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The Best Advice

You have safely survived your first, fifth or more trips overseas and your knowledge of travel has expanded more than you might have imagined.
So to the first timer who is still in the planning stages, what advice might you give them that someone gave to you before you set out on the first trip?
I would say that you will probably over pack and will hate dragging the heavy suitcases over old streets and in and out of trains.
Go back, see what you believe you must take and leave half at home.
Secondly, curb your desire to see it all on a single vacation. You simply can't do it and will rob yourself of the small pleasures you are bound to encounter.

Posted by
1179 posts
  • Give yourself more time than you think you need.
  • Don’t try to pack everything into your day. Make time to savor your experience
  • Schedule a rest day at the end of each week. You can do stuff, but it should be unscheduled in case you want to nap or picnic.
  • Almost all transport systems have a YouTube video on how to use them. Spend time before your trip viewing the videos.
  • Fly earlier in the day if possible. Also make sure you fly out of an airport with multiple flights to your destination (just in case of glitches)
  • Pack less. You won’t miss the clothes.
  • Always pack a sweater.
  • Always pack at least one pair of long pants.
  • Always bring a packable rain coat
Posted by
2363 posts

Every time you change hotels, it will use up a half day or more of your vacation time. This includes not only transit time, but also packing up, checking out, getting to your transit station, waiting for your flight/train/bus, transit time including any connections, getting from your transit station to new hotel, checking in, and settling in a bit. A little less if you are driving or taking a taxi door-to-door.

Posted by
2447 posts

The best European travel advice I ever received was from a former boss who told me to save our airline miles until we had enough to travel in Business class.

Posted by
10129 posts

Slow down! Don't try to see and do everything. It is a journey, not a list to be checked off.

Your memories will not be made in museums, but don't skip visiting them either.

One big sight or museum in a day, otherwise you'll get confused.

Minimum 3 nights in a place with very rare exceptions.

Splurge on a guided tour -- private if you can -- for important sites. A good guide makes history come alive and art more meaningful.

Posted by
503 posts

Plan your trip first, then buy airlines tickets - not the other way around!!!

Posted by
531 posts

Pack half as much and take twice as much money. We pack for 7 days and do laundry in the sink and / or schedule a laundromat once a week or so. Sure has made a difference over the years as our luggage has gotten lighter. If you miss something that you need or come across a sight you want to see, but had not planned to see, you have the funds to do so. Be it cash, ATM card or credit card.

Posted by
691 posts

Great topic Paul, thanks for starting this discussion.

  • Pack light and don’t check luggage (if you can)
  • Slow down and enjoy, don’t try to cram too much in a trip
  • Savor the food and culture: some of my best memories are taking cooking classes or food/wine tours
  • If you are traveling with other people, plan your trip for the lowest common denominator, it will be less stress & more fun
  • Have some alone time: when I travel with friends and family, we separate do different things during the day, come together in the evening and share adventures

Sandy

Posted by
351 posts

It’s okay not to see everything. It gives you incentive to go back.

Posted by
10129 posts

Plan your trip first, then buy airlines tickets - not the other way around!!!

True words, Nancy!

A corollary: Decide what you want to experience in a place before deciding how many nights to spend. I do not understand how someone can decide to spend 5 nights somewhere and have no idea what they should do.

Posted by
25 posts

Beyond the great logistical advice already posted, my advice is to take a few minutes every day to make note of what was special to you about the day's adventure! I journal every evening with a cup of tea, and my feet up as I unwind before bed. But it could be as simple as you choose to make it - just one special thing that you can look back on, and recall the memories. It's surprising how quickly even a three week trip goes by!

Posted by
68 posts

Wow...awesome advice.
I would just add that you need to bring a good deal of politeness and patience.
Learn at least a few common but offense overlooked words such as thank you, please, your welcome.
Even a little effort in the language native to the country you are visiting will go a long way to fostering positive memories.
Also, take the time to learn the ins and outs of the local public transportation. Just because you use it at home, don't assume it works the same way.

Posted by
228 posts

I would heartily endorse those above saying "Slow down!".

I see many posts here from people asking for comments on their planned itinerary, covering three countries in ten days. With a break in the middle. Yeah, nope.

I accept that, for those of us for whom Europe (or wherever) means a long-haul flight in cattle class, it is very tempting to cram as much in as possible, but this scenario fills me with dread.

