Every time I travel I not only learn new things about the world I live in, but also about myself. Read through the list and decide if they might work for you and help make traveling easier.
Packing and Luggage
Pack lighter: Ok, I say this each and every time, but really — I need to learn to pack less. I really don't need a dozen different pair of shoes despite the fact that I absolutely love shoes.
Pack extra clothes and toiletries in your carry on: Besides the obvious reason if your luggage should get lost, long flights can be uncomfortable and leave you feeling less than fresh upon arrival. Pack a few items in your carry on and grab them when you run to the restroom on the plane. A quick change out of the old clothes, a little deodorant, brushing of the teeth and mouthwash, and washing your face will have you ready to hit the ground running.
Pack at least one pair of comfortable shoes: Sometimes comfortable doesn't always mean fashionable, but if you're walking everywhere, your feet will thank you for it. My feet were completely chowed up by various sandals I had and sometimes you have to bite the bullet and put on a less flattering pair to keep the tootsies happy.
Learn a few words or phrases in different languages: It amazes me that some people cannot be bothered to learn a few phrases to help them communicate while traveling. Greeting people in their language and saying "Thank you" is not only simple, but painless and does go a long way. If you approach everyone in English, then you're missing out on an opportunity to engage with someone on a more genuine level because believe me, they'll appreciate your effort.
To rest or not to rest upon arrival: I have tried different ways of dealing with jet lag after a long flight and I truly believe that one size doesn't fit all. Sometimes I have to get a few hours sleep and other times, like when I flew to Italy recently, I checked into my hotel and was ready to hit the town. Granted, I was tired, but in no time I started to feel like myself again. I think I would have been so disappointed to have missed out on any time in Venice had I fallen asleep. I say if you feel tired and can't function, then by all means sleep. Figure it out as you go, but don't spend the majority of your time traveling sleeping in a hotel room.
Food and Beverages
Bring a bottle along so you can refill it with water while traveling. It's super easy to get dehydrated while traveling and then misinterpret that for hunger. Drink enough while out and about and you'll feel so much better.
Sample, sample, sample: Maybe you're a rut kind of a person who eats the same thing every single day. Snap out of it, especially when traveling. You don't have to commit to an entire meal of new choices, but be willing to try and sample new foods. At breakfast in Italy I saw a green spread and had no idea what it was. It was green and not terribly appetizing, but I put some on my plate anyway Turns out it was a cream of pistachio spread and was so unexpected, it truly paid to think outside of the box that morning.
Talk with the locals about where they go: If you ask at your hotel where you should go to grab a drink or dinner, they will probably point you in the direction of a tourist establishment. Plus the hotel might get compensated for those referrals. Instead, ask a local where he or she might go and dive on in and live like a local. Some of my most favorite memories are of true hole in the wall kind of joints.
Port intensive cruises can be exhausting: A 7-day cruise with five ports of call means you'll only get one sea day. If you've taken a Caribbean cruise where you get off and lounge on a beach, go parasailing, or swim with dolphins, a Mediterranean cruise is the antithesis of such a cruise. While I was able to relax once I was back on board the ship, I found I wanted to go, go, go so as not to miss anything in each of the ports.
Always fly to your cruise port early: By early I don't mean early in the day, but the day before your cruise. This is especially true if flying to a different country where you might experience jet lag. But more importantly, you don't want to miss your cruise if there is a problem with your flight. With the volcano situation looming in Iceland, I could have had a flight change, delay or cancellation and there was no way I was going to miss my cruise. The most important aspect of this decision is that you get to relax and enjoy the city your in instead of rushing from the airport to the cruise port and that's always a good thing.
Fly back home the following day (or more) after your cruise: You'll probably be off your cruise by 9 am on the final day. Why rush to the airport when you can spend an extra day in the port city? If you were feeling jet lagged on arrival, by this point you'll feel fresh and wide awake and can really enjoy yourself. Besides, why fight the airport crowds unnecessarily?
Bring a gift for the excursion guide: This is one I almost always forget to do. We took a tour in Ephesus and the tour guide, Tan, had on a NYPD hat so we could always spot him. I like to bring along gifts from where I live and to know that after I leave there will be someone in that country sporting a Boston Red Sox hat.
Research your destination before you travel: Granted we live in the Internet age where you can check everything out on your smartphone, iPad, or laptop, but why wait until you arrive at your destination to learn something, anything, about where you'll be visiting? You'll enjoy your trip more if you have some idea of where you're going.
Plot out walking maps and save to your smartphone: Maps were great — in the 70's. Plot out walking maps on your smartphone and use screenshots to save them. Then when you're out and about you can refer to them easily. You may not always have access to wifi and if you're not looking to incur ridiculous international cell phone charges, you probably won't have your phone turned on while traveling. But most of all, people holding a map in public screams tourist and can make you more susceptible to crime so be careful.
Don't be afraid of public transportation: Public transportation can be your friend. That is, of course, if you do your research and understand how it works before you arrive. You can save money and time by taking a bus or train plus it will make you feel like a local.
Avoid carrying too much cash: Most places these days take credit cards and those that don't shouldn't have you in a panic. You'll get the best exchange rate by using an ATM to get money out in the currency of the country you're visiting.
Be careful using foreign ATM machines: Just like I prefer not to use an ATM machine in a convenience store or in a dark alley, I prefer to use a bank branded ATM machine while traveling anywhere. In fact, I check my bank's website to determine what banks abroad won't incur me additional fees if they're affiliated with my bank. While on my trip this past week, I used an ATM in Croatia that gave me a receipt for withdrawing money, but never dispensed any cash. Make sure you note when and where this happens and contact your bank right away to avoid problems.
Try as many different things (foods, drinks, experiences) as humanly possible: Life is short so don't seek out the nearest McDonald's. Try something new wherever you travel. Who knows? You might like it!
Don't expect an American experience (or an experience specific to your country) while traveling abroad: Oh the frustration I feel when I see people acting in a demanding and let's face it, obnoxious way because their soda didn't have ice in it, they have to pay a cover charge at a restaurant, or (gasp) the server doesn't speak English. This may sound harsh, but you're not going to Disneyworld. When traveling abroad, you should throw away your expectations of what you might get while at home because well, you're not at home anymore Dorothy. Once you release your expectations of an Americanized experience, you will truly love travel and be awarded accordingly.