It’s important to plan your travel, though of course the best travel experiences are what happen when plans go horridly off course. Having conquered some travel of my own this summer, I feel I should document my experiences. So, here we go, the Big Ten Girl’s 10 big ways to enjoy your adventures abroad.
1. Get the most out of your lodging.
- Free breakfasts, proximately to hot spots and friendly service are big pluses when finding the best place to stay. I’ve recently found air conditioning can also be crucial (though if it is hot, men will likely go around shirtless, and that can provide some hunky eye candy). Reading reviews really helps with finding a good place, whether you’re looking for a four star hotel on a site like Expedia or Travelocity, a hostel on Hostel World (which helped me find the excellent Sydney Hostel in Istanbul). That said, sometimes you just need to show up at a place your guide book recommends and ask for a room (as I did at the Fatima Hotel in Kazan, Russia this summer).
2. Get creative with airfare.
- If you can afford to be flexible with dates and times, and want to cut costs as far as airfare is concerned, get creative. I love using kayak.com to compare flights. Weird flight times, random or possibly long layovers aren’t really that much of an inconvenience when you’re flying around the world, so just suck it up. Being creative with your flights can even lead to more adventures along the way; if you wind up with a 22 hour layover in London (as I once did), you can take the money you saved for the cheaper flight and jump into the city for the $16 cost of tube fare. This summer I also wound up with a 7 hour layover in Riga, Latvia on my way to Odessa, Ukraine. I got to experience two countries for the price of one (almost)!
3. Eat cheaply.
- The best food I had this summer since leaving the US was at a falafel stand in Odessa, Ukraine. For 11 grivna (less that $1.50) I was able to get a delicious falafel wrap that didn’t even make me sick! Granted, street food can be super sketchy (there are so many stories of people disposing bodies by giving the meat to shashlik/shishkabob stands…) but if you do it right, and approach the situation with healthy skepticism it can be great.
4. Ask the locals for advice.
- During a business trip to Kazan I met with many people and in our social exchanges I asked them what they were most proud of in their home region. Through them I got great recommendations for sights like the Raifskiy Monestary, which wasn’t in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Sometimes asking locals can even have a monetary advantage: in Russia foreigners are charged a higher entrance rate at many sights, so if a Russian recommends a sight, they may also offer to buy you the cheaper ticket! (Спасибо, Рома!)
5. Prepare for any weather.
- The average summer time temperature in Moscow is supposed to be 75 degrees F. This summer we had a straight month where the high of the day was over 90 degrees. I also went to Arizona one year for Christmas and was thwarted from seeing the Grand Canyon by a snow storm. Extreme or atypical weather happens. Pack accordingly.
6. Do not fly Aeroflot. (Upon reviewing this 2 years later, I can say Aeroflot is not so bad).
7. Know what to expect with your travel companions.
- Travel priorities differ greatly, so it’s good to at least have an idea of whether you’ll be eating big, long meals or quick, small ones; frequenting beaches or museums; putzing along for hours or hitting the town at full speed. It can get frustrating if you’re just too different, but being flexible and patient with someone else goes a long way. (I’ve generally had pretty good luck with this, but have heard some horror stories).
8. Don’t be afraid to travel alone.
- Okay, it can be unsafe to walk dark alleys late at night by your lonesome, but I had a great time this summer roaming Kazan and Riga by myself. I always thought I could only enjoy places when I could instantly share the experience with someone else, but you observe a lot more by yourself and can share great stories with other people later. Plus, you get to be completely selfish in your travel plans.
9. Take pictures that tell stories.
- Pictures can be “worth a thousand words” but only when they actually have something to say. Since approximately 1 billion people have pictures of famous monuments, I think it’s better to make the picture your own, by purposely not cropping out the couple with the ridiculous PDA in the corner of your Eiffel Tower picture, or including the crazily dressed tourists in your Kremlin shot.
10. Do NOT fly Aeroflot. (Really, it’s okay to fly them now…)