I have, by virtue of extenuating circumstances, suffered the odd 'Great Race' holiday, and there is no way I would recommend them. So much time is wasted in transit and so much is missed as you hurtle through, tourist map in hand. Colosseum - check. Leaning Tower of Pisa - check. Gondola ride in Venice - check. What's next?!! Where's the train station? Do we have tickets for the thing? Hurry, we'll miss the bus!!!!

Ugh.

Contrast this with a whole week in a little house on a Tuscan hillside. You get invited by the owner to his house for drinks. You find out the name of the local cat, and meet her kittens. You're on waving terms with the old lady who cycles past every morning. You actually figure out how the microwave works and start to identify the local birds by their song, which accompanies your leisurely morning coffee each day. You spend two hours sitting on the terrace, map in hand, trying to identify each of the hilltop villages poking out of the morning mist, far away. The local food market is on tomorrow. Maybe we should walk there? It only takes an hour or so. We could take a picnic.

Bliss.

Posted by
2576 posts

-See fewer places and spend more time at each.
-Explore the local cuisine. Get out of your comfort zone. Eating snack bars instead of real food to save money is penny smart and dollar foolish.
-Pack light!
-Learn to navigate the train system. Trains in Europe are great (mostly) so take advantage.
-You’ll see and experience more on a Rick Steve’s tour than you can on your own with limited time, particularly as a novice traveler, but even if you’re experienced you can benefit from their superb logistical planning. This company has it down!
-Stuff happens. Expect it and roll with it. Planes are late, or cancelled. You might get a cold. You get lost. Insure for big stuff-significant illness, etc.

Posted by
70 posts

Having traveled to Europe several times and experienced various forms of accommodation and travel, I'd like to add this advice:

Accommodations: Consider staying in private apartments rather than hotels (or similar). They are easy to research using AirBnB, HomeAway, Booking.com, etc. You should want to stay at least 3 nights and take advantage of your hosts local knowledge. Go to the market for fresh fruit and vegetables, a butcher shop and a bakery. Interact with the local vendors and other customers. Act like a local.

Transportation: Take the train rather than renting a car or flying between cities. You can easily get from place to place as the stations are in the centre of town. You don't have the hassle of getting to/from an airport and waiting in a security line. Just remember to pack light and use a "wheelie" bag. A car in most European cities or even towns is a confusing burden. Even if you master the roads, parking is a hassle. Train connections with buses (and even airports) are well thought out and easy to use with English signage.

Lastly, use a Rick Steves travel book and be sure to read it before you leave as well as while you're travelling. Our first trip to Europe was 5 weeks of unplanned travel in France and Italy in October. We just drove (for the last time) from place to place, staying longer if we liked it and using Rick's guidebook to find accommodation, restaurants and sights. I'm not recommending that now (I'm a lot older) unless you want an adventure but his advice is still spot on for independent travellers.

Posted by
6951 posts

We used to rent cars and see as many cities as possible in two weeks and three weekends. Our trips were one big blur.
If you are visiting great European cities, limit yourself to a minimum of 4 days and 1 travel day per city.
Try to travel in a straight line to cities that compliment each other. Like London-Paris. Or Munich-Salzburg-Vienna. Or Rome-Florence-Venice.
Fly open jaw into one city and out of another to save time and money.
Avoid 6:00 am flights.back to North America. You will just fly to a large gateway airport and sit around until midday for the non-stop back home.

Posted by
8020 posts

Do not visit an historic site or museum every day. Take a day off to walk around a city, visit neighborhoods.

Posted by
459 posts

Ahhh, put up in lights steves_8's paragraph, "Contrast this..." THAT'S the way to travel.

Posted by
114 posts

In my vast experience of one trip to Europe (Spain), I came away feeling like I was WAY too stressed out about pickpockets and other scams. I visited this and other travel websites daily for months in advance (too much?) and on the day of travel I remember being really very nervous about petty theft. I remember being on the train from the airport to the Atocha station and trying to keep a hand or leg or other body part on every bag we had. Ha! How silly I was thinking back on it now. Once there, I realized it was really nothing to be concerned about. I know it does happen and, of course, always be aware of your surroundings. But I think I had worked myself up too much over it.

Posted by
3261 posts

Choose your accommodations based on LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. You will be much less tired if you're close to the sights you want to see or to easy transportation to those sights. We recently stayed at a hotel in the US that had some challenges (bathroom across the hall, no ac and it was in the high 80's) but we would stay there again because we could easily walk everywhere and it was on a quiet residential street 5 minutes walk to the beach.

