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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Shereen Travels Cheap Turns 6

Woo. This blog has survived six years and I still feel like there's more to teach and more to learn. In fact, usually I like to shout my achievements, but this birthday I'd like to do something different. Instead of taking you back to old posts, I thought I'd write a new one. For 2016, let me give you a list of 16 things I've learned from my travels that make me want to travel more and continue to learn from in the future. 

1. Sometimes you gotta go with the flow 
In life, things don't always go as planned. "hope for the best", but don't be surprised if that's not what you get. Travel is unpredictable at times. Maybe you'll get mugged. Maybe there'll be a hurricane. Maybe you'll make a new friend. Maybe you'll have the chance to do something amazing. You never know. When something unexpected happens, don't be so stuck to your schedule that you miss out. Also, don't freak out that something went wrong. Make a new plan on the fly and deal with the problems or push something less awesome from your day and do the other thing.

2. Know how to use a compass and paper map
There are going to be times when your electronics fail you. Either roaming doesn't work or your battery dies. Whatever. Having a map and possibly a compass with you can get you out of a jam. Once we were on our way to meet my uncle on our second day in London. We decided to cut through Hyde Park. It's beautiful. I highly recommend it, but there are quite a few pathways and not enough signs. Luckily, we had a map and a compass (that was built into our guidebook) and we're able to turn ourselves around and go in the right direction. You're more likely to find yourself outside of the city when you need help the most, but this can certainly still work.

3. Keep paper copies of your travel info
Again, your phone may not always work (case in point, the crappy "updated" Delta app that can't deal with flight changes), so having the address and phone number to your hotel, your confirmation number for your rental car and directions to your airbnb are all pretty important. Have that backup copy in case you don't have WiFi to get onto TripIt.

4. Compromise is key 
I know when you travel you want to do things you want to do. I do too! Unless you're traveling solo or with your own clone, you're gonna have to stuff they like as well. Try to plan a good balance and talk about it before you go. Trying to figure out stuff in the fly is just going to make you both mad. Fighting on vacation sucks. I don't like swimming in the ocean, but my husband does. He swims, I sit out there and read and watch him. He doesn't particularly love to shop, but he tolerates enough to make me happy, then we go to a museum.

5. Don't forget to put the camera/phone down and enjoy your destination
I see people everywhere I go just staring down at their phone. Yeah, Candy Crush is fun and there are all those pics on Instagram you haven't liked or drooled over, but come on! Save it for when you're standing in line or back in your room. You paid money to go on this trip and the scenery is the same as at home, because you can't look away from your screen. Put it in your pocket/bag and enjoy your trip. The same goes for cameras. I love taking pics and probably take more than most to use here on the blog, but only viewing life on that tiny screen is sad. I make a point to put it away and look around me too.

What's IN there?

6. Packing light makes you hate life less
You never want to just abandon everything you own faster than when you've walked up the third flight of steps with your heavy *!# luggage. Whether that's in the subway, the airport or your hotel, it doesn't really matter. You can revel in all your stuff at home. On vacation, taking the bare essentials is a lot more fun and freeing. Your bag doesn't weigh 4853367 lbs, you don't have to pay $900 in overweight baggage fees (or, preferably, any fees at all) and you have way less stuff to wrangle when you head home. I'll tell you what: It's so easy to get dressed and out the door each day when you have a nice little capsule wardrobe.

7. Have small bills and change
If you're traveling out of the country - and sometimes just in smaller towns - it's possible that you'll encounter merchants and transportation (or toll roads) that will only take cash. A lot of places won't accept larger bills for a small amount. Keep $20-40 in small bills and change for those times when you haven't hit the ATM yet. When I stayed in the University district in Phoenix, a lot of the shops and restaurants only took cash. Luckily, I had some.

8. Learning helpful phrases can get you far
Nothing is worse than when Americans travel and expect everyone to speak English. Don't be that guy. Even if you botch your attempt at the language, you tried and that effort is much appreciated. You don't have to learn all the words, but things like "hello", "please", "thank you", "I don't understand" and "where is..." are helpful. Pimsleur sells great beginner audio sets that aren't too spendy and use repetition to teach you the basics.

