Carry-on travel is a philosophy for traveling, inasmuch as it denotes a travel
process which is easier, less stressful, less time consuming, safer, and more
satisfying. A simplified carry-on travel style allows you more time at your
destination and less time wasted in airports or hotels, hauling luggage, or
worrying about security.
“If you can’t carry it on, you don’t need it” means that it is not only possible but to your advantage to travel with only the amount and size of luggage allowed to you as carry-ons. I use carry-on (hyphenated) to denote the physical items that you carry on the plane, usually the bag you use, not the process of carrying things on the plane. “If you can’t carry it on, you don’t need it” also applies to the new rules for air travel. There are now many things you cannot carry on and it turns out you don’t need them either.
In this document the specific suggestions for things like clothing, lodging, eating, drinking, and driving are geared toward travel in the UK and Western Europe, or in similar climates and cultures. The general information such as safety, security, luggage, and packing will be a help for travel anywhere.
(As I carry on about carry-on travel remember some of my comments may be opinion, but all are based on experience.)
***Denotes critical travel tip in this document.
***Clean out your wallet. Don't take anything you don’t
need and leave unnecessary credit cards at home. Clean off your key ring. Take
only keys to the car you drove to the airport and your house. If you need glasses
to function, take spares. If you wear contacts take your glasses too.
***Make copies of your passport's identifying pages, driver's license, credit cards, medical cards, prescriptions, and tickets. Keep these copies with you, in different places from the originals. You can probably get them copied all on one sheet of paper.
***The following items NEVER leave your body: passport, money (cash or checks), tickets, credit cards, ATM card, driver’s license or other photo identification, medical cards, critical prescriptions, or anything of similar importance. These items need to be carried on your person at all times. Keep them secured in a front, button-down or zippered pocket of your clothing. Do not store any of these in your luggage, jackets, or anything you may take off.
***All street musicians, performers, beggars, spare changers, street vendors, sidewalk artists, and related people are only in it for the money. They make very good money off tourists. Many are working a scam/theft on you while you watch them, many have accomplices in the crowd. If you really think they are that good, drop in a coin (see pocket money). NEVER get your wallet out, or set down what you are carrying. Watch your back.
***Make sure that your passport, driver's license, other identification, and medical cards are up to date. Check into visas and special medical needs like shots or vaccines well before you leave. Carry at least one other piece of good photo identification in addition to your passport. Remember minor children may need special documentation to leave the country. Take copies of hotel and car rental confirmation numbers and telephone numbers. Take a copy of credit card help-line phone numbers. Have a list of who to notify in an emergency and where to ship the ashes
Do not take or wear jewelry, especially the good stuff. Use a cheap watch. Leave your rings at home. All these things, like silly hats, too much luggage and flashy clothes make you a blue-light special to thieves. Do not take anything of high dollar value or sentimental value.
Lock your doors in city hotels and guest houses. If the hotel has a 24 hr. desk you can leave the key with them when you go out. Always lock your car. Do not leave anything in sight that you cannot afford to lose. Think about where you walk at night and how you are going to get back to your room.
Carry some money and a spare credit card (not the one you are going to use daily) hidden on your person in a neck bag, waist belt, or something similar. Do not keep anything in your back pockets except used Kleenex..
You should look into travel insurance for health, lost luggage, trip interruption or cancellation. Some credit cards offer insurance or include it if you buy your tickets with the card. Travel agencies offer insurance for trips booked through them. If you think it is a good idea for you, buy it.
When you make purchases in art galleries, museums, gift shops, clothing boutiques, and similar places you will get a large bag clearly identifying you as a tourist with money. Stop using these bags as soon as possible.
Pay attention to the pre-flight instructions on your airplane and look at the pocket card with the exits on it. Know how to get off the plane and what to do in a fire.
***Do not take anything to the airport you cannot carry onto the airplane.
Make sure you understand ALL of the Federal Security and airline rules before
you arrive. Security people do not make exceptions for anyone. Some people who
work in airports are not the sharpest tools in the drawer, but they have power.
Figure out how to deal with this.
Never leave your carry-on unwatched in the airport, on either side of the security check. Keep an eye on all of the items you put through the security equipment. Bags have been known to disappear while you are being personally inspected.
Use good identification tags on your carry-ons, coats, and travel vests. Use tags that someone would have to work to read. You do not need anyone knowing who you are and where you live unless you are separated from the luggage. Do not have your name written all over everything you own.
