TRAVEL ADVICE BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE!
LAST UPDATED OCTOBER 2019
Everyone knows that I am (was?) a travel disaster, at least during the early stages of my trip. I made quite a few mistakes and that is exactly why I can now help you in avoiding them!
How cool is to just buy a one-way ticket to explore new exciting countries, but I highly doubt that there is even one person out there that never experiences any issue during a trip. Heck, I was a professional when it came to misadventures, and overpacking (the picture above explains more than words can say!) not to mention choosing accommodations that were truly horrible.
In fact, my trips almost never go as planned. Sometimes is not even my fault, the situation is simply beyond my control. The best you could do in these situations would be to get ready for all sorts of scenarios (hello Travel Insurance ! It saved my life, money, and nerves on so many occasions!). The travel insurance advice is not even included in this list as it is SO important that I want to dedicate a separate chapter to it. Stay tuned!
Below is the list of my 10 tips for a trouble-free trip!
Don’t get “burned” like me! 😉
1 |USE YOUR MOBILE APPS
Mobile Apps are one of the most useful tools for frequent and/or inexperienced travelers. To give you an example: Some low-cost and regular airlines keep some of their seat available for online purchases via their mobile apps (at low prices). This means that purchasing directly via their website is sometimes next to impossible, either for the ridiculously high prices or unavailability. With an app, getting a ticket is fast and simple.
This happened to me while I was in Myanmar and decided – out of the blue as usual- to buy a ticket to the Philippines for the next day, I checked up on the main websites and the prices were impossible. I then switched to the app and I got my ticket at less than 80$ (and it took me less than 10 minutes).
As soon as you have this setup on your mobile, you can even use it to check your flight in real-time (cancellations, delays and so on). You can also make use of your cell phone to show your boarding pass at the gates, saving you some more time.
2 | WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO FLIGHT IN ORDER TO AVOID STRESS?
Don’t shoot me please, but based on my experience I’d have to say that the best timing is early in the morning. I know, I know…waking up early is every traveler’s nightmare (I hate waking up early) but it also has its plus side: A morning flight will work in your favor if it gets canceled or in the – hopefully – remote possibility that you miss it (don’t ever forget to buy your travel insurance, to avoid wasting your precious money).
If you were supposed to fly early, you’ll have the time to contact your insurance for directions, buy another ticket and don’t waste the whole day at the airport, cursing like there is no tomorrow!
Also highly recommended if you have an international connecting flight to catch.
This second reason is the most important for me. Always (and I mean ALWAYS) book an early flight, unless your connection is very late in the evening. I can’t count the times I had to literally run till I was out of breath to be able to get to the other side of the airport to catch the plane!
This is why I booked the (yawwwn) 5:45 am flight from Cagliari to Rome (45 min to reach the destination) in order to safely board my plane to Mexico which will depart at half-past twelve pm. Am I being dramatic? I don’t think so. Delays and cancellations are a sad reality for every traveler, and I’m definitely cursed, so I’d rather sleep on the plane than miss it!
IMPORTANT ADVICE: If a flight is canceled disrupted or the airline loses your luggage you might be able to get a refund. You can check out online services like SkyRefund to help you out with the bureaucracy because, in my experience, they will do anything to discourage you to go ahead.
I was finally given a 600 Euros refund for my lost luggage and connection flight. Make sure to keep all the boarding passes and any receipt you might be given by the airline and also any receipt if you needed to buy clothes or other things waiting for the airline to find your luggage. They should be able to refund that too.
3 | GET SMART WHEN CHOOSING THE SEAT ON THE PLANE
When booking your flight don’t take the seat option lightly. Get smart and try to get the closest seat to the front exit (possibly on the corridor, even if you are a window seat fan like me). Think about it, as soon as the door opens you can get out without waiting for your lovely – or not – flight companions sitting beside you. You will save some precious time to get to the immigration control sooner than the others or to rush to your gate when you have a connecting flight to catch (that is only if you didn’t follow my previous advice of course!).
