Last year I traveled more than I traveled in my entire life. I’ve been on 4 continents and circled the Earth 2 times by plane. It was an exciting time, knowing my propensity for travel as a personal development tool, but it was also pretty draining. Never having long distance trips until that was definitely a huge roadblock for me. I had to learn on the fly (sometimes, literally on the fly). Somewhere between my 2nd and 3rd trip I started to write down some simple steps I should follow, sort of self directed tutorial. For your information, long distance traveling means for me one to two weeks trips which includes at least a transcontinental flight longer than 7-8 hours.
Here is a (hopefully incomplete) list of tips I gathered last year. Looking at it, I just know there is so much more to be explored, but I can’t avoid a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment for already being in all the beautiful places I’ve been so far. If you’re an experienced traveler, this list will look like common sense, but if you’re just starting out you may find out some simple, practical, yet most of the time underrated advice.
If possible, you should automate as much as you can. I’m easily bored, so packing is just not my stuff. Whenever I can put this on auto-pilot, I put it.
1. Make A Standard Packing List
And refine it every trip. I do have a minimal packing routine and I always start by getting it done first. After my minimum is done, I try to figure out what exactly I need in rapport to that specific destination: is it going to be clothing? Or maybe some specific medicines I should carry on? Sun glasses and sunscreen? I’m usually done in one hour, regardless of the final destination.
2. Pack Light
Especially when you’re going long distance try to understand that you can’t really take with you everything. Packing light means to have a bare minimum and then a little bit of extra. But not more. Most of the stuff you’ll need in case of an emergency will be available at the destination too, so instead of carrying too much with you, better have a little more cash.
3. Have At Least 5 Kilos Less Than The Airplane Limit
Usually, the maximum accepted weight for a bag is 20 kilos. So, instead of trying to figure out how to reach that limit with more stuff from home, try to go with at least 5 kilos less. You will badly need those kilos for stuff you’ll got home from the destination. On my first trip I had to actually leave some clothes to my friends to make room for some presents.
4. Load Your Digital Companion
I use my iPhone as my travel mate. So, I make sure I load it with everything I need just as I pack my bag with clothes and personal hygiene stuff. I put maps on the GPS app, audiobooks for the plane, make sure that I have enough space for photos and even load 1 or 2 movies just in case I get bored by the inflight entertainment system.
5. Take Some Meds
It’s a good idea to have some light meds with you. Depending on where you go, taking some prophylactic shots in advance is also a very good idea. I usually carry some antibiotics, some bandaids and some digestive pills. I stick them in a pocket of my personal hygiene bag and I only verify the expiration date each time I get on a new trip.
6. Have And Use A Local Dictionary
Again, I use my iPhone for that and it does a great job. I have a number of dictionaries, especially for exotic countries, like Japan, or Thailand. Whenever I get the chance I exercise my language skills with locals. It’s one of the best parts of my long distance travels. And since I’m not a native English speaker, I can also use a plain English dictionary as well.
7. Get An Universal Plug Adapter
They have different plugs in Europe, United States, Oceania or parts of Asia. It’s better to get an universal kit that would become part of your standard list above, especially if you’re part of the digital nomads tribe, as I am. You can get adapters for free during your stay in hotels but form the 3rd or 4th travel it’s easier to just make it part of your baggage.
I like the feeling of randomly putting my finger on an Earth map, making that spot my destination. But between that gesture and the actual plane take-off there’s a little bit of extra action. It’s important and it’s about planning.
1. Book Your Flight And Hotel Together
You will get some discounts if you do that and it’s also easier to maintain the necessary documents. Having all the reservations in one plastic envelope makes it easier to access them on crowded and / or hectic airports . If your trip has multiple segments (flights + hotels) keep them in a separate plastic envelope.
2. Don’t Create A Fixed Itinerary
Most of my long distance trips have been one week long. It’s a shame to stick into such a limited time as many attractions as you can even before landing there. I usually go with my intuition and try to book some guided tours on the spot, if need will be. But most of the time I’m on myself. It’s far more flexible and much more fun.
