jam-packed your schedule so tight and spend all your time talking about the next thing on the agenda, you’ll have very little time to reflect on your actual enjoyment.Use meal times, bedtimes, 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
If you’ve got the money but not the time to plan your trip, consider hiring a travel agency to plan your vacation.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
Taking a couples trip or grabbing the ladies for a girl’s weekend or exotic bachelorette party? Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to budgets and group activities.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
Some of us need to bring some work on vacation or at least be available on e-mail. It’s just a fact of life.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
If you’re out and about and need your phone to check out restaurants or get directions, a lack of wifi can really inconvenience you.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
There are lots of great tricks you can use to make the most out of your suitcase or backpack space.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
If your flight is delayed or your luggage lost, you don’t want the things you need in a checked bag.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.
43. Know the new booze rules
Most people stock up on tiny travel size bottles of booze for their journeys, especially if they’re the anxious type.But new guidelines warn passengers that they’re not allowed to consume personal alcohol on flights any longer.
Don’t risk it in this case – causing problems on an airplane is next level trouble these days and you’re sure to be detained after your flight (or kicked off altogether) if you’re a nuisance to airline staff.
Besides, you’re going to feel better anyway if you stay hydrated!
44. Never pass up a chance to use the bathroom
You really never know when you’re going to come across a public bathroom while you’re traveling. And some public restrooms cost money and require a correct change in local currency.Whenever you’re in a restaurant, hotel, or somewhere you can reasonably expect a washroom, take the opportunity to use it – even if it’s just to wash your hands.
You never know the next time you’ll see one.
And if all else fails, you can usually wander into one of the bigger hotels to use the washroom in the lobby as long as you don’t make a menace of yourself.
45. You’ve probably overpacked and under-budgeted
Seasoned travelers know that you rarely “need” as much as you’ve shoved in your suitcase and that traveling on a strict budget can be hard because things come up unexpectedly (even not knowing the tax rate on goods you intend to buy), often driving you over budget.Plan your vacation with a little financial cushion when you can and leave that extra pair of shoes at home.
46. Know your currency conversion rates
If you see a 1,000 price tag on an item in another country, that could simply mean it’s about 10 American dollars.Download an app to your phone or simply memorize the currency conversion rate and use your handy calculator to figure out how much things really cost before you hand over your credit card.
47. You will miss your bed
There’s no getting around it – there are going to be things you miss about home when you’re away, especially your bed.Sleep is really important for enjoying a good vacation, so if you’re in a hotel, you might try to take advantage of hypo-allergenic bedding options or extra blankets and comforters to make things a bit softer.
Alternately, you can call ahead and see if the hotel uses things like featherbeds and ask them to remove yours if you need a more firm place to sleep.
But remember, there’s only so much that can be done for you. So a Benadryl or a nightcap might be in order to ease you into sleep.
48. Know who to tip and who not to tip
Tip your cleaning staff, always. But make sure you know which restaurants would be offended by tipping.The rules are different in every country and it’s easy enough to do a little online research (or even just ask a hotel concierge, travel agent, or local) about tipping customs.
In some places, tipping up front will make your vacation better than you could have expected by earning you VIP status from day 1. In others, trying to hand over cash will get you a dirty look and a refusal.
49. Travel makes you richer
While it’s not always kind to your saving account, studies show that experiences are more valuable than tangible objects in the long run and they make people happier.Even if you’re a homebody, take the chance to get in the car and visit a new town when you can. You don’t need to make it elaborate – just get away from every day once in a while and enjoy new sights and sounds.
50. Take your vacation days
Whether or not you can afford to travel, vacation days are there for a reason and they make you a better worker in the long run.The majority of Americans don’t use all of their vacation days and the stress is slowly killing us.
If you have some days to take off, TAKE THEM. A staycation is just as good as a long-distance trip for many of us.
Read a book, spend time with your pets, take a walk, or just sleep in and let your body rest for as many days as you can every year.
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