Avoid the biggest mistakes most travelers make

Avoid the biggest mistakes most travelers make

When it comes to travel, it seems simple enough. And truth be told, you can make every single one of these mistakes and have a perfectly lovely vacation. But if you’re ready to take your travel game to the next level, read on to find the ways to make travel more relaxing, less stressful, and overall more enjoyable.

Mistake #1: Bulking Up

There are really, really large suitcases out there. And I have friends who could fill one for a weekend trip. After all, if you’ve got the room, why not? Right?


Because when you travel, you have to lug all your stuff with you all over the place, it makes sense to lighten the load. And there are several ways to do this, without even making a sacrifice. Which may help you drop down a suitcase size. And anyone who has ever tried to fit their bag into a small space has learned that the smaller the bag, the better. Nobody will argue with the axiom that you’re better off with the smallest bag that serves your purpose.

  1. Full-sized toiletries. Most major brands have travel sizes available. You won’t need a full bottle of shampoo for a week-long trip, and nobody uses a full deodorant stick that quickly. Even if your brand doesn’t come in travel size, you can purchase reusable travel-sized containers that can be filled with your favorite moisturizer, conditioner, or sunscreen. Besides, most full-sized containers are not TSA-compliant and can’t be carried on to the plane anyhow. But ditching the bulk doesn’t only apply to toiletries. Take a good hard look at your clothing and shoes. Jeans, sweaters/sweatshirts, and boots take up a LOT of the precious real estate in your bag. Rather than packing these items, consider wearing them on the plane. And while we’re at it, consider how many of these you need. On a short trip, you may be able to get away with only one pair of jeans. After all, at home you’d probably wear them more than once before watching.
  2. Ignoring the weather or your itinerary. We all want to look great on our trips, but make sure that what you bring will match the forecast of your destination. I pack significantly differently for trips to Costa Rica than I do for Spain. I go much more rugged in Costa Rica, with more study shoes for hiking through wilderness. In Spain I dress more like I do when I’m going to walk around my city at home. In Europe I try to look more chic, in Costa Rica, more outdoorsy. If it’s rainy season, I bring a poncho or windbreaker. In drier weather, I bring a light sweater or shawl. Knowing if you need hiking shoes or athletic wear or something more formal will help you know what to pack…because you probably don’t need all of the above.
  3. Putting the wrong thing in the wrong bag. If you’ve read my other posts, you will know that I’m a BIG fan of one bag, carry-on only travel. But I realize not everyone has been brainwashed to my way of thinking. And yeah, I sometimes check a bag also. Rarely. But it happens. The key is to be sure that you put the right things in the right bag. And most importantly, ensuring you have the right things in your carry-on. The carry-on bag is where you need to keep all vital medical items, money and valuables, and anything you can’t live without for a day or two. Because checked bags DO go missing, and even if their route is the same as yours, the bags are out of your site/control for a large portion of your trip. Of course if you’re packing larger liquids (other than those medically exempt from the 3-1-1 rules), those need to be in a checked bag. You can get more info from the TSA. Their “What can I bring?” page is incredibly helpful.
  4. Stuffing your bag full. Now, my philosophy is start with a small bag, and then as you pack if stuff doesn’t fit and you can’t winnow down the stuff, bump into a larger bag. That way you’ll always be traveling with the smallest possible bag. But this could mean that you feel the need to cram things into the smaller bag, stuffing it to the gills. Which is fine, with 2 exceptions. First, if you’re planning to buy souvenirs, you’re going to need to get them home. On a recent trip to Spain, my travel partner was in this bind. After arriving with a very full, very heavy suitcase, he had to buy another suitcase for the trip home to hold all the souvenirs. Second, if you’re not a systematic packer. Because the fact that you fit it all in there once may not mean that it will all fit again.
  5. Planning outfits or isolated items, not a wardrobe. Travel is stressful, and so many elements are very fixed. Your airline will not flex their schedule based on what you’d like. Your hotel room will not always have the view you would like. But at least you can give yourself some wardrobe flexibility if you plan before you pack. Some travelers talk about a capsule wardrobe. But regardless, packing fully interchangeable items allows you to alter your clothing plans based on weather, changes in itinerary, and other factors. If all of your items match, you don’t have to worry about having accidentally already worn the one top that matches that one bottom. I personally go with a black base, and wrap everything else in solid colors around matching with black or gray bottoms, and neutral sweaters and outer layers. That way I don’t get stuck having to wear the shirt tomorrow that I was sweating in yesterday because I have to wear the striped pants and can’t wear the patterned shirt.

