I have traveled to places solely based on an Instagram or Pinterest photo I’ve seen. I think visual content is amazing for sparking the initial drive to get out there and see it for yourself. After every trip, I think about what really would have helped me to have a better understanding on what to really expect. Yes, you can just go and learn for yourself, but if you want a little more heads up, especially if your trip is a once in a blue moon opportunity, this post is for you.
Like I’ve stated many times before, this blog is all about posting eye-pleasing visual content with real words to even the playing field. Sure, I’ll insta that epic sunset, but I often like to tell you a bit about what went down behind the scenes. That’s why every travel diary post ends with a “behind the lens” section where I talk about the less glamorous side of each trip, what I would do differently and what to really expect.
Not enough people do this, though, which still skews our overall perspective and expectations when it comes to travel.
YES, you should be excited, you should stay positive, but there is a difference between being prepared for road blocks and staying optimistic versus expecting a smooth journey only to be disappointed. I thought it’d be beneficial to bring you down to earth and give you the real nitty gritty; the shit people don’t talk about - the less glamorous realities of travel and what sorts of things to prepare for on your next adventure.
This, of course, should not discourage you from GOING for it! Because you should, trust me. No matter how many bad travel experiences I’ve been through, I still crave for more, because it’s all undeniably worth it. But, I’ve had friends who have come to visit me and continued to travel Europe as first time travelers and ran into some pretty unexpected, unpleasant moments that I could’ve warned them about. So, while you’re planning your glamorous insta shots, let me break down some travel realities for ya:
1. Prepare for frustrating airline experiences
Sure, that $30 roundtrip plane ticket on Ryanair was a screaming deal, but remember, you get what you pay for. Don’t expect top notch service from a budget airline. With petty rules, strict baggage requirements, sometimes rude or apathetic staff, and unplanned charges, you’re bound to experience frustration when traveling with any budget airline.
Do yourself a favor and read through your specific airline’s baggage requirements and seemingly hidden fees. Honestly, be prepared to pay for anything after your boarding pass and maybe one carryon. If you’re well prepared and know what to expect from your designated budget airline, your travel experience will be much smoother.
Here are some of Europe’s top budget airlines’ baggage rules:
Also, it's never a bad idea to purchase travel insurance. Many of the above airlines won't rebook you free of charge even if they cancelled your flight. But with travel insurance, they have to. It's worth the extra $10 to cover your ass and avoid spending the night in a dirty airport.
2. You’re going to deal with beggars and scammers
Listen, many of the countries you’re going to be traveling to have their fair share of people who are trying to get by in any way they can. I’m not just talking about the homeless who sit on the side of the road with a cup, relatively out of your way. In big cities like Rome, Barcelona and Paris, or in North Africa like Morocco, or other 3rd world countries, you’re going to get people who are pushy for money. For example, in Rome, people come up to your kiosk as you purchase your next train ticket, seemingly willing to help you navigate through the process. You think it’s a kind gesture, but they’re trying to get a tip out of you. And they will push it. Similarly, you’ll get handed roses or souvenirs from a nice man who walks away slowly, only to come running back and demand money for it. It’s best to politely but firmly decline any person who begins helping you without asking, abruptly hands you objects or generally invades personal space. Knowing how to handle these situations will save you from really uncomfortable encounters.
3. If you’re going to see that touristy thing, you’re going to be with the touristy people
It may seem obvious, but sometimes we paint a picture in our head of what finally seeing the Effiel Tower will be like, complete with peaceful surroundings, twinkling lights, a cruiser bike with a baguette and a bottle of champagne as we stare in awe at the masterpiece. In reality, you’re staring at this infamous object with the company of thousands of others who had the exact same idea as you, complete with every selfie stick that exists on this planet. There is a reason it’s such a popular attraction, obviously, but try to see it early in the morning or later in the evening to beat the crowds.
4. Have a budget? Add more to it.
…or at least have part of that budget be for emergencies. The worst feeling, in my opinion, is the feeling of being trapped with no other options. You think you have your budget down, you’ve calculated every single dining, transportation, and attraction to the penny. The truth is, you can’t plan for the unexpected. And trust me, unexpected changes to your plan is likely to happen. Delayed flights, cancelled trains, no-shows, closed attractions, or you’re starving but there’s only one restaurant open in your area and a salad is $20. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency fund of cash and credit for these kinds of instances. You won’t be sorry!