And begin 6months before your trip getting tickets online for major sights such as Alhambra, Anne Frank House, Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios.

Posted by
1179 posts
  • A half day tour by a local guide is a great way to get acquainted with a new city. Do this your first day
  • Museums give context to what you are seeing. Go there after your city tour
  • Quirky little museums are often the most fun
Posted by
916 posts

Leave your expectations at home and look at travel as an adventure. Don’t try to “see it all” or you won’t really experience what you do see. Count on coming back. Pay someone to do your laundry instead of spending hours in a laundromat. Take a mid-day break and stay out late, when the crowds die down many places. Eat gelato/ice cream every day. Do the “touristy” things (gondola ride, beer hall). Don’t worry about looking like a tourist.

Posted by
3580 posts

Get some local currency as soon as you reach a new country. That was in the 1960s when I took my first European trip. Frommer's Europe on $5 a Day was my "bible" then. Now, it's good advice to come prepared with your ATM card and get cash, usually euros or pounds, as soon as you arrive. Credit cards are used for many things, including taxis. Get a money belt and use it if you want to be able to relax about pick pockets. Buy travel medical insurance. Don't try to cram in too much your first time. Prepare, but expect a glitch or two. (Strikes, illness, accidents, misplaced reservations, lost or delayed luggage, language difficulties, rough weather, weird plumbing...... ). The glitches often turn out to be the highlights of your trip! Always have a little food with you for emergency snacking.

Posted by
15072 posts

Never pass up a bathroom.
Never put a camera or a phone casually on a surface outdoors (bench, table, whatever). Don't hang purses and daypacks on the back of a chair either. Don't carry valuables in a backpack.
Don't waste a lot of time figuring out if a pass will save you €3. If it's convenient (like avoiding lines or fishing for cash/credit cards) get it.
Don't choose your wardrobe based on style. No one cares what you are wearing. Be comfortable. And leave expensive jewelry and elaborate make-up at home.

Talk to people. Some of my best memories are of people I've met along the way. I've had interesting conversations, learned a lot, and shared many good times, even made some lasting friends. In June I was in Istanbul where I had a conversation with an Iranian woman living in Tehran and another with an American woman on her way home after a month in Mongolia, including living 2 weeks in a yurt. Couples are often more eager to talk to strangers than single tourists - maybe it's the monotony of being with someone 24/7 ? :-)

Enjoy! You're on an adventure. Things will go wrong and you'll have great stories to tell (did I mention the time I broke my leg and then the hotel caught on fire?). Pack a sense of humor and some patience. Remember that people do things differently in other places. It's not right or wrong, polite or impolite, it's just different.

Posted by
11462 posts

Since all I was told has already been mentioned I'll add one that hasn't...

Mind the gap.

Seriously, the first bit of advice I got with my professional travel training works for everyone:

Be flexible. Not everything is going to go as planned.

Posted by
2540 posts

never presume things are done they way they are at home ,most times they won't be.
use public transport in Europe it is a whole lot better than anything in the US.
Slow down, you will never see it all, take the time not just to smell the coffee but to sit down drink and savour it.
never worry about what you are wearing seriously nobody cares.
don't sweat the small stuff.

Posted by
3356 posts
  • Spend time learning bits of the local language; don't arrive ignorant of everything except for English. Have the basics covered like Hello, Thank you, Please, Where is the toilet, How much does this cost.
  • Don't walk around with a bull's eye on your forehead. When traveling, make sure you are comfortable with your luggage as opposed to overwhelmed by it. Be able to walk at a good pace so pickpocketing lowlifes will less likely see you as a target.
  • Arrive at the airport 3 hours early for the transatlantic flight so you have time to go through security.
  • Check in online before your flight to save a step at the airport. If you're checking luggage, you can just go to the baggage kiosk drop off as opposed to waiting on long lines at the check-in counter.
  • Avoid travel agencies and any third-parties when making airline reservations and booking hotels. Do so directly with the airline and hotel respectively.
  • Use a no foreign fee credit card while abroad so you don't incur foreign transaction costs which can add up quite quickly.
  • Don't use a credit card at a cash machine.
  • Use only bank cash machines overseas.
  • No need to get foreign currency before you leave because your local bank will overcharge you exponentially. You can use bank cash machines at the arriving airport.
  • Know the difference between immigration and customs. They are not the same.
  • Keep your answers short and simple at immigration so you can keep on moving. Not the time to tell jokes as you have no idea what the consequences of being jokester could be.
  • Go to the library when you are planning your trip and dive into travel books for agenda ideas.
  • Nobody should be a prisoner of someone else's interests. If you are traveling with others, unless they are children, you are not glued together. If you each have something you want to do that may not be of interest to the other, go your own way for the day or 1/2 day and meet back later for a meal to share your stories.
  • Carry the card of the hotel/inn/B&B of where you are staying so in case you are lost and are not fluent in the local language, you can show someone like a store employee, police officer, etc the card and she or he can point you in the right direction.
Posted by
3483 posts

