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Hey everyone! YBC®’s Editorial Director, Ashley, is back today with tips to make your next trip more exciting and less stressful. YBC® is heading to Italy and Greece this fall, and we’re going back to Kenya for another Yoga and Safari Retreat in 2020, so check out these hacks and use them to join us! Hope to see you soon! xo-Candace
My goal every year for the past few has been to travel to at least one new international and domestic destination, and so far, I've kept my promise to myself to expand my horizons and try new things. Sometimes I travel with others, but I've grown more and more fond of solo travel. There's something about being in a place where no one knows my name, and adhering to no one else's schedule or needs, that reminds me of my individual strength and makes me feel free. I get drunk on the anonymity of a new place, meeting people, exploring, and letting the day unfold as it will without trying to force an experience. There are inevitably some crappy mishaps and unforeseen obstacles, but each time I travel, I'm reminded of my extreme privilege and the innate goodness living in each of us.
In one trip to Sri Lanka, I boarded a tuk-tuk to Kataragama, for a safari in Yala National Park, but was instead taken to the middle of nowhere and told I would be held there (alone, with two large men) until I paid twice the agreed amount for my transportation. I bribed police officers at a road side stop to avoid being arrested, for no other reason than they knew I had the money and could hold me if they wanted. I chased away a peeping tom, watching me shower through the window of my AirBnB bathroom. I got into a public altercation with a man who couldn't keep his hands to himself on the bus and expected me to sit in silence as his hand traveled up my thigh. But on that same trip - I also stayed with families who treated me like one of their own, fed me from their kitchen tables, showed photos of birthday parties and weddings, and gave me guided tours of their town at no cost. I made friends I still keep in touch with today. I received gifts of fruit, framed photos and cultural keepsakes. I was offered escorts when I was lost or travelling after dark. I experienced unmatched hospitality and kindness from strangers.
All the scary and negative experiences turned out fine, and the good ones filled me with joy and gratitude. I've learned in travel, you take the good with the bad and respond as best you can, just as in life. I've also learned a few hacks to make the move from one place to another easier, safer and more fun. Whether you're a fly by the seat of your pants adventurer who takes it one day at a time, or a scout who enjoys a planned itinerary, I think you'll find something here that may help you on your next trip.
1. Booking travel
Skyscanner often has great deals for flights, and Hopper helps predict price changes. You can set a travel watch and receive notifications when prices drop or are expected to increase, so you get the best deal for flights. The Points Guy is also a great resource for using credit card miles to support your travel or upgrade to better seats.
2. Pack light.
This is a tough one for many, including me, but it really reduces the stress I feel in moving from one place to another. If you're heading to a single destination, in a well-developed area, maybe this one isn't so important, but if you're traveling to a developing country, or have more than one stop planned, lugging big bags or rolling suitcases down dirt roads, cobbled streets and through crowded buses and train stations is a great way to hate your life.
I feel safer and less overwhelmed in having my hands free, so this backpack and this travel pack have been my best friends. I try to wear my heaviest clothes/shoes on travel days, to avoid carrying my hiking boots on my back or over-stuffing my backpack. My souvenirs are typically photos, postcards and maybe earrings, but if I find something larger I can't live without, I'll ship it home. If it's not too heavy, it's worth it to me not to have to carry and keep it safe. I almost always regret bringing the fancy night out clothes or impractical shoes, and as much as I'm an advocate for hard copies of my favorite books, an e-reader like the Kindle makes entertainment on the road much easier. A lot of things can be bought at your destination, so if you're not sure whether or not you'll need an item, skip packing it. Every time I give myself the option of picking something up on the road, I decide I don't really need it.
3. Pack smart.
Here are some essentials I bring every time:
Packing cubes are a life saver for organization and enables you to quickly pull what you need from your bag.
A lacrosse ball or massage ball for the plane and long travel days - roll it under your feet to release your hamstrings and find low back pain relief.
Compression socks - My feet, ankles and legs swell like crazy on planes. I try to minimize salty foods and alcohol prior to travel and up my water intake, but even with in-flight stretching and periodic walks around the cabin, these socks are always helpful for me. (If you have any extra tips on this, please drop them in the comments!)
Bringing a water bottle saves me money and minimizes my need for single use plastic containers. In many developing countries, you can't drink the water, but I still like having one for flights.
I try to use Wi-Fi hotspots and minimize my "online" time as much as possible while traveling, but this portable Skyroam hotspot has saved my bacon more than once. (You can use code yogabycandace for a discount.)
