Travel isn’t a contest

If you have competitive or perfectionist tendencies like me, than it can be easy to find yourself comparing your travel experiences to those you meet along the way and conclude that you’re doing something wrong. I find this is especially true when I’m not enjoying myself in a particular place, and I quickly decide I must somehow be failing or deficient in my travel abilities. Everybody else seems to be relaxed and having the time of their life. Why can’t I?

Travel Tip: Stop worrying about what other people are supposedly doing and focus on your experience. If you’re not enjoying a particular city – or even an entire country – it’s ok. You’re not a bad person. It may be that you’re still recovering from the transit involved with getting to that city. It may be that you’re not feeling well. Or it may be that you just don’t like the city, and that doesn’t have to mean there’s anything wrong with you.

See if there’s a change or two you can make that would improve your experience. Perhaps some self-care would help – get a massage, spend the morning (or even the entire day) resting and mentally regrouping in the hotel, splurge on a nice meal, or even upgrade your room.

Talk about your experience with those around you. You’ll most certainly find that you’re not alone in your frustration and everybody isn’t, in fact, having the time of their life. It’s important to connect and share your experiences, rather than keeping it bottled up inside. Plus, fellow travelers may provide some practical advice or strategies for coping with the stress.

Lastly, if you feel like you’ve given a particular place a chance and the two of you just aren’t becoming the best of friends, then it’s ok to move on. There’s no contest and what’s most important is that you’re actually enjoying yourself.

Use the iPhone Maps app abroad for free

Map of Berlin

One of the things I love about my iPhone is the Maps app combined with the phone’s GPS capabilities. Together, these two help me locate myself and find my destination with ease. Because I have national coverage with AT&T in the US, my iPhone has become an indispensible domestic travel companion, but the cost of international data coverage can be prohibitive, so I’ve been reluctant to use the phone for this purpose while traveling outside the US.

Travel Tip: When you arrive in your foreign destination and before you head out for the day, find and connect your iPhone to an available WiFi connection (e.g. in your hotel or in an internet café). Make sure that Airplane Mode is Off and Locations Services (Settings > General > Location Services) are turned On. Both of these are required for you to use the GPS capabilities of your iPhone. You’ll also want to disable Data Roaming (Settings > General > Network) to avoid the hefty costs associated with international data roaming.

Then, launch the Maps app and cache the map for your current city or the part of the city you’re planning to visit. To do this, just zoom in to the level(s) of detail you’ll need for the day, wait for the map to download and become clear, and then move around in each of the four cardinal directions to download each tile of the map.

Now you’ll be set to use maps on your iPhone for the day – and without paying for international data coverage!

Bring extra passport photos

Passport-sized photos are often required to obtain a visa upon arrival, in countries like Nepal, and for purchasing a local SIM card for your mobile phone, in countries like India. They’re also handy to have in case you have to get a replacement passport while traveling.

Travel Tip: As you prepare for your trip, be sure to stock up on extra photos. If you’re visiting just 1 or 2 countries, bring at least 4 extra photos. For trips involving more countries, an extra 6 to 8 should be good. The cost of getting extra photos is often nominal and you’ll save yourself the hassle of getting them in transit.

Use your mobile or camera as a scanner

I often need to print, sign, and return documents. When I’m at home in the US, this is an easy and routine task – I’m simply scan the document to PDF using my multi-function printer/scanner/copier and then email the PDF. But when I travel internationally and rely on internet cafés, I don’t want to take the risk that a copy of the PDF (containing my signature and often other sensitive information like a social security number) might end up sticking around after I’ve departed. A more secure alternative is faxing (secure, as long as the fax machine you’re using doesn’t capture a copy of the page, which some do), but this can be a challenge in certain countries with poor quality phone lines, which often result in failed transmissions.

Travel Tip: Print the document at an internet café, then use the camera in your mobile phone or a digital camera to take a picture of the document once you’ve signed it. Then you can email the picture of the document to its recipient. It may not be as clean as a PDF created by scanning the actual page, but it will often suffice when the recipient just needs proof that a document has been reviewed and signed.

A second passport eases border crossings

I recently met a Swiss women who worked for a NGO involved with relief and reconstruction efforts after major natural disasters in places like Sri Lanka and Haiti. Because of her frequent travel schedule she couldn’t part with her passport for the time often required to obtain travel visas for future trips. Her solution: two Swiss passports. She uses one passport to travel while the second is being processed for visas.

Travel Tip: If plan to visit countries that aren’t on friendly political terms (think Israel and other middle east countries), places your home country may not allow (Cuba), or China after Tibet (since China often cancels its visa if a traveler visits Tibet first), having two passports that you can switch around will make border crossings much easier.

US passport holders can find more information on obtaining a second passport on the state.gov website.

Earplugs are for more than sleeping

One of the challenges with traveling in countries like India is the unexpected cacophony of daily life. Blaring horns are often the rule and not the exception. For most western travelers, this constant and noisy backdrop can quickly become an added stressor that can affect not only our travel experience but also our wellbeing.

Travel Tip: When traveling by open-air vehicles like the rickshaws or tuk tuks common in Asia for more than a few kilometers or in especially congested areas, wear earplugs. They provide a momentary buffer from one of the many environmental assaults you may face while moving about.

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