Travel 101: Don't break your back, the bank, or the cultural norms of the place you're visiting.
Since getting hitched, Matt and I have had the immense privilege of traveling together to many new (and "old") places. Thus, we have PERFECTED the art of "traveling as a couple" and and by "perfected" I mean ever so slightly increased our skills. (On a more measurable scale, let's just say that our time spent arguing in airports has significantly decreased.) It is important to note that these skills are very different from those required for the arts of "traveling alone" or "traveling with your family." For example, you cannot safely assume that your husband will pack toothpaste and Q-tips like you can safely assume your mom will pack toothpaste and Q-tips (chances are, he might pack the toothpaste, but he will definitely not pack the Q-tips...or your hairbrush that was indeed placed on the designated "packing pile" but somehow did not make it inside the suitcase).
For our honeymoon, we went to Iceland, and then it just so happened that my husband's company had a business trip lined up in Berlin immediately after (can you say "free hotel room" and "take food from the breakfast buffet for your wife"). This trip was set to end right before the July 4 holiday, so we were even able to tack on a few extra days in Rome at the end--best unintentional timing EVER. After we got married, we began living together in California, a single state which feels like a whole separate monster in itself--I will probably never come close to seeing the entire thing. (Seriously, it takes like 16 hours just to drive non-stop from the top to the bottom of the state, let alone stopping or seeing anything in the middle or along the sides.)
In the meantime, we've traveled together to Boston, Baton Rouge, two Hawaiian Islands, various new spots within our new state, and of course back home to Pennsylvania/the greater East Coast, with a few more places still left on our 2017 traveling goals checklist. Thanks to school, internships, and long distance, we've also had our share of traveling experiences elsewhere, with family, and alone.
Now, we are by NO MEANS travel experts. If we were experts, I wouldn't be writing a blog post about traveling on my tiny Target couch while eating popcorn because I would be getting paid to eat desserts and stay in exotic Airbnbs all around the world. But, there are a lot of things we've learned along the way that we wish someone would have told us or that we would have stumbled upon on the Internet. In some cases, we were lucky enough to know something helpful beforehand (thanks friends/Google) and it ended up being super useful! In other cases, we just figured out what worked for us--and what worked for us, may very well not work for you.
That being said, what you'll find below is a less of a "eat here, do this, see that" (but maybe later...for now, hit me up--I am FULL of suggestions!) and more of a "do's and don'ts" kind of compilation. You might just find some funny travel stories thrown in there too. We've only included the places we have traveled together since getting married, and excluded places we frequent, like Nashville and my grandparents' houses in New York and Virginia...because you don't need to know anything about going there besides that if you do happen to find their front doors, you are ALWAYS welcome inside.
Below, we've started by listing some general travel tips--things that could apply to almost any location. Then, you'll find specific places listed alphabetically and sorted into two categories: United States and Worldwide. The tips included under these categories are more geographically-specific. My hope is that this serves as a great starting point and then as we think of more tips and travel more places, we will post updated Travel 101.2, 101.3, etc. posts with even more information. Plus, even if exactly zero people read this post, if we ever get the chance to return to these places...we'll want to remember these tips too! It's a win-win.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS
1. Airbnb. Always. Unless you are looking to stay at a fancy or all-inclusive resort, many times, you can find accomodations that are less expensive than a hotel. In addition, we love the personal touch of staying with someone who is local to or familiar with the area, and we also love making wherever we are into our little home for the weekend or week. Often times for us, this means seeking out options that include a kitchenette or laundry. Airbnb is also great for its unique offerings.
Matt wanted to stay at a place in Hawai'i with an outdoor shower, so that was part of our search criteria, and we ended up finding a cool farm retreat center and a yurt! We have stayed in Airbnbs all around the world, and had great experiences. Even that time we got locked out of our Italian apartment at midnight in the 101-degree hallway and the two times we (Matt...definitely not we) killed cockroaches in our homes...once using a host's decorative iron (oops).