These might seem small details to you, but they will surely have a great impact on having a stress-free journey. Tested on my own skin as usual.
4| PACKING CUBES (Nobel prize for the person who invented them!)
Packing cubes were for me what America was for Cristoforo Columbus: The best discovery I’ve ever made in my life as a traveler! I really don’t know how in hell I even managed to pack my stuff before I stumbled upon them online by accident. They keep my bag properly organized at all times, I use different colors and shapes to easily remember where I put all my stuff. I have one just for shirts and tops, another for trousers, shorts and skirts; one for the beach stuff and one for my underwear. No more messy backpack or suitcase. What a relief!!
Not to mention that by using the packing cubes you will make the most of all the available space you have in your backpack and the packing-unpacking process will be so much easier. You can find the packing cubes in sets of 3, with different colors and dimensions. Simply select the ones that suit you the best and forget your packing headaches as they will be gone forever!
5 | LUGGAGE: SHOULD YOU CHECK IT IN OR NOT?
If you are in a rush to catch a plane (for whatever reason!) checked luggage is clearly going to create you more troubles.
If you don’t know me yet, you need to know that I hold a record here: 4 lost (and found days later) luggage in less than 2 months. This is why I recommend you avoid checked-in luggage whenever you can, especially for 3-4 days trips.
But hey, I have my “excuse”: A carry-on bag full of photo equipment that I’d never check-in for anything in the world! But if you don’t have this issue, do yourself a favor by traveling light and stress-free.
6 | NO SURPRISES: BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION ONLINE
After learning the hard way, I now book all my hotels online for many reasons: I can check out the location, the customers’ reviews, but I will also get to evaluate the prices and choose the most convenient one, without the hassle of roaming around super tired after a 10 hour flight, in a place I’ve never been before. Talking about stress-free trips!
There are numerous online sites that will help you in finding the most affordable rooms. One to check out is booking.com, which has a wide range of accommodations to choose from. You are going to save yourself plenty of stress when you book your accommodations ahead of time.
At the beginning of my trip in 2012, I didn’t book any hotel/hostel in advance. What a mistake. Ok, sometimes it might be more adventurous, I give you that, but stressful? Hell yes! I remember – not without pain – the super heavy backpack I had to carry around when searching for a place to stay whilst trying to avoid being scammed yet again by a local. By the way, I’m seriously convinced that they have a special training program to spot the “first time in the city, I’m so lost” traveler (with an honorable mention to the Taxi drivers category, and this also applies here in Italy, so watch out!).
When I landed in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital for the first time, I naively asked a local man to recommend a Hotel for me and a young Canadian girl who was possibly even more lost than I was.
It was late at night so off we went full of hope. The Hotel turned out to be not only super expensive but the poor girl and I had to share a single bed to save some money (being “pocket-sized” girls sometimes helps!). Scammed much? Well, lesson learned. I can be adventurous in many other ways after all 🙂
7 | LOST IN TRANSLATION? GET CREATIVE!
Are you headed to a country where 90% of the population doesn’t speak or even understand basic English? Your first step is to download a good language app. You’ll thank me for this, especially if you are going to countries where communicating with the natives is nearly impossible (for example in Japan, certain areas of Myanmar, and the remote areas of Thailand. The list could go on and on).
Having an app like that is crucial not just to understand each other, but most importantly if you have allergies of any kind (I have a very bad one to red chili), medical issues or you simply need to locate the nearest ATM machine.
If for any reason, you can’t download the app, a valid alternative is using the language of “signs/gestures” (well, I’m Italian so I have an easy time using this trick), or you can even try with drawings too. People will understand you anyway, get creative 🙂
8 | LEAVE THE TRENDS AT HOME AND…WEAR THE RIGHT SHOES!
“Hey, who do you think you are? Miss Vogue 2016 or something?”
If this thought crossed your mind… well stop, reload and keep reading! Don’t worry, I’m not here to give you any fashion advice. Heaven forbid, considering that I’m the anti-fashion girl 🙂 What I want to recommend here is something completely different and more “practical”.