Use combination locks on your carry-on. You do not want the hassle of keys. Have the bag unlocked when you get to security so they don’t have to wait. Have your jacket or vest off and ready to go with the bag through x-ray. Make a list of everything you have with you. Add what you buy to the list for your return. Mark off anything you leave. Do not try to carry on wrapped packages or presents.
Do not carry any metal on your person at security checks. Put it all, everything, even watches, spare change, keys, and glasses if you don’t need them, in your carry-on. Take off fanny packs and/or belt bags with the belt and put them in either your carry-on or jacket/travel vest. You want only one or two total pieces going through security. You do not want anything on your body which sets off the alarm.
Do not use money clips, belts with big buckles, shoes with steel toes, shanks, or metal decorations, underwire bras, or clothing with lots of metal attached. If you have metal in your body tell security where it is. Have a note from your doctor explaining what and where it is. Do not wear or take jewelry,. Take off rings and leave them at home with your good watch.
Move through airports, train stations, subways, buses and crowds, like you mean it and not like you are lost. Store bags near you on the airplane, and at hand on trains, buses, and subways. Do not make eye contact with low-lifes as it is an invitation to them.
Most airports, large bus stations, and train stations in other countries have good, safe storage lockers. These may be very useful on day trips, long waits, early arrival, or too much stuff. If your hotel is not ready for you when you arrive you can usually check your luggage with the concierge.
One carry-on means that you only carry on one piece of luggage (going out)
plus some item which you are using like luggage but which does not count as
luggage (travel vest or jacket, fanny pack, belt bag). Pack in your carry-on
a packable brief case or bag. When coming home, the extra (empty) bag you packed
can be called the briefcase or purse the airline allows in addition to one carry-on.
On the road a spare bag is also convenient for dirty clothes, groceries, souvenirs,
and loose items. Make sure spare bags are tagged too.
The maximum size for carry-ons on most airlines is 45 linear inches, i.e. length + width + depth. A typical bag might be 22 by 16 by 7. A 22 inch bag is good, go for less depth and more width where possible. Thinner bags are easier to get in overheads or under the seat.
The maximum weight for carry-ons varies by airline. Flying out you should easily be under the limit. Always act like your bag weighs nothing when you’re around airline personnel. Keep it on you and out of their hands. Get tickets in advance so you do not need to check in at the terminal counter and can go right to the gate to check in. People at the gate are much less likely to want to check your bag for weight.
A carry-on needs to be easy to transport. Be able to: carry it like a suitcase with a handle on the top or side, roll it with a collapsible handle, or carry it on your back. Durable fabric, well made wheels, a handle frame that is inside the bag, external pockets, good backpack straps, and quality zippers are all important.
A travel jacket with extra and hidden pockets, or a traveler’s/photographer’s vest both make very good extra luggage. You can get a lot in them and they don’t count as luggage. Press clothes flat for packing, or roll tightly and use rubber bands. Put clothes in the carry-on in the order you will get them out. If you use zip-lock or air-tight packing bags, press out all the air. Bag anything that can spill.
Plan to have a “re-pack everything and fit in the souvenirs” session the night before you come home. Wrap anything that will break very well and put it in the middle of the bag.
***Always keep a quantity of ready, loose change and small bills in an easy-to-get-to pocket. Do not keep it in a wallet or change purse, keep it loose. Have enough there for all of the day’s basic expenses like lunch, postcards, small souvenirs, bakery items, beer, donations boxes, street people, etc. You do not want to get your wallet out every time you need money.
***Do not carry a purse. If you need something similar, wear a fanny pack or belt bag. Wear it on the front, not the back.
Learn the value of local money and the denominations of the currency quickly, preferably before you leave. Have a simple formula in your head to compare prices to money you are familiar with (the new EUROS help). Exchange some money before you leave so you have it upon arrival. Take enough cash to get you through several days. Carry big US bills for exchange later.
Everybody likes cash. Many small places only take cash. Break big local currency bills at big places. In country, exchange money in banks or currency exchanges. Keep the coins of different countries separated, as nobody will take somebody else’s. Forget traveler’s checks. Nobody wants them, and they will charge you a lot to cash them. If you feel better having them only take a couple in large denominations and stash them away.
ATM cards are almost a necessity. Use them for a regular supply of cash. Exchange rates are pretty good. Credit cards generally give the best rate. Carry a card with a high amount of available credit. Tell the card company you are going overseas so they do not turn off the card thinking it was stolen.
