Breathing Travel: A Simple and Savvy Start…

When an article is described as ‘evergreen’, this means that its content is based on tips, resources, or other topics that do not go out of date as quickly as those of current events.

This is the objective of the first post on my Breathing Travel | Documenting the journey blog, where posts are dedicated to my coursework at MatadorU.

Inspired by my sister’s upcoming trip as a first-timer to Europe, I decided to collate a series of tips for her. Take a look and I’d love to know whether you’d add any more tips.

SOLO TRAVEL: Keeping it Simple and Savvy

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~ Seneca

Barcelona's bustling La Boqueria

My sister is embarking on her first European trip in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited for her. Living ‘Down Under’, in 200+ year old Australia, the rest of the world can, at times, seem so out of reach; a trip to Europe is definitely high on most Aussie to-do lists. My sister’s own feelings of excitement will undoubtedly give way to wonder, amazement, and awe when she steps foot into London – her first stop after a 20+ hour plane trip. Jet lag? Shelve that for the trip back home to Sydney!

That said, I cannot help but take on the role of protective sister; about 2 weeks out of my little sister’s 4 week vacation will be traveled solo as she makes her way through Mediterranean exotica. As liberating as this part of the trip will be, I wanted to share some big sister advice on pre-planning; to try and avoid any unnecessary solo-traveler anxiety. (Mum, I am doing this for you too).

Sister, and interested others – this list is yours to print out and keep by your side.

Quaint Cannes

Packing:

  1. Don’t buy a black suitcase. Buy a well-made reputable brand – preferably one that is on sale because of a low-selling design pattern, or not-so-popular colour. Why? No-one will really want to steal it, and it will be easily recognizable on the carousel.
  2. Pack clothes to look like a local. Classic basics are ideal to mix n match on a daily basis; go easy on the shoe selection. Please – no ‘I Heart Roma’ T-shirts paired with stark-white sneakers… you know why. Leave the jewels at home.
  3. Keep the toiletries to a minimum. Save room in the suitcase and head to Boots pharmacy in the UK to stock up. Buy a small sunscreen to keep in the purse – the exposed top decks of the hop on/hop off bus tours double up as rooftops for sunbaking.
  4. Be sensitive with electronics. Keep chargers and the e-book safe in your hand luggage AND buy a plug converter.
  5. Care for the Camera. Keep the compact in its case; perhaps buy a second battery and memory card that are ready-to-go in case the others run dry half way through the day. Plenty of pictures will be taken – I know it!
  6. Load up the e-book and ipod with your favourite shows, files, and songs, to make the most out of those plane or train delays. Wandering around with earphones is a no-go, especially in cities like London where crowds and traffic reign. It’s easy to get distracted.
  7. Pack miscellanea. Gather together some wet-wipes, tissues, lollies/sweets, band-aids, notebook with pen, and Panadol/Advil – stash them in your purse. They will come in handy at some point, promise.
  8. Curb homesickness. Take a few of your favourite family-and-friend photos as well as something to remind you of home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Artful Florence

Money and Documents:

  1. Photocopy documents 3 times: passport, itinerary (see * below), airline tickets, insurance papers, and credit cards. Leave one at home with always-contactable parents/friends; put another copy in your hand luggage, and the other, in the suitcase – just in case the purse gets lost. *Create a detailed itinerary with hotel, tour, train, information, airline details; as well as printing it, email to yourself and parents/friends.
  2. Convert some money at the bank before you leave, say AUD300 into pounds and Euros. Ask for low denominations (5,10,20 notes) so you don’t have to struggle with getting change back. I don’t recommend currency exchange booths – their exchange rates aren’t the best. Use a credit card when possible, and if you need to use the ATM, find one in a well lit public place.
  3. Look up destination specific blogs. When planning your itinerary, blogs are a really good resource to seek out as they can give detailed information on the who, what, where, how, why. Honest, first-hand accounts written by everyday travelers get really specific on the most intricate details, especially the watch-outs. e.g. how much to expect to pay for a taxi from the airport; the best train to catch between cities; Metro timetable limitations, surcharges, hidden fees.
A Fiat in Roma

