It seems like the entire year is, in one way or another, a countdown to the all-holy Summer Vacation. That time when we finally get to kick back and let our whims take the wheel and steer us to some uncharted island off the coast of Panama. One of those that you see in National Geographic, with one lone coconut tree and blindingly white sand.
And then vacation time hits. And there are logistics. And plane tickets. And Visa requirements. And packing. And who’s going to take care of the dog?
No matter how many times you’ve returned from summer travel saying, “Well, I’m going to do THAT differently next time…” you always seem to end up desperately needing a vacation after your vacation, just to recover from the madness of making it all happen. No longer, I say!!
You can keep things simple and sweet, AND still have the kind of summer adventure that you’ll tell stories about for the rest of your life. As a frequent traveler and one who likes to style my life as one big traveling adventure, I’ve picked up a few sneaky tricks along the way. So here’s the scoop . . .
- Invest in a solid suitcase. With pockets. A number of years ago the suitcase of my dreams came into my life. It converts into a backpack (this is key), fits my laptop, has all sorts of fantastic little pockets and dividers to keep my stuff organized, AND is the maximum legal carry-on size for most airlines. Not to mention it’s taken a solid beating along the years and stood the test of time. Bag love aside, HOW you carry your stuff can be just as important as WHAT you bring, particularly if you’re headed anywhere off the beaten path. There’s such pleasure in effortlessly chauffeuring your gear up rugged forest trails, let me tell you.
- Pack light, but not too light. I’ve had a few adventures where I was SO proud of myself for packing light and regretted it later when I was sitting at a coastal cafe freezing. Or desperately wished I had a different pair of shoes to soothe the blisters. Lay everything out on the bed in such a way that it’s visible. Make sure you’re packing clothes that match one another in more than one configuration; bonus points for multipurpose items, like dresses that can also be skirts, or pants that can be dressed up or go casual. Always bring a sweater and rain jacket, even to the equator. Bring two pairs of shoes: your practical pair for exploring (like a solid pair of sneakers) and a more casual pair that can also be dressed up. Of course, this all depends on where you’re headed- travel to Norway is going to require a different packing list than Belize. But I trust you can handle those differences. 🙂
- Make your itinerary, and then cut it in half. One of the greatest travel crimes is over-scheduling yourself. Would you sit down to a magnificent meal and then devour it without a pause? Travel is meant to be savored. Excessive travel goals can leave you winded and spun out, turning to your photo album to remember what the heck you did on your trip once you’ve returned. So decide what is most important to you, then remove the rest to leave room for whimsy. Make space for a change of plans, should you want to explore a hidden gem. Or should you want to take a rest day. Or if you suddenly find yourself smitten with some fellow traveler and taking a detour to Versailles. Ahem.
- Designate someone (or two) who you trust to check on your house/belongings. We all wish for a carefree summer vacation and making sure you don’t have to worry whether the house is safe is a key element of easing your mind. Crown a neighbor or a friend to be your go-to contact, clearly explain what needs to be watched, and make sure they know how to get in touch with you if something goes awry. Then cook them a lovely dinner when you return and regale them with your photos and stories.
- Don’t forget your notebook. How many times have I (somehow) forgotten this one? I’m a fan of toting along a small Moleskine. Collecting names and phone numbers, jotting down addresses, memorializing a moment of poetic inspiration – all are crucial moments along the journey. So keep them all in one convenient and totally hip place. Ah, and bring pens, too!
- Foreign travelers: do your research well in advance, and print out everything you need. Too often, travelers get stuck at borders as a result of vaccine requirements (coming from Peru to Costa Rica? Better have your Yellow Fever shots done well ahead of time) or “exit ticket” issues. Most countries want to know that you’re planning on leaving within a reasonable amount of time, and will often require proof that you’re not planning to move in. So check the rules and regs to make sure you’re not caught unawares at the airport or border crossing. United Airlines provides this handy little form to help you keep stay up-to-date and keep track of all the details. Keep your exit tickets, vaccine documentation, and other important paperwork together in one folder (or in the front pocket of that snazzy suitcase you brought).
- Exploring in-country? Use ALL of Google Maps miraculous features. Ah, technology. With Street View, Satellite, land markers and the ability for the public to submit photos and information, Google Maps is a treasure trove of info for where you’re headed. Not to mention it keeps you updated as you travel- especially helpful if you’re out on the road for an extended period of time.
- Travel by public transit as much as possible. Trains and buses are incredible simplifiers of travel. So long as you followed tip #1 and packed smart, letting someone else do the driving while you watch the scenery go by gives you a moment to kick back and breathe in the carefree moment. Pick up a public transit map, spend a moment identifying how you’ll get from here to there, and enjoy the ride.
- Eat your pride and ask questions. Lots of them. There’s often this part of us that wants to be the cool traveler who doesn’t use maps or – god forbid – look like a tourist. And there’s a certain magic to putting yourself out there to explore the unknown. But the way to find the best cappuccino in town or the hidden hot springs is to ask. Make conversation with the locals. Humbly inquire for suggestions and tips. Chances are not only will you get invited to the Thursday night neighborhood block party, but you’ll make some friends along the way.
And to drive the message home…
Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Though Brookstone promises their latest travel gadgets will make your trip SO much better, I’ve realized that I’m usually pretty happy to keep it basic on all levels. Simple itinerary. Simple technology. Simple enjoyment. When there’s less to distract you, there’s more room to smell, taste, and experience your adventure.
And that’s what you went through all that trouble to do, right?
What kinds of travel tips have you picked up along the way to keep your adventures carefree and fun? I’d love to see them in the comments.
Photo by Alex Wong