I spent the holidays in Dubai, a place I’ve been itching to visit for a while. The city is nothing short of fascinating and awe-inspiring, seated at the edge of Western Asia with a penchant for sensational and outrageous architecture. Some of my favorite things we did while there were experiencing the diversity of various cultures, spending time on the beaches, and enjoying the warm sun with my son.
But being the first significant bit of traveling I’ve done in years, I was reminded of some of the planning and logistics that come with traveling. If you’re planning a trip any time soon, I want to help make it successful. In that spirit, I’ve compiled some of my favorite travel tips for trips anywhere, from Dubai to Denver. Let’s get to them!
To Have an Itinerary or Not to Have an Itinerary
Every good trip starts with the same simple, yet not-so-simple question: what will we do? Well, a question that’s easier to get to the bottom of is this: do we want an itinerary? This is usually much easier to answer, and also makes the rest of the planning much easier for a few reasons.
First, itineraries provide structure. Now this can be a good or bad thing depending on your trip. You may want to take in a lot of incredible sights and history—in which case an itinerary can be your best friend. On the other hand, you may be heading on a vacation where your single goal is to relax, unwind, and unplug. In that case, having an itinerary may just feel like work—moving tirelessly from one scheduled event to the next.
Even if your primary goal isn’t to simply relax, not having an itinerary can be helpful. When you’re not tied to any concrete plans, it allows for a great deal of spontaneity; this can make things feel very adventurous.
And keep in mind, you can do both. If relaxing isn’t priority number one, but you also don’t want to be on a schedule, consider planning a few excursions and then freestyling the rest of the trip. It’s your vacation, after all—there are no rules!
Take the Road Less Traveled
When it comes to choosing things to do, you can always plan ahead, or simply go out and find what awaits you. Both are perfectly good strategies for having a good time, but can be a few advantages to not following a perfectly-scheduled plan.
Think of dining in your own city, for example. Some of the best restaurants aren’t always the ones with the flashiest lights; some are almost neighborhood secrets. Simply looking up ‘restaurants near me’ on Google won’t bring you there, and they might not show up in the ‘best of’ articles because they don’t have the foot traffic of the bigger names. But the hidden gems are always worth finding.
But finding them can be work, so here’s a trick: ask the locals. Just like you’d give advice to someone in your neighborhood, people are usually more than happy to point out some of their own favorite spots or popular places near where you’re visiting.
Packing can be another cause of stress for some when it comes to planning a trip or vacation. It doesn’t need to be, though; making your packing plan well ahead of your departure is key to removing some of that stress.
First, make sure you’re packing adequately. Bring clothes that will keep you warm if you’re traveling outside of the summer season, and even if you’re traveling in summer, make sure to bring layers. Restaurants, hotels, and nights can all be much cooler than daytime temperatures.
Secondly, keep in mind that regardless of whether you’re going on a trip for one week or three weeks, you never need to pack more than about four days of clothes. Choosing simple clothing items that complement each other allows you to mix and match several combinations out of just a few articles. This makes organization and packing simple, while ensuring you don’t have burdensome, large bags.
Now, the most frustrating part of packing and going on a trip is to inevitably arrive at your destination and realize you’re missing your underwear (or anything else, for that matter). A simple trick to avoid this is to have your bags completely packed two nights before you leave. Then, the day before your trip, begin using the things in your bag as though you’re already traveling. So, at night, get your toothbrush from your bags; get your clothes from your bags, get any medications you take from your bags, and so on. This way, you go through your routines and have an opportunity to realize if you’re missing socks or toothpaste.
Finally, if you’re flying, check your bags to make sure they’re within the weight limit if you have a checked bag. Nothing will throw a wrench in your packing plans like arriving at an airport only to find out that you need to either swap something into your carry-on bag, or wave goodbye to it at the airport terminal.
Let’s Talk Transportation
Once you’ve arrived at your location, the next tricky step is figuring out how to get anywhere. Depending where you’re visiting, your options could be pretty limited. But in other places, namely major metro areas, you might have a lot of options.
While the specific mode of transportation you use isn’t necessarily crucial to the success of your trip, it can be helpful to determine things like whether you’re going to optimize for convenience or affordability. If you want a mix of both, it might help to consider planning activities for one area at a time, so you could take a cab to the general area, and then use bikes or scooters within that area. Another advantage of using bikes or scooters is your ability to stop and continue at will, whereas if you’re in a cab or rideshare, you’re effectively locked in, and don’t have the spontaneity.
Take Precautions for COVID-19
It almost goes without saying, yet must be said: if you’re traveling, make sure you’ve taken precautions against spreading or contracting COVID-19. Always check with the CDC’s guidelines for safety when traveling. Additionally, be sure that you:
Delay your travel plans unless you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Wear a mask in transportation areas and other crowded areas
Get tested the day before your trip to ensure your safety and the safety of the people you interact with on your trip
Finally, get tested after your return to ensure that you didn’t contract the virus during your travels to ensure you won’t spread it within your own community
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Overall, travel should be enjoyable! It can be deeply relaxing, fun, and therapeutic. It can be both an escape from the stresses of life and a chance to lunge forward to new adventures and endeavors.
No matter where you go, make sure you have the opportunity to relax, hang out, and enjoy the company of the people around you. There are countless ways you can do this, especially on vacation, but some fun options include things like:
Free walking tours: Many cities or popular locations have free walking tours organized by community groups. This is an exceptional way to learn more about the city, because even though it will most likely focus on the city’s main locations, the insight of a local will provide greater context and a richer overall experience. Plus, who doesn’t love a free event?
Eating local specialties: Whether it’s paella in Barcelona, Ceebu jën in Senegal, or Turkish coffee in Istanbul, take the time to experience the culinary traditions of each place you visit. It shouldn’t be too hard, after all—everyone gets hungry, especially after a long day of vacation!
Playing cards: Even on vacation you can get bored or need to relax. Playing simple card games while recuperating at your hotel or lodgings can be a great way to bond further with your friends and family. Even the most extravagant vacations can sometimes be outshined by an afternoon full of laughter with the people close to you.
Visiting an art museum: Art museums often contain more than just beautiful works; they hold troves of information and context about the place, its history, and its culture. Additionally, many art museums hold unique, interactive events that are incredible to experience.
Travel is More Than Just Traveling
Pack for your trip carefully, but without fretting, and take the time to double check. Trust your gut when it comes to making plans, and keep the goal of your trip in mind when making plans, because when you travel, you’re not simply going somewhere. You’re growing closer with friends and family or making new friends, enriching your cultural knowledge, and experiencing different ways of living. When you travel, you are, in effect, becoming and shaping yourself. That’s The Way I See It.