Top 10 Travel Tips

We’re going to break away from the photography for a hot minute as I share my top ten traveling tips with you!! Some followers may not know this, but I've spent a good chunk of my life traveling!

Whether it be the three months spent living in Florence, Italy with my sister, the month-long road trip I took with my family from California to New York in 2009 or the numerous other trips I've taken since I caught the travel bug at a young age, it's safe to say I've learned a few things.

These tips here are mainly taken from my times spent traveling abroad in Europe, but can easily be applied to nearly any adventure!

Three women sitting and eating lunch on a cobblestone street in Rome, Italy

1. Schedule Breaks

Now I know this must seen contradictory to the mentality of “see and do as much as possible while you're there”, but every 2-3 days of intense touristing (walking around, museum tours, traveling, etc), I like to schedule at least an afternoon or an evening off.

At least once a week a full day of nothing planned to take it easy- sleep in, stroll through the streets with no real destination, do some shopping and recollect your energy for the next bout of intense traveling!

I've done the 15-straight-days-of-everything-planned “vacation” and let me tell you, especially after recuperating from jet-lag the first couple of days, the whole vacation doesn't end up being much of a vacation if you're busy and stressing the whole time!

Close up of hands holding a folded map of Verona, Italy

2. Know How To Read a Map

Because trust me, when good ol’ Google Maps decides to drop service in the middle of the ghetto of Milan at 11pm at night, you don’t want to be stuck there staring blankly at poorly-lit street signs while lights flicker overhead and unwelcome locals start to descend...

Some of you may disagree with me, but I’ve always been a physical paper-and-ink kind of girl and therefore put my trust a great deal more in good old-fashioned maps than a directional device that relies so much on things like data, your phone being charged and it actually knowing the area you’re in!

So even if you plan to navigate via a phone app, I advise you brush up on your map-reading skills and pick one up at a Tourist Info center (always marked with a big “i”) as soon as you get into the city just in case!

*Another alternative is to Google Map everything out ahead of time (walking directions from the train station to the metro, from the metro to your hostel, etc.) and print them out so you always have a physical copy of your directions as well!

Three girls pulling luggage up a steep set of wet stairs in Verona, Italy

3. Know That There Will Be Bad Days

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but if you're going to be gone for more than a week or two, there are more than likely going to be bad days.

Days when you want to cry because you have no idea where the heck you are. Days when you’re so frustrated at your travel-mates for such stupid little things that you can barely stand it. Days when all you want to do is curl up in some blankets and watch Netflix in your bedroom with your dog at home 6,000 miles away.

But do not fear! This is all a part of the great experience that is traveling! Knowing ahead of time that things like this might happen may lessen the reality of the blow when it inevitably hits you.

Like any great experience, there are highs and lows and plateaus - you just need to know that this is normal!

So when you find yourself an hour and a half away from the train station in sweet fair Verona, having just hauled 80lbs of luggage up numerous flights of steep stairs (unnecessarily, you later find out), it’s pouring rain so you’re simultaneously drenched and sweating through your jacket and you have no idea where your Airbnb is, just remember that this is all a part of travel!

Plus, the bonus is that most of these terrible situations make for truly great stories later on haha

4. Learn the Language

No, I’m not talking about becoming fluent before your trip, I’m just talking about learning a few words and key phrases that will help you get by a little easier when you arrive! I hate feeling stupid and ignorant when I go to another country so I find that this really helps me feel more included and shows locals that you're at least trying!

Research ahead of time the language of the city (I thought Barcelona spoke Spanish like the rest of Spain, but they actually all speak Catalan which is a completely different language!) and then I would suggest learning how to say the following:

  • "Yes”
  • No
  • “Hello”
  • “Thank you”
  • “Excuse me”
  • How to order food/drinks
  • The numbers (for prices, times and haggling)
Girl packing a suitcase in a very messy bedroom with clothes everywhere

5. Pack Light!

I know I know, everyone and their mother tells you this, but they’re not kidding! My mom insisted that once I was packed, to take half of it out and leave it. We all should have listened…

So as per my mother’s newest advice, pack what you think you “need” and carry your suitcase (checked bag), your carry-on and your personal item all down to the nearest shopping center (or building within a twenty-minute walk) and back.