Do not necessarily be put off by what appears to be a very high price. If you want a banana and they are the equivalent of $2.00, yes that is high but you are only buying one, not one everyday until you retire.
***Wear really good, leather, shoes or boots; they are the only ones you will have. Break them in before you leave. Function, support, and practicality are the things you should be concerned about, not style. Buy black or dark brown, walking or hiking types. Do not take extra shoes.
***Never wear white tennis shoes. They are a sign which says “silly American tourist here, steal from me, treat me badly, take advantage of me, give me bad service, overcharge me”. Do not wear tennis shoes of any kind. Leave your pantyhose at home.
They sell clothes everywhere on earth up to the local climate necessities so you can always get more.
Darker, solid colored clothes are not only best, they are a must. You will fit in better and they hide dirt. Do not wear white or bright colored clothes. Do not wear clothes with advertising on them. Do not wear clothes with university names, flag motifs, national identifiers, or “hey look at me” clothes. Do not wear flags, name badges, lapel buttons, or baseball caps of any kind. Never wear camouflaged, military clothing, or Confederate flags.
Do not plan to wash clothes. If you think you must, wash your own unless you can afford to lose them. Take soap packets and a travel clothesline with clothes pins. If you use a laundromat, stay there until you are finished.
Take old or worn socks, underwear, and t-shirts. Wear them and throw them out.
Buy souvenirs you can wear like sweaters and t-shirts. Do not take sweaters
to places known for making great sweaters; buy and wear.
Wear clothes in layers. Wear long or short sleeved t-shirts (not white) or similar garments under heavier long sleeved shirts. Change or pitch the t-shirts as required and keep wearing the outer.
Unless you are a witch, do not fear rain. Extensive rain gear eats up space in your carry-on, has no place to dry, and makes you look like a rube. Damp clothes dry fastest on you. Take a packable rain hat and light-weight pack-able jacket. Don’t even think about umbrellas, tornado-proof rain suits, rubber boots, or silly ponchos. Know the climate and likely weather before you leave. No human has ever melted.
Blue jeans are heavy, have unsafe pockets, take forever to dry, and do not have room for what you need to carry. Travel or cargo pants are a must. They have large, useful pockets, they are comfortable and practical. Some models have zip off legs which turn them into shorts and internal security pockets.
Wear natural fibers and blends designed for travel. Wear loose, cotton or linen clothes on the plane. Manmade fabrics melt horribly in a fire. Do not wear pantyhose for this reason. Natural fibers breath well and are cool; both are important while sitting on hot, stuffy, crowded airplanes.
Take a practical (not sex goddess or Speedo king) swimsuit with the underwear built in. It can be shorts, sleep wear, underwear, public shower wear, even a swimsuit. They dry quickly too.
For up to two weeks travel to Europe or similar climates, you will need:
(This includes what you wear on the plane)
2 to 3 pairs of travel or cargo pants.
2 to 3 long sleeved outer shirts.
3 to 4 t-shirts or turtle necks (not white) or similar, long and short sleeved. Take some old ones, throw them out when dirty, and wear your new souvenir models.
4 to 5 pairs of good, heavy, cotton or wool hiking socks.
Underwear for everyday. Take the old and throw away.
2 to 3 bras, easy to wash. Not underwire unless you want a good grope at the airport.
1 practical swim suit.
1 travel jacket or vest.
1 packable rain hat and jacket.
The good, practical, dark leather shoes or boots you wore onto the plane, no more.
(adjust all of the above for total numbers, fabric weight, and sleeve length based upon climate)
Other clothing items to consider:
Super light insulated sock liners.
Packable slippers for the plane and B&Bs.
1 set long/insulated underwear or heavy tights.
Light weight gloves.
1 pair of nylon travel pants for easy drying.
1 pair light weight shorts (zip off legs on travel pants work as well)
For the bathroom:
Carry everything in one bag designed for the purpose or a zip-lock freezer bag also works well.
Take shampoo and conditioner in tight closing travel bottles.
Keep soap and toothbrush in travel cases. Take a plastic comb.
Use travel sizes of deodorant, toothpaste, baby powder, Q tips, shave cream, and mouthwash if it is enough for the whole trip.
Take a few band-aids, aspirin, decongestant tabs, anti-acids, diarrhea pills and other off-the-shelf medications in a zip-lock. Make sure you know which is which.
Keep critical prescriptions on you. Keep back-ups and less important prescriptions in small bottles.
Don’t forget contraceptives, menstrual items, topical ointments, eye drops and contact solution.