3. Plan Your Transfer From Airport To Hotel In Advance
It’s very important to solve your transportation from airport to the hotel (or your accommodation of choice) in advance. Some of the airports can be pretty far (Narita is 1 and a half hour to center Tokyo by train, for instance) while others can offer limited on the spot transportation. A smooth transition to the hotel will also have a positive effect on your entire trip.
4. Don’t Plan Anything Important In The First 36 Hours
You’ll be pretty tired after a 9+ hours flight, not to mention that jetlag will most likely give you a hard time. I usually spend the first day and a half walking around the hotel, knowing the environment, finding local stores and transportation. Once I know my way around the hotel and I have a decent amount of food supplies in my room, I can go out and experience more.
5. Get Roaming On Your Phone
It’s far more convenient than buying local calling cards. I use it because it helps me keep all the data in a central point, not mangling with several phones at once and also keeps me for making long, unnecessary calls. On the other hand, when there’s a need to make a call, I can do it instantly.
6. Budget Your Local Currency Leftovers
You will have local currency leftovers. Meaning the small notes you end up with at the airport, when you’re ready to leave that country and don’t know when you’ll going to be back again. During my first long travels those leftovers were in the 70-80 USD range. Quite a lot. After a little bit of exercise I reduced them at around 15-25 USD, which is basically a decent meal at any airport restaurant.
7. Identify Human Connections At Destinations
Find them on the Internet, on discussion groups, on blogs. Find some people you know in advance and try establish a connection with them. Not only they will become useful guides but they will also enhance your overall experience of traveling. It’s not as much about visiting places as it is about making friends.
Knowing where you go is important, although keeping a little bit of mystery around is also pretty exciting. But there are several things I learned to do before and sometimes right after I get to my destination of choice.
1. Get Info About The Food
If you’re on a special diet, as I was back when I was a raw foodist, get as much information as you can in advance. I overlooked this step only once, during my trip to Japan, and incidentally Japan is one of the most unsuitable places for a raw vegan to be. I actually had to break my diet during that visit and even after, so now I’m a little bit cautious on this one.
2. Assess Political Situation
I don’t travel in hot areas of the world, but even if you don’t do this on purpose, traveling long distance can get you close to hot areas (if your plane has been rescheduled for instance and you have to connect on a different airport in a different country). Assessing the political situation of the closest countries on your itinerary is a good idea.
3. Read Reviews On Travel Sites
But take them with a little bit of salt. I use only a few of travel sites, wikitravel being the most important one. Most of the time I’m just trying to get in the vibe, know the local habits, the local geography and cultural norms, letting the actual discovery to occur once I’m there.
4. Look Up The Itinerary on Google Maps
Especially on long distance trips this could be a very interesting activity. When I first come to New Zealand I actually didn’t realize that I would have 2 10+ hours long flights. The segment between Bangkok and Auckland seemed like a few hours, when in reality was 10 hours. That made me a very loyal client to Google Maps ever since.
5. Follow Your Intuition
Don’t always go for the famous places. Risk your time a little. The very best moments of my travels were the unexpected ones. I searched for a floating market in Bangkok (while the real floating market was 150 km away), got lost on some mountain roads while driving in Alps and got lost in a park near Danube Tower in Vienna.
6. Search For The High Points
Literally. Every big city has a high point. I’ve been on Eiffel Tour in Paris, France, on Sky Tour in Auckland, New Zealand, on Danube Tower in Venna, Austria, on Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan and so on. There’s something really special about climbing on those high points and see the city unfolding under your feet.
A big part of your long distance trip will be on a plane. Don’t overlook this because you can’t really sleep all the time. Besides, there are a lot of interesting things you can do on a long distance plane if only to make sure you’ll arrive at your destination in the best possible shape.