Security checks at the airport can be a real pain, at least for me. I see it as a waste of my time and not very useful for security purposes but hey, we have to conform to the rules, right? My advice here is very simple: Save your good shoes for when you land (especially if they have metallic accessories or are simply super hard to remove) and use your comfortable footwear.
You probably won’t win the contest for the best-dressed person at the airport, but you’ll be faster than everyone else. Remove the shoes when you are still waiting in line, at the same time you take out your electronics and toiletries from your carry on, and you’ll be literally ready to go!
I remember one time when I wanted to dress more nicely for a change, and I decided to wear boots. Too bad that in the rush of removing them in front of the impatient officer, the zip got stuck on my socks and it broke. Final result? I had to walk with an open boot for hours (the other shoes were inside my checked-in luggage). Fashion Clelia fails again. I’m hopeless.
9 | FIND THE CHEAPEST (OR MORE CONVENIENT) AIRFARE
The most straightforward and convenient way to get the cheapest flights and get airline promotions right at your “front door” is to subscribe to the alerts and check out the airline’s social media on a regular basis.
Note to myself: Remember to unsubscribe (I’m still receiving email alerts saying that the prices for the Rome-Cancun flight have dropped, and I booked more than one month ago!)
If you can afford to be flexible with the dates, it’s also worth checking out different days of the week to compare the prices and if you find a convenient flight, book it right away! I had the opportunity to do that a few times but somehow I decided to wait “just in case”, and I ended up paying double the price only a few days later. Not anymore. I’ve learned my lesson and I recently booked – months in advance- my super convenient direct flight to Mexico at an incredibly cheap price. Score!
If you need to book a long haul flight, check for separate flights and try different airports as sometimes the price goes down if you book your flights separately. And most importantly, if you book the whole flight via an online booking service, make sure that you have more than enough time between flights to reduce the stress.
The cheapest flights are usually the ones with the shortest layovers (sometimes even less than one hour!) so make sure the gates are at least in the same terminal and also check if you have to switch airlines and re-check-in your bag, as you could be in danger of missing your plane! It happened to me a few times and now I’d rather have longer layovers.
10 | HOW TO SAFELY CARRY YOUR MEDICATIONS WITH YOU
Prescribed medications: They can get you out of trouble as much as they can get you into trouble during your trips!
Ok, I might not be the super expert traveler out there but when it comes to medications & prescriptions you are in good hands. How could it be otherwise? I suffer from Hypochondria since age 15 and when I left for my first trip I had more medications than clothes (no jokes!)
What I know now is that you don’t need to bring too much stuff with you, unless you’re going in the middle of the Sahara Desert or the Amazons. You will find almost everything you need on the road, so you can relax.
If you have any special condition, such as a chronic disease that needs to be treated daily and (especially if you are going to travel for extensive periods of time), you’ll have to bring with you 2 important documents:
- The Original prescription from your doctor at home, with the date and signature (better if your doctor puts a stamp on it)
- An extra document signed by your specialist that explains why you need to carry a relatively large amount of medicines with you.
Also, remember that the name on the labels of your prescription drugs has to be exactly the same as your name on your passport. This is extremely important if you are carrying with you any drug that is considered illegal in the country you are traveling to.
I suffer from panic attacks and I need to have benzodiazepines when I travel solo and they are illegal or restricted almost everywhere I go. Having these two documents not only gets me out of trouble but also gives me the possibility to get the drugs in the event that I run out or have them stolen (it happened in Thailand once).
Always do some research before your trip and check out whether your drugs are illegal or not and write down the name they have in that specific country as it might be different from the name you are used to.
If you don’t have any specific condition, just bring a very small amount of painkillers, a thermometer, and some rehydrating powder together with a few pills of Imodium, hand sanitizer, plasters, and an antiseptic lotion and you’re good to go. Everything else is a waste of space!
Do you have any smart travel tips I’ve missed here? Let me know in the comments. Safe travels everyone!