Do not pack metal nail files, scissors, nail clippers, small knives or anything similar.
Keep anything that might spill in its own zip-lock.
Dental floss is great for lots of things (sewing, tying, hanging, even teeth).
Other items you might want:
A small flashlight Store it where the security people can get to it easily. New batteries.
A travel alarm clock. New batteries.
Small notebook and pen, pencil too if taking notes in a library. Addresses for postcards.
Sunglasses if you need them.
Small compass. Cheap watch.
Sun block, lip balm, ear plugs, airplane neck pillow.
Small sewing kit with thread, buttons, needles, safety pins, but no scissors.
Business cards, a phone card, membership cards you might really use.
Spare zip-lock bags.
Think about cost versus amenities. Are you on the trip to sit in your motel
room and hang out in a hotel? All you really need is a clean bed and
Staying in bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) is a great experience. They are cheaper than hotels, you get a better breakfast, it is interesting, you meet great people, and have a great time. It supports the local economy as well or better then anything else you can do. Guest Houses are a bigger version and usually just as nice. Small hotels are OK. Admire something nice at the B&B and mention it to the owner. Remember you are a guest in someone’s house. Act like a guest. Do not treat people like you are in a hotel.
Do not complain about the heat, electricity, plumbing, or beds (unless something is really bad or unsafe). You will not always get a top sheet, it is not part or everyone’s culture. Do not complain if somebody else got a nicer room. It’s luck of the draw. Nobody ever died from cold water in the bathroom. In the middle of no-where you can live without a locked door.
Arrange your last night in-country when you arrive in-country. In some places you can book rooms for further down the road at tourist information centers. If you book ahead directly or through a booking agent like a tourist center you can arrive later and lock in a price. This is less critical in the off seasons but always important for late arrival. Book B&Bs before 4:30 pm. Be in before 8:00 pm unless you made other arrangements. Some B&Bs have dinner options as well and this definitely needs advanced booking.
Rooms at B&Bs, guest houses, and small hotels do not all come with bathrooms. If you do not want to share make sure you book en suite or private bath (they cost more). In the off season you may often be the only one in the house. Save money by booking a shared bath room and if nobody else is there you do not have to share. Do not take electric hair dryers (see below). See Toilets and Bathrooms section.
In Europe, and many parts of the world, it is not unusual to find animals in hotels, guest houses, and especially bed and breakfasts. In other parts of the world many people travel with animals and many owner/operators of lodging establishment have pets, or even farm animals which may be in or around the building. Some great B&Bs are working farms. If you have real pet allergies, be prepared.
Costs can fluctuate from room to room. Rooms with a “view” often cost more. In cities look for a place near public transportation. Check to see if parking costs per day. Beds (including number, type, and size) can vary dramatically, a double could be two single beds. King size beds are rare, and in hotels two double beds in a room are even rarer
***Do not take with you anything that needs to be plugged in or recharged.
Do not take hair dryers, curling irons, electric razors, or irons.
They are heavy, take up your limited space, and are hard to use with European
electrical current. Think about it, why do you need them? Bed and breakfast
power supplies will often not support the surge requirements.
Do not take cell phones, pagers, CD or cassette players, or CDs and cassettes. Buy CDs and cassettes of local music as souvenirs and listen to them in your car (most rentals have one or the other). Do not forget and leave them in the car.
Do not take lap top computers or palm pilots. You risk great damage if you need to plug them in. If you absolutely must have one for research, check with the site before you go to see if it is OK and what kind of power they have.
You do not need to call home everyday. In fact you do not need to call home. They know where you are and you cannot really help them. If you were needed that much back at the ranch you should have stayed there. If you absolutely must call, do so at a pre-arranged time and remember to work in the time differences. Do not call from anything but a pay phone, even using a calling card will cost your host.
You do not need to know the score of the game or how the market is doing. You probably really don’t even need to know the news of the world. If something critical is happening on the planet, you will find out. You can live without TV. Try it and notice the difference. You can live without e-mail and the internet. It can all wait till you get home and Bill Gates will not go broke from your inactivity. If your work cannot spare you, unencumbered by the intrusions of the electronic world, stay home.
Carry a small, well made camera with a variety of light, flash, and distance settings. Bring all of the film you think you will need. Do not bring cameras with attachments and large lenses you need to carry and fret over. Get a job with Newsweek and let them send you on that kind of trip. Always ask before you take pictures. Use a variety of disposable cameras (indoor, panorama, etc).