1. Request An Aisle Seat
Even if you’re going to be bothered by other passengers to get up and down, it will be good for your body. Not to mention that you have the freedom to get up and walk whenever you want. Unless you really want to look at the Earth from 10.000 meters every minute of your 10+ hours flight, take an aisle seat.
2. Don’t Oversleep
It’s not good for your body. Out of 9-10 hours of an average transcontinental flight, I found that maximum 3 hours of sleep are the best you can get. Oversleeping will have a very strange effect on your body and will make your jetlag fighting a little bit difficult. Try some light conversation instead.
3. Don’t Abuse The Inflight Entertainment System
Every transcontinental plane has what they call an inflight entertainment system: movies, tv shows, documentaries, music or games. From my experience one of the best combos is maximum 2 movies and 1 documentary per flight. More than that is going to have quite an adverse effect on your brain. Balance the entertainment flight with some sleep, light conversation and discrete physical exercise.
4. Exercise Your Muscles And Joints
Doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to run to the restroom and back every 15 minutes (your flight attendants could be especially upset by such a behavior) but do try to activate some groups of muscles every half an hour. Your legs especially must be worked out, in a very discrete and effective way, but don’t forget your shoulders and neck.
5. Get On The New Local Time
Once you’re on the plane, set up your clock to the local time at the destination. If you had at least 3 weeks between your trips, it’s a good idea to get on the local time with 1-2 days in advance, in order to reduce some of the jetlag. Regardless of that, once you are on the plane, think and live by the new time at the destination.
6. Prepare For Glitches
Flying is by far one of the safest and best organized ways of traveling, but this doesn’t makes it perfect. Even flights can be delayed, or technical problems may postpone your flight with several hours or days, or you can jump into a bird. Be ready to face those situations and don’t get panicked. Eventually, you’ll get there, that’s all that counts.
7. Fully Recharge All Electronic Devices Before Getting On Board
You will need your kindle, your iPod or your laptop. During the flight, your electronic devices can be a very good replacement of the inflight entertainment system, if you can’t find something you like. Not to mention that you will need them functioning at your destination. Of course, you must switch them off during landing and taking off.
8. Take Off Your Shoes
This is not a joke. First time I saw some of my flight colleagues doing that I was quite surprised. But after 3 hours of hurting feet I finally understand. Don’t worry about walking in your socks on the plane, it’s much cleaner than you think and you’ll get rid of those socks anyway. Having healthy feet once you get down from the plane is so often underrated.
9. Keep Your Tickets And Passports Handy
Don’t stick them to the bottom of your backpack or handbag. Always keep them at hand especially when in the airport. You will need them at security checkpoints, at boarding and sometimes during the flight when you will complete arriving cards (various countries need some of those cards completed when you enter them).
10. Keep Your Tickets And Vouchers Available
I book electronically most of the time so I don’t really have tickets but receipts and itineraries. I print them and I also print all the vouchers (most of the time for airport to hotel transportation). Don’t underestimate the stress you’ll experience in a foreign airport. Make sure you can react fast to any request regarding your tickets or vouchers.
11. Get A Name Tag For Your Bags
Many airlines are providing this at the check-out desks, but many still aren’t. A name tag will have your exact name and address on it, gets attached to the bag handle and makes it much more easier to identify your baggage at the carousels.Your bag may look very much like another bag and in this case the name tag is the only distinctive element.
12. Keep The Flight Timetable Available
Again, I use my iPhone Notes app for that. For each long segment I write down my flight number, my plane type and the expected duration of the flight. It helps me gain a feeling of clarity in the middle of unknown surroundings. You may put it in a notebook or on a piece of paper. For me, it worked with the iPhone and helped me keep my head clear during 20.000+ km long flights.
13. Airports Are Part Of The Trip
I always enjoy walking inside airports, watching people and trying to get a glimpse of the local lifestyle. I don’t take airports as transitory, tasteless points in my journey. Whenever I can, I try to connect with people, to visit interesting places, to get in airport lounges or to capture beautiful pictures of planes taking off or landing.