9. You can find a lot of good stuff off the beaten path
You're probably going to hit up tourist attractions, and that's cool, but chances are that you're gonna get hungry or want to go shopping and see the easy stuff "right there". Sometimes it's good, but more often it's overpriced and caters to tourists, which means it's also not all that good or authentic. Head. Few streets over and look for more out of the way eateries and shops. You'll get something more local and probably tastier and cheaper. Travelers who are willing to get out of the popular areas are often rewarded for their extra effort with better experiences.

10. Make sure you know about the crime
Ugh. Crime. Am I right? We wish it didn't exist, but that's life. Make sure you know what to expect, like getting mugged in a certain area or drug activity or gangs. Had we done a better job of researching when planning our trip to Quito, we would have figured out where the nearest car park was instead of just parking on the street and going about our business. If nothing else, the $50 replacement window wasn't a huge price to pay for our ignorance, but it wasted a big part of one of our days.

11. Don't be afraid to talk to strangers
Yes, Stranger Danger is real, but don't be afraid to talk to everyone. Talk to shop workers, wait staff, cab drivers and people on the street. Ask about their favorite places and what they like best about their city. I ask them where THEY tell people to go and not where they're expected to go, because I don't want a cookie cutter vacay. This is how we ended up at Eltham Palace outside London instead of Windsor Palace and how we've discovered lively restaurants full of locals and no tourists at all.

12. You can learn a lot about a destination by visiting their markets
I love a market. It doesn't matter if they sell food or antiques or books. It's fun to interact with locals, challenge your haggling skills and learn more about your destination. When planning any trip, I check out when and where the markets are. My favorite thing is a farmers' market. I like to see the different produce where I travel and pick up goodies for breakfasts and snacks. There's nothing better than trying out new fruits while you're walking around or getting ready for your day.

13. A pair of shoes can mean the difference between a great day and a miserable one.
Ask me how I know. Find two great pair of shoes that don't make your feet cry. One pair of casual that you can wear all over the city and one pair of slightly less casual shoes that can be worn for a more dressy outfit, but also works with your regular clothes. I suggest ballet flats, sandals or loafers. I can wear them with shorts, jeans and even a skirt/dress.

14. Getting lost can be a good thing
I'm always getting lost. It's the reason I own a GPS and look up directions for where I'm going before I leave home. Oddly, I only do this when I go somewhere alone though. When I'm with someone else my attitude is "Eh. We'll get there." If w'ere traveling and out walking, I'm happy to ask someone for directions, but getting lost has almost always ended up with us finding some awesome stuff that's out of the way and that we wouldn't have found otherwise. As a child, my parents use to pack up the car and we'd drive with no destination and purposely "get lost" to find new things in our area. I take this attitude into my traveling.

15. Research dining before you leave home
So, when I went to France, I never looked up places to eat, because I figured there would be delicious food around every corner. It wasn't and we ended up having some crummy food on that first visit. Everyone complained about how crappy the food in the UK was, but we had amazing food there, except for the one time we arrived late, were starving and just went into the first place that served food we saw. Make a plan, look at reviews, keep some snacks in your bag so you don't make decisions based on how hungry you are. Which brings me to...

16. Snacks are the answer...to say lot of things
I am notorious for getting hangry. That's so hungry that you move to angry. I know when it's coming and I'll absolutely threaten your life and yell at you for everything. I keep snacks in my bag for just that reason, because there's not always a time when the hanger takes over and my husband can just steer me into a restaurant or towards a food cart. Protein, like nuts, is always good to have and packs well, but having some fruit on hand is nice to raise your blood sugar and give you a burst of energy too. I keep a homemade granola bar or two in my bag along with some dried fruit like raisins. They're hearty and I can eat them while walking or waiting in line or on public transport. It's also nice if you have littles that want to eat every five seconds or your partner isn't hungry yet to sit down for a real meal.

I hope you enjoyed my list. What are some things you've learned from traveling?

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