Travel with Liquids…it’s kind of a big deal

Travel with Liquids…it’s kind of a big deal

First off, in order to understand this, you will need to be sure you understand the luggage allowances for your trip. If you’re traveling with me, you’re allowed ONE checked bag and ONE carry-on item, as well as a small personal item to carry-on. If you aren’t sure what all that means, PLEASE first read these other two posts:

Packing for Travel:  Step 2: Luggage

Travel Luggage Allowances

This post specifically refers to what you carry onto the plane, or more aptly through security, whether a carry-on suitcase or a personal item bag, you need to be very aware of international laws concerning liquids.  These laws are known as the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule.

Image result for 3-1-1 liquids
Image from tsa.gov

Let’s “unpack” this rule (get it? ha ha!).

3=3 ounces or smaller.

Any liquids you bring on board need to be in containers that hold 3.4 ounces (100mL) or less.  That’s right, we round to 3, but really the limit is 100mL, since the EU got on board.

Image result for liquids can't bring on airplane
Image: Daily Mail Travel

This means that a ny larger-sized container is NOT allowed to be brought through security.  Almost every time I’ve flown I’ve seen someone ahead of me who was NOT quite ready for this rule.  And airports have lovely collections of liquids that have been abandoned at the security area. This is one of the reasons why there are lovely travel-sized bottles.  Use them.

What if you REALLY need a full-sized shampoo? Do you really? How long is this trip? Do you go through a whole bottle that often at home?  Well, if you do, you’ll have to check it.

But…I want to bring my water bottle!  The great news is, YOU CAN!!  You just can’t bring water in that bottle.  The 3-1-1 rule is for liquids, not containers.  You can bring 100 gallon jugs…as long as they’re empty.

So, just what is a liquid, anyhow?

That sounds like a dumb question.  But some things you would want to bring may surprise you how they “count” according to the TSA.  It isn’t always intuitive.  Some common items are listed below.  Others can be found on the TSA website.

Liquids: (restricted by 3-1-1 to 100mL containers):

  • liquid makeup (concealer, foundation, eyeliner, mascara)
  • hair products (shampoo, conditioner, mousse, gel, pomade)
  • contact lens solution (NOTE: contact lenses w/ tiny bits of solution in lens holder don’t count)
  • liquid or aerosol deodorant (NOTE: solid deodorant doesn’t count!)
  • toothpaste
  • creamy foods (cream cheese, yogurt, hummus)

Not liquids: (not restricted in quantity or part of the 3-1-1):

  • Wet wipes/baby wipes
  • Medicines (such as insulin or epi pens) – must be declared but do not need to meet 3-1-1 rules
  • Sandwiches, even tuna salad! (But don’t bring tuna onto a plane. Too stinky.)
  • Contact lenses
  • Solid deodorant
  • Solid makeup (lipstick, lip balm, pressed powder, “solid” cream makeup)

1-1 = 1 quart bag, 1 bag/traveler

Each traveler may bring ONE, and only one, quart-sized bag with the aforementioned liquids in it. The easiest way to do this is get quart-sized zip-top bags from the grocery store and use one of those.  They are inexpensive–you don’t need a special TSA bag.  The only downside to the Ziplock style bag is that they’re flimsy, so you’d be smart to bring an extra or two with you.

That’s right, ALL your liquids have to fit into ONE quart bag if you’re going to carry it through security. This bag will need to be removed from your carry-on or purse, and set in a bin on the conveyor for x-ray inspection (along with the shoes you are wearing, jacket, and laptop computer).

