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1. Pack light.
You don't need as much as you think you do. Write yourself a list of what you need, and then cut it down. Pack as minimally as you can because you will regret packing heavily when you have to lug a giant suitcase all over the world. For your main suitcase, use as small of a suitcase or bag as you can. Plan out your outfits. It's okay to wear the same shirt two days in a row, no one will know the difference. If you have extra room, your tendency will be to fill it, so don't give yourself that option. (Be sure to leave room if you want to bring souvenirs!)
2. Pack right.
Firstly, and most importantly, put your most important items, like prescriptions, toothbrush, and phone charger in your carry-on. If you're traveling overnight, bring a sleep mask and earplugs. You never know if you'll have to sit next to a screaming baby.
Pack lots of extra socks, a flashlight (for nighttime adventuring), a mini first aid kit containing band-aids, aspirin, activated charcoal pills (for traveler's diarrhea), and antacids, and a medium-weight jacket, because it might get cold. To pack more efficiently, roll your clothes to make extra space.
3. Invest in travel insurance and guidebooks.
You don't want to blow your savings or rack up debt on unexpected medical bills or other expenses. Also, purchase a little reference book with some common phrases in it, and carry it with you to help you understand street signs and communicate with staff at restaurants and local people. Pick up brochures on your destinations and foot maps to help you get where you're going faster.
4. Bring along a change of clothes in your carry-on.
You'll also want to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on. A friend of mine's luggage got lost and she had to wear the same underwear for five days in Cuba while they waited to get it back from the airport. I also used to work retail, and I can't tell you how many times I had customers tell me their luggage had been lost and they were picking up some essentials.
5. Copy important documents.
Make a photocopy of your passport, tickets, and boarding pass and carry it in a separate bag than your physical copies. The last thing you want is to lose your passport and not be able to get there (or back!!!).
6. Avoid crowds to enjoy your experience better.
The best times to see the sights is early in the morning and around lunchtime. While other people are getting up for the day, you'll be enjoying the sunrise and exploring the city. While other people are eating lunch, you'll be perusing that museum virtually crowd-free. Not only will you avoid big line-ups but you will have a quieter, more peaceful experience.
7. Prepare your body for the new experience.
Get your vaccinations up to date. The last thing you want is to catch an illness on your once-in-a-lifetime trip. Flying sick on the way home is not fun either.
If you're going to be doing a lot of walking, make sure you wear the right shoes, and acclimate your body to the conditions you'll be experiencing there. For example, a coworker of mine took a trip to Scotland to hike a trail, staying at B&Bs along the way. He wasn't totally out of shape, but his body wasn't used to hiking all day, and he ended up dislocating his hip the third day and laying in bed the rest of the time.
Wear sunscreen! You should protect your skin while you are out and about so you don't get a bad burn that will hinder you for the rest of the trip. Don't forget to cover the back of your neck and behind your knees.
8. Buy groceries and hit up fancy restaurants for the lunchtime specials.
If you have the means at your accommodations to prepare simple meals for yourself, do it. Save your money for those must-do experiences, souvenirs, and adventures you find on your journey. For your meals out, go to the fancy restaurants at lunchtime. Oftentimes, restaurants will have specials mid-day which will save you money! Then you can make a meal for yourself with the groceries you bought for dinner. You'll save yourself some cash and get a chance to recuperate before hitting the nightlife scene. If I could say anything else, it would be this—if you really want to eat out, don't go to places like McDonald's. You can eat that at home. At least go somewhere where you can get a good experience out of it, enjoying some local flavor.
9. Prepare financially.
Tell your bank about your travel plans so you don't get an unexpected freeze on your account. Also, when you're packing, you will want to split your money in different places - basically, don't keep all your money in your wallet. If your wallet goes missing or gets stolen, you have lost all your spending money! This is even important on small trips—I was traveling with someone whose wallet was snatched on a 12-hour train ride (a distance the equivalent of an hour and a half flight). They never figured out who took it and he never recovered the $500 cash he had in the billfold. Yikes.
10. Be patient. Expect delays.
There's going to be issues at some point. Don't be a pessimist—"This line-up is so long, it's going to take us three hours just to get past security!" When you're not in a rush to get places, you'll be pleasantly surprised when you get there faster. On the other hand, if you are waiting in line for three hours to get into an event or club, it might be better to just go somewhere else. Time and money are both things you want to be frugal with on vacations. Keep your expectations realistic and enjoy your experience.
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