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Christmas Travel Tips

December 17, 2018

Christmas Travel Tips

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Over the next week or so, many of us will be heading to friends or families houses for the Christmas holidays. For most of my life, I have traveled for the Christmas holidays. I have done so on planes, trains and automobiles, so here are my Christmas Travel Tips!

Christmas Travel Tips By Plane

– If you haven’t booked your flight yet, don’t panic! You may still be able to get a last minute deal. My tip is to book on your flight on Christmas Day. There are fewer people flying that day and deals to be had. If you book early in the day or are on an international flight, you can still make it home for Christmas dinner!

– Check your wrapped packages or send them in advance. If you take wrapped packages in your carry-on baggage, security might have to unwrap your present to check it. It is not fun to have to rewrap a present,

– Order presents online and have them delivered directly wrapped! Many retailers offer present wrapping. Saves your luggage space too.

– Nest your luggage. I have written about this before. This way you can bring home all the Christmas presents you were given

– Get to the airport early! Christmas is one of the busiest times at airports, and you don’t want to miss your flight because you arrived too late to get through security and immigration.

– If friends or family are not picking you up from the airport, consider booking ground transportation in advance. There could be a long line for taxis and ride sharing could have surge pricing.

Christmas Travel Tips By Car

– Leave early! It always takes longer than you expect due to traffic and bathroom stops.

– If you are stopping for a night along the way, plan your stop. Hotels and motels can get booked quickly during the holiday season.

– Driving alone? Download an audiobook to listen to in the car. I once drove from New Orleans to Dallas straight, and an audiobook saved me from being bored. I just finished The Immortalists and it was great!

– If you are traveling with kids, bring things for them to do in the car. At the very least, make sure everyone has earphones for their music of choice. This would have saved us many an argument in our family road trips to my Grandparent’s house when I was a kid.

– Have snacks and drinks in the car. There is nothing worse than being hungry and being a hundred miles from the next town with a restaurant. It also means fewer stops along the way!

– Have pillows and blankets for passengers. Most of the road trips I went on as a kid went by really fast as I was asleep in the back. Blankets are also good to have in case of an emergency.

Christmas Travel Tips By Train

– Pack light. Luggage storage can be limited on a train that doesn’t check bags and you might end up having to sit with your bag in your lap.

– Reserve a seat. I have seen people have to stand the whole time because they didn’t book a seat. Don’t count on the dining car having seats either.

– Bring snacks. The prices for food on trains is so high and it is usually not that good!

Christmas travel does not have to be stressful if you plan well. Of course, things happen but at least you know you will have done all you can to prevent that from happening. What Christmas travel tips do you have? Please share with us in the comments!

Travel, Travel Tips

Summer Travel Tips

April 17, 2017

Summer Travel TipsSummer is fast approaching, and many people are planning their summer trips. Here are some tips to help you make the best of your summer trip!

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Beating the Heat

Summer usually means it’s hot unless you are going far north or far south and keeping cool is on everyone’s minds.

  • Stay hydrated – This may be obvious, but even I forget to drink enough water sometimes. The heat makes us loose water even faster. Staying hydrated will help keep you cool too!
  • Wear light colored clothing Dark clothes absorb light and heat. Light colors reflect them.
  • Place a cold cloth around your neck –  Usually, this means wetting the cloth, so this is best used at bedtime and will help you fall asleep even if it is roasting. This helped me a lot when I spent a few days in Italy during a summer heat wave and had no air conditioning.
  • Wear a hat – Another obvious one, but not something I see a lot while traveling. It will also help protect you from the sun.

Picking a Hotel

Since lots of people are on vacation during the summer, choosing a hotel can be difficult. You have to find a room and find one at the right price for you.

  • Near public transportation – This might help you save money. You should weigh the benefits of being far away from the sites and the cost of the hotel. It also depends on how long you have to visit. If you are staying longer than being a bit further might be okay.
  • Close to the sites – If you have limited time or prefer to spend a bit more to be closer, then pick a hotel closer to the sites.
  • Choose a hotel with air conditioning – Many hotels in Europe don’t have air conditioning. Which for some is fine, but other prefer to be cool when they arrive back from the heat. Most booking sites will have this as a filter option. Airbnb places might not have it, particularly in Europe and the ones that do might be more expensive.
  • Check the meal options – If breakfast being offered at the hotel is important, check to make sure your rate includes it. It may be better to pay for it when you book the room as the cost on the day can be outrageous.

Avoiding Crowds

I am not a fan of crowds, but in the summer they may be hard to avoid. This is how I keep my crowd exposure to a minimum.