***Stick together with your friends or family. Know how to get back
to where you are staying. Agree upon a time to leave and where to meet if you
get split up.
During festival times rooms in the host city will be expensive and hard to find. If you are going book well in advance. Parking at the event will be nearly impossible so plan to leave your car where you are staying and walk or ride public transportation. Know which bus or subway gets you home.
Some people in the crowd will be there to rip you off. Large packed crowds of people, often drinking and spending money in public, are a pickpocket’s fantasy. See the sections on security, pocket money, and locals.
Get tickets to events well in advance. Carry as little with you as possible. Take a good look at the crowd, the venue, the exits, and the history of the event. Some crowds, like those at large soccer matches, are notoriously rowdy, dangerous, and drunk.
Check ahead to make sure you get in-flight meals on your trip; some flights
no longer come with meals. You may need to carry on food and drinks. Airport
food is expensive and bad, bring your own. You can also custom-order food in
advance for the plane like low-fat, vegan, or kosher.
If you want to travel and you are a picky eater, get over it. Don’t order what restaurants don’t have, i.e. eat what they do have. Detailed instructions to the staff about what you want and how you want it are so you can impress your friends at home. Don’t do it on the road.
Check on tipping customs before you leave. Do not tip where it is considered an insult. Tip a little where it is not the custom but OK, and the full amount where it is expected.
Never, ever walk past an open bakery. Dessert is not a luxury, it is a necessity (avoid Irish apple pie).
Carry a zip-lock bag in your pocket for the meat you don’t eat. You can feed it to the nice dogs you meet.
Buy groceries in small shops when you find them, you want them to be there the next time. Get water and snacks for the car right after you pick it up, carry in a spare bag on trains. Carry enough food to get you through a missed meal or two.
Never eat fast food in any US chain. Don’t even think about it. If that is what you want why did you come? Eat the foods you do not get at home. Never eat hamburgers and avoid ground beef. One is a cultural slap and both risk mad cow. It is rude to salt your food before you taste it and you don’t need the salt. In some places it is rude to salt at all and many restaurants will not have salt on the table.
You will see things on the menu you do not recognize, you may even get food you do not recognize; go ahead and ask. Remember your cultural bias. Other people eat animals or parts of animals that are not part of your cultural food chain. This is not wrong, stupid, gross or evil; it is just different. If you really knew how chickens and cattle were mass produced for market in the USA, you would not be disgusted by what other people eat.
Breakfast is included at all B&Bs and guest houses. In the UK you will get a lot of food. Do not make special diet requests as there will be something you can eat. If they offer a choice of full breakfast or continental, full means fried eggs, bacon (similar to thin ham, not US bacon), sausages, toast, grilled mushrooms or tomatoes and possibly either haggis, black pudding, kippers, or potato cakes,. Breakfast is generally not available before 8:30 am. Do not try for earlier unless they offer. 8:00 am would be the absolute earliest. Do not tell people how to cook, order your eggs in some precise way (they are just eggs), demand “American” coffee, or make stupid comments about foods you do not recognize. Do not drink all the juice and do eat all of your breakfast. It won’t kill you and it makes lunch much less important. Hotels generally offer breakfast from 7:30 A.M. because of bus tour fools.
Lunch is the light meal. Be prepared to eat on the run and look to see who is doing the brisk carry-out business called take-a-way. Look for snack bars and small restaurants at museums and historical sites. Do not expect to get dinner in a real restaurant before 7:00 pm. In some cultures the evening meal is an event, courses take time; plan to be there a while.
Ask the locals where to eat dinner; not where you should but where they would. In a restaurant with a pub attached, the food is the same on both sides only cheaper and less pretentious on the pub side. Eat local foods; raised, baked, caught, or grown. Eat national and regional dishes, and the speciality-of-the-house. Go fro fresh food. If you are by the ocean eat seafood. Many restaurants will be related to former colonial associations or large immigrant populations and are considered “local” food.
Do not drink much alcohol on airplanes, it dehydrates you even worse then airplanes
already do and it heightens the negative effects of jet lag. If it is free get
the little bottles and save them for later.
Order bottled water in restaurants, the big bottle, if you like to drink when you eat. Tell them if you want sparkling or flat. Ordering a bottle is the only way you will ever get as much to drink as you are accustomed to. Tap water and soft drinks come in small glasses, infrequently. Drink bottled water anytime you have genuine (based upon reality, not phobias) concerns about the water. Don’t use tap water to brush your teeth, don’t use ice, and don’t drink in the shower if you have concerns.
