So this post isn’t exactly celiac related, but since this IS a celiac travel blog, I thought I’d indulge. I’ve learned through experience and plenty of mistakes what’s worth my time and money during a trip, and what it’s best to avoid. I’ve compiled my all-time favorites of what’s worth it, and what’s not to share with all of you. Here’s to making the best memories out of your next big vacation!!
- The extra cost to fly direct. There is nothing worse than getting stuck en route to your vacation and losing out on a day of sightseeing or more. It may seem like a big difference when you’re pricing out tickets, but in the end wouldn’t you rather get that vacation started as soon as possible? Obviously sometimes layovers are unavoidable, but if you can help it, fly direct! If you’re really looking to save a buck, book that cost-saving connection on your flight home.
- Good luggage. If you’re only traveling once a year, or rarely book air travel, this one doesn’t really apply to you. I’ve taken planes, trains and automobiles in 20 countries across 6 continents and I’ve watched three sets of luggage fall apart on me thanks to the “care” of baggage handlers. Of course, as luck would have it, it never happens as I’m traveling back home. If you’re frequently flying please invest in good luggage!! You won’t regret it.
- Loyalty pays. Usually you can get your choice of flights within a reasonable range, and saving $20 bucks by using that random airline might seem like a steal. But here’s the thing, I’ve been loyal to the same airline for about 5 years now…I have status, my seats get upgraded for free, I never pay for luggage (for me or my hubby!), and I jump to the priority security screening lines. The overhead costs and time it saves me on each trip is totally worth that $20 extra for the ticket.
- In-flight entertainment. As a kid, the time I had to wait before a big event (birthday parties, play dates, grandparents arrival, etc.) was measured in how many episodes of Mickey Mouse Club I could watch before it was finally time. That concept isn’t lost on adults, if you’re sitting in your seat with nothing to do the flight will last forever. I know there are people out there that would rather curl up with a book, but I can’t concentrate that long when my arrival is 6, 5, 4 hours away. The $5 airlines sometimes charge for access to movies, on-demand television or movies is totally worth the distraction to make your arrival seem faster.
- Planning out a draft itinerary in advance. I’m not saying you need to block out every last minute of your trip, but if you know what you want to see and accomplish on your trip, you’re a lot more likely to get it done. Think about the major sites you want to visit, how you plan to get there, and about how long it will take to see if you can fit it all in. If you have to forgo something later so you can take advantage of another opportunity at least you’ll know where your priorities are.
- Taking advantage of local guides. No one knows the city better than its inhabitants. I’ll never forget the trip to Berlin where I was introduced to “walking tours”. The concept was great, local 20-somethings gave you a tour of the city (at 4 hours it was no slouch tour) and you paid what you felt was appropriate at the end. Our tour guide was not a Berlin native, but had become so enraptured by the city that he decided to stay and be a tour guide. His passion for the city was passed on to each and every one of us, and we learned so much more than if we’d been on our own.
- Documenting your travels. One of the easiest ways to do this is through post cards. Pick up a few with pictures of your favorite sites, writing down your memories of the trip. You can save these as mementos of your travels, or send them to yourself for a nice surprise when you get home. Either way, there will be a day when you want to reflect on your trip, and what better way to do that than through reading your own words.
NOT Worth It:
- High-end hotels. So you saved up for months to finally hit up that coveted location. You want to see the sights, experience the culture, and overall have a blast. Are you really going to do all of that from your hotel room? Do you honestly need a 24 hour concierge and room service? Sure, I get paying for safety, and there *are* exceptions for special occasions (see my honeymoon post about Bora Bora), but on most vacations your best investment is on a room with your absolute must haves (private bath, double bed, linens provided) in a great location!
- Chain restaurants. My absolute biggest pet peeve!!! I did not travel 2,000 miles to try McDonald’s, Burger King, Hard Rock Cafe, or anything else I can get back home. Yes, my younger self was guilty of this all the time, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. The more publicized and highly rated a restaurant is, the more commercialized and higher you’ll pay for your food. Get out of your comfort zone and find a local hole in the wall!
- Skipping over places that don’t speak your language. I get a lot of people that disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. You’ll get a much better experience wandering through a little shop or restaurant where the owners can’t speak your native tongue than searching out a “big box” that can. Part of immersing yourself in a foreign culture is gaining understanding, that doesn’t always have to be verbal!! I have the fondest memories struggling through conversations trying to buy a pair of shoes in Italy, ordering dinner from a local restaurant in Ukraine, and bartering without ever saying a word. Trust me, the story you’ll come home with is worth the struggle.
- Sleeping in. Here’s a simple one for you…just don’t do it! Your bed will be there when you get home, if you get 8 hours of sleep every night while you’re away you will have slept through one third of your vacation. I know, I know, you took a vacation to rest from your normal schedule, but you didn’t pay hundreds or even thousands to lie in bed! Get out there and take advantage of your surroundings. My entire semester abroad in college we stayed out until 3 or 4 and somehow managed to get up early the next morning to go sightseeing. I don’t know how we did it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Over-packing. This is a skill I’ve honed through the years. If you don’t use it every day, chances are slim you’ll need it while you’re away. Clothes can be washed, and aside from medications, you can buy just about anything you forget when you get there. Don’t try to become a human pack mule, you’ll have to lug that extra weight wherever you go. Cut it down to the necessities and leave room so you can bring home extras.
- Bringing back souvenirs for your 10 best friends. This is the one you only realize after spending tons of money on cheap tchotchkes that eventually will be thrown out. That shot glass, t-shirt, or whatever you were contemplating will take up valuable space in your luggage and usually isn’t really appreciated by everyone when you’re buying in bulk. However, if something you come across strikingly reminds you of a good friend and you think they’d appreciate it, then absolutely go for it. But steer clear of the souvenir shops filled with mass produced trinkets!