Enjoying the great advice. Travel is expecting the unexpected and savoring the moment. This morning in Venice brought a smile as we crossed a bridge while listening to a Gondoliere singing a beautiful rendition of Besame Mucho. People stopped and others watched from their hotel balconies. It was a beautiful moment as we started our day.

Posted by
437 posts

This is a great thread and I'm seeing lots of good advice. I've been to Europe 4 times (so far!) and would like to add: If your arrival flight is overnight, don't plan lots of activities for your arrival day. Maybe just one small to medium destination. If you're going on a group tour, make every effort to get there at least one full day before the tour starts. It will make a big difference in adjusting to jet lag and time zone changes.

Posted by
4622 posts

Decide what your own best style of travel would be. Personally, of all of the places we stayed during the wonderful Best of Italy RS tour, my least favorite were the nights at the agritourismo. Some people absolutely love that relaxed setting; I feel like I’m stuck on a farm (grew up in a small farming community).

A RS tour is a perfect jumpstart into European travel. We learned so much, saw so much more, and were able to answer #1 above for future trips.

Over-plan before the trip & relax and be flexible during your trip. I have so many details for this current trip in Italy (taking a foot-rest right now!), so I already know what I “could do” so that I am free to do what I feel like doing today.

If you or your co-travelers get grumpy, stop for a gelato!

A couple of personal preferences:

Pack at least one nice looking outfit. That can be a quick-drying dress or nice top with a scarf, and for men a nicer shirt. It’s nice to switch into it when going out for a dinner, or an evening event, and I easily wear it to museums, etc. or larger cities. It’s one of my most worn outfits during a trip.

Also, I really like the toiletries bag that opens up, has a hook, and everything is organized -saves a lot of time. I have the LL Bean medium size, but there’s many similar to it.

Posted by
166 posts

Awesome responses!!! I've traveled to Europe yearly for the last 10 years and I learned a lot just reading this series of posts!

Posted by
1058 posts

My advise is don’t wait until you retire before you travel. I started traveling after college and have been fortunate to take a number of really great vacations. I have friends who have never traveled and now that they are at retirement age, they have a number of reason not to travel. I really think that they are not prepared for a extended vacation to a foreign country. It frightens them. They are afraid to take what they think is a big step. They have become too comfortable in their familiar surroundings. Also, as we become older, we have health issues that may prevent us from taking an overseas trip. Maybe money is tight. I strongly believe if you make Travel one of your goals, you can accomplish it but you must make it a goal.

Posted by
1856 posts

Travel with your children. Let them make some decisions on where to go and what to see. Travel is the best education you can give them.

Posted by
68 posts

Fantastic!!!
Advice and suggestions that surpassed anything I imagined.
Travel when taken slowly becomes more sweet and gives memories that last a life time.
I still tell the story of getting stranded in a small Italian village.

And now to the other side of the coin....

Posted by
13731 posts

Know thyself: Plan your trip around your own interests, style and budget and don't rely solely on others to tell you what you should do/see and how you should do that. I have a kitchen only because it came with the house so cooking classes would not be my thing. A backpacker usually doesn't have the budget for private drivers or water taxis. Tourists who greatly enjoy museums and architecture might be bored to death at an agriturismo. They may also spend 4 hours in a museum that someone with less interest will blow through in one. What works for someone else may not work for you. That's OK.

Know thy destination: Read, read and read some more before you book it. As above, there's no sense in going anywhere that doesn't offer things you are interested in and/or enjoy doing (see above).

Know thy limitations: itineraries and logistics for the couple with very young children in tow will likely need to be different than for the Gen. Z solo backpacker, seniors with mobility challenges, etc. Your particular situation can affect where you go, where you stay, how you need to get around, etc. Same with time: be realistic about the amount of it you have to work with and how much ground you can reasonably cover, which leads me to...

