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  • Merrilee MacLean

Keys to Happy Traveling

As we approach the summer travel season, don't look like this exhausted woman in Venice. Here are some keys to happy traveling, particularly if you are heading to Europe.


exhausted tourist
Exhausted tourist in Venice
  1. Pack less – no one ever wishes that their suitcase was heavier. Those that only do carryon avoid waiting in lines at baggage claim, concerns about lost bags, and struggling with heavy bags on stairs. These days, with increased security barring electronic items like laptops and cameras in carryon bags, it may not be possible. Still, less is definitely more, and you should keep your bags as light and empty as possible. See separate blog about how to do that.

  2. Prepare for problems/emergencies in advance – Buy evacuation/medical insurance. This is not trip insurance, but instead insurance that will get you home, or to an English speaking hospital, if you are in an accident or have a health emergency. lists the kinds of policies that are available. It is not that expensive and well worth the investment. Make a photocopy of your passport and all documents so you have all the numbers in case of loss or theft. Provide a copy to your travel companion, keep a separate copy, with some U.S. cash and an extra credit card, in an envelope hidden away in your suitcase, and email a copy (pdf) to yourself so that you can retrieve online if necessary. Avoid surprises by telling your bank and credit card companies where you are going, so they don’t put security holds on your cards. Check in advance on rules for your cell phone, roaming, internet, and fees for using credit cards and ATM cards. It’s best to know in advance, rather than being surprised later.

  3. Money issues/arrival information – It can be helpful to have local currency on your arrival, but most airports have ATMS where you can get the local currency at much better rates. For arrival information, the internet is your friend. Most airports have websites, with maps, transit information, etc. that can help you figure the best way to get to where you are staying (or picking up your car). Also check out transit cards, for using public transit where you are going. The information is all online, and if it’s in a foreign language, look for a British or American flag on the home page, and it will all turn into English!


  1. Be Flexible – You are on vacation – time is seen differently, as is the perception of personal space and cleanliness. Keep in mind that you are on an adventure; that those annoying or stressful times will become excellent stories when you get home. Keep a positive attitude, and watch what the locals do. Don’t jaywalk if they don’t. If they dress more formally, follow their lead. If they greet you on the street or in a shop, learn the appropriate greeting and respond – you will get a wonderful response. Keep in mind that in restaurants you are generally expected to seat yourself; if there aren’t empty tables, people will likely ask to share, and you have to actually ask for a bill. They believe bringing you a bill before you ask is impolite. Listen and watch, rather than focusing on you and how different things are.

  2. Knowledge is Power – When you get to a new town, get a map, go to the tourist information center and ask what is happening, even if you are on a tour. It is always nice to know where you are, and what else is out there. Also, those brochures at the entrance of Tourist Information or hotel lobbies can be very educational. Research in advance the areas you visit, but don’t bring the guidebook – paper is heavy. Make copies of the relevant pages, or make separate lists of things to check out or do, and toss them as you go.

  3. Staying in Touch – It is easy, with wifi in so many places. Internet cafes are not as common as they used to be, with so many people carrying devices with them. Cellphones are everywhere, but using your own can be expensive – check with your provider before you leave; most people will want to disable mobile data. Check out skype and viber as ways to call home (or anyone else in a wifi area) for free.

  4. Getting Around – Walking is the best way to see a new place (another reason to get that map when you first arrive). Make sure your shoes are comfortable. Alternatively, act like a native and take public transport. Do check out transit cards or cards that combine transit and sights. All the information is available by googling on the internet. If using trains, check the departure schedules before leaving the station so that you know when you need to be back. Renting cars is a good option (separate blog on that), and there are always taxis, guides and uber is making its way around the world. When asking directions, remember the response will often be in the foreign language unless you find someone that speaks English.

  5. Seeing the Sights – There are so many wonderful things to see – follow your interests; you don’t need to be a sheep. Check out the available walking tours. They are always interesting, and some are even free. If you are going somewhere very popular, arrive when it opens, before the tour buses arrive, or late, when those tours are all at dinner. Check the hours. Lots of museums are closed on Mondays; holidays you have never heard of are observed. Don’t assume everything is open all the time. Check out ways to get tickets online or through passes so that you can avoid the ticket lines. If you are in a line, bring something to read or do while waiting – it reduces the stress. If you are touring a popular museum or site and the crowds annoy you, just slow down. Most people move through these places quickly. If you can, just take your time, and that room will empty out and you can get that photo you wanted, without all those heads in the way. Also, if you have questions, ask the staff member that is generally standing in each room. They know a lot, and are usually quite happy to share that knowledge.

  6. Merrilee’s Favorite Indulgences/Tips – I take one pair of thick cushy socks, to comfort sore feet at the end of the day. My Timex Indiglo watch easily tells me the time in the middle of the night – very handy. A small speaker I can hook up to my phone lets me listen to my favorite tunes. My kindle, and access to the King County Library, has been a wonderful development. I can access and download books in English wherever there is wifi access, for free. Don’t leave a restaurant or hotel room without looking behind you or under the table or bed. Pay special attention to those chargers that you leave in the wall. I keep “walking around money” and a credit card in my pocket so I can pay for things without pulling out a wallet and showing my ID or passport (or other credit cards). Always learn the ten or so words you need in the local language to be polite (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me, etc.) It will always be appreciated – even in France!