14. Hunt For Power Outlets
Some airports have designated places for charging electronic devices, some not. Whenever I am at a coffee shop or in a waiting room, I hunt for the closest place to a power outlet. And take it.
15. Take An Extra Sweater On Board
Although many airplanes are providing light blankets, on long flights the temperature can get pretty low. Better be prepared with an extra sweater. When flying at 10.000 meters for more than 9 hours, the cold combined with the lack of humidity can be pretty nasty.
16. Get Hydrated
The air in the plane cabin is extremely dry, due to the pressuring conditions. It’s very easy to get dehydrated but it’s also very easy to avoid it. Be sure to tell to flight attendants to get you water or juice every time you need it. Some prefer to take some moisturing creme for the hands or face, I’ve been ok without it, but your mileage may vary.
This is something really personal, so your choice may be different than mine, Regardless of the quality of the accommodations, and of the main goal of your trip, I found out that you will always need at least those 3 simple tips.
1. Look For Basic Hygiene
I usually book hotels when I know in advance where I’m going. In 99% of the cases hotels are clean and safe. But depending on the trip, budget and local context, I can book some bed and breakfast or even a backpackers hostel. Whenever I have to choose on the spot, I usually ask to see the room in advance. Saved a lot of frustration, many times.
2. Sleep Well
Don’t overextend yourself by staying late, especially when you’ve been jetlagged. Sleep as much as you want, because you don’t want to be hit by an unbearable need to sleep in the middle of a visit to some important attraction, or even when you’re in a public spot, like a restaurant or coffee shop. Assess the room in advance and ask if it’s quiet and / or sleep friendly.
3. Make Human Connections
I split my accommodation between hotels, hostels and bed and breakfast facilities. Every time I try to make some human connection with somebody there, being the concierge, the owner of the house or just some random sleeping colleagues in a backpackers hostel. The next step for this will be of course coach surfing but I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Yet.
This is what you’re actually doing, the core of your trip. Of course, it’s entirely personal so the only tips here are related to your interaction with the world, and how to streamline it as much as possible.
1. Get Local Currency As Fast As You Can
If you can get it with you in advance, that’s even better. I travel mostly with EUROs and US dollars and that covers pretty much every part of the world. Be aware that exchange offices in the airports are usually much more expensive than the bank offices in the town, or have some huge commission. From my experience, it’s always better to get local currencies at a local bank.
2. Update Your Itinerary Frequently
And by that I mean let your friends and followers in the digital world knowing where you are. I am a digital media citizen and I do update my itineraries as often as I can (meaning when I get some free wifi spots, data roaming being horrendously expensive everywhere in the world). It’s good not only for letting your closest ones that you’re safe and sane, but also for personal branding. I got a few interesting followers from each country I visited after some of my long distance travel tweets.
3. Know Your Surroundings
That goes hand in hand with the planning activity which says not to do anything important in the first 36 hours. I use those hours to know: shops around, restaurants around, walking areas and public transportation areas. If there’s internet in my hotel room (99% of the cases, that is) I’m also browsing some Google Maps around my accommodation address to see the big picture.
4. Buy Day Or Week Long Public Transportation Tickets
If your planning was good, you should know in advance the costs of public transportation. In almost any of the cases, buying day long passes or even week long passes proved to be an incredible money (and time) saver. Depending on the local context you may use some exotic transportation, like Thailand tuk-tuk’s but don’t rely on them for getting fast and safe at a certain destination.
5. You Can’t Have Enough Photos
Never. Traveling long distance is such an eye opening experience, in every way you look at it. I never know when I’m going to be back there, so keeping a strong visual record will always help me remember the best I can. Most of the time I use – again – my iPhone, but recently I took the habit of carrying with me a brand new Canon 450D.
That’s it, I hope you found it useful. If you have more, feel free to add them in the comments. Living life as a holiday is one of the best ways to live life, after all.