Travel Tips


~ Hey, I’m Abby Farran, an MK living in Tanzania, East Africa.  Over the years my family has traveled to many places, so I’ve learned early on what goes and what doesn’t when it comes to travel.  I’ve split this up into categories to try and organize my thoughts… the categories include money, bags, clothes, transportation, food, and so on.  I hope this has a few tips that you might find helpful!

Money/Passports:

Always exchange money, even if you have a credit card, for emergencies, or places that don’t accept cards.  Make sure everyone in your group also has money in the proper currency, in case of separation.

My dad always tells me: “Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.”  If all of your cash and credit cards are put in your wallet, and it’s pick-pocketed or lost by some other means, I hope you enjoy sleeping on the streets.  

Keep some cash in your pocket (as long as you’re fairly certain it won’t fall out) or in a special place for it (for example, my dad has a belt with a little pocket on the inside for cash). Maybe even split your credit cards and cash, especially in places where you might be robbed and your wallet forcibly taken from you, because the last thing you want is to be in the middle of a foreign country with no money.

As for passports, my dad always keeps photocopies of them on him when we're in foreign countries, along with having the complete copies saved on his dropbox.  That way, he can log onto his dropbox on any computer and access the files.  It's a safety precaution that might seem an unnecessary hassle...until your passports are stolen along with your money.  Then you're not only in the middle of a foreign country with no money, but you're trapped there with no way out.  Sounds like the perfect twist to a family vacation, doesn't it?


Bags:

Go big or go home.  No matter how little you think you need to carry around, use a big bag.  For unseen purchases…in case you need a water bottle…jackets..etc.   It saves you from multiple bags to lug around the city and on transportation.  Trust me, it’s a pain in the rear that you don’t want to deal with. 

It would be a good idea to have a separate, small case to hold tickets, business cards, maps, written direction, hotel room keys and other small items instead of keeping them in your wallet.  That way, instead of having to pull out your  bulky wallet every time you need to scan your ticket to board the tram and end up flashing your money to everyone around you, you just pull this little sucker out of your bag.  Easy, fast, and rather efficient. Don’t be the person that stands at the counter for five minutes digging through your bag.

As for safety, when walking through the city, it is a good idea to have a bag that zips shut, to have an added protection against pickpocketing.  It may be harder to get your chapstick out, but it will also be harder for people to snag your wallet.  It’s your choice: accessible chapstick vs. full wallet.  Also, zipped bags prevent things from falling if a bag is dropped or tipped over.  Trust me, the last thing you want to happen is to be walking through Paris, only to realize your wallet slipped out of your bag when it tipped over on the metro.  

Lastly, do not put important things such as your phone or wallet in an outer pocket!  I repeat, do not!  Those are the first pockets to get pick-pocketed; you do not want valuable items in those outside pockets.

Pockets:

Okay, I’ve already mentioned keeping a little spare money in pockets, along with not placing valuable items in the outside pockets of bags and purses. Please, don’t put your phone in your pants pocket.  That’s just screaming to the world that your phone is free for the taking.  
However, there are some instances when it is allowed. I placed my phone in my back pants pocket while walking through Zurich, mainly because I needed quick access for photos and I only had a backpack, which is not user friendly in that case. The only way I was able to do this, however, is because 1-I had a very long, baggy shirt on that mainly hid it, 2-I loosened the straps on my backpack so it also partially covered it and made it harder to snag, and 3-There were no crowds and barely any other people on the streets at that time of day, so I could easily see everyone we passed.

But be careful and check if your pockets are large and deep enough to safely hold things. You do not want your phone or $100 bill to fall out of your pocket in the middle of Amsterdam!


Travel/Transportation:

When in doubt, use information booths.  They’re there for a reason, and they are an amazing assets. Use them.  You can buy tickets for transportation and get directions to different places. It saves you undue frustration if you try to use the ticket machines, which only operate in French, to buy tickets to a place you can’t even pronounce, much less find on a map.  And while you’re at it, ask for recommendations or favorites for food, attractions, coffee shops and so on.  Most often, the people at the information booths are more than willing to point out fun, off-the-grid restaurants or attractions that they love about the city.  I cannot tell you how many times we’ve gotten amazing, helpful tips from people by just asking.  

So ask!  Ask the waitress where her favorite cafe in town is; ask the person at the ticket booth what the best way to the Louvre is; ask the guy that works in the cheese shop where the best park is!  Most people love to recommend their favorite place in the city—use that.

If you’re staying in a city for more than one day, I would recommend buying a pass for that amount of days. This allows you 24/7 access to all transport around the city - buses, trams, metros, trains, etc. - and then you do not need to buy a ticket every time you want to use the transport. This saves a ton of time and money. Just don’t loose that ticket! (That’s where the little card case comes in handy)

Unless you’re a serious diva, 2nd class is not nasty in the public transport; there are clean seats with ample space.  Personally, there are much better things to pay for in Europe, rather than paying the big bucks for comfy chairs that you can sit in for your five minute train ride.  But maybe that’s just me.


Jackets:

Always have a jacket.  Even in summer, Europe is not the warmest of continents.  This is where having a big bag comes in handy; you won’t need to carry your jacket on your arm or tie it around your waist.  I’m not suggesting a massive Columbia fleece, but something warm enough to keep you dry during an unexpected rain shower.

Also... ponchos from Walmart for 99 cents are great to throw in your bag, because when it rains in Europe, it rains.  And that pretty Columbia fleece won't like being ruined in the hours of rain while standing in line to tour Notre Dame.