A Fiat in Roma

Research

  1. Learn some key phrases. Write a few key words in the languages you’ll be encountering, and put these cue cards in your wallet, e.g. good morning, thank you, I’m not interested, HELP! Interest in the local language can go a long way – it can be fun trying to converse (with hand gestures too).
  2. Etiquette. Being culturally respectful and sensitive is always a good thing, especially as a first-time traveler. Even moreso if visiting sacred sites and churches. Here are a couple of good links for Italy: http://www.fodors.com/news/story_3872.html and http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-etiquette/2008/06/Etiquette-101-The-Mediterranean
  3. Museum Passes and Metro cards. Sometimes buying these from home, prior to travel, can give you certain privileges like jumping the queue at those line-riddled Parisian museums.Plus, you’ve just pre-paid so that saves you even more time.  e.g. The Museum Pass in Paris – Goodbye crazy long line; Hello Musee D’Orsay!
  4. Mobile/Cell Phone. You don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for roaming charges when you get home, so give the phone company a call prior to travel and find out your international options.
  5. Pre-book as many hotel nights, train passes, and tours as possible. It’s good to have a framework to travel within – it keeps you on track as time is of the essence.

Pretty Monaco

Solo Travel Tips

  1. Indulge in the café-culture. Coffee is necessary traveler fuel! Sit in an outdoor terrace of a Parisian bistro, or stand in an espresso bar in Rome; people-watch; get a feel of a neighbourhood; and, write a postcard (to me!).
  2. Always take business cards. From the hotel, café, restaurant, store – just in case you get yourself lost in Europe’s maze of streets, or need to show the address to a taxi-driver who doesn’t speak English.
  3. Make friends if you have a good gut instinct about them but don’t give out too much personal information. You can never be too sure…
  4. Going out. Hopefully with some fellow travelers, and try and keep it close by to the hotel – double check whether the lobby is serviced 24/7. Watch your drink with an eagle eye.
  5. Hotel Tips. Ask for a room that isn’t on the ground level, use the safe to stash your valuables, befriend the concierge – they are an invaluable source for maps, tour recommendations, and getting you in to a restaurant.
  6. If you can sense trouble. If you feel that someone may be following you – enter a store or café to surround yourself with people that could potentially help you out.
  7. Keep in touch regularly. Buy a phone card from each country; find out where the Internet cafes are (preferably, there is Internet access in your hotel). Call your mother, she worries! Email you sister, she worries too!

NB: Security lines at the airport – remember to wear hole-less socks and easy to remove shoes; the less metal on you, the better; buy that bottle of water after you’ve cleared the line.

Most importantly, relax and have a great trip. Bon Voyage!

A Roman Espresso

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66 thoughts on “Breathing Travel: A Simple and Savvy Start…

    • It’s so nice to read your comment as I know you just returned from Morocco and can relate. I agree with you about etiquette/respect – in some parts of the world, sensitivity is key. Thanks so much!

  1. I hope your sister has a great trip, your tips are great – my tip; once you have packed your suitcase, take 1/2 of the stuff out and leave it at home! At least that is what I remind myself because dragging luggage around, even if it has wheels is tiresome!

    • I completely agree with you on that point – taking 1/2 the stuff out is necessary especially when my sister loves to souvenir shop. It’s the transiting and connecting flights – and the trip back – that get you when you have alot of luggage. I am going to collate a final Tips list for my sister so will include this in there. Unfortunately, I cannot supervise her packing in person! Thanks so much!

  2. This is excellent, Marina. I administered a graduate level international journalism residency program for twelve years (from a major university in the US) and everything you mentioned was on my pre-departure list. One addition I would suggest is to register online with the consulate or embassy of your country of origin. It’s easy to do and can be invaluable in case of trouble, whether caused by nature or humans. Also, the country specific country info available on USGov site, or from your own country’s government, is tremendously helpful in just being more informed about where you’re going (history, current news). The most important advice, as you suggest in learning a few words and expressions in the local language, is to be a good guest in your destination country. Be a visitor, not a tourist 🙂

    • Wow – you administered a residency program? Can you tell me which University? You’re right Lois, I’ll need to make sure my sister registers with the embassy – that’s a key point. Thank you for that reminder. And research on those specific country sites does give the up to date info on any watch-outs or changes – another excellent point. I so appreciate that – thank you. I’ll make sure it is done. Thanks again!

    • Hi Jennifer! The biz cards is one that I learned in Barcelona. My husband and I couldn’t remember the street our hotel was on (I had purposely booked us in a residential area to be more immersed in the Barcelon-ian way of life)… finally, the taxi driver figured it out but it would have made the trip much easier had we simply carried their card with us. I am glad that tip might help you on future travels. Thank you!

