Sunday, June 16, 2013

Travel tips and advice

Though I have just scratched the surface of my odysseys, I have learned a few things from visiting places which I hope benefits you, my readers as well. So here is my personal list of dos/dont's while traveling:

Eat the local food

I can't emphasize this enough. Try the local specialities to see what you like/don't like. Do not go seeking the Chinese takeout in every country you visit. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants are typically a good bet as they tend to preserve the local identity. If you are worried about contamination, choose fried/heavily cooked food over salads.
For nicer sit-down meals, listen to the guidebooks. They are usually right about the good restaurants and it is safer to listen when shelling out the big bucks for a meal.

Visit a supermarket

Nothing gives you a better indication of local preferences than this. Make a couple of your meals a picnic from the local supermarket. We had our most enjoyable meal in Venice from the local grocer, complete with cheese, bread and yoghurt. It is also a nice way to save money.

Do not carry packs of ramen or food when traveling. Just buy these locally. Supermarkets are also a great place to buy water, especially in Europe, where water in a restaurant usually costs more than wine.

Skip the museums (well, most of them)

While there are a few like the Louvre or the Vatican that must be visited, don't spend all of your time indoors. Pick a few that deserve your time and attention. If you are not a purveyor or connoisseur of art or have no interest in that area, it is very likely that you'd forget most of what you see in museums.

While I enjoy viewing art, I can't think of many travel memories that were made in museums for us together, excepting looking at David in Florence or at the Vatican.

Art is a lot more enjoyable when you do your homework to identify what it is you like or admire.

Take the local transportation

It gives you a sense of familiarity in a way that riding in a taxi never can. Subways and bus routes help create a mental map of the city. They are also a lot cheaper than cabbing it everywhere.

Do your homework

Try to learn a little about the history of the place you are visiting, its art and architecture. If you are an avid reader, pick up a book set in the location or watch a movie.
Look up the attractions and decide on what appeals to you and what you could afford to miss. Keep a checklist for this as well.

Don't follow the book

Sometimes the best made plans may not work out as planned. We traveled three hours to Interlaken to find that the train up to Jungfrau was cancelled due to bad weather. In situations like this, look at your next best options (a scenic rail trip for us and a visit to another mountain) and evaluate.

If you see something that you just feel like doing, listen to your whim and ease your plans a little. This will substantially improve your experience.

Travel light

I could write an entirely separate post on this topic. Ideally, for about 2 weeks of vacation, you do not need more than a hand luggage and a backpack. Carry along clothing that can be mixed and matched and re-worn. Clothes fit better in baggage when rolled up, and they don't crumple as much either.

Investing in silk scarves is a great idea for women. They are very light, can fit anywhere and can provide warmth and act as your sun/wind/rain screen as needed. They can also block out light on long plane rides.

Always carry a pair of your most comfortable shoes. Leave the pumps and heels behind; You'll likely need them for just a night or two and they take up a lot of space. Invest instead in a nice pair of going out wedges or flats that are also comfortable. Wear the bulkier pair to the airport and pack the other one.

If you are staying in the same hotel for an extended period of time, unpack your box once you check in. Neatly pack away any outfit you have already worn and won't re-wear. You'll find that when it's time to check out, your suitcase will be mostly packed.

Document your experiences

It is great to reflect upon these a few years later; You could do this in several ways. If you like writing, keeping a travel diary might work great. Saving your tickets & other pamphlets is good too. The easiest way is to take a lot of pictures and then create a photoblog on your album. Note down the things you liked seeing and the meals you enjoyed having.

Happy travels!

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