Tips for managing the stresses of travel
If you’ve never crossed the pond, travelling outside North America opens a whole world of new cultures, new foods, new traditions and, with an open mind, a new perspective. Those experiences also introduce a new level of stress – so much learning you simply cannot plan for. Planning in advance for (some of) the known challenges can reduce a lot of the stress, so your energy is then invested in the fun of enjoying the world around you. Which is why we love to travel, right?
GoGirlfriend recently took a Mediterranean cruise, visiting 5 countries (our first trip overseas) experiencing a sampling of cultures and foods, and introducing us to a smorgasbord of new experiences (and stresses).
Considering international travel for the first time? Here’s our tips and tricks that can help your experiences abroad be as stress free as possible.
Before you go advice
Pre-planning the known challenges can help organize your daily routine and remove them from becoming one of those unknown hiccups. Consider these basics:
- Bring a water bottle. Instead of spending money on overpriced water bottles, take your own 1L water bottle and keep refilling it where possible. For example, all of Rome’s public drinking fountains deliver clean, cool drinkable water. Or fill up from your ship or resort before your excursion.
- Pack a collapsible umbrella. At some point on your vacation rain will cross your path (but just once!).
- Eliminate power restrictions with an international adapter – bring 2. North America to Europe/Caribbean often changes voltage outputs (110-220V) and you don’t want to fry your technology – which you will without a step-down adapter. And outlets at the airport are not always to be found (Barcelona) while other airports have a great power presence. Do yourself a favor and purchase a USB power pack to charge devices on the go!
- Utilize skip-the-line tours. Preplan important, must-not-miss points in your itinerary in advance to get the most of your adventure. Popular tours fill up quickly.
- Buy a data plan and calling package. Before you leave home, understand your cellular data plan options and International add-ons available. Your usage patterns will be different when traveling abroad and many places have Wi-Fi available (restaurants, coffee shops) to reduce your data usage.
- Get an international cellular SIM card. If you have an unlocked phone and will be in an area for more than a few days (resorts or deep exploration in a major city), often SIM cards purchased in the local vacationing area will allow you cost-effective data and calling options. Note: this won't work if you are hopscotching many countries, nor on the ship at sea.
Tips for adapting on the fly
Once you arrive at your new destination, the unknown of the new culture, and different lifestyles will be both exhilarating and stress-inducing for their wonderful, delicious differences. Proceed with an open mind and a willingness to soak up these new experiences.
Here’s some when-you-are-there tips:
- Bridge the great language barrier. Respect the local language and make your best attempts to communicate. By respecting their culture and trying, they too will often try to bridge the communication gap to communicate with you. We found Italy and Greece to be great in working to bridge the language bridge – Spain we found more problematic.
- Respect religious traditions. When visiting different cultures, acknowledge and obey local religious traditions and norms. When entering churches or mosques, pack a shawl or sweater to cover arms and legs if needed, and understand the importance of sacred areas for what it means to the local culture.
- Learn to use different toilets and bathrooms. Outside America, expect non-American water closet experiences – no toilet seats. Learn to squat and use a bidet. Men and women sharing the same bathroom – oh my! A washroom may be called a water closet (WC), a bathroom, a restroom, the toilet, the loo. Note: restaurants and coffee shops often allow free use of their washrooms if you buy a coffee or soft drink. So for about the same price as a pay toilet, you get a drink AND get to…
- Hurry up, then wait, but don't be late. Embrace siesta’s and afternoon tea – cultural patterns can be radically different from what we’re accustomed to. While we’re used to being busy during 9-5, accept that there’s going to be gaps in scheduling that will sometimes leave you hanging.
- Adopt the siesta philosophy. Hit the attractions as soon as they open, have an afternoon siesta and hit the trail again!
- Use Viator tours and Discovery tours. To get a deeper story of an area or historic site, Viator’s Discovery tours (private and group tours) offer you the richer story, culture and lifestyle in the context of what you're seeing.
- Bring your own earbuds for the communicators. While on group tours (Viator Colosseum and Forum tour), tour guides communicate through wireless digital sound systems. For your listening comfort, bring your own earbuds that you know are comfortable to your ear.
- Guard against pickpockets and protect our safety. It’s easy to understand the criminal motives of opportunity – the more people crowded in an area (tourist hotspots), the greater the pickpocket opportunity. Flip your backpack around and wear it to the front, carry minimal cash within easy access (keep the extra cash in your fanny pack under your clothes) and guard your phone and camera (don’t keep it in tucked in your back pocket).
- Be choosy when shopping. You’ll see the same 6 things everywhere on touristy shopping districts and markets. For more than the usual tourist tchotchkes, head a few streets over and the local flavor and products will spring to life. Research on foot and decide what you like and understand different cultural shopping patterns. In Istanbul, the shops were aggressive, throughout Italy and Greece, we found a more relaxed shopping experience.
- Barter for your purchases. In most of the world outside North America, markets, small shops and street vendors negotiate sales by bartering. Some areas, like the Turkish Bazaars in Istanbul, are very aggressive and start their pricing very high and come down dramatically in pricing to a quarter of the starting price. Know what you want to pay and don’t be afraid to walk away and negotiate with a different vendor.
- Get Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi onboard the cruise ship is expensive but Wi-Fi at coffee shops and restaurants while touring – just ask for the password and click onto Facebook and begin posting.
- Be open minded. You can't chase North American expectations in Europe (chasing burgers, finding tapas) – be open minded and leave your options open for new experiences.
The success of your adventure is directly proportional to your willingness to go with the flow and be open to new ideas introduced by your host country. Travel with humility as a visitor in their country – respect their culture, traditions and ways of life and return home with a new way to view the world around you and a wealth of great learning experiences to remove from your bucket list.