....Know thy pitfalls: very compressed itineraries can be recipes for headaches and missed opportunities. Delayed flights, train strikes, foul weather, a day of traveler's tummy, a fussy toddler... all of these can upset the "down to the minute" plan. Longer stays in fewer locations can provide flexibility for workarounds when things don't run like clockwork. Renting a car in a foreign country? Make sure to understand the various ins-and-outs to avoid some potentially nasty or expensive surprises.

Know thy resources: what you read online could be wrong, depending on the source. There's a lot of outdated or just plain erroneous stuff out there. What you HEAR from a random individual could be wrong or provide a very narrow impression, especially if their style, interests, tolerances and whatnot are completely different than your own. Even the latest guidebook edition could contain errors as details, such as hours and entry fees, can change after press time. Unexpected closures can occur as well. Use official websites for visitor details whenever possible, gather impressions from multiple sources, and measure the credibility of those sources carefully.

Posted by
2221 posts

All great advice! I still learn things about how I like to travel with every trip I take. Thankfully, my first trip to Europe was “don’t blink, or you’ll miss it”.
Now, slower is better even if I see less items on my list!
I learned this last trip that I want my B&B to have a lounge/ common area for guests! I don’t want to sit on my bed for happy hour!
Oh, and never underestimate the power of jet-lag! It seems to hit worse now that I am “older”

Posted by
1179 posts
  • make sure your first day is a quiet day. Jet lag and exhaustion from travel are real
  • plan on an easy outdoor activity on your first day so you can adjust your body clock
  • try to prebook hotels for your first and last night. These should be easily accessible to the airport via reliable transport.
Posted by
28145 posts

So you have a Best Advice thread and a Worst Advice thread. Maybe an average advice thread? Or just advice?

Is this a collection point for a book?

Posted by
2157 posts

Pack light.

Additionally, pack one outfit for a hot day and one outfit for a cold day, given the season of course. You will then be able to adjust clothing daily to make yourself comfortable using a layering approach.
Do a trial pack a week in advance of your departure.
Track airfares for your destinations for a period of time - I create a simple spreadsheet- and decide in your mind what price you’re willing to pay. Strike when the price or near enough to it pops up and buy. Don’t look back and don’t compare with others who got a bargain, you will be miserable about it.

Posted by
276 posts

I consider myself a solo-traveler-in-training. Most of my overseas experiences have been bus tours. I’m now mixing bus tours with solo tours. Much of the advice I’ve learned come from reading this site and it’s been so informative.

The four best takeaways I’ve embraced:

RESEARCH: Read, read, read.... I know this is a RS site but don’t just read RS. Broaden your reading list. Go to the library, sit awhile in a bookstore, google, YouTube and write down everything that interests you. Know some history of the sights your seeing. Know when the sights open/close. From your long list star your favorites but don’t get bogged down with your list. Some of the best experiences come unexpectedly. Mix up your day between sights and just enjoying where you are. Don’t be rigid. Be open to changes in plans. And plan your destinations around what you love not what’s trendy.

LODGING: Choose your lodging carefully. Being near a public transit access will make getting around easier. Make sure the lodging has what you need, perhaps a lift, ac, pool, 24 hour concierge, breakfast.... use a website such as booking.com to search all your options. Map the lodging, is it near your points of interest? Check the lodging’s website. You might get a better deal and room. And write down your lodgings address for the taxi driver. They will appreciate it.

ITINERARY: Make sure what you plan is realistic. Know how long it will take you to get to your destinations. If your itinerary includes one night in a location you may only have time to see one sight, have a good dinner and walk around. That might be all you need. Or would it be better to include that stop in another itinerary. If you have 10 to 14 days of vacation cut your itinerary by two days. Day of arrival you’ll be jet lagged. And if you don’t sleep on the plane you’ll be exhausted. Don’t plan anything for that day. Get out, take a walk, have a good meal, if you’re up to it see a sight that’s close by. If you need a nap take one then get out for fresh air. Get to bed early and you should be good to go the next day. Day you leave in many cases will be a goodbye breakfast. Do get to the airport at least three hours before your flight. And make sure you have your itinerary set before you buy your airfare. If you must do it the other way then plan your itinerary around your airfare.

FINANCES: You really can’t do anything about the conversion rates. They are what the are. But you can shop credit unions and credit card companies for the best transaction fees. It might be worth the change to you.

Maybe for the well traveled this isn’t true but there will be things to learn from every trip. Things you wished you’d done differently. Things you did right.

