I am not a travel expert.
That said, I have flown an average of twenty times a year for the past four years.
I just moved from Los Angeles to Berlin, and travel has been on my mind a great deal. So, below is a list of five bits of advice that have made my travels easier and way more fun. This is advice I’ve personally tested, from a variety of sources, including (in one case!) my own twisted mind. This guide is perfect for business or personal travel, going somewhere on holidays or escaping forever.
5. Buy Exofficio Underwear
Seriously, this underwear, which is part of Tim Ferris’ 10 lb travel kit, is hands down the best piece of practical travel clothing in the entire world. This magic space underwear is crazy comfortable, and it dries in a couple of hours, so sink-washing is possible. Two pairs of Exofficio underwear will last you for weeks. You will never want to wear cotton underwear again. Exofficio makes different styles for both men and women, just check out the Exofficio site.
4. Pack Light
Consider this: If you are traveling alone, you have zero need of a checked bag.
You can get by with very little, and compress that stuff down with packing tricks and vacuum bags. There are even carryon bags you can get to make you even lighter. I own this fantastic Timbuk2 bag that turns into a backpack. It weighs an impressive three pounds. I’m at the point now where even a ‘normal’ backpacker’s backpack seems absurdly big.
Think about what you really need for a trip, and have fun eliminating things. For the fashion conscious gentleman, for example, skip packing both brown and black belts/shoes and pick one. Then pick two pairs of shoes that match the formality of what you’re headed to – wear one set, pack the other. Pack a couple of pairs of pants and double that number in shirts, and make sure as many combinations as possible match. Leave the rest.
Skip the clippers if you’re going to be away less than a week and grow your beard out. Call it your ‘trip beard’. Skip contacts and just take glasses. Solution, spare contacts, leaving your contacts in by accident, and all those other problems are gone. And seriously, you don’t need tennis shoes – you aren’t really going for a run during the trip, are you? Be honest with yourself!
Apply this thinking to your packing, and let the reduced amount of junk you carry set you free!
3. Do the Map Trick
I came up with this 100% on my own and it has worked out wonderfully many times.
Step one: Print out a map of an area or city.
Step two: Go to this city.
Step three: When you talk to someone who lives there, ask them to point out a place they like on the map. Hand them the map and a pen. Also ask them to describe parts of town, and have them draw that on the map.
Step four: Repeat step three many times.
Step five: Go to the places recommended and have fun.
Step six: Save your map. You now have an amazing keepsake.
2. Skip Hotels (also Paris)
So, the Paris part is a joke, but hear me out.
Hotels tend to give you a guarded experience, a heavily filtered (and expensive) version of what it is actually like in a place. In Copenhagen, the tourist hotels are mostly on the East side of town near Nyhavn (the boat canal place) which is in no way representative even of Indry By (the inner city). It’s nice (lots of boats!) but it isn’t the Copenhagen I’ve seen.
As an alternative to hotels, look into temporary housing – Airbnb is a popular option that offers some really amazing places to stay, often with a hotel-quality experience. On the low end, rooms for rent rival the cheapest hostels, and often the quality is much higher. In some cases, a host will hand you the keys to their flat and leave, giving you a few days of life in the city, for less than the cost of one night in a hotel. On the high end are nice flats, and unusual places like trailers, buses, and even a giant beer barrel. You will lose the guarantee of a hotel’s baseline quality (and also your Continental breakfast), but you will gain the chance of amazing, unique experiences, all at relatively low risk.
As an added bonus, when you meet your landlord, do the Map Trick on them.
And as for the Paris comment, that is merely my suggestion to avoid the ‘normal’ travel spots, and to free yourself up to find something new. I was set to travel to Munich last year, but high room costs because of Oktoberfest had me change plans and head to Berlin instead. Now I live in Berlin. I met friends in Copenhagen, but when they left for Amsterdam, I stayed behind to better experience the city, and now I have super cool Danish friends, and a picture of me holding a rocket launcher:
1. Don’t Panic
This is a multitier piece of advice, not unlike a powerful riddle. Pull up a chair.
There is no need to look at travel in a way that would allow for panic. And without the fear of panic, you’re going to be free to have fun in a profound way.
I dislike a lot of the travel information out there, as it takes on a tone of ‘DO THIS, DON’T DO THIS, ALSO WATCH OUT,’ and I am left afraid and nervous for a trip that should be exciting.
It’s good to be smart and listen to advice – don’t leave your laptop sitting in a cafe when you go to the bathroom. And don’t follow someone into an alley alone in the middle of the night. That said, be careful that the advice you hear isn’t ruining your trip with excessive paranoia.
Keep in mind that places are made to be lived in by people. The subway is confusing? Guess what: People have been riding these trains (or ordering from this restaurant or hanging out in a bar or sunning at this beach) for years. Places are made for people to use. It’ll be fine.
The exception to this is, of course, if you are headed off the beaten path, into caves, or up to mountains, or deep into the ocean. We’re talking urban globetrotting here.
Lastly, remember that unpleasant experiences are part of your trip. I credit the amazing book, Vagabonding, for this piece of advice. The idea is that you are not traveling to get somewhere, you are traveling for the experience of traveling. So even a ‘bad’ experience like getting sick, losing something, or missing a flight is all part of the overall experience of travel. With this mindset, there is nothing wrong, ever. It’s all part of the trip.
Is there a mantra or little tidbit of advice that has made your adventures easier and more fun? Leave a comment below.