  • Go early – Going to the popular sites early in the morning will help you avoid crowds. Most people don’t want to get up early on their vacations and will sleep in a bit. I try to be at those sites when they open to avoid the crowds. It will also mean the lines will be shorter.
  • Book in advance – Many popular sites will have advance ticketing options. Buy them in advance to avoid waiting in line. Just remember to print them out before you arrive.
  • Go to lesser known sites in the afternoon – While everyone is hitting the big sites during the day, you can go to less popular locations in the afternoon.
  • Find out when the cruise ships arrive – I was warned that the cruise ship passengers arrive at the Acropolis in Athens around 10 AM, so I made sure I was at the top by 10 AM so that I could avoid the big crowds going in. I also managed to get many pictures will no people in them this way! Your hotel might be able to tell you the schedule.
  • Don’t enter from the main entrance – Some places have multiple entrances and will have longer lines and more crowds. At the Acropolis, you can enter from the south side, and only about ten people were waiting to buy tickets, and I had most of the walk up to myself.
  • Walk I love public transport, but walking is the best way to avoid large overcrowded subways in the summer. You can also pick a less popular route if you walk and it will be less crowded. This may not always be true in cities, like Florence, that are walking cities and have little public transport.

What are your summer travel tips? Tell us in the comments.

Travel, Travel Tips

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Going Where You Don’t Speak the Language

April 29, 2016

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly

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Brussels was my first real international trip to a country where I didn’t know a lick of the language or languages. I only really know how to say hello and thank you in French, knew no Dutch and definitely do not know any Flemish. I was terrified to speak to anyone. I am not really sure why. The first day, I might have spoken 50 words! Later in the trip, I met some English women that were attending the same conference as me, and it was so nice to have a conversation with someone. My next trip was to Italy and by the end of the trip, I was trying out more and more Italian. Part of the reason was that I was better prepared in Italy than in Brussels, so I am going to share my tips on successfully navigating another country in a foreign language with you.

Learn Key Phrases – Say hello, thank you and you’re welcome! A few more like please and where is, will get you far with the locals and will help you feel more comfortable practicing the language. Also, learn “I do not speak …” in the language that way you can at least respond when the cop starts speaking to you on the street in Paris! (I was so sad I couldn’t because he was cute!)

Download a Translation App – Not only will you be able to decipher signs and menus, but it could help in a bind if you need to ask someone a question in an emergency, like where is the bathroom?! Here is an article with 5 translation app suggestions. Some require you to have a data connection, so be prepared.

Carry a Phrasebook – This will be handy if you don’t have a data connection or just prefer a book. I also used mine in Italy to decipher menus, and it gave me a way to practice with locals without having my phone out. The phrase book I took to Italy was divided into sections like basics, social and food. It was also small making it easy to carry around.

Download Maps to Your Phone – This way you have a map and won’t have to ask for directions. I have learned that if you ask for directions in the local language, you may get directions in the local language, which doesn’t always help. Just keep in mind that Google Maps requires a data connection to get the map going at first, as I discovered in Slovenia leaving the airport recently!

Ask Your Hotel – Someone at your hotel might speak your native language, especially if it is a large chain. This way they can write down what you need in the local language with an explanation that you don’t speak the language.

Learn Public Transportation Stops in the Language  – This is helpful in countries that do not use a Roman alphabet like Japan or China. You could have photos of it taken on your phone for reference as well. Ask your hotel what the station name sounds like as well so you can listen for it on the announcements.

Just Try – Locals usually appreciate the effort and will help you. No one should expect you to speak perfect Italian, French, Arabic or any other language just because you are there on vacation! But giving it a try will add to your travel experience. I met some Italians in Slovenia, and they were so excited with the little Italian I have been practicing for my month in Italy.

How do you communicate in foreign countries? Share with us your tips in the comments!

Travel, Travel Tips

The Year of Traveling Fearlessly: Staying Safe While Traveling Solo

February 26, 2016

Staying Safe While Traveling Solo

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In the first Traveling Fearlessly post, I asked people to tell me what they wanted to know about traveling solo. Many of you wrote to ask about staying safe while traveling solo. Both men and women asked for this. This post will cover my tips on staying safe while traveling solo. I have put every one of these into practice, and it has helped me feel safe on all my trips and nothing has happened to me.

1. Be Confident

This is the simplest thing you can do while traveling. Appearing confident discourages people from picking you out as a potential victim. When you look confused, some evil people will want to prey on you, and you may let them because you aren’t confident.

2. Plan

Plan how you will get from the airport to your hotel. Appearing confident will deter people from harassing you for a taxi at the airport. You will be confident if you know that you plan to take the train and where to get it from or if you do plan to take a taxi and know where the official taxi line is. If for some reason you cannot find your planned transportation, go to the information desk. They will help you find your way to the official everything!