Posted by
1894 posts

As you are walking around on your trip: look up!
Especially in old cities, and historic places.
There are lots of thing on buildings, balconies, gardens on top of buildings, architectural details that you would otherwise miss.
I see so many people walking along in Europe looking down , or worse looking at things through a screen.

Posted by
288 posts

In the Google Drive, they have an interactive map feature called My Maps. I like plotting out the places I want to see. I note why I want to go there and any other notes. It is a fun program to play around on. I also change the icons so I can tell by looking if it is a photo op, a museum, where our hotel is, etc. Then I take a screen shot of the area. That way I can see where I want to go, and not have to have a huge map. Also these places are just a suggestion. My hubby and I have a terrible habit at home of "what do you want to do" "I don't know what do you want to do". I refuse to do that on vacation. So this way we have options.

Posted by
1680 posts

Thanks for this topic. I am learning so much (as I always do from the forum).
I only want to add: know yourself.
I know I don’t adjust quickly to jet lag so instead of giving myself a day before my tour, I’m arriving 4 days early. I know if I get tired I get very grumpy in violation of RS No Grumps Policy so I paid the single supplement to have my “down time” and a glass of wine.

Posted by
8187 posts
  • Roll your clothing. Easy to find what you are looking for and you will have more space in your bag
  • Go on a good walking tour your first day in a city. This will get you oriented and your guide will be able to tell you about events, make restaurant & museum recommendations.
  • Utilize Trip Advisor to find places to eat, tours to go on, websites for museums, and especially the forums to ask local residents questions.
  • Use Google Earth to find out how to get from the train station to your hotel, etc.
  • YouTube to watch videos of train stations, small towns, festivals, Xmas markets, and more so you have an idea of what to expect.
  • Wear a cross body messenger bag instead of a back-pack. Easier to get your own items out, tougher for thieves to get in.
  • On escalators, stand on the right, pass on the left
Posted by
3356 posts

On escalators, stand on the right, pass on the left

On escalators in the US too, please.

Posted by
4684 posts

Don't dismiss "snack bars". OK, avoid international fast food chains that are identical to what you get at home, but a snack bar can introduce you to local dishes at a cheaper cost than a fancy restaurant, and make things less embarassing if you decide you can't stand something after one mouthful.

Posted by
18388 posts

Don't waste a lot of time figuring out if a pass will save you €3. If it's convenient
(like avoiding lines or fishing for cash/credit cards) get it.

Don't just blindly buy a rail pass because in most cases it will cost substantially more than point-point tickets. It's a lot to pay for the convenience of avoiding lines or fishing for cash/credit cards (BTW, you'd have to fish for your rail pass too). On our last trip to Germany (21 days, FRA to the Rhein gorge, then around the Allgäu and Franken in Bavaria), we used rail for nine days and paid 284,10€ (about $340 accounting for ATM fees) for point-point tickets for two people (one advance purchase Saver Fare plus seat reservations, three full fare tickets for short trips, three Länder or regional passes, and two local transit district passes). With today's 20% discount, a 10 day 2nd class German Rail Twin Pass plus the seat reservations would cost about $581 (71% more). We saved $241 by figuring out the most cost efficient way to buy rail transport.

I've made 10 trips (22 weeks) since the last time I used a rail pass. I take the time to figure out the different ways to ticket, and I always save big by not buying a rail pass.

Posted by
6818 posts

comfort beats fashion; time is more valuable than money.

Posted by
5569 posts

I was debating on whether the time was right to go to Africa a few years ago. My son, who has a good heart and little tact, said, "If not now, when? You aren't getting any younger Mom."
I thought about it and realized it was a really good point. We certainly can't predict what the future will hold. If you have the interest, time, and money, there is no reason to wait for that next trip.

Posted by
258 posts

Sometimes, the circumstances dictate the travel. I did not know I would be traveling this month until the end of last month. I did not have the time to devote to finding the "best" flight deal or hotel deal. I booked through a third party knowing full well that if I experience travel problems, I might not have an easy way to find a solution. But, given the circumstances, and my desire to get back to Europe, I booked. Was the deal ideal? No, but circumstances, etc., and I could not find a reasonable business class flight to Europe through the airline sites.

I am also comfortable with no specific plans in place for each day. I have a general idea of what I want to see/do but the plan is definitely fluid. Many people are not comfortable with this lack of planning, but for me, it works. I will stop into the TI on arrival to each town and see what is happening. Prior to leaving, I will check out some of the major sights but again, for me, I OD on museums after a couple (unless they are like the Business and Industry Smithsonian). On a fine day, I am happy walking around, finding a park, and reading a book. Different strokes...

