I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot in my life so far. I’ve taken short trips, long trips, trips where I get to explore one place in depth, and really schizophrenic trips where I barely get to rest between the coming and going. I’ve had various travel companions for most of these trips, and I’ve accumulated some travel habits along the way that make the whole process easier. Now that I am planning a rather large trip for early next year, I thought I’d record some of my tips on how to travel with a minimum of hassle and aggravation: How to Travel Without Mauling Someone Out of Context-induced Malice. Trust me, I have been tempted to maim a travel companion more than once, so I am an expert in this field.
It goes without saying that you will want to plan your trip before you embark upon it. The depth to which you want to organize it will depend on personal preference. I myself like to have a lot options lined up and take each day as it comes, which means doing a good deal of prep work. The majority of this is done on my laptop; I have had great luck with websites like BlackBook’s city guides, NYTimes Travel, and the Fodors forums. Wikitravel comes highly recommended by some of my friends, and I know my mom loves travel books. However you figure out what to do doesn’t matter, but it is wise to make a huge list of your findings. I make a huge Word document, but Excel might be the better tool if you are more patient than I. Get a map of the place you’re going and sort out your options by type and then by location. If you want to get really OCD like me, you should also make a note of the easiest transportation method to reach each option. The key here is to organize yourself to a point where you will be comfortable waking up, picking something off the list, and heading out with a minimum of time spent in front of a guidebook and a map.
Another part of preparation is thinking about whom you will be traveling with. Maybe you’ll be traveling alone–in that case, are you prepared to walk around a new city at night? Can you handle yourself well in an emergency, or if you get lost, or if you can’t speak the host language? Be honest with yourself here because this is the time that you can take action prevent any difficulties stemming from answering “no” to any of these questions. Are you traveling with a friend? With a family member? With a large group?
A quick tip: road trips are rarely ever quite as fun as you think they will be. Remember, you will probably have to drive at some point. And also, you are stuck in the same small space with the same people for hours on end. Just consider that before jumping in. They’re great for the first five hours and then they have the major potential to sour quickly.
Evaluation of travel companions will take a lot of pre-trip honesty if you want to stay on good terms with them during and after the trip. I tend to get angry at the sluggishness and herd mentality of large groups, and I dislike tour guides because I feel like they dumb down information. On the other hand, I know that my sister and I are both pretty chill and value spontaneity and autonomy. What would be the better travel companion situation? Think about your intended companion’s interests and budget goals. Do you want to stay in a hostel, while your friend prefers a mint with her turndown? Does your companion like to have a set plan when she goes about her everyday life, while you “buck tradition” (or whatever fancy name you use for your procrastination)? It’s absolutely fine for you and your best friend to be travel-incompatible, and it says nothing about your friendship. Again, be honest with yourself to avoid a lot of passive aggression later on. If you tend to differ from your intended companion[s], this doesn’t spell doom for your trip or for your friendship. But be prepared to compromise–and hold your tongue on a few issues. In general, though, at least make sure that you are in concurrence with respect to your budgets, unless you want to stay in different hotels and eat in different restaurants for the duration of the trip. Which you probably don’t if you’ve decided to take a trip together.
Make sure your effects are in order. Do you need a passport to enter your destination? Know where that is at least a week before you leave for your trip. Do you need to obtain a visa? Research this a few months before, if you can. I have had great luck with expediting services, but it’s good to leave some wiggle room in the schedule to allow for postal mishaps. Can you put your hands on your phone and camera chargers, your outlet converters, local currency, and the other small items you might forget while packing (extra camera batteries, memory cards, foreign cell phones, etc.)? Put these in a pile in a safe spot. This will turn into your packing pile.
I am a very disorganized packer, but I actually don’t mind this. I do enough rummaging around in my suitcase while traveling to accept that I will never have an organized, orderly suitcase for longer than 1 day into my trip. Thus, I have to allow myself for a little OCD in my otherwise disorganized packing process. I put cosmetics and shower essentials into Ziploc bags. My toothbrush, small bottles of face wash and moisturizer, lip balm, and a stick of deodorant go into another bag destined for my carry-on bag (or, in event of a road trip, front seat access). The rest of the things that I want to pack get thrown, unceremoniously and unfolded, into the designated packing pile. Remember how I said I always end up with a messy suitcase? Well, the packing pile serves to simulate the volume that my suitcase will actually hold once I open it up and begin to take items out in the course of the trip. Yes, I am a total slob, but I’m not under any delusions that my suitcase will close on day 4 of a trip when I have meticulously folded everything and packed it in so that it resembles some sort of 1000 piece puzzle, never to be replicated without taking time away from what I am doing on my trip. When I pack, I throw things in and go, and when I am leaving somebody’s house or checking out of my hotel, I do the same. Find a system that you know will work for you.
Lastly, pack options for extremes. This is so, so important. You will want options for predicted temperature highs and lows (since I know you are looking!), pieces that can be dressed up and down, and both comfortable and fancier shoes. Pack a bathing suit just in case somebody knows about a swimming spot wherever you’re going, and pack some nice underwear in case you get hit by a bus and die and the coroner is a snobby Belgian fellow. The Girl Scouts know what they’re talking about: be prepared.
Next up: The Fine Art of Compromise a.k.a. How to Share a Bed Without Killing your Bed-hogging Sister Friend