2. PACK ONLY THE ESSENTIALS. Not the "I might change seven times a day" essentials or the "I need to wear a different swimsuit every time we go to the beach" essentials or the "I need my walking sandals and my fancy sandals and my waterproof sandals and my fancy sandals that I can also walk in sandals" essentials. Yeah, maybe I am talking about me, ok? I CONFESS. Did you see how many suitcases were in the first picture up top? Let's be real, I am the QUEEN of packing for trips home to Pennsylvania. I'll bring my little green backpack and shove everything I need for 3, 6, 10 days in that thing. Home is easy--I keep extra shampoo and conditioner there, and if I need any other clothes, I can fit into almost any of my friends' clothes (92% of whom still live there).
Anywhere else...not so much. I'm terrible when I don't know exactly what the weather will be like or exactly what activities we'll be doing. In Iceland, I had so many clothes and wore almost the same hiking outfit every single day. In Hawai'i, I wore only swimsuits, the same three shorts, two shirts, and my Tevas. But here's the thing...
3. You will pay for it. CHECK THE BAGGAGE POLICY for whatever airline you are flying, especially if it's a non-US company. There is a high chance that you will end up having to pay in increasing increments for your unnecessary amount of checked baggage plus your carry-on item (yes, they may allow only a personal item!), and an even higher chance that you'll get in at least three semi-fights about it in various international airports. And on that note...
4. Get a travel suitcase scale! It is the biggest life (and time) saver, as long as you remember to pack it with you on your trip. You won't be stuck repacking your huge suitcase at the airport, wearing all your clothes on the plane, or buying another bag to check for your return trip home. We stole ours from my my friend Heather's parents. Really. We used it to pack for our honeymoon, didn't realize it ended up in our suitcase, but DID realize how useful it was to have accidentally brought it with us, so we kept it. If you don't have a friend's parents to steal one from, you can buy the one we use here.
5. Your server is NOT being rude. In most European countries (including those listed below), the waitstaff at a restaurant will not pay extra attention to you, force you to make a decision about your meal, or automatically bring your check to you. This is because they do not want to rush you, and they are trying to be welcoming. When you need something or are ready to order, you must track down your waiter, and when you are ready to leave and pay your bill, it is your job to let the server know. (Note: this doesn't seem to apply to wine. They are very ready to bring you a new bottle of wine when you're running low.)
6. Do not split up in an airport if you don't have to. One of you will end up boarding the plane because you thought the other person already boarded and then the other person who didn't actually board won't be able to board because the person who boarded already will be holding your boarding pass. It will be a fiasco. Not based on a true story.
7. Google Flights. Start tracking your flights four months before you trip (if you have enough notice) and watch what days the tickets are cheapest. Buy your tickets 60-90 days in advance--we've found that Sunday nights and Tuesday mornings have worked best for us! Don't forget to take a look at Southwest's flights separately, since they don't appear here.
8. Get a credit card that will earn you some travel points. According to Matt's extensive research, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the way to go. Use this for gas, groceries, and dining out in combination with the 5% cash back of Chase Freedom, transfer your points, and off you go. Some airlines have cards specifically for their flights, such as American Airlines--we have this card too, but have found that Chase Sapphire Preferred is what we, well, prefer.
9. You probably already have a portable charger. Laptops work great as portable chargers for phones or Bluetooth headphones if you find yourself on a long flight, in an airport, or on a road trip with no accessible outlets. You can save money on buying a separate portable battery too.
10. Don't forget to rent a car or find someone to watch your cat. Again, not speaking from personal experience...
TIPS: United States
Boston, MA, USA
Bring good walking shoes! The city is totally walkable and you can save so much money on Lyfts or Ubers if you just come ready to walk (even in winter--suck it up and wear some mittens).