Shoes: 

Wear comfortable shoes.  I’m not suggesting ugly, garage-sale hiking sandals with Velcro straps and an army green color (then you’ll just look like a typical American tourist).  I’m saying do not wear new shoes that are not properly broken into, stiletto high heels that are begging for broken ankles, and cute little sandals with straps that love to give beautiful blisters when worn for hours on end.

Cute, comfortable boots with nice, small wedge heels look good with almost anything, and sneakers are a safe go-to that also look classy enough for most outfits given a good design or color.  But check before hand to make sure your feet can survive in them for hours on end; you don’t want sore, blistered feet after your first day walking through London.

Phones:

Always, always bring a battery charger, for the rare occasion (for some people, not so rare) that your phone dies.  They’re not large and only take up a small amount of space.  
Case wise, get a strong one.  No one cares if it isn’t a pretty or sparkly case with glittery designs, a thick ugly case looks much better than a broken ugly phone.  It’s also a lot cheaper, little side note. Imagine  trying to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower with that beauty!


Clothes:


Shirts ~~~ Wear something comfortable but semi-fashionable.  If in colder weather, 3 quarter sleeves are a pain in the rear.  No joke.  They roll up and bunch uncomfortably when you pull you jacket on.  If you are using a backpack, do not wear a shorter T-shirt, unless you wish to show the world your lovely red and white underwear with blue hearts all over them (Oh, don’t lie. I know you have some.)  And trust me, no one wants to see that.  If I had a dollar for how many underpants I saw while walking through the airports, I’d be a rich person.  So please, do the rest of us a favor and wear a longer shirt.  In case you’re wondering what a backpack has to do with it, I’ll give you a common scenario that I hope will explain.  

If someone is rushing through the airport at full speed, late to their boarding gate because they were getting their precious Starbucks mocha with extra sugar, they are not paying any attention to decency or any attention to anything, really.  Pulling a carryon makes them run slightly lopsided, shifting their backpack from one side to another, along with up and down from the running.  If the person is not overly fond to super tight belts, their pants slip down slightly, along with their shirt being pulled up by their bouncing backpack, thus unknowingly showing the whole world their underpants in the coffee-induced panic.  Lessons learned?  Wear a belt, choose a longer shirt, and skip the mocha. 

Pants ~~~ Pretty straightforward in this area.  Make sure there a nice, deep pockets before you put anything valuable in them, please wear a belt if they’re loose, and factor in any cultural aspects or customs before wearing super tight or super short clothing.   But that’s not as big of a deal in Europe as it is in Africa and the Middle East.


Food:

If you’re worried about paying big bucks for a tiny little plate of pasta at a fancy restaurant in Paris, (no joke, food is pricey in that city) the best way to get good, nutritious food without wasting time and money, is to find a grocery store.  Grab some baguettes, fresh strawberries and blueberries, cheese for protein and chocolate for dessert (or whatever else floats your boat) and eat back at your place.  Or, find a cute little park overlooking the Seine and munch on it there. To put it into perspective, for our family of five, we save around 60 euros every meal by eating out of a grocery store instead of a restaurant.

Planning:

Plan ahead of time.  I’m surprised at how many people don’t like this style of traveling; they say they feel locked into their schedule.  This is not the case.  The way my family travels is quite simple, but saves us undue panic when planning our days.  Before we travel, we pick a couple things that are on our “must do” list.  Not many activities, but they are slightly bigger ones. This way, we can buy online tickets ahead of time, get directions, and figure out what weather we need for the activity. 

From then on, we can use the time in between for whatever suits our fancy.  We can sit in the little cafe by the river, rent bikes and ride down by the canals, play in the park, or shop for souvenirs.  We aren’t locked into a schedule, but we have done some fun activities that keep us occupied for much of the time.

Favorite Items:

I have some things that I never travel without.  It varies with every person, but I can guarantee you, everyone has those things that they simply cannot travel without.  One of those things, for me, is my travel pillow.  It’s light, simple, and hooks onto the outside of my bag so it doesn’t take up space.  You don’t need to blow it up, you can just grab it and use it, whether in the airport, car, airplane, metro…it’s awesome.

My noise-canceling headphones are also on the list.  Now, no need to go out and buy the $200 ones that are super fancy. Mine were $45, and they changed my life.  It cancels out the background noise, and with a little music, you can’t hear what people are saying even if they are right next to you.  It’s a little freaky.  Plus, the battery life is unbelievable!  15 hour plane ride next to an annoyingly friendly person…here I come.  

Recently, my dad found some portable chargers that you can literally plug almost anything into…kindle, phone, iPod, iPad…they are life-savers.

So, these next items are ones that my parents travel with, but I don’t simply because I don’t need them yet. My parents have RFID wallets and bags that prevent people from stealing credit card numbers. When traveling through Europe, you do not want to deal with identity theft or a stolen credit card.

Other random tips:

  • Carry change on your person; often times toilets cost a little bit in restaurants
  • Wear a watch; it is much easier than pulling your phone out to check the time every five minutes.
  • If you are going to buy a large, breakable souvenir, make sure you have the space in your luggage to safely pack it for your return trip
  • When packing appliances such as hairdryers, straighteners, etc., remember to check the plug.  They are different in the States and Europe…if you hate wet hair, you would not like frying your hairdryer the first day into your trip.




~ Hey, I hope this will help through some of your travels!  I've done a separate article on traveling with children...'cause it is a completely different ball game!  Safe travels!





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