Compared to the US many more people in Europe drink wine as a regular part of meals, afternoon and evening. There are many very good wines available at reasonable prices. Most restaurants will offer a palatable house wine as well as a variety of bottles. Especially in wine country drink the local wines. You will not find soda-pop-like wine coolers or wines marketed as something approaching fruit punch.
Beer is also consumed more widely with meals in Europe. Remember beer is better in countries without the initials USA. The rest of the world drinks real beer, not an anemic malt beverage. The Scots have an understanding as to why yanks have to drink “light beer” so cold. Always drink draft beer, the local brew if available. Bottle beer is not as good (except Belgian monastic ales), or as cheap. Just like here canned beer is atrocious. Beer is Europe is not served warm.
Watering single-malt whisky is a sin. Do not order stupid mixed drinks in pubs and taverns. Stupid is anything where all the ingredients are not in the title. Drink things you haven’t heard of or haven’t tried.
Do your social drinking in pubs and taverns, not restaurants. It is cheaper, more comfortable, more interesting, and they have a better selection. Soft drinks and fruit juices are readily available, although often in small portions and over priced. You can live without ice. Many things have different names in different places, a 7Up type soda is called lemonade in many countries.
***If you are sharing a bathroom in a B&B or hotel observe some
simple rules: if you and one of your travel partners can be in there at the
same time (like one in shower and one at sink), do so. Leave some hot water,
do not get dressed or spend any more time then is necessary, and do not leave
your towels. Clean-up after yourself.
You will seldom find the bathroom called the bathroom, or the rest room. Call them toilets.
Always use a nice toilet when you run across one. You never know how far it may be to the next one, or its quality. Public toilets are common in towns and public areas. They are not always well marked or obvious. Toilets are often unisex or at least cleaned (while you are in them) by the other sex. If there is a full-time attendant sitting there, tip them.
Carry napkins or Kleenex with you. A small bottle of hand sanitizer is also a good thing. Carrying a good diarrhea drug will help eliminate emergency situations.
Flush toilets are not all the same. Even how to flush the toilet may be a mystery. Some toilets have electric grinders in the sewer line and the sound may come as a surprise. In areas without flush toilets the standard outhouse is not always the option. In parts of Europe pit or latrine types are still in use. Using these facilities in modern clothing requires practiced positioning.
Showers are not all the same. Even how to turn them on may be a mystery. Many showers require temperature control separate from flow and are electrically operated. Controls are not always well marked.
Remember that most of the world is on the logical system, metrics. To convert
from metric to miles in your head, multiply the metric distance by 3 and divide
that number by 5. The answer will be the approximate distance in miles.
Fill your gas tank when it is half-empty. Gas stations are not always where you think they should be or open when you want them. Do not complain about the price of gas. Everybody there already knows gas in the USA is ridiculously under taxed and overused. They pay that high price all the time. If your rental car company has an option to pre-pay for a tank of gas and bring the car back empty, do it. This will save you time and hassle on your return to the airport.
Nothing in Europe is really as far as it looks on the map. However, despite how close it is, getting anywhere will take you longer then you think it should being that close.
When renting a car use a Platinum type credit card. You will get some insurance automatically from the card company at no extra cost. Check with the card company before you leave. Regardless of how you cover yourself make sure you have good insurance. Check with your car insurance at home, and your home owners. You may or may not be covered on rentals in other countries. They may offer supplemental policies. Look the car over well before driving off. Make sure all the defects are listed on the agreement.
If you are driving in a country that drives on the left side of the road remember it is not the wrong side, it is the other side. Do not rent a manual transmission for driving on the left. You do not want to learn how to shift with your left hand while also learning to drive on the left, use round-a-bouts, and read unfamiliar signs. Reserve an automatic well in advance. If you do not regularly drive a stick-shift car do not rent one anywhere.
Do not drive in big cities if you can avoid it. Traffic and parking are impossible. Park outside the downtown or at your lodging, and take the good public transportation. Learn the local driving rules, signs, and common courtesies like driving on one lane roads and pulling over to be passed. Be careful where you park. Pay to park if required or they will boot your car.
Have really good maps that show cities and back roads and know how to read them. Have a good navigator so the driver does not have to do it. Take a good small guide book or notes about where you want to go. Always know what direction you are going. Ask simple directions and do not try to get the directions for a long trip all at once. Get part way and ask for more directions from someone closer.