Posted by
1104 posts

Always bring your own initial stash of Band-Aids. No matter what I always have foot issues and need some. If you need more head to a pharmacy.

Posted by
1 posts

In 1972 at the age of 21 I traveled to Europe for the first time. Before my departure, I read a tiny book titled, " Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa". The most important advice I remember was to do anything I could to make contact with locals and experience the people and their culture. Monuments and museums were secondary. I stayed in Europe for 5 months and never stayed in one hotel. I stayed in plenty of Youth Hostels costing a couple bucks per night. I also slept outside at times in a small tent, overlooking places like St Moritz or Mont Blanc. On more than one occasion I stayed with families, who took me in for one night or several and even hopped on a small Norwegian boat to cross the North Sea, at no cost. I returned home having expended $1200 for everything including my roundtrip flight from the USA and a 2 month Train Pass. That trip changed my life forever. I was 21. I was young, innocent, friendly, adventurous and fearless. I could never recreate that trip. I changed and the world changed, but a little bit of that experience followed me on every trip I took to Europe after that and there have been many. I returned 5 years later and lived on a farm in Normandy where I learned enough French to open up a whole new adventure that added that something extra special to every trip after that. I followed Rick Steves advice from very early in his career because his Philosophy was no different than the author of the first travel guide I read in 1972. I have great respect for Rick and through his books have had the pleasure of visiting many out of the way places where I have had the privilege of staying with amazing people, in their homes, as a guest, at minimal cost. If I won the Lottery today, I would travel the same way I always have, because a 5-Star hotel will never be in my itinerary.

Posted by
5697 posts

Things will go wrong, no matter how well you plan. Strikes happen, rivers flood, traveler's tummy hits. The best you can do is to roll with the punches and tell yourself "this will make a great story later." Build in extra time in your transportation connections; include a traffic ticket or two in your car rental budget; if you miss a sight or activity, it just goes on your "next trip" list. And enjoy the stuff that you DO get to do, including random conversations while waiting for trains or using the laundromat.

Posted by
72 posts

Something WILL go wrong (train strike, getting off at the wrong stop, getting lost and missing your tour 😩) don’t let it ruin your day. As long as you are unhurt, healthy and safe usually the worst thing that will happen is that it will cost you more money to fix it, but it’s not the end of the world. Plus it makes for a great story when you get back.

Edit...That’s so funny, I didn’t read all of the posts, went back to proof mine and noticed the previous poster said the exact same thing, lol. Great minds think alike.

Posted by
2747 posts

If you are going to more than one hotel do not pack your suitcase full using nifty “space saving” strategies and gizmos. Yes, at home with the benefit of time you can maybe squeeze 34 thick wool sweaters, perfectly rolled and clean, into a tiny bag. Can you do it when half your clothes are dirty and you have to get up early for a 7AM train? Think of re-packing every few days not what you can squeeze in initially. And no, I don’t “unpack” at hotels, but obviously things come out of the suitcase to be used.

Get up early at least sometimes. Exhausted by crowds? It’s never crowded at 6AM. An outdoor sight can be seen in the best light very early. A dawn walk through the streets is nice - and you can get coffee with locals going to work. St Marks square at 7AM is a lovely, well lit, uncrowded place. By 10 it’s a hot zoo. Also, many museums and such aren’t crowded for the first hour.
The same goes, but not as strongly, for late evenings. Day trippers are gone.
But my top secret is that 6-8AM exists in the waking world :)

Posted by
2 posts

Take a lot of money and good friends. Everything else is trivia. Of course if we dont speak about mountain climbing

Posted by
5 posts

Stay simple and stay wise! Like many said before I don't try to do it all at once, do your homework before you go so you always have some plan to save you time. Don't look like clueless tourists in certain areas, don't carry too much cash on you. Try to stay at smaller, private apartments. Airbnb hosts always give great advice on where to go!

Posted by
1733 posts

Even if you're a photography fiend (like me), take a day or half-day here or there to be camera-free. You'll notice things more through senses other than sight, find yourself talking with people more, and have an enhanced experience in general.

Posted by
313 posts

If your home town/city has a Reference Library, check out the Travel collection. Such libraries will have every single guidebook available plus in some cases, extra specialty titles, not to mention maps.
I am done. The end.