A bungee cord is really helpful, especially if you're backpacking or going somewhere with less infrastructure than you're used to. I use this to strap things down in/on my bag, to hang wet laundry, and to keep my bag from sliding around on luggage racks.
Comfortable walking shoes, bonus if they're water friendly. (Extra bonus if you find cute ones for both. Send them my way!)
Detangler and comb - Long travel days, swimming in the ocean, windblown train rides... it's worth it to have these on hand.
You should also have a little cash on hand, local and U.S. In my experience, currency exchange stands are usually more expensive than withdrawing from ATMs upon arrival. Just check with your bank first to confirm international transaction fees, and be sure to let them know of your travel plans, so your funds aren't frozen or placed on alert.
4. Don't rely entirely on technology.
Because sometimes it fails. Internet service isn't available. Wi-fi is slow or nonexistent. The sites you need are blocked (if you're traveling in a place like China). If you're lost, Google maps may not necessarily be a help, so I print out the name, address and phone number of any accommodation I book in advance and bring a copy with me. Having the details in English and the language of your destination is helpful. I usually type up a quick sheet with need to know info on it before leaving, and put it in a clear sheet protector at the front of my bag. When my translator app is down, or my data connection fails, having a local phone number and name to give my cab driver is gold.
As you move on to your next destination, ask your host or concierge to write the info down in the local language and help you arrange transportation. If you're booking your own travel, you might still ask what to expect to pay. Some will assume you don't know the going rate and try to charge you more for the trip. More on negotiating prices a little later in the post... It's also a good idea to make copies of your passport and store them separately in your luggage. I keep my passport on me, a copy in my checked bag, a copy in my carry-on, and leave a copy home with a friend or family member.
5. Do a little research.
You don't have to plan your whole itinerary. In fact, I recommend booking the first two nights stay somewhere, and then finding accommodation as you go on at least one trip you take. But it is good to know a little about your destination in advance.
What's considered respectful dress?
Are there safety concerns to be aware of? (Check here for travel advisories.)
How do the locals get around?
What's the average cost of a train or bus ticket?
How much should you expect to pay for a good meal?
What's the exchange rate like? (This app works offline and is really helpful in doing the quick math at a souvenir shop or fruit stand.)
A little planning is not only helpful for you budget, but understanding local customs means you won't stand out as much, be a target for scams, or accidentally disrespect something held sacred. Asking your hosts or locals you meet at your destination is also a great way to plan your trip as you go. I've stumbled on countless experiences because I asked for recommendations from a local and knew what to expect based on their advice. If you don't speak the local language, find a translator app that works offline or learn a few key phrases to help you get around. English is widespread. Sign language goes a long way, and a smile is universal. People have always been eager to help and communicate with me through language barriers.
6. Getting in and around
For me, the trip from the airport to my first accommodation is the most stressful. I usually stay in an AirBnB because I get a local host who is often happy to share information about the area with me, and many times they'll arrange transportation from the airport or pick me up themselves. Some of the best stays, excursions and food I've had on my travels have come to me through AirBnB. If having your host or hotel pick you up isn't the best option, don't fret. There are countless ways to get into town from most airports. Ask a few people what their rates are for your destination before choosing your driver. You might work on your haggling skills as most tourist shops and excursions will quote you an inflated price at first. This is where doing your research will serve you well, so you know what something should typically cost. I'll negotiate to a point, but I also remember when I'm traveling in developing countries, people's livelihoods and the local economy depend on my tourist dollars. The few bucks I might save in negotiation go a lot further for them than it will for me at home. I don't want to be taken for all I'm worth, but I do expect to pay more than locals for a ride into town.
Ride share apps like Uber and Grab also work in many countries. This is super convenient if there's a language barrier because it cuts out the need for verbal directions for your driver, and the rates are set - so no negotiations required. Sometimes you can link them directly to your bank account, or choose the option to pay cash to your driver. You'll need internet service or a hotspot to book your ride. In Thailand, I didn't have my hotspot, so I used the airport wi-fi to book my ride, took a screenshot of the driver’s info and route in the app, and then headed out to meet them. It worked well for me.
Public transportation is often the cheapest way to get around, but depending on the country, it can be unreliable and slow. If you've got time to get lost, be delayed, or don't mind the adventure of figuring it out as you go along, taking the local bus or train is a fun experience all its own. A little research here can minimize your delays.
I hope this helps! If you have any other tips, hacks, cute shoes, or leg swelling advice, drop them in the comments! You can follow my journey and check out previous travels on my Instagram @breathingbird. Happy Trails!