California, US (various locations*)
Yosemite National Park--A lot has changed at Yosemite in the last decade, including how popular it is! Not that it wasn't popular before, but in previous years you could do things like climb Half Dome without a permit (not anymore) and snag a campground for the night on the same day (not anymore). These days, you have to get these way ahead of time, and it takes a certain degree of planning, luck, and skill. There are 13 campgrounds, and from April through September (ideal camping season), seven of them are only available through reservations, typically filling within minutes or hours of availability. If you are unable to secure a campground, or aren't exactly sure where you will be staying, your best bet is to camp outside of the park or stay elsewhere and drive in early to hike for the day.
You can get all of the information you need by going to the National Park Service Reservation website: "Reservations are required all year for Yosemite Valley's car campgrounds and summer through fall for Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Wawona, and half of Tuolumne Meadows. Campground reservations are available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. Be aware that nearly all reservations for the months of May through September and for some other weekends are filled the first day they become available, usually within seconds or minutes after 7 am!"
As for Half Dome, a max of 300 hikers per day are permitted beyond the subdome. You can find more information about permits for Half Dome here.
Big Sur--There are so many beautiful blue and clear photos of Big Sur, but there is a very good chance that on any given day it will be grey and foggy. (This is basically a synopsis of all of Northern California.) This isn't to discourage you from going (it's gorgeous, even in the grey), but simply to lower your expectations so that when your photos don't look like all the ones of activewear models doing yoga poses on rocks in front of a big blue Big Sur, you make sure to still enjoy the hikes and nature around you.
Monterey Bay--Do a whale watch and go to the Aquarium. You are almost guaranteed to see some dolphins and whales, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in the world. If you have friends who work at state institutions (ahem...me), they can most likely hook you up with some BIG discounts via their work too.
*We haven't even mentioned other incredible places like Lake Tahoe, Muir Woods, and San Francisco, obviously! Guess you'll just have to come visit to see it all for yourself...
Take off your shoes before entering ANY home--including your Airbnb. It is Hawaiian tradition and the polite thing to do. This may or may not have caused somewhat of a large argument in the bathroom of our first Airbnb, in which I read directly from the article linked above in somewhat of a yelling tone.
If you decide to visit Queen's Bath on the Island of Kaua'i, you will have two problems: 1) Apple Maps calls it King's Bath, and 2) there are maybe six parking spots. The first one isn't actually a problem, because there is in fact a King's Bath in the same area. I'm just annoyed that the landmark for Queen's Bath doesn't pop up but one for King's Bath does. Google compensates for this by thinking you meant Queen's Bath when you try to Google King's Bath. As for the second problem, there is an actual sign that tells you, "If you can't find parking, come back another time." Don't come back another time. Go to the golf course that is just outside the private neighborhood and park in the lot next to the golf clubhouse. Walk 0.7 miles back to Queen's Bath and make the 10-minute hike down to the pools--it is beautiful. (Disclaimer: Do NOT make the walk if there are warnings that it is too dangerous at the pools. Queen's Bath is considered one of the top three most dangerous of Kaua'i's approximately 55 unguarded beaches. A single unexpected wave will take you out to sea and you will not be able to swim back.)
Hawaii is the top producer of coffee in the United States. Take all the coffee tours, drink all the free coffee, and buy all the coffee you can (Kaua'i Coffee Company is my favorite)--but then leave extra time for airport security on your return flight. Chances are, security will need to swab every bag of coffee you buy to ensure it isn't filled with some kind of drug that's worse than caffeine.
On that note, Hawaiian Airlines is the only American airline to offer complimentary meals. Plan your flight over a mealtime and save money on costly airport food--the meals are actually very good. Pictured below is NOT what they feed you on the airplane but instead is the best fish dish I have ever consumed in my entire existence. It had to be documented somewhere, so I figured I'd get your hopes up with the photo and then crush them here. (Related: Berlin Airlines gives legitimate wafers and chocolate.)
When traveling to any island of Hawai'i, purchase the guide book that is part of this series. In Kaua'i, we used The Ultimate Guide to Kauai and it was the most helpful guide I've ever used--even better than using Yelp or Google on the spot. Plus, they have an app that you can carry with you if you're not a book-carrying kind of person. Definitely the best investment we made for our whole trip (except it was free, because we have nice friends who let us borrow things).