  3. Hi Marina, Excellent advice for anyone travelling. I would just add that when in London, buy a Transport for London travel card. This will give unlimited travel on buses and the tube and will save a LOT of money as well as saving you having to queue for tickets. What a great adventure. I hope your sister has a great time. 🙂

    • Perfect – thanks for mentioning the London card as I haven’t been there for a number of years, and didn’t know what to advise. I’m so glad you have mentioned it as I’ll pass it on to her – she’ll be in London for over a week. My sister is excited as it’s her pre-30th trip, so is symbolic for that and other things. I’ll keep you updated on her adventures 🙂 Thank you!

  4. Now that is brilliant Marina, what sensible advice. You sure are a great sister. Keep us posted on your sisters travels, if you can. Tell her bon voyage from me.

    • Thanks Val – I tried to keep it succinct but with family, it is easy to over protect! I’ll try and keep in touch with my sister as much as I can – I am glad she’ll be with friends for half of the time though 🙂 I wish i could tell my sister these tips in person – a disadvantage when we live in two different countries 😦 I miss her to bits.

  5. This is fabulous! I travel a fair amount, and I always travel alone. I like travelling, usually, but I hate getting ready for travel and always worry about being alone. Gosh is this list ever helpful!

    • Isn’t it the case, that the more you travel, the more you know about packing but the more tedious it feels. I wish i had homes in places all over the world that had all of my things readily available! Traveling alone is so liberating and I agree with you about worrying when traveling alone. You really do realise how instinctive you are in situations. I am glad that this list might help! If you encounter any tips on your travels, please let me know! Thanks Joanne!

  6. Great tips. One thing I always try and do is pick up a free city map from a hotel or tourist info place when I arrive somewhere so I can get my bearings (especially as I have no sense of direction at all!). Hope your sister has a fantastic trip.

    • Lucy, you’re absolutely spot on. Tourist info spots are a great place for them, as well as the hotel concierge. My sister is beyond excited – 4 weeks of travel is in itself exotic! Thank you!

    • Thanks so much Karen! I love being prepared as having to ask myself “why didn’t I do that before i left?” takes precious moments from being present on the trip! I am directing her to these comments so she may read how lovely everyone is to wish her well. Thank you!

  7. Awesome post and bang on! When asked for traveling advice, I usually have one big piece: Pack LIGHT! Most people pack wayyyyy too much 🙂 (of course the last time I travelled extensively, I was backpacking :P)

  8. You are very caring sister and a wise advisor. I would add that in Italy if you look people in the eye they will not pick your pockets. It’s an honour thing that a local resident taught me. I tried it In France but they appaered to enjoy the challenge so I just kept a low profile. 🙂

    • Interesting! Wow – a keen observation. That’s definitely something I’ll make sure my sister notes, to remember your feedback. Thank you! PS I wish you had documented the French challengers 😉

  9. Thanks sis!!!! This is great advice for me and I’m so honoured you have dedicated a blog to me! I will be sure to give you regularly updates to keep your wonderful followers posted 🙂 Europe here I come!

  10. Hey Marina (and Marina’s sister!) – awesome post. Makes me wish I was taking off for the first time again… We bought fluro’ orange suitcases a couple of years ago and it was the best thing we ever did. I had no idea what a difference that simple action would make to our travel enjoyment. Photocopying everything 3x and e-mailing yourself an itinerary is another one we always do.

    As a girl who travelled solo quite a bit through Europe, my best advice is to trust your instincts. Always. If something feels off, even slightly, go with your gut. Have an awesome time! 🙂

    • Thanks so much Ms Sydney Life! I know, it’s fun to live vicariously 🙂 Isn’t it So so true about the suitcases – less hassle! Re: instincts – spot on. In the end, that’s what it is all about if you want to enjoy all those moments. Glad the tips resonated as it is such a universal topic!

  11. Great advice and great photos, I know from experience that a person should always keep a spare memory card. Thursday, I had the opportunity to take some fantastic bluebonnet pics. Upon taking the first photo, I saw the notice “no memory card” Stupid me had left it in the computer at home. I never do that, but I did that time, and I had no spare. Shame on me. No pics for my blog.

    http://www.places-seldom-traveled.com

    • I nearly did the same thing the other day. I had the memory card in the computer and just realised when i was leaving (though i did have a spare in my bag. But, still – I understand your plight.) Same could be said for the battery! Thanks so much for your comment – those photos were taken with my Sony Cybershot and I have to say, my attention to composition has increased since 😉 I am going to check out your blog now!