How does all that weight feel now?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Think of packing only the barest of necessities - things like hand lotion, shaving cream, excessive amounts of makeup you can get at the local convenience store once you get to your destination IF you ever actually need these things!!

And check you Airbnb/hostel/hotel as most of these places have laundry services nowadays so you know you’ll be able to bring less clothing if you can just wash it halfway through the trip!

Some things I should mention that were worth the extra weight to bring were:

Hand sanitizer, a plane pillow, portable charger, a warm, waterproof jacket with pockets, and a pair of your comfiest walking shoes (I know you want to look cute in all the photos that you’ll be taking, but TRUST ME when I say you will thank me later for bringing your Nikes along as well after your feet are wet and blistered and sore from tromping around on cobblestone for four days straight).

Also, pack things with pockets. It’s just an unnecessary trouble when you pick your outfit for the day and realize you have nowhere to put your phone, your money or your subway tickets if it’s too hot to wear a jacket.

Woman standing with a backpack and camera in front of the Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy

6. Invest in a comfortable backpack

This one is more-so for all of the photographers and notorious over-packers out there who like to be prepared for anything on a daily basis *cough*me*cough*

I invested in a nice, well-made camera bag specifically for this trip and I picked this one for a number of reasons and have not regretted this purchase ONCE!):

  • Reinforced straps - memory foams straps and back padding that are reinforced with cross-body and waist clips that distribute the weight much more evenly and make this a breeze to wear, even if you have it full of chargers batteries, a camera, lenses, a water bottle (or two), snacks, money and more.
  • Safety - hard to break into with a side entrance and straps over the zippered pouch
  • Holds a LOT - camera area, upper shell, side pockets, straps at the bottom to hold jacket
  • Rain cover!

CONS: You will look like a human turtle wearing this and unfortunately there’s not much you can do about that haha. Just be aware of who you’re side-swiping on the crowded subways and in closely-packed museums!

7. Plan Your Days Ahead of Time

Of course there is something to be said for “going with the flow,” but I personally find that at least having a general idea of what I want to do when I get to a city - especially if I don’t have time to plan once I’m there!!

Lots of attractions during peak tourist season (April-November) also sell out quickly so having tickets (especially skip-the-line tickets) ahead of time can be crucial to getting the most out of your time in the city!

Lots of metal enamel pins from places all over the world on a white background

8. Consider Collecting Things

Maybe you're not much of a “souvenir” person, but I think it’s really cool to collect things from each country/city you visit so maybe consider starting a collection!

I used to collect iron-on patches that I would put on my backpack when I got home (I also considered putting them on a jacket) but then I started running out of room….so now I collect pins and I bring them home and punch them all into a giant piece of cork-board on my wall! It’s less work than patches, although you don’t get to show them off as much…

My friend Amanda collects postcards from every city and my sister Mallory collects little miniature city models for her “Travel Shelf.”

Whatever you collect, make sure it’s small and light to carry with you the whole trip and something that you have a fun connection with!

Other ideas could be keychains, fridge magnets, bookmarks, OR to save money, just collect tickets and receipts or get a really fun picture in every place and call it good!


9. Be courteous

Don't take up the whole sidewalk with your luggage. Don't stand directly in the way of people's photos if you can be out of them one step to the left. Lift your umbrella in a crowd and try not to stop dead in the middle of the street while you're trying to navigate!!

No, it’s not always possible because some places are so crowded you couldn’t even move if you wanted to, but be as courteous as the situation allows!

Be as courteous and respectful of the country, the people and your fellow travelers as possible. You want everyone else to do the same for you!

The front of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy

10. Travel in the Off-Season

This of course is dependent on if you’re willing to risk the weather, but sometimes the severe downsize in the amount of tourists around is worth it!

Off season usually starts November 1st in Europe - and from that date on tickets for museums, attractions and historical landmarks are usually a LOT less pricey! Of course this also means there are different hours for the off-season and a lot of places close earlier so make sure to check out times before you get stuck on the top of a mountain in Barcelona at 4pm a half hour before sunset...

For more tips on traveling during Winter and the off-season, check out my Traveling Europe in the Winter blog!

That's a Wrap! 

Well, those are my top 10 travel tips! I hope they help you on your next adventure! I'd love to hear any additional tips you have that didn't make my list - comment below!