We learned a lot about each other on these trips but we also learned a lot about what to do and what not to do while traveling. I thought it would be fun to share some tips in case you have a trip coming up or just so we don't forget once we aren't traveling as often as we did this year. I have a feeling though once we move back to the US we will want to travel all around the US. We have barely been anywhere in the US and now that we have covered so much of Europe it seems silly that we haven't been to New York or other major tourist destinations in the US.
This is what we took to on a trip for 9 days in 2011. 9 days!! I used to always travel with my full sized pillow (and now I take a small camping pillow that you will see below).
This is what I brought on our 9 day trip to Italy. 9 DAYS people, in one backpack! Do you remember what we took on our other 9 day trip? The rolled up red thing is my travel pillow. I still can't travel without my own pillow.
After we went up north for four days in two backpacks I figured we should be able to go on a normal trip without bulky winter clothes in backpacks and since then we haven't looked back.
Packing in a backpack also means you don't have to roll your bag through snow or rain or worry about stairs.
A few other bonuses for packing light is that you don't have to check your bag you can just carry it on which means you can get to the airport later, leave the airport as soon as you step off the plane and your luggage doesn't get lost!
Packing Cubes - I used to think packing cubes were gimmicky and not necessary at all. I completely disagree with that now. They are life changing! Since we pack in backpacks it is so easy to keep things organized with packing cubes. Plus, if you need something at the bottom of the bag it is easy to pull out the cubes, open the one you need and then put everything back without getting frustrated that it isn't all fitting again. Another bonus about packing cubes is that everything has a place and you can easily tell if you forgot something because the cube is too empty. I've been using the smaller green packing cube in this picture for Linnea's diaper bag. It holds diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, nursing cover and snacks for me.
This is what I packed for an 8 day trip to Paris, Malaga and Barcelona.
Check In to Your Flight - We try to always check in to our flights 24 hours ahead of time to so we can get good seats but it has also saved us a few times when we arrived a little later than planned to the airport. When we flew from Northern Ireland to Stockholm we were late returning the rental car and for some reason my check in went through but Jake's didn't. Thankfully they checked him in and let us on the flight even though check in was technically closed. I think it helped that I was already checked in.
Spreadsheet for Packing and Planning - This is overkill for so many people but we make a google spreadsheet for every trip we take. It starts out small with a basic itinerary and then we add to it as we plan. Sometimes Jake gets super ambitious after we get back and adds a lot of detail including what we did almost to the minute each day and how much everything cost. After the first couple of trips we planned we noticed we kept going over budget and then we figured out how to preplan better. We would put in how much hotels and food would cost but then we wouldn't put much else in. Now we know about how much we spend on breakfast (usually free if we can get it), lunch, dinner, coffee shops, activities throughout the day, etc. We also include a packing list on our spreadsheet. #welovespreadsheets #itmightbeourlovelanguage
Here is an example of our spreadsheet. It is over the top for most people but a simple one would be really helpful on most trips.
We use a website called booking.com to find hotels. Most of the hotels have free cancellation and you can read helpful reviews. We have found several great deals through this website. It also has several bed and breakfast and airbnb places listed which we prefer over a huge hotel chain.
We didn't buy many souvenirs from our trips but we have so many memories that are priceless.
The main app we use while traveling is maps.me. You can download an offline map (which means you don't have to use data when you travel) for any country and then add pins to it to mark your hotel or other sightseeing places you want to visit. We usually add all our places of interest on a google map and then export them to maps.me. When we were in Beijing and couldn't communicate with our taxi driver we were able to follow along on the map as he drove to see if we were heading in the correct direction. That was definitely comforting to me.
This is what maps.me looks like with pins marked from our trip to the Archipelago in August.
I try to do lots of research before a trip to figure out how we are getting to/from the airport and our hotel. I am always surprised when it seems that the internet has failed me and I can't figure out the best/fastest/cheapest way from the airport to the hotel. The thing I need to remember is I am not the first person who has landed at an airport that needs to then get to her hotel or into the city. There are hundreds of thousands of tourists wanting to do that same thing as me and somehow they figured it out. I'm guessing most just asked someone at the airport for help. Don't get too caught up in the details you don't know because once you get to the city you will most likely be able to ask someone at the airport for the best option.
We carry a small, lightweight daytime backpack around with us. We are able to put some snacks, water and jackets in the bag throughout the day. Jake and I really love chocolate and we figured out that buying a chocolate bar once you get to your destination really helps hit your sweet tooth needs throughout the trip. We did this for the first time in Ireland and it was a great afternoon pick me up while we were driving around all the back country roads trying not to get run off the road! We also started carrying around a tyvek mat (lightweight mat) that we could put on the ground so we could sit and rest in a park or other areas while we were walking around a city.
Scenic drives are awesome in nice weather and should be skipped in crappy weather. I realize this seems like common sense but we learned the hard way that the drive is really only scenic if the weather doesn't suck. We drove around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland on a cold, rainy, windy day and it was miserable. We didn't want to get out of the car and we barely stopped to look at things. That was a wasted 6 hours and we would have had so much more fun doing something else. So even if it is on your list of things you really want to do consider it carefully if the weather is bad.
It was so cold and windy!
Trust Your Gut
Remember to trust your gut especially in unfamiliar places. If something doesn't feel safe, get out of there.
Don't Act Like a Tourist
Try to tone down the tourist look while you are traveling. Wearing fanny packs, tennis shoes and whipping out a full size map will definitely scream tourist. Try to blend in if possible to help protect yourself from pick pocketers. Use the maps.me app on your phone instead of a paper map. Nowadays everyone is on their phone so you won't stand out when you are too. In Europe, people tend to dress nicer than in the US so when you travel to Europe try not to pack baggy shirts and tennis shoes. Being comfortable while walking all day is important but try to put some thought into your outfit so you don't look frumpy. Also, remember you will be taking lots of pictures so the nicer you dress the better you will look in pictures.
Jake and I complement each other well because he loves being adventurous and I like knowing where we are going and having a plan :). Jake is good at finding flights and getting details on the spreadsheet and I like picking hotels from booking.com. Try to figure out what parts of travel you enjoy and are good at and help your travel companions out by doing them.
A high school friend Ali Ebright has an awesome blog and she posted about traveling solo. Her tips were spot on even if you are traveling with another person. Make sure you read her list.