    • That’s so kind of you to write – thank you! My sister’s upcoming travels inspired the post, and as it is a universal topic, I hope others might remember a few tips to help out. If you have any tips to add from experience on your recent exotic trip, let me know. Thanks!

      • You have covered it from head to toe. Two things I would add: Speak with the elderly in any country, they are founts of wisdom, wit and generosity. Also, if you’re sister is into cooking, try and take a cooking course. I find it’s a great way to meet other travelers, the locals and a great way to de-stress and just relax.

      • That is true, abut interacting with locals in that way. They make for some insightful conversation! Good point! A cooking class I have yet to take myself! It sounds divine! Thank you!

  12. I just adore number 2 on your first timer travel tips Marina – so true! The goal whenever we travel is to blend in as seamlessly as we can. Makes more a much more authentic and positive experience – we also tend to meet more friends this way (folks who actually live where we are). Great post! xo

    • I love being a tourist – don’t get me wrong – but there are some things that just scream attention! Thanks for takign a read of the post – I am glad you liked it and could relate!

  13. Great information. I will save this post. We are looking into going to our first European trip in the summer, and we could use all the tips we can get from someone who’s been there. Beautiful photos.

    • That is so exciting – I think part of the fun is planning the trip itinerary so I hope you have alot of fun with that! There have been alot of good extra tips in the comments, and I recommend taking a look. Also, a couple more comments on the marinac.matadoru.com blog page (duplicated post). Enjoy and if I can help with European tips, let me know. I am glad you liked the pics! I wish I had taken more 🙂

  14. Great list! The one about not using a black suitcase struck me right off the bat as it was something I learned early on too! Something I would add (I learned the hard way :)) is to have an extra shirt, thin pants, and pair of undergarments in your carry-on just in case your luggage gets lost (and isn’t located for a day or two).

    • Thank you – that’s an excellent tip as I have found myself wishing I had done it, even on long-hail flights to refresh! I hope it worked out ok for you in the end when your luggage was lost 🙂

  15. Great tips! After losing my luggage too many times on international trips, I decided to pack just a carry-on, even for 2-week trips, as many of them were (at least for business travel). This has saved time and some grief. I learned to pack light.

    • Yes, I agree! That’s what I did on my last trip however I was asked to check in my hand luggage and my laptop suffered for it. I learned from that – ie, take out electronics. Light is the way to go – you’re so right. Thank you!

  16. Good stuff..
    I carry jpegs of documents on my camera phone as a back up as well..never needed them yet but best be prepared…
    Also I carry a sealed pack of medical ‘sharps’ hypodermics etc…it wont be an issue in Europe but for more exotic locations the emergency health services can be a bit risky…treatment can be more dangerous than the initial problem…..These sealed emergency packs are available in all major branch UK pharmacies and I’m sure would be in OZ as well..
    As I said no problem in Europe but its a good habit to get into..
    Tell her to have a great time.
    🙂

    • Hi Stuart,
      The jpegs on the phone are great and I’m going to see if my sister can scan all her documents for ease. It would make all the difference instead of fumbling through documents… unless they were lost. She is going to Europe so the sharps are probably not necessary but good point. Is that something you picked up going to any particular country? I’ll pass on your love 🙂

      • Sharps were recommended for Vietnam and Cambodia when I first when some ten years ago…just seems a good habit…But no for Europe definitely not necessary..I’m jealous of her..that first big trip…
        :-).

  17. This is a great post, great tips, I always say one thing: do your homework before travelling, find out about the place you are going to beforehand and have a little list with things you want to see, especially if staying in the city for a short period of time 🙂

    So exciting, your sister is going to have so much fun, especially if she’s going to Italy and Spain and London, of course 🙂 If she get’s stuck in London, she can always contact me! 🙂

    • I agree so much with you about the researching of places you want to see – blogs are a great way to find out about any hidden bits of info that you may not have known about! My sister is going to have so much fun and she’s in London visiting her school friends though I’ll let you know if she’s in need of a tour! thank you for the kind offer 🙂

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