Posted by
1821 posts

Learn how to say "Do you speak English?" in the local language and always lead with that. Imagine being at home and someone coming up to you and asking questions in a foreign language. You'd think that person was very rude.

Posted by
72 posts

Do some research before you go! Get the lay of the land and some options on what you’d like to do daily. On my first trip, I joined my sister in Spain at the last minute. Since I was tagging along I let her lead the way. Oh my God, just shoot me! We wandered around aimlessly, and I feel like more time was spent wondering what to do, how to get there,etc. and that we wasted time rather than seeing and doing. We have TOTALLY different travel styles, live and learn, I should have known better, she is my sister after all.

Posted by
44 posts

Lots of great advice here!

One trick I've learned, over many trips, is to keep a brief list of possible places to have lunch -- or purchase provisions for a picnic lunch -- near the major sights/museums/churches/parks we hope to visit. There's nothing that makes us crankier than being a little tired from sightseeing, and hungry, and absolutely no clue where to go nearby. Looking at posted menus when you're already halfway to cranksville is no solution :~).

We also try to make groupings of things to do and see in the same vicinity. Sounds simplistic, but it can be really fun to map out a route from A to B that takes you by a specialty bakery, or paper shop, or the vintage shops near the Palais Royale that specialize in little black dresses............

Posted by
62 posts

What a great thread, Paul!
Stay open minded, stay aware but not paranoid, look up from your electronics, engage with the locals.
I like to bring a little local currency beforehand in case I need it before I can get to a bank or ATM. Pack plenty of patience and a smile - stuff happens, and whether you realize it or not, you represent your country. Do you want to be the "Ugly American?"
Don't be so glued to your camera that you forget to just be and experience. You might have dozens of pictures of the Dingle Peninsula, but did you feel the breeze on your face or smell the rich green countryside?

adlmllr - little black dress, haha!

Posted by
68 posts

Some of my best days come from wandering and getting lost.
Getting so involved in the scenery and small shops that I look up and have no direct clue about how to get back to where I started.
But that forces me to interact with shop keepers and strangers on the street
And while I mainly do this in Italy, with a minimal amount of Italian, a few words and a smile have guided me back to the starting point while increasing my appreciation of my surroundings.

Posted by
1894 posts

Be sure to always greet shopkeepers with a smile and a Bonjour or a Buon Giorno when you enter their shop.
When I did this in Florence a couple of years ago, the owner ended up giving me a discount on a wallet I was buying.
The couple in front of me had apparently been demanding discounts in a not so polite fashion, and she told them no in no uncertain terms.
I did not ask for one, but she was so happy to see a friendly face that she offered.
And we had a great conversation too!

Posted by
800 posts

Pick three things you have to see or do. Plan everything else around those.

Don't try to do more than one or two things any given day, including travel. Take time to sit and enjoy the places you're in.

The only person who's going to be interested in your pictures is you. Don't spend so much time taking pics instead of seeing where you are.

Clothes are cheap. You can always buy more if you need them.

A pocketknife comes in handy.

Posted by
116 posts

Wow! What a great forum post. Love the ideas and all the tips. Having visited Europe for the last 3 summers (2 RS tours, and a river cruise) I totally support the pack light suggestion. For those older folks who may remember the 1969 movie If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium that saying has become my mantra for slowing down and enjoying your time. Be in the moment!

One area I have not seen much mention of is using the technology you have at hand to help you make your day much more enjoyable. Download google maps for offline usage to save on your internet cost. Don’t get lost in your phone, but you can use your phone to help get you un-lost. Venice was a lot more enjoyable knowing I could find our way around at night when the decision to go left or right needed to be made.

Google Translate has made reading menus so much easier, and it allows us to visit those small family places that usually don’t have a menu in English.

Do research on your cell service in Europe. Most US carriers have daily or monthly plans you need to sign up for before you leave. However, buying a SIM card for your unlocked phone when you arrive can help save money and usually gives you a local number.

One of my best tools I found 2 years ago was a dual voltage 240/120 8 port USB charger. All I need is a plug adapter for the countries I will be visiting. I now use only one electrical outlet to charge all of my families devices (phones, cameras, battery pack, Fitbit) each night.

Goog luck and Happy Travels to all!

Posted by
2664 posts

Don’t compare things in the country you are visiting to how things are where you live. Plan on things being different, that’s what makes traveling so awesome.

Posted by
3 posts

I should go to areas I have never been to.
Traveling more will be more rewarding.
Every place has its own.