Lancaster, PA, USA
Don't drive slowly to look at cows or take photos of the Amish. You can Google what a cow looks like and it is disrespectful to take photos of the Amish. They believe that photographs bring too much attention to oneself and disobey the Bible's command to "not make unto thyself a graven image." They want to be known by their actions. (Note: If you follow this tip, it will also prevent native Lancastrians--me and my mom, in particular--from getting upset at you for driving 25 miles UNDER the speed limit.)
Eat an Achenbach's long john before you leave or whatever you did in Lancaster was 100% pointless.
(Yes, maybe I DID include Lancaster for the sole purpose of telling tourists to drive faster. Sue me.)
This is the land of beer. WATER IS NOT FREE. I repeat, WATER IS NOT FREE. Fill up at your hotel/motel/Holiday Inn and do not ask for water at a restaurant (except in cases of emergency). It's expensive. Equally as important as water is either an international data plan or the intelligence to download Google Maps before you leave the presence of wifi. Otherwise you will become lost in the woods and also dehydrated but still able to remember the moment and the good hair day with a selfie.
Plan your itinerary and then choose where you want to stay. We chose our Airbnb and then decided what we wanted to do, and ended up driving several hours in various directions every day. It wasn't terrible, and we got to see almost everything we wanted to, but had we planned out what we wanted to see and do first, we could have chosen multiple Airbnb's or campgrounds more wisely to save on some time in the car. There is also a loop around the island called the Golden Circle that basically sets up your itinerary for you, if you are interested.
Be wary of the food you eat. We experienced various levels of food poisoning numerous times during our nine-day stay, and it was not pleasant. Then again, I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone describe any food poisoning experience as pleasant. Matt, who had it the worst, ate some undercooked fish unknowingly. Fish and lamb are the primary ingredients in dishes here, so just make sure whatever you eat is fully cooked. I made the mistake of eating eggs (for breakfast) and chicken (for lunch/dinner) on a couple occasions. Neither were undercooked, but neither tasted or looked like they were actual chicken or eggs either. Considering there are no chickens (and therefore no chicken eggs) on the island, it was very unclear where both came from but also very clear that my body did NOT approve. Eat at your own risk. Also note, you won't find many American food joints in the area besides Subway, but you can find the last Big Mac ever purchased in Iceland. The grossest part is that it's STILL NOT MOLDY.
Fun fact: I'm such a deep sleeper, I didn't hear Matt vomiting all night. But, when I woke up and he was still asleep I took this photo of him. Then I woke him up because I thought he was just being lazy. My bad.
Waterproof layers. It is the only answer every day to the question of "what should I wear." There is no point in checking the weather, because it is impossible to be fully prepared. Five minutes before this photo it was sunny.
Gelato is everywhere. Do not say no to gelato.
Buy your tickets for the Coliseum at the Roman Forum. There is a set of tourist attractions that you can purchase tickets for all at once, but if you buy tickets separately or try to get them at the Coliseum, you will wait in an awfully long line while people who bought their tickets elsewhere zoom past you. LOOK AT ALL THE TINY ANT PEOPLE.
There are things that kind of look like fire hydrants everywhere, and there are also a lot of fountains. The water from both of these is safe to drink, and you are encouraged to do so (especially because water is not free here either). Also, the strange men walking around selling severely overpriced water bottles at every turn are annoying but the water is clean. When your wife is melting, there are no fountains in sight, and she threatens to pass out on some old Roman artifacts due to dehydration, just buy the overpriced water.
If you have "do's" or "don'ts" that you would add to these places or to other places, comment them below! We'd love to hear your suggestions for our future travels or to share with other readers. Or, if you have any travel "do or don't" stories (mostly the funny ones) you'd like to send to me directly, go ahead and send them here! I would love to know more about your travel experiences.