"Seek not the good in external things. Seek it in thyself." - Epictetus

A new traveler's guide to traveling

I’m not exactly a seasoned traveler, but I have been traveling on a semi-frequent basis for the last 8 years. I’ve picked up a few things along the way, and every time I go on a trip, whether it’s to Paris or Prague or New York or New Orleans, I always ask myself why I haven’t written or filmed a little travel guide yet. So I decided it was finally time. This post will be available for everyone to see – followers of this blog and my YouTube channel alike – although Patrons may get a first glimpse.

The tips and tricks that follow are based on my personal experiences and may not be best for everyone. In addition, I offer some advice that I really hope will be of help and guidance to my friends or anyone interested in traveling abroad.

PART 1: Preparations

Pack light
It’s a bit of a stereotype that American travelers always pack everything but the kitchen sink. You can easily spot them in airports and train stations, overburdened with packs on their backs like camels, pulling vast, cumbersome entanglements of luggage. By contrast, most European travelers I’ve seen pack a single bag with a few sets of clothes and the essentials, and that’s enough. It’s a great example to follow. A friend once gave me good advice, which I’ll now pass on here: After you’ve packed, reopen your backpack and review its contents. Take half of it out and leave it behind. Then open up your wallet and double what’s in there.

Bring plug adapters
Most travel websites seem not to cover this issue, which I find perplexing, since I know several people who have encountered this problem. Depending on the country, there are different types of outlets than the ones we use in the U.S. Accordingly, you’ll need to buy an adapter to attach to the plugs of whatever electronic device you want to use. France, the United Kingdom, and Australia, for instance, all use completely different kinds of electrical outlets. Try buying a universal adapter. You can get them on Amazon, and some airlines (like Aer Lingus) carry them as well, so they can be purchased on board your flight.

Book in advance
In my experience, the farther in advance you secure all your tickets and reservations, the better. I’ve heard some people recommend getting plane tickets at least 3 months in advance. I agree, but I’d go as far as to say 5 months in advance, if possible. And there are still good and bad times to do that, depending on tourist season, weather, etc. Train tickets should also be purchased ahead of time (at least, if you want to have a seat; I made this mistake during my train ride from Berlin to Prague and had to stand for the entire trip!). One can even benefit from booking tickets for tourist attractions way beforehand, as I did with the Paris Catacombs.

Be aware of what’s going on
Live and learn, right? I should have done a bit more research regarding the strikes in Paris when I visited in November 2019. I was just barely able to get back home before the airlines – and effectively, the entire city – shut down. Labor strikes are much more common in Europe than in the U.S., so get updated on what’s taking place in the country you’ll be visiting before you go. And it doesn’t only come down to worker demonstrations; you should also ensure your safety when you travel, as several European cities have suffered terror attacks and social unrest in recent years. Don’t live your life in fear by any means! Just be vigilant and understand what’s going on before you make your trip. If you’re visiting Ukraine or Moldova, you need to be aware of the political situation there. It’s better to make an informed decision, than to put yourself in unnecessary danger.

Get your apps in order
I don’t recommend relying upon “smart technology” to the detriment of your own intellect and reasoning. But I do suggest you fill your phone with all sorts of things that will help you while you’re abroad! Both Google Translate and Google Maps are invaluable when you need to translate a sign or menu in a pinch, or stumble back to your hotel after several hours at a bar. Airline apps are very handy for tracking your flight status. Quite a few European cities now have Uber. And other travel-specific apps, like Showaround, can be a huge help in meeting locals and getting a personalized tour of a city! A compass app can also be helpful, and DuoLingo is an excellent tool for learning new languages.

PART 2: Culture

Learn some of the language
I’m not suggesting you devote all your time to becoming fluent in Italian or Czech (though it would be good to learn a second or third language). And it isn’t mandatory to speak another language in every country (in Iceland and Germany, almost everyone under 30 speaks English). But in many countries, people generally appreciate it when you take the time to at least learn a few words and phrases in their language. It shows respect for their culture and a willingness to socialize a little bit on their terms. The only knowledge that can hurt you is the knowledge you don’t have, so there’s no harm in brushing up on a handful of phrases in the language of the country you’ll be visiting.

Don’t get offended
In Paris, people smoke everywhere, especially while they’re having dinner. In Berlin, it’s quite common to see sex shops and brothels. Some cities in Slovakia, like Kosice, don’t really have a “vegan option.” We live in a diverse world with different values and cultures, and that’s a good thing. And yet, I’ve already seen a few U.S. travelers who just can’t tolerate that the place they’re visiting “isn’t like America.” Well...why would it be? So please, take this advice: leave your hypersensitivity at home! What’s different is not bad or wrong, it’s just that – different. And if you only want to live with the values and customs of “America,” then perhaps consider not traveling at all!

When in Rome . . .
. . . well, you know the rest. This is sort of an add-on to the above, but it’s also good advice. Don’t be a loud, obnoxious tourist. Part of embracing and respecting a culture is adapting to it. If the atmosphere on a train is quiet and polite, maybe don’t scream loudly on your cellphone. If someone sees you and says, “Bonsoir,” maybe reply to them and engage with them? Don’t turn your nose up at a new or exotic food, try it. It’s understandable that not every aspect of the country you visit will fall in line with what you’re comfortable with, and that’s okay. But don’t be a complainer. You’ll find that assimilating into the place you’re visiting, and really getting to know the people and their way of life, will be the most rewarding approach you can take. And just maybe, you’ll learn something and grow as a person, too.

PART 3: Safe and smart

Watch your things
Go to Slovakia or Iceland or Sweden and the overall crime rate is much lower than the U.S. You’ll find that in some of these countries, things are relatively safer and less violent (although, of course, the grass is always greener; never let this be an excuse to let your guard down!). And yet, every country is not without its own issues. Pickpocketing in Paris or Rome, for instance, makes New York City look tame by comparison. Keep your passport and wallet in your front pockets, especially when in large crowds or on public transit. Keep a good grip on your phone. So on and so forth. Don’t allow yourself to be robbed of your things due to sheer negligence!

Carefully navigate and avoid scams
There’s the “string men” by the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur who want to “show you a trick.” Or the taxi driver who pads your fare. Or the cashier who is “speaking on the phone” as you hand her your credit card (but is secretly using her camera to snap a picture of your card number). These scams aren’t everywhere, but they are there, and you need to be aware of them. Planned ignoring and calm disengagement are good ways to diffuse these situations, as well as outright avoidance of areas where you spot these people. Once again, vigilance is always important when traveling anywhere.

Final tips
-        Know the emergency number for whatever country you’re visiting. Like 911 in the U.S., it varies depending on where you are. In France, for instance, it’s 112.

-        Get the address of the local U.S. embassy of the country you’re visiting. If you lose your passport or get into some other kind of trouble, this will be of huge importance.

-        Recognize that most European countries use military time. So for example, 15:00=3:00 p.m.

-        You don’t always need to visit the major tourist cities like Paris or Rome. I plan on seeing Bratislava, Krakow, Bucharest, Reykjavik, Dubrovnik, and Ljubljana someday! Smaller does not mean it isn’t worth seeing!

-        Don’t get your debit/credit card flagged and temporarily blocked for security by your bank; inform them beforehand of the countries you’ll be visiting and the dates you’ll be there!

I hope this little guide has been of some help. I might consider making an additional video in the future, going into greater detail on this for anyone interested. We’ll see what the future brings. Good luck and safe travels!

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