Get in the habit of walking. Some countries have a large number of bicycles including rentals. In places with bicycle lanes think of them as car lanes. Look into ferries before you leave. If using frequently purchase bus or train passes. When possible use public transportation, it is very good. Know what buses or subways get you home at night. Use trains for long distance non-stop trips or out-and-back day trips.
Taxi cab fares, safety, hailing, availability, and coverage all vary greatly from place to place. If you plan to use taxis investigate their use in each city/country you are in.
EasyJet and Ryanair have made point-to-point air travel in Europe easy, cheap, and convenient. These must be booked on-line, ahead of time.
***Rattle your saber, thump your bible, and expound on the problems
of the world in your own back yard. Never complain about the cost of
things, everybody there has to pay those prices all the time. Don’t complain
about the taxes, you only pay them for a short time and you’re using the
services. Stay out of local politics, don’t sell your religion, and remember
that the rest of the world does not share your American bias.
Be a Green Tourist. Do not litter, dump trash in the wrong place, drive off the road, waste water, electricity, or gasoline. Turn off lights, reuse towels, turn the heat down, and recycle.
Do not shop in large stores or US outlets, stay out of international chain restaurants and fast food. Spend your money where it is most supportive of the local economy. Buy in small locally owned shops. Stay in locally owned B&Bs or small hotels.
There is a reason you came to this place, remember? If you support the very things that make it look like your town at home soon there will be no difference, and no reason to come.
Always put money in the donations boxes at churches, museums, and historical sites. You want it to still be there in the future don’t you? Check out local symphonies, concerts, theaters, ballet, and movies.
Music should be local and live. Find out who is playing in the area around you. Buy music for your car stereo by in-country artists. Don’t bother with newspapers like USA Today International, it is even worse than the edition at home. If you like newspapers read the local paper.
Few street performers are really from the town you are in, they are professionals on a circuit and looking needy is part of the act. None of them are really poor, has recently been robbed (despite their story), is “trying to get home”, or has a sick child. If you donate use your “pocket money” (see sections 1 & 4).
Remember how you feel when some “foreigner” does something you don’t like in your country? People in other countries feel the same way about you. On the rest of the planet people from the United States are often seen as arrogant, self-centered, wasteful (think SUVs), xenophobic, and rude. Try not to reenforce the stereotype. At least know how to pronounce the name of the country you are in, what the capital is, what monetary system they use, some local history, local holidays, and what subjects are avoided.
Remember, some of the people in the church might actually be members of the
church. Some of them may be there to pray. A church is a church, do not forget
it. Woman may want to carry a head scarf. It is generally no longer required
but might be nice in some locations. Think before you wear shorts or inappropriate
clothes. Do not eat, drink, or be loud in churches, museums, libraries, or historical
Pay the full price of admission, you do not need a senior discount. Check open hours and days before you leave for anyplace you really want to go. Hours and closed days vary. Remember local holidays. Put money in the donations boxes. Buy from their souvenir stand, snack bar, or restaurant. Ask before you take pictures. Your film will be taken right out of the camera if you take pictures in restricted areas.
Many churches have great, special musical performances or church services. Many museums and historical sites have wonderful evening programs, tours, musical performances, or lectures. Thank the volunteers who work at these sites. They are the reason you got in. You do not want the headphone tour and you want to go the opposite way through the museum that the lemmings with the headphone tour are going. Avoid sites at peak tour bus hours.
Buy passes or special multi-stop tickets for historical sites and museums, it makes the process easier. These things will save you time and reasons to get your wallet out. See if any of your current memberships are honored at the sites you want to visit, you have paid for them.
Really old cemeteries are wonderful places to walk and learn. Many towns have walking tours which take you past the best places. Tour companies offer evening walking tours with unique themes likes ghost tours, famous pubs, historic homes, music venues, or places from literature. Distillery and brewery tours are a nice break and include drinks at the end.
Buy souvenirs, postcards, books, food, snacks, music, and related items at
non-profit sites, museums, churches or very small shops. They make the money
they need to stay open off of those kind of sales. Many sites have great gift
shops, snack bars, and restaurants. Big tourist-trap stores do not need your
money. Buy locally made items, items unique to the culture, and items made by
Buy what you want when you see it. Do not count on finding it again later or cheaper. Buy the bigger items you can on credit cards to get a good rate and preserve your cash. Duty free is not always a bargain. Know the cost/value of items you might buy duty free and compare before you purchase. Most duty free must be declared at Customs, save your receipts. Mail home the items you want but don’t really care about.