3. Research 

Research the area your hotel is located it. If you think the price is too good to be true, there may be a reason why. The neighborhood may not be safe or is dead quiet at night. Quiet may seem good, but not if you are coming back at night you may be alone. Having people around doesn’t guarantee safety, but it helps. Reviews may tell you this information. It may even be possible to find out whether or not the street is lit well at night in online reviews. This helps you to be confident! You can also research the sites you are visiting to know what frequently happens there. I know that a coworker had her passport stolen at the Rome Colosseum and I was extra cautious there.

4. Checking-in 

Ask the clerk to write down your hotel room number and not say it out loud. No one besides you and the hotel needs to know your room number. Most hotels in the U.S. do this now, but not always overseas. Keep an eye your bags. I have refused to let bellhops take my bags into the hotel if they are not in hotel uniform or just give me bad vibes. Don’t be afraid of appearing rude, you are protecting yourself and your belongings. Be confident!

5. In the hotel room

Always lock the door with the extra lock and the chain, if there is one. They make portable door stops with alarms that you may consider buying. I will be buying one after this trip to Egypt where the locks on two of my hotels only had push button locks. A regular doorstop can also work. Close the door and push the doorstop under the door. This will make it very hard to open the door. Keep your valuables locked in the in-room safe. If it won’t hold them, put them in the hotel safe. If your hotel has neither, make sure you lock your suitcases and take the keys with you. If you are worried about thieves slicing open your luggage, consider getting anti-theft luggage, such as Pacsafe, which is made with slash guard fabric.

6. Protecting your stuff out on the town Only take cash enough for the day. This way if your wallet is taken, you won’t have lost all your cash. Make sure you have copies of all your credit cards and passport in your luggage. I like to take photos and send them to myself via email. Don’t flash you money and credit cards around, as this will make you a target. Put away expensive camera gear when you are not using it. Once I am done taking photos, I put the camera in my bag. It is a pain, but I am less of a target this way. Do not wear expensive jewelry. It also makes you a target. Ladies, if you are carrying a handbag, carry it on the opposite side of the street so that it can’t be grabbed by a passing motorist. Do not carry anything in your pockets. This is something even I have to remember, as I like to carry my cell phone in my pocket. Men, carry your wallets in an inside jacket pocket or at least in a front pocket that you can keep your hand on. Keep your possessions in sight while eating out. When I travel alone, I take everything with me while going to the bathroom at restaurants. I tell the waiter, so they don’t think I have run off without paying the bill.

7. Protecting yourself out on the town

Never tell a stranger you are traveling alone.  This may make you a target. I have lied many times about a husband or friend that doesn’t exist. Never tell anyone where you are staying. Walk with confidence! Don’t spend too much time on the street looking at maps or your phone. People will know you are lost and may take advantage. Women, if a man comes and grabs your arm to take you into a shop, don’t be afraid to make a scene. Sometimes they are harmless but seem to think it is okay to touch Western women. Men, if women approach you in bars and seem too friendly, be aware. This seems to be a ploy in some countries where prostitution is popular. Both women and men, need to watch their drinks while out. This goes for non-alcoholic drinks too. If you leave it for any amount of time, do not drink it! It could be drugged leaving you a target for violence or being mugged. Don’t drink to much either. If you are going out at night, know how to get back to your hotel and don’t stay out late. If you are staying in a hostel, go with a group or, at least, tell the hostel what time you should be back. This way someone will know when to expect you. I am not sure if a hotel would do this, so I frequently check-in with family back home while traveling. Most importantly, trust your instinct, leave the area you are in if you are not comfortable. 

8. Blend in

Don’t stand out. Don’t wear white sneakers and logo t-shirts. I try not to carry a backpack unless it is absolutely necessary. I carry a regular handbag so that I don’t look like a tourist. If the locals wear mostly black, wear black or neutral colors. In Paris, I wore a scarf every day. In the Middle East, I stand out no matter what, but I covered myself appropriately and did not draw attention to myself by being loud.

9. Learn some of the local language

I have learned that knowing some of the local language gains you respect and that alone may deter the petty thief or harasser. It also helps if you need help. It may take you a day or two to be comfortable doing this, but make the effort to say please and thank you in the local language.

10. Have a plan  in case of emergency

This may sound like I am being too cautious, but it is part of being prepared. Give your family or friends your travel plans. Know where your local Embassy is and what their phone number is. If you are American, you can register with the Embassy in advance of your travels, so they know you are there. Know where the hospital/pharmacy is if you get sick frequently. This way if something does happen, you know what you can do.

Be confident! Traveling solo does not have to be scary and is very fun. What tips do you have for staying safe while traveling? Share with us in the comments.

Stay tuned for next month’s Traveling Fearlessly post on the last Friday of the month. What do you want to read about?

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