You may have noticed I have been conspicuously absent on the CIEE Teach in Spain Blog lately. That's what happens when you spend every weekend in November traveling both within Spain and internationally and refuse to spend any valuable time on your computer. One thing that I am constantly thankful for is the ability to travel while working with CIEE. The auxiliar schedule is such that you always have three free days during the week (Saturday and Sunday, plus a bonus day--Monday for me). Being in Spain also means that there are a lot of great locations within an arms reach that are financially accessible on the 1.000EUR auxiliar stipend. I've visited Toledo, Paris, Vienna, and next up is Copenhagen. I'm going to put a spotlight on these cities in the upcoming weeks but before talking about the destinations, let's talk about getting there. Here are my top 10 travel tips for any jetsetter:
- Update your arsenal of must-have apps. I use Hopper for any trips whose location and date I already know. For example, I scored non-stop roundtrip tickets between Madrid and New York City for my younger sister's college graduation in May for under $400--total steal! I use Skyscanner for whenever the travel bug hits and I'm willing to go to any destination. The app allows you to choose a date and will filter all the cheap flights to all destinations from your local airport OR you can select a destination and use the calendar function to see when it's cheapest to go. Also keep Kayak.com and Google.com/flights in your arsenal. The trick is to troll them all the time--I check flights probably about 3x a week--and compare all the different prices.
- Pre-plan everything, period. Use Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google to find the best activities and eats in any city to which you're traveling. Then, follow the mentality of having an overly full schedule that you're willing to be flexible with. Make sure to also check if there are city passes or combination discounts on things like museums, performances, or guided tours. Here's a screenshot of a schedule I recently put together for when my friend, Eric, visited me in Madrid, to give you an idea of what purposeful planning looks like. Do something like this and you're sure to have everyone wondering how it's even possible to do so many cool things in such a short amount of time.
- Pack light. I'm sure you've heard of the "pack everything and then bring half of it" rule. This isn't for crazy people; it's for streamlined travelers. Remember that while you're in Europe you can buy anything you might need or forget except your passport! If you're traveling for five days or less, there is no reason to pack a check-in bag. Or more than one pair of shoes. Or your "luxury" items like perfume, makeup, and the like. Wouldn't you rather have space to bring home souvenirs? Even if you're not a souvenir person, it is always smart to think could I walk up three flights of stairs with the bags I'm bringing?
- Stay ahead of the health curve. In order to enjoy your destination you have to be feeling yourself health-wise. Essential items in my backpack/purse/whatever bag is accessible via my plane seat are vitamin C and a multivitamin, whole fruits, water, chapstick, moisturizer, and tissues. 24 hours before you're flight, you want to be hyper-hydrating. Flying will dry you up from the inside out and chances are you're not going to be drinking enough while you're running from gate to gate. Once you're on the plane, slather on the moisturizers. Also keep in mind that products like Emergen-C and Airborne are just 1000mg shots of vitamin C with a little sugar kick. Combining a 1000mg vitamin C supplement in pill form with your normal multivitamin will do the same for much cheaper.
- New time zone? No naps. If you can manage it, do not sit in your hotel room, do not test the bed, and do not take a nap. Use your sleepiness as an excuse to go check out a local coffee or tea house, get some caffeine in your veins and get out and go. Sleep at your normal time according to the local time zone and set an alarm for the morning to wake up at your normal time.
- Speaking of alarms, set one every day. A lot can be done in an hour. Make use of the ones you have before 12 noon. If you're touring a new city don't waste time snoozing.
- Do not be afraid to do things alone. At first, this might mean going to the modern art museum while your travel buddy goes to the shopping district. Who you are traveling with shouldn't necessarily dictate your plans. While compromising is great, if there is a something that you feel your trip would be incomplete without--go do it! Do some things on your own, take some baby steps, and before you know it you'll be feeling confident enough to take entire trips on your own, which is a whole different and fantastic experience.
- Leverage the locals. Are you hitting it off with a waiter/waitress/bartender? Ask them what they love to do in the city. Taking a guided tour? Don't be afraid to ask the guide questions outside the realm of the tour subject (ie. where's a great spot for dinner). See a line or group of people? Muster up the courage to ask someone in line what all the hubbub is about. Are you shameless? (I am, it's okay.) Jump on Tinder, get some matches, and ask them what's the good good in the city you're in.
- Document your experience. For me this usually means I am compulsively photographing food and drinks as well as journalling every day. In whatever way you do your thing, make sure you remember what you did. It will add to your status as a jetsetter when if and when your friends ask about a city and you're able to tell them what activities were the best, where to get great cheap food, and the best cocktails.
- The best takeaways aren't things. At least for me, I make a distinction between being a tourist and a traveller. I'm always trying to be the latter. For me, being a tourist means you're scratching the surface just to say you did. Being a traveller demands you engage with the culture. When you reach home again ask yourself if you learned something about the place you visited. Can you name a local artist? Do you know something new about the history? Could you give someone metro directions? Hopefully "yes" to at least one if not all.
How do you like to engage with other cities and cultures? Did I miss something essential? Let me know in the comments! Keep an eye out for my next post which will tell you all about how to tackle Paris in 48 hours--it's not enough to do the city justice, but I'll show you how to make a dent!
xx and xx,