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For First-Timers and Old Hats

Travel Tips

#1 Rick Steves is right - travel carry-on only!

We've been traveling carry on only on almost every international trip we've been on. It is the way to go! A single bag each makes getting on and off trains, planes, boats, and automobiles so much easier. A single smaller bag is easier to maneuver into overhead bins and lug up stairs. It's also easier to keep track of one bag and you don't have to worry about the airline sending it to the wrong destination. We've been using some travel backpacks from Osprey that I love and that have definitely stood the test of time. After seven years, eight international trips, and numerous domestics trips, we have no rips, tears, or broken zippers. But a good quality rolling suitcase works just as well. Several of our tour group members recommended Travelpro.


#2 Get some packing cubes

If you are only going to have one bag, then you better keep it organized. Packing cubes help keep everything in place inside the bag and make it easy to find what you need. I like using a couple of medium and small ones rather than the larger ones so that way I can just pull out socks or shirts. But the large ones are good for keeping sweaters in the winter. I also keep an extra one as a laundry bag so my clean clothes aren't tangling up with my dirty ones. The cubes are also useful for storing electronics cords and books.

#3 Do your research and buy tickets ahead of time for stuff you really want to be able to do

The reason we got to climb the Duomo and visit Galleria Borghese was because I did my research ahead of time and bought my tickets early. Both places were sold out on the day we were there. I usually check the website to see how far out tickets are selling and set an alarm on my phone for the day tickets will be available. That's probably over kill, but I know I would be bad about checking back. This is especially important during high travel season and for peak sights. Colleen even noted that the Rick Steves tour groups are sometimes having a hard time at popular sights like the Pantheon and Vatican. Also skip-the-line tickets or timed tickets are almost always worth the extra cost.

#4 Use postcards to record a mini travel journal

 I like to buy postcards to make a mini travel journal. The postcard gives me a great photo of the place I was at and I record what we saw and visited and ate on the back. It's super fun to look over it later after the memories have faded. And they are extremely helpful when trying to do scrapbooks or photobooks later. Honestly having them is probably the main reason I was able to get this website finished.

#5 Take photos of placards and restaurants

Taking photos of the art placards will help later when trying to remember who painted that painting and what it was representing, especially if you are looking at something less famous than Michelangelo's David. I like to take them right after I take a picture of the art. Placards can help call out details about places too. I also like taking pictures of restaurants, so I can remember where I ate that delicious meal!

#6 Learn a little bit of the local language and customs

People are way nicer if you try a little. Saying hello and thank you in the local language will put a smile on folks face. A couple other phrases can go a long way too: Good morning. Good evening. Where's the bathroom? Table for two, please. How much is this? Excuse me. Can you help me? Also it's good to know if people tip, how to call a taxi, how to get your check, and in Italy how to order coffee. All of these can help smooth your way.

#7 Make sure your smartphone works

Get an international data plan, a local SIM card, or a wifi router. So much these days relies on your smartphone. Ticket receipts are online or emailed. Train schedules are online and pre-bought train tickets are often QR codes. You will want to use Google Maps to find out where you are going. You might need to call a taxi. Menus are only accessible online. Just do the thing. Don't depend on finding free wifi. You'll also want to make sure you have a rechargeable battery pack to carry with you, because if you are like me, you take a lot of pictures, and that you have a good international plug/power converter.


#8 Have fun. It's your vacation!

It's your vacation, do what you want to do. Don't feel like you have to have the perfect itinerary. Go at your pace for your own enjoyment. I cram in way more activities than most people would find reasonable. Tim has to remind me to schedule in rest days for his poor feet. I also really enjoy museums so I like going to a lot of them. But if you don't enjoy museums don't feel like you have to go. And a guidebook is just that, a guide. You may not enjoy everything they recommend and you may have a blast at places they were so-so about. In the end, it's your trip, so do you.

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