I’d like to think I’m an expert at travel. I don’t know a lot of things and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but over the years I’ve been able to learn a LOT of things. Travel isn’t all pretty Instagram pictures, it can be gritty and rough. That being said, here are my 10 commandments of travel to get you ready for your next trip. Thankfully, breaking any of these commandments won’t send you off to Hell like the ones Moses brought from Mt. Sinai.
1. Thou Shalt Not Underestimate Street Food
Europe is so enticing because it’s so picturesque. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a romantic meal of filet mignon with their significant other at a restaurant with a terrace view of the Eiffel Tower? It may be pretty but constantly eating at restaurants will drain your bank account. DON’T DO IT.
Instead, hit up the streets for some street food. My absolute favorite food in the entire world is Krokets from street vending machines in the Netherlands. For just €1,50 I can have the best meal and eat it on the go while exploring Amsterdam. When traveling, you have to try the street food. That’s your best glimpse into local life. Parisian locals rarely eat at fancy restaurants. So why would you do the same? Instead, get a fresh crepe or snag a baguette from a vendor. Not only will you save money, but also you can feel like a local.
2. Thou Shalt Make Copies of Documents
Your passport is your lifeline when traveling abroad. Without it you can’t travel internationally and basically you lose your identity if you don’t have it. As a precaution, it’s important to make copies of your passport and identification. Have at least one physical copy that you keep separately from your passport (one in your carry on, one in your luggage). Another good idea is to take pictures of your passport and all important documents. You’ll probably have your phone on you at all times so having a picture of your documents is a great backup.
3. Thou Shalt Use Public Transportation
I’m a pretty cheap frugal traveler and refuse to spend money on taxis when I’m in a new place. There is almost always a cheaper alternative to a taxi in every country you visit. Even in the U.S. you can get an Uber or Lyft for cheaper than the price of a taxi. But many places, especially Europe, have a pristine public transportation system. I love it because you can typically take a train to and from the airport to downtown and from there there are usually busses, trams, and trains to get you where you need to go around a city. Once when I was in Croatia I was 40 minutes outside Zagreb’s city center so I just hopped on a bus going the right direction and hoped for the best… Turns out it was exactly where I needed to go! Never underestimate the power of public transportation. Plus, you can blend in as a local and see a side of the city that most tourists don’t get to see.
4. Thou Shalt Learn a Few Local Phrases
One of my biggest pet peeves is people who travel to a foreign country and demand that the locals speak English. Not only is it rude, but sometimes English isn’t spoken where you’re going and you look like a jerk. I understand that it’s nearly impossible to learn every language of everywhere you travel to. It’s simply not practical.
But what is easy is to learn a few words in the native language where you’re going. I can only speak four languages but I can say, “hello, thank you, goodbye, and do you speak English?” in about 15 different languages. Back when I lived in Germany, I HATED when a tourist would immediately walk into a store and start speaking to a worker in English. Yes, there was a 99% chance that the employee spoke English. But it was so disrespectful when all it took was a, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” to be polite. So learn a few local words people because I can guarantee you’ll get better service.
5. Thou Shalt Respect the Local Culture
The great thing about traveling is that you do so in order to get out of your comfort zone and experience a new culture. While it’s great to experience a new culture, don’t be one of those obnoxious tourists who want to try and change a culture. I’m not going to go to Peru and demanding that they stop eating guinea pigs, just like I’m not going to travel to Egypt and walk around in a crop top and booty shorts. When you’re in another country, it’s imperative to respect their culture. Be a nice and respectful person, it’s not that hard.
6. Thou Shalt Always Have a First Aid Kit
I’m like the self-proclaimed fun mom of any group I’m in. Really the only reason I am is because I always have some sort of first aid kit on me. I do that even when I’m not traveling. Need some ibuprofen? Ya girl got you covered. Need a Band-Aid? What size do you want? I can’t stress the importance of having a first aid kit when traveling enough. Something you don’t think about is that in many other countries, you can’t get the same over the counter drugs that you can in America. Painkillers can be a hassle to get overseas and pharmacies aren’t always as easy to find. You don’t necessarily need to have scalpels and syringes, but good basics are important to have on hand. It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.
7. Thou Shalt Not Let Other Travelers Get on Your Nerves
Everyone has had that trip from hell. You know, the one where your travel companions are sub-par and the vacation seems more like a chore than fun. I’ve had some of those before and in hindsight, I would’ve had more fun if I had just thrown in the towel and not stressed out over other people. Not every situation will let you just give up and do your own thing, but it’s imperative to not let others get on your nerves. Just remember that this is your life so don’t let other people take away the fun of your vacation.
8. Take Half the Clothes as Thou Thinkest and Twice the Money
Some really wise person once said to “pack for your trip, then take half of the clothes and twice as much money.” It’s honestly the absolute truth that not a lot of people want to hear. Take the Amazing Race, for example. Never before have any of those competitors thought, “wow, I really wish I had packed more things to lug as I race to the finish line.” As humans, we really love to overpack. So unless you’re going to a fancy gala or dance, you can leave the 2 pairs of heels and sequined dress at home because there’s a 90% chance you won’t wear it and will wish you had more room for souvenirs. My hack is to take clothes that you would either donate/throw away while at home. While on the road, you can leave those clothes behind to make more room for your souvenirs and so you don’t break your back.
When it comes to money, there will undoubtedly be some unexpected expense. Today we have ATMs that can save our life so we don’t have to travel with a lot of cash, but just make sure your bank account is prepared for a trip!
9. Thou Shalt Not Judge Other Travelers for Traveling Differently Than Thineself
I cannot stress this commandment enough. I’m in a ton of Facebook travel groups and there are always those petty people who judge other travelers that travel differently. My rule is that as long as a traveler is respectful and not disrespecting their environment, I couldn’t care less how they travel. Some people travel by staying in one place for weeks at a time to really ‘experience a place’. Others travel to all-inclusive resorts and sit on the beach all day. Some people climb mountains and hitchhike to travel. Other people backpack around Europe and ride the rails. Other people (the lucky ones) can afford to fly first class Emirates and stay at the Ritz Carlton. It doesn’t matter how you travel or how the person standing next to you travels. The important thing is that each traveler wants to put themselves outside of their comfort zone and they want to experience another part of the world. So let other people travel how they want to and for the love of God please don’t crap on other people’s traveling styles. It’s one thing to judge them silently: it’s another to outwardly criticize them.
10. Thou Shalt Continue to Learn and Experience
Never lose your thirst for travel. Sometimes awful things will happen when traveling. You’ve got to get back up on the horse. I had my backpack stolen from me in Hungary and other than calling my parents bawling and saying I was flying home, I stuck it out and kept traveling. It was one of the hardest things I had to do (mostly because I had no belongings) but I made it through. When the going gets tough, the tough get going (have I used enough clichés in here yet?). Nobody should ever get tired of experiencing new places and traveling. So get out there and experience. Try a new food, even if it’s just a Persian restaurant down the street from your house. Practice a new language, even if you do it in order to learn the words on a telenovela. Most importantly, don’t let anyone take away your love of travel.
The law student in me requires me to put a disclaimer that these 10 commandments of travel are not the only things you have to do when traveling. But let me tell you that if you follow these commandments of travel that your travels will become much more enriching and fun.