Note to Self: Practice These Travel Skills

Even after our first two trips since moving to Sweden – Copenhagen and Croatia – Kevin and I began to acquire a list of travel skills that we need to polish to make the most of our time, money and patience.

So as a means of accountability, let me share our travel fails.

  • Have a first stop planned for when you get to your destination. Whether it’s straight to the AirBNB, to an interesting local coffee shop to get some energy for a day of sightseeing, or whatever – just have a plan for when you step off the train/bus/plane. It’s not fun to get somewhere and then think, “Well, uh… what do we do now?”
  • Know something about the public transportation system before you go. What’s the best way to get around – walk? bus? subway? And how do you get tickets? Which leads me to…
  • Get local currency as soon as you arrive. Those transportation systems might not take credit cards, which is going to leave you in the streets until you figure something out.
  • Figure out your phone, and have a backup plan in case you don’t have internet in that country. We’re still figuring out our phone plans, and customer service is all automated and in Swedish. Tricky, tricky.
  • Don’t let the hanger catch you (hungry + angry = hangry). Food decisions are difficult when you’re traveling, because you want to eat at the coolest local place possible, and maybe it’s right around the next corner. Carry snacks and eat before you get hungry, because once you hit that point, you’ll just get irritable and take it out on whoever you’re traveling with, which will lead to fights, hard feelings, and a generally lousy day.

And for those renting a car:

  • Familiarize yourself with the car BEFORE trying to drive off. Adjust your mirrors, know where you’re heading, and give yourself a mental refresher course on how to drive a stick shift. (We couldn’t figure out how to put it in reverse. Hint: push down on the gearshift as you move the gear into reverse.)
  • Turn your headlights ON when driving. Some countries have laws about this, and some countries have tunnels every other mile.
  • Turn your headlights OFF when you get out. Ask Kevin about this one. Really.
  • Always have plenty of gas. In some places (like the hour and a half of gravel roads and mountains in Bosnia), there aren’t towns big enough to have gas stations.
    • Backup plan: cross your fingers for lots of downhill stretches, then coast into the gas station on the fumes that should have disappeared miles ago.

Sometimes the best lessons are the ones you learn the hard way. We’re not pros yet, but our trips are getting easier every time we head somewhere new.

What travel tips would you add? What experiences and mishaps have taught you lessons about travel the hard way?

5 Comments on “Note to Self: Practice These Travel Skills

  1. I like this post…smart.
    Make sure to know which side of the road to drive on before taking off. Always keep clean underwear available.

  2. “Hangry”. True that. Add: avoid souvineer shops. Only one allowed per trip, and only that a collection or theme: painting, salt shaker, flag or shot glass, i.e.

  3. Have you ever felt like you accidentally entered a dangerous place? I’ve been reading a book called “Facing Violence” which is full of good ways to avoid getting robbed, hurt, and killed. It is quite practical and comprehensive, except that the author continually treats people as primates explicitly.

    Were you ever afraid in Bosnia?

    • Bosnia is a country with a noticeably struggling economy, and we stuck out a bit, looking like lost, confused tourists there in the off-season, so at first, we were a bit on edge (we had also just had the near-hitchhiking incident, so we were frazzled to start). However, once we walked around and learned about the history and the culture, we could see that the people were very kind and hospitable.

      My travels alone during my Europe trip when I was younger taught me to have a healthy level of alertness in a new place – enough to always be aware of where you are and who is around, but not so much to prevent you from being open to new experiences and cultural perspectives.

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