You might be going on holidays in the next few weeks, or you are simply thinking about your future travel destination. In any case, traveling always require a bit of organisation. In this post, I’m sharing five tips that will help you have the best holidays ever.
1 – Search for information before leaving
This first advice may seem obvious to most of you, but believe it or not, I know many people who go on holidays without even checking the weather ! As a result, their stay is often chaotic and full of obstacles that could have been easily avoided. Here is a list of the things I always search for before traveling, to avoid stressful situations and wasting my time.
– A map of the airport : to me, this is the first essential step of any preparation for a trip. If I don’t know the airport where I’m going to land, I will search for a plan so that I can locate myself more easily. And I will especially look where the taxi/bus/train station is, as well as fares and schedules.
– A map of the city : I think it’s essential to take a good look at a map of the city beforehand. It will be more convenient to find accommodation near the places you are going to visit, and to evaluate distances. Also, you will have a global vision of the city in mind and it will be easier to locate yourself once there, even if you don’t have the maps under your eyes.
– How to get around : whether you choose to rent a car, take public transportation or use taxis, search about the fares in advance. First, it’s better to organize your day and you can possibly save money (eg by buying a bus pass for the week). Second, you will avoid unpleasant surprises or abuses from unscrupulous taxi drivers.
– The weather : even if you’re traveling to a sunny country (or vice versa), you can sometimes have surprises… You don’t want to spend your first day of vacations looking for a cheap sweater because it’s colder than expected. Well, I don’t…
If you know people who live there, ask them how they dress themselves at the moment, it will help you more than checking the weather online. Otherwise, it is now possible to find webcams that live broadcast what’s happening on the main squares of the largest cities. A good way to look at how people are dressed !
– The places you want to visit : if you really want to visit a particular place, always search for information in advance and don’t go there unexpectedly. Who knows, the place could be closed that day.
“We’re going to Rome and we plan on visiting the Vatican, but we don’t know when we’ll go so we’ll see that on the spot”. Let me tell you this is a bad idea. For example, you can not enter the Vatican if you are wearing shorts, a tank top or a short dress. And I guess that your day will be ruined if you’re not allowed inside after having queued for two hours or more. A simple Google search is enough to prevent this kind of things from happening… Besides, it’s easy to find great deals on the internet to visit the famous monuments for cheap. If you’re lucky, you can even avoid the queue with tickets bought online.
– Good restaurants : I think that the culinary experience plays an important role in the success of a trip. Why do you think I like Italy so much ? 😉 That’s why I rarely go in a restaurant unexpectedly. Sure, we sometimes eat in a restaurant we know nothing about just because we walked by it and thought the place was pretty, but that’s taking risks. Usually, we prefer to check the reviews on TripAdvisor beforehand. If you have time, start looking for good restaurants before you leave, so you won’t have to think about it once there. Also remember to take a quick glance at the website La Fourchette, where you can find attractive discounts.
– Local customs : this depends on your destination, some countries require to do more research than others. However, even if you’re traveling to a European country, quickly check the local customs and the things you should avoid doing. Check whether tipping is encouraged or not, for example. Usually, it won’t be dramatic if you make a little faux pas, but it may save you from a moment of embarrassment. For example, in Italy, asking for grated parmesan over your seafood pasta is considered a very big lack of taste, as if you were mixing your wine with water in France. In Malta, going topless is prohibited on the beach for women. If you know other little facts like these, feel free to share them in the comments below, it’s fun and it can be useful !
2 – Optimize your flight
Let’s take a concrete example : you live in Bordeaux (France) and you want to go on holidays in Malta. There are no direct flights from your city, so you are forced to take a flight with a stopover in London, which will require 7 hours to go and 14 hours to return. Wouldn’t it be better to go to another city in France to take advantage of a direct flight ? In this case, if you travel by train to Nantes and you take off from this city, you will be in Malta 3 hours later. And you will save money in the process.
If a stopover is inevitable, try different combinations, even if you have to buy two plane tickets separately. For example, look if you can not make Bordeaux-Marseille and Marseille-Malta. Or Bordeaux-Rome and Rome-Malta. And so on, until you find the ideal route. Travel comparators will not propose you all the possible solutions, you have to search which way will be the fastest and the cheapest. Finding the perfect route takes some time, but usually you can save a lot of money.
To find my flights, I always use Skyscanner, which I think is the most reliable and intuitive comparator. Big advantage, you can search for flights by country and not necessarily by city, which is very convenient to find the best stopover.
3 – Make a budget
All the research you just made will help you plan an approximate budget. Once your plane tickets and accomodation are paid, assess the amount of money you will need for your stay. Withdraw 80% of this amount in cash to pay for your visits, outings, restaurants, drinks, snacks, transport… in short, just about everything. Keep the remaining 20% on your credit card in case of an extra, or unexpected situation. Generally, in doing so, you will not spend your entire budget. You can then use the surplus to treat yourself with something nice during your last day, for example a great dinner in a beautiful restaurant.
Let your cash in a safe place at the hotel (safe-deposit box, for example) and take with you only the amount you need for the day. Therefore, you will not spend more than what you have, and you can not loose or get stollen of the totality of your money.
4 – Don’t try to see everything and leave space for the unexpected
This can be tricky if you enjoy cultural trips… You want to see as many things as possible, visit all the “unavoidable” places. Unfortunately, this is also the best way to ruin a vacation. It’s a mistake that Gleb and I almost made during our trip to Rome last year : it’s a city I’d been dreaming of visiting for a long time and I had a disproportionate list of places I wanted to to see. We only had three days there, so of course I was aware that we couldn’t do everything and I drastically reduced my list. Not enough, however : we had to “sacrifice” a few activities during our stay because we were short of time. And yet, we still followed a frantic rythm and came back home more tired than we were when we left ! Nevertheless, we have no regrets because we saw beautiful places, and this trip was one of our best yet. However, if I had to do it again, I would reduce the schedule even more to allow us some time to wander in the city.
And above all, don’t feel guilty if you don’t visit a place supposedly “inevitable”. Rather do what you really feel like at the time. And yes, it’s nice to cultivate yourself and see interesting things during holidays, but sometimes all you need that day is a good nap on the beach. It would be a shame if you “forced” yourself to visit yet another museum while internally dreaming of cocktails by the water. That would leave you with a bad memory. So try the local cuisine, get lost in the small streets, visit places deserted by tourists… breathe. Your trip won’t loose any appeal if you do so, quite the contrary.
For example, still during our last trip to Rome, we had planed on visiting the Colosseum, then going for a very short walk on the Palatin before going to the Capitole Museums. Finally, we enjoyed the Palatin so much that we decided to spend the whole afternoon there. We will visit the Museums an other time !
5 – Unpack upon arrival
If you are staying for more than 48 hours, unpack your luggage and store your belongings upon arrival. I know, after several hours of travel, this is the last thing you want to do… But I assure you that it only takes five minutes and that it changes everything ! Fold your clothes, put your toiletries in the bathroom and store your empty suitcases in a corner. It will make you feel more comfortable, like at home. It’s nicer than having a large suitcase filled with messy clothes in the middle of the room all week.
6 – Bonus : learn a few words in the local language
If you have any tips to spend unforgettable holidays, leave them in the comments below !