A great travel experience is like great sex — both require proper preparation. For the ill-equipped, however, that dream trip can turn into a nightmare, especially to international destinations.
Here are a few tips to keep things running smoothly, and to make the most of every experience…
1. Eat healthy and hydrate
Remember when airline food used to be a joke? Yeah, those days have long past. The price of airline food has now become the punchline: overpriced sandwiches and beverages with an unpleasant taste and even worse nutritional value. Travelers — especially those on international trips—need to strengthen their immune system.
The prepared traveler should eat a healthy meal before departing. The days of donuts and dehydrated coffee are over guys. Sorry. Salads and water are in.
For longer flights, pickup up a healthy option at the increasing number of better airport eateries. Though fast food abounds, just about every airport now features some kind of full service dining or a spot to buy produce or a decent snack. Once on the flight, again avoid the free sodas, coffee, and chips. These will serve to further dehydrate a body already struggling with altitude and the dry air of airline cabins.
2. Adjust to the time zone
Preparing for travel also means preparing to lose some serious time, thanks to the hours spent in transit and fighting traffic, not to mention a change in time zone.
As a general rule, the prepared traveler should adjust the body clock to the new time zone as fast as possible. A wise traveler will try to start the process a few days before departure, by either waking up early or staying up late to make the transition easier. Travelers prepare with simple gestures like immediately adjusting watch times (assuming you still own a self winding watch) to the new time zone.
Upon arrival, sleep tempts the body of the exhausted travelers. Resist the urge. Physical activity, even just walking the blocks around your hotel or friend’s place, has been shown to help the body adjust and aid in adapting to a local schedule.
3. Know your travel friends
Travel presents a great opportunity to get to know someone better, particularly when rooming together. But it has also cost many a great friendship and budding relationship.
Not all travelers are compatible, especially when shared space is involved. So get to know you travel buddies beforehand. You might even consider spending a pre-trip night together sharing a room as a kind of trial run.
Discuss roommate behaviors such as quiet hours, bathroom scheduling or, ahem, a third-person guest policy (“I’m gonna let you guys have a little time together. I’ll be in the hotel bar.”)
Getting to know one another beforehand also affords the chance to decide what destinations, like local tourist spots, are best experienced together, and just how much alone time each requires to sustain a measure of sanity. Setting common policies helps avoid skirmishes later, and helps make the travel experience an even more pleasant one.
4. Learn the language
Granted, most destinations feature a population with at least a rudimentary knowledge of English given the power of the almighty dollar. Still, prepare for the chance that English speakers are in short supply and respect the locals.
Get to know a few words and phrases in the native language. Besides that, most cultures consider it good manners for travelers to at least attempt to speak the native language before conversing in English.
These days learning a local language is easier than ever, thanks to the internet. Sites like Duolingo.com can help travelers pick up a language at home for free, while simple phone apps like Google Translate help take the place of an unwieldy second language dictionary in your luggage.
5. Mingle with the locals
When traveling, don’t hesitate to mingle with the locals.
With apps like AirBNB it’s easier than ever to live like a local rather than isolate yourself in a hotel tower with fellow travelers. Grindr doesn’t allow you to look up locals in advance because it won’t let you change your location until you are there, but other apps do.
Talk to the natives before and during the trip to learn about the best restaurants, nightlife and points of interest off the beaten path – they are generally eager to share their insider tips and keep you away from depressing tourist traps. Knowing the locals offers a good opportunity to get to know local customs too, helping you to avoid offending anyone by accident. Above all though, getting to know the locals exposes the real flavor and character of a destination without needing to resort to the beaten path. It avoids the cost and creates unique travel memories.