These are some ideas I came up with during my own adventuring. I’m especially proud of #2.
1. Bring the neck pillow, not its stuffing.
Space is premium. We know that. So if you want to bring that cozy horseshoe-shaped neck pillow along for comfort during that long flight, unzip the cover, pull out all of its stuffing, and fill it back up with your softest clothes. On your way there, it fits nicely in the backpack. On the way back, hang it from your backpack with a carabiner and you’ve got extra space for souvenirs.
2. Buy two different shoe insole inserts.
Pack one pair of shoes. Not the white sneakers that scream American. You can still be comfortable. I have a pair of little gray leather sneakers that have more miles on the than my car’s bald tires. Find something you like, that look good, feel good, and match outfits well, and make sure they have removable insoles. Then buy two different pair of nice orthopedic insoles at the drug store and switch them up while you’re there. No blisters! Your feet will believe you have two different pairs of shoes.
3. Get snacks for the room.
Include in your settling-in routine finding a little shop and getting some granola bars and fresh fruit. Your days will go much better when you don’t spend the first part of your morning desperate for food, staggering around the city in delirium until you find breakfast, or thinking you’ll be fine taking the tube across the city and then finding something when you get to that museum. There may be nothing there, and you won’t live to say the words “I should have bought bananas for the room.”
4. Don’t fear the hostel.
Okay, so there’s that horror movie that you may have seen and probably heard about. But hostels are actually nice, clean, safe friendly places, and they can certainly mean the difference between being able to afford that trip or not. And sometimes it can make the trip. The first hostel I stayed in was like having a sleepover at IKEA. I always say, “If you can’t do it right, do it wrong.” Just do it. And with the internet being as awesome as it is, there are plenty of resources to find hostels, research them, read reviews, and look at pictures. Don’t just look at the pics on the hostel’s website. Do a search in Google images and see what pictures other travelers have posted online. Oh, and don’t worry about being too old for a hostel. Some have age limits, but many don’t. Yes, when I stayed in my first hostel in Munich, all the girls in my room called me, “Mommy,” but they were fun kids, great dinner dates, and they appreciated having someone remind them to wear a jacket. I think.
5. Naps are allowed.
You know when you get back from vacation, you feel like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation? I won’t stand for it. When I went to Ireland, and had one of the best trips I will ever have, I took naps daily. That may be part of why it was such a great trip. Don’t feel like you have to spend every moment seeing every little thing. Relax. Enjoy a good book in your hotel room. It’s okay. Then you can savor and enjoy that castle all the more. And you can enjoy your vacation while you’re there, not weeks later when you’re rested and take the time to look at your photos and finally see what you saw.
6. Embrace embarrassment.
Be ready for things to go wrong. Be okay looking stupid. When you are, that opens up so many more things for you to do. Don’t skip a beer garden because you’re not sure if you’ll find your way through. Don’t miss that incredible shop because you’re afraid of asking for directions, and don’t miss anything because you’re unwilling to ask a local what they recommend. You might go in the exit. You might be wearing the wrong thing. You might annoy the bus driver. Just accept these things, get over your stupid, inhibiting pride, and get out there! They don’t kill you. That embarrassment is only as lasting as you allow it to be. The memories of the adventure you didn’t miss out on, those stories you’ll get to tell, those are forever.
7. Skimp on everything but the skimpy bits.
Every day, you need a clean pair of socks, a clean pair of skivvies, and a clean little T-shirt that fits nicely under your shirt/sweater/blazer. T-shirt. Not tank top. Cover those armpits. Because you’re going to wear that shirt/sweater/blazer another day or two. And always eat with a napkin on your lap. You’ll be wearing those pants another couple days, too! As long as you have plenty underthings, you don’t have to pack so many other bulkier things. And yes, I’m sure about the socks. I thought socks could be worn two days in a row, and I learned the hard way on that one. Don’t ever do that. Ew. They did not like me very much at airport security.
8. Buy extra souvenirs.
Bringing gifts back for people is lovely. It can make you less of a badguy for going off on a great adventure when everyone else stayed behind and suffered through their jobs and miscellaneous crap. Make sure you pick up some extras. As much as you love all your friends and family, you’re rocking vacation brain and might miss someone. Or when you return, you might meet some cool new stranger, tell him about your trip, and then you can have a little token to share with him.
9. Get lost.
It’s good to have direction. It’s frustrating and restrictive to have everything all planned out. Know what’s a can’t-miss, and know what’s a hope-to. Head out that way but don’t be afraid to steer off course if you see something else interesting – it’s likely even cooler than that spot you picked out of your guidebook. And it’s fine – well, better than fine – to just get lost altogether. Have a map, a compass, trail of string, whatever to guide you safely back when the time comes, and then just go. Within reason, of course. Don’t aimlessly wander near the Iranian border or anything.
– Christina Irene