Image result for tsa 3-1-1
Image: Packing Light Travel
Best Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling

Best Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling

You’ve heard of people getting “Montezuma’s Revenge” while abroad.  And many people come home with a cold, or develop one just after arriving home.  How can you avoid this? Well, there are no guarantees, but your best chances to stay healthy include:

1. Don’t drink the water…sort of

In many places, the water isn’t actually dangerous or full of all sorts of diseases.  But every place on earth has a different collection of “normal” bacteria.  For locals who are used to it, the tap water is fine.  And if that is the case, for you it probably will be fine too.  But try to drink bottled water.  It is purified and won’t contain all those local bacteria you’re not used to.  If you were going to live there long-term, you’d build up a tolerance, but for a short visit, it’s better to steer clear of large amounts of tap water.  In some places, this can also mean avoiding ice.  Any of our pre-planned stops & family stays will involve you being served safe liquids.  So if they give you a glass of water, it’s fine.  It will have come from a purified source.

2. Eat street food…sort of

Street food is an amazing part of many cultures. But especially if you’ve got a sensitive system, you want to choose carefully.  Be sure what you get looks cooked well, and relatively clean.  Any sort of “harmless” snacks like chips or fresh fruits are fine.  (You may want to wash/rub off any fruits with skins you’ll eat.)  

3. Don’t touch everything

Different sources will shock you by saying (common thing you touch) has more bacteria than a toilet seat. Your cell phone, your keyboard, a handrail, a door knob.  All are pretty filthy.  You can bet that in between flights, airplane surfaces aren’t cleaned deeply.  You may want to bring wipes to wipe down surfaces like the tray table in the plane, and hand sanitizer for the times when you can’t avoid touching everyone else’s germs.  It also follows to reason that you will want to keep your germy hands away from your face.

4.  Drink plenty of fluids

Yeah, I know.  I said don’t drink THE water, but yes, do drink water.  Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy and keep your energy up.  Remember, water IS the best for this.  Soda or coffee or energy drinks actually aren’t great for hydrating your body.  Your body is 60% water, not 60% Red Bull.  And while travel may make you tired, consuming a lot more caffeine than usual can upset your stomach.  Best to keep this consumption in the same range as you have at home.

5.  Get some zzzzzzz’s

Sleep goes hand-in-hand with hydration as the best ways to stay healthy.  Most of our trip will only be an hour (if that) different in terms of time zone, so there is no need to worry about major jet lag.  But being well-rested before the trip is a great way to ensure you are able to keep up a somewhat hectic pace of our travels.  (For those who are worried about jet lag, start a little before your trip, shifting your sleep patterns an hour or two in the direction you’ll have to adjust when you’re gone.  This lessens the impact of the change during the trip.)

6.  Use sunblock

We are from Wisconsin.  We are NOT very close to the sun.  Even if you “burn and then tan” or “never burn”, trust me.  Wear sunblock. The sun is MUCH closer to the earth as we get much closer to the equator.  You will NOT be happy sitting on the rough fabric of an airplane seat, with your waistband rubbing your tender belly, as you try to keep it from feeling like your flesh is boiling off of you.  If you take ONE bit of advice from me, let it be this.  I know you may want to come home with a tan, but not using sunblock can leave you with more than you bargained for.  

First Trip – Big Things to Know

So, you’re getting ready to take your first big international trip! Congratulations, and welcome to the world! Many people who travel say that their world is so much bigger and more interesting than they had ever imagined.

According to the Huffington Post, only 10% of Americans have passports and only about 3.5% of Americans travel abroad. Congratulations on joining this tiny club!  Is it your first trip out of the country?  In some ways, this is not that different from domestic travel.  In other ways, it will be a festival of strange new experiences.  Of course you know you need a passport…but what else separates this from more local travel? Here are some things to be aware of that you might not have considered.  Several of these are taken from Smarter Travel’s article on this topic.

    But travel can be scary too! If you’ve traveled to another part of the U.S., you’ve been in unfamiliar surroundings, but the types of places and people you saw were not fundamentally different than you. The buildings were similar. The people looked similar. They were probably speaking the same language(s) you heard at home. Venturing out into the world brings us face-to-face with new places, new systems, new behaviors, and diverse languages and faces. So what should novice international travelers be aware of before leaving home?