Extra tip: Have snacks readily available in your backpack, always. The amount of times we had to go to bed hungry because of a Spanish siesta, or early closing of grocery stores (which is most of Europe), is cringe worthy. Keep the essentials in your bag.
5. Culture shock is real, prepare for it
Surprise! Not every country goes about their day like you do. This means being patient and flexible. My ultimate pet peeve is when I see American families, who are used to extremely quick service at restaurants, write a bad review on trip advisor for service being too slow. Generally, dining out in Europe is an ordeal, where customers hang for at least a couple hours. This is because they really value that down time, where food and wine is not just something you consume but the essence of their entire culture. Celebrate that! Don’t expect customer service, in general, to be as readily convenient and quick as those in the States. It’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just different. Embrace cultural differences, respect the countries’ norms, mentally note your likes and dislikes and carry on.
(Obviously, use your best judgement. Cultural differences are no excuse for someone to deliberately treat you like shit because, say, you’re an American. Use your intuition. Patience is important, but that doesn’t mean everyone can get away with treating you, the foreigner, wrongly)
6. Your body may not be ready
Jet lag can be a real doozy, especially when traveling east (when you want to sleep all day but you’re wired at night). Simply being aware of how your particular jet lag is going to affect you is enough to plan for your first couple of days. Unless you’re a machine who can function off zero sleep (can I be you?), be really flexible with your plans for the first day or two. You don't want to push your body.
With that, any change in your everyday routine is bound to throw your immune and digestive system for a loop. If there’s anything I know for sure, it’s that, because my biggest downfall with travel is my immune system. Different tap water and hygiene standards are important to be aware of in your designated country, as being too lax about it may keep you bed ridden when you want to be adventuring. If you’re in 3rd world countries, avoid drinking the tap water at all costs, including brushing your teeth with it. Also avoid ice in your drinks, raw fruits and veggies, and of course undercooked meats. This is the hypochondriac in me, I know, but in this case the carefulness will only benefit you. Here are some things I always have in my carryon:
- General first aid (bandaids, gauze, rubbing alcohol wipes)
- Pepto Bismol
- Probiotics (I like Bio-Kult, and the strain Saccharomyces Boulardii - which is a lifesaver for travel stomach issues)
- Activated Charcoal pills (for food poisoning and more serious stomach issues)
- Emergen-C and/or a good quality multi-vitamin
- Afrin (you life saver for potential sinus infections, especially on plane rides)
- Allergy medicine
- Face wipes
7. Be prepared for the climate
When we were searching for Bali villas for next month, I was drooling over the open concepts. Half outdoor living rooms and bathrooms looks like a dream, but then, someone mentioned bugs. OH YEAH, BUGS. Mosquitoes are always on me like a freakin’ t-shirt. The person next to me could have 1 or 2 bites while I have 40. Bugs are not my friend, but I didn’t even THINK about that when I was looking at villas. All I could think about was the aesthetic and how pretty it looked! And this is literally why I decided to write this post in the first place. Know where you're going - the climate, the environment, the smells (crazy world lotta smells), particular bugs you need to be aware of, and vaccines you may need. When traveling in the summer, do not underestimate the need for air conditioning when searching for places to stay. Prepare to sweat a lot and if you’re trying to be cute, again, do that Insta shooting in the morning ;)
8. Be prepared to get lost
Navigation, especially when you don’t have service on your phone, can be an endeavor and flat out frustrating experience. Have a paper map with you, or screenshot the map on your phone before heading out. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals, because most people speak English (especially in Europe). Most importantly, be flexible with your time. You want this to be as stress-free as possible, and that’s nearly impossible to achieve when you jam pack each day with one activity after another.
Another great way to get around without much navigation is taking a free walking tour, bike/vespa tour, or hire a driver!
Amidst all of the incredibly eye-catching travel content we see spread all over our feeds, it’s important to understand ALL of the aspects that really go into travel. They say you have to get through the storm to see the rainbow, but if you dance through the storm that rainbow will be even more surreal than you ever could’ve imagined. Be flexible, stay positive, be prepared and get out there, man!