No matter how much we want to ignore them quarter life crises, they are real. Some people get a dog, some get a shrink, and others quit their job without a real back up plan. I chose to travel the world for 10 months hoping to find some sort of enlightenment. While spiritual epiphanies are hard to come by, I did learn a lot about the common pitfalls of traveling and how to make it easier, both on your mind and your wallet. Whether you're taking a trip to Italy or adventuring to six continents, the travel tips below should help make your trip go by without a hitch.
1. Take advantage of being young.
Most people don't know that those of us under 26 qualify for youth airline tickets. They're not always a ton cheaper than a regular adult ticket, but once in awhile you can save big bucks. Only travel agents can book youth tickets, but most of the time the fee you'll pay them is less than what you're saving.
2. Don't try to do it all yourself.
If you're going on a multi-country trip, check with a travel agent first. They can book changeable and refundable tickets which come in handy if your plans are murky. Travel agents also offer cheap travel insurance so you don't have to go out of pocket when your luggage gets lost.
3. Choose the right bag.
Skip the duffel and the hard luggage with tiny wheels. Get a good bag with both wheels and backpack straps; most foreign metro and bus stations have tons of stairs. And make sure you can carry everything you're bringing all by yourself!
4. Tag it.
Instead of tagging your checked bag with your home address, tag it with the address of the hotel or apartment you're going to. That way, if it gets lost, there's no confusion about where the bag needs to end up.
5. You need less than you think.
The old adage, "bring half of what you think you need and twice as much money" rings true in almost all instances. Lay out everything you want to bring ahead of time, then remove at least 25%. Ladies, bring a big scarf that functions as a skirt, head wrap, and in a pinch, pillow case, plus leggings to wear under dresses can come in handy as well.
6. Don't bring anything you'd be sad to lose.
It may seem obvious, but I've seen tons of travelers wearing their grandfather's heirloom watch or favorite diamond earrings when they're in unknown territory. Sure, we all want to look nice when we're on vacation but if it would break your heart to lose it, leave it at home.
7. Know the style.
Not all countries dress like we do in the U.S. Do some research about dress codes, especially if you're a woman. For example, even though Morocco is usually stifling hot, women and men both need to be prepared to cover up. Women should always carry a scarf for their heads and everyone should prepare to be covered up shoulders to knees.
8. Airplanes are dirtier than you think.
In fact, airplanes are downright filthy. Touch as little as you can and wash or sanitize often. As far as comfort goes, a neck pillow makes a world of difference, as does an eye mask and ear plugs if you're planning to sleep. Also try to get seats near the front of the plane: You get fed sooner, they're farther from the bathrooms, and you can board last and disembark first.
9. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
One of the biggest causes of that icky post-plane feeling is dehydration. Buy at least one liter of water before a flight, drink another throughout the flight and yes, have one more once you're down. Drinking will also help with jetlag, as will walking or sitting in the sun after you land.
10. Do your research.
Research for intense traveling is a part-time job, even if it's for pleasure. Look into visas, the currency, average temperatures, public transport (especially to and from the airport) and whether you can drink the tap water before you leave for your trip. Try to learn about the different neighborhoods of a city and where you may not walk at night, as well as whether you can hail taxis or need to call for them.
11. Look farther than hotels or hostels.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is staying in a hotel because they don't think they can afford to rent a short-term apartment. Even if you're just staying for two nights, new websites like airbnb.com offer apartments, both private or shared, for cheap rates. You'd be surprised how much eating in saves, even if it's just breakfast every day. Plus you can find an apartment with a washer/dryer and wifi, two important but less thought about money savers.
12. Think discounts.
If you insist on staying in a hotel (which has its perks, don't get me wrong), try discount websites like Agoda.com. Chances are you'll get cheap rates for normally not-so-cheap hotels and many of them include breakfast and don't have cancellation fees. Take advantage of the front desk right away to grab a map, find out about internet access and request extra pillows, (I usually shy away from their restaurant recs since they tend to be touristy and pricey.)
13. Don't count on your cards.
Some credit cards that boast travel ease, like American Express, aren't widely accepted, and make sure your ATM card pin is 4 digits because most foreign machines don't accept more. Though ATMs are usually abundant, hit up the first one at the airport just in case. Usually fees charged by your bank are about the same as exchanging cash, and don't forget to check any fees charged by your credit card company for abroad use.
14. Go paperless.
Join the digital revolution and do away with paper maps and guide books, especially if you're doing multi-country travel. Armed with an iPad or iPhone and the occasional wifi connection, you can load a map of your city and then track yourself later when you're without internet. Check sites like TripAdvisor.com (but take the reviews with a grain of salt) and Chowhound.com for good sightseeing and restaurant recs.
15. Pick up a newspaper.
A local newspaper can be an eye-opening experience to the city you're in, plus it can tune you into events and activities that you might not hear about otherwise.
Skip cabs and hired tours, unless completely necessary. The easiest way to see a city and learn your way around is to set out in a direction and walk. Test your public transportation know-how and take a bus or train if the distance is too far on foot, but try to hit the streets as often as possible.
17. Buy realistic, wearable souvenirs.