    • WiFi: In today’s world isn’t connectivity everyone’s first concern? The great thing is that this concern is world-wide. WiFi connections are common across the globe in hotels, restaurants, cafes, and other public places. Finding a free connection has only gotten easier for my students since 2007 when we went to Spain with our first WiFi-enabled cell phones. Since then we’ve had luck getting connections in our host family homes as well as public places throughout Spain, France, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Belize. But what about cellular data? To keep your own data service abroad can be simple or complicated, depending on your carrier. With AT&T (my carrier), in most countries I can pay $10/day to keep my regular service plan while abroad. Some carriers include international service with your plan, and others charge additional monthly or daily fees for various levels of service.
    • Health: The number one reason that travelers get sick is, contrary to popular believe, NOT related to unclean food. Sure, there are definite risks of food-borne illness in some places on the globe. But the stress of travel arrangement, adjustment to new time zones, the excitement of your plans, lack of sleep, and exposure to new bacteria all are the perfect storm of things to make you sick. So the most important thing to keep yourself healthy? GET. SOME. SLEEP. And if you’ll be adjusting to a new time zone, try shifting your schedule slightly toward the new time to minimize jet lag. In summer 2018 when I traveled to France, my flight left Chicago at 7pm, landing in France at 1pm local time (7am my time). I got a KILLER deal on this flight. But when I had to hit the ground running after spending a night on a coach flight, and a layover en Reykjavik interrupting that sleep, I was really glad I wasn’t already physically exhausted before I got in the air.
    • Shoes: The most important thing you can have are comfortable shoes. And if you’ll be walking a lot during the trip, having 2 different pairs will be comforting. Literally. Because if one pair starts to rub your foot uncomfortably, you will be endlessly glad to have a different pair! And whatever you do, do NOT bring brand new shoes. Break them in before you go. Your little piggies will thank you. I know that you want to look great and put forward a great impression on your trip. But the locals won’t notice you that way, and you will not want to look back at photos and see a pained face due to the fancy new shoes on your feet.
    • Packing: My biggest advice to all my students is to pack LIGHT. There are tons of blogs and resources about how to pack light (stay tuned for my own take on this to come!). But for now I will leave you with a compelling reason to look into it. While the US has taken many steps to provide accessibility for wheelchairs (and as a by-product, heavy wheeled items like luggage), other countries have not put focus into that. There are uneven sidewalks, some even with a step or two. Sometimes the elevators are painfully slow. Sometimes you have a very short time to jump on a train before it starts moving. Sometimes you need to “mind the gap” between the subway and the platform. Being able to lift and/or carry your bag is essential to your comfort and ease of movement.
    • Money: Like WiFi, access to money has improved greatly over recent years. Now travelers can expect to find ATMs around the world. Between cash from an ATM and a credit card, you will have ready access to money in all but the most remote places. (I always do convert a little cash before I go, but I’ve rarely found myself unable to access cash.) And no, DON’T bother with traveler’s checks. They hard to cash, and a general nuisance. American dollars are accepted in many places as well, however in some places you can get a better deal with local currency, even if US dollars are accepted.
    • Language: When I travel with students, I take those who have completed level 3, so they have some language experience under their belts. But what if you don’t? Don’t panic. A smile, a willing to gesture and pantomime, and an acceptance of “good enough” communication goes a LONG way. Learn a few polite phrases (hello, please, thank you) and then just take a deep breath and let it go. Be friendly, look at it as a challenge! In general, people appreciate friendliness and a smile more than precise grammar and perfect pronunciation. How have you reacted to people with limited English skill approaching you? Still feel like you want more? Well, if taking language classes is not possible due to situation, money, or time, consider using a language app like DuoLingo or 50Words to give yourself a little (more) foundation. Pro tip: Learn the phrase “My (language) is bad. Can you write it?” Reading at my own pace is easier in my weak languages than listening at the pace others speak. Just take heart that the real world is much different than a class. Nobody will mark things wrong…if you communicate your message well enough to be understood, you’ve been successful.