Buy souvenirs you can wear, like sweaters and t-shirts, or that you can read, or that you can listen to in the car. Buy stuff that is flat or small. Buy items that will get home in one piece. Wrap breakable items well and carry in the middle of your carry-on. Do not wrap packages any way not easily opened at security in the airport. Remember the carry-on requirements of size, wight, and number of pieces when you are making purchases.
***Take twice the money and 1/3 of the clothes.
***You do NOT have constitutional rights everywhere. Foreign jails are much worse then you can imagine; stay out of them. Do not get sick, hospitals are no thrill either.
***It is a scientific fact that the human body creates enough heat to keep it alive if it is insulated (not really that tough when you start at 98 degrees). It is also true that the human body is not designed well to cool itself with the restraints of clothing and buildings. People who are cold can insulate to get warm. For people who are hot it may be impossible to dissipate enough heat to get cool. Adjust your room, car, clothes, and itinerary accordingly.
***Do not smoke in B&Bs. Do not smoke anywhere without asking. Remember, Cuban cigars are available outside the US.
***If you are one of those people with a dozen undiagnosed ailments, several Oprah diseases-of-the-week, many allergies never confirmed by a doctor, self-generated eating disorders, or clean-freak fetishes; vacation in the safety of your living room.
Do not need to be home the day you plan to. Allow at least one day between when you need to be home and plan to be so delays are not critical and you have time to rest and recover. Be at airports well in advance. Remember security takes a lot longer now. Bring a book, snacks, and water for the wait.
Book your trips with the fewest flights, fewest airline or airplane changes, and fewest airports to get through. Direct flights are best; changes and complications cause delay, stress, and problems. Look at what you save in time and anguish compared to the cost of cheaper tickets which may have a 10 hour wait in someplace you do not want to be. Is the cheaper price worth a wasted day on vacation? Always ask before you take pictures indoors. Do not start thinking you need a picture of everything; you really need very few. You have been there and other people will be bored silly looking at them. Take one book for pleasure reading and leave it. You will never see everything you wanted to see or do all the things you wanted to do. Prioritize what is important to you and expect priorities to change. Be flexible in your plans.
Your kids may be cute and precocious to you but they are not to other people, no matter what they tell you. The old adage about children being seen and not heard starts at the end of your driveway. If your kids do not know how to travel, do not go until they learn.
Never complain about the weather. No one you know can do anything about it. Know the climate and likely weather before you leave. Read the travel books at home and leave them. Take one small guide book, or make notes about things you want to see or do. Familiarize yourself with the maps before you leave.
Everybody speaks English. You shouldn’t demand it and they should not have to, but they do. If you cannot find someone who speaks English, find a kid to talk to. Don’t talk loud and slow to get people to understand you, they will just think you are deaf and stupid.
Go in the off season; the costs, number of people, local attitudes, lines, pace, and security will all be better. If you are a jerk, stay home. Mark Twain said, “You never know what a consummate ass a person is until they go abroad.” Don’t tell people something their doing “is done better at home” (unless you’re in Dixie). Nobody gives a hoot where you are from so don’t tell them. Yes, there are stupid questions, do not ask them.
Always remember the needs, wants, desires, and interests of the people you
travel with. Do not do company work on your vacation; they’ll survive.
Cemeteries are full of people who thought themselves indispensable.
Get off the big roads. The beaten path is beaten because idiots beat it. Try to never put yourself in a position where you need to be in a hurry. Other countries have a different sense of time, timeliness, and pace of life. If there is an end-of-the-road, go there. Go see whatever it is. You’ll know you are on the right route if all the roads look less traveled. The days and nights you remember most will be the ones you planned least.
The things that matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least. Just keep asking yourself, “when will I be back?” if you are debating about going somewhere or doing something. Fly fishing is God’s hobby. Long bus tours are living hell. Pet cats regularly.
The less of the planet you have seen, the less you should have an opinion about it. If you’re absolutely certain there is nothing better or interesting past the end of your driveway, don’t back out. Keep eyes, ears, and mind open; mouth closed. Only ask real questions, i.e. questions for which you really need an answer or honest desire to learn. Defer to people who really do know what they are talking about. Recognize your betters and step aside; who else should lead? It is what you learn after you think you know everything that really counts.
The greenest grass I ever saw was at an unplanned stop at ruined castle in Wales. Go find yours.
This material protected by Copyright - 2002 MacFarlanes’ Company. The material may be used, unedited, for non-profit personal or educational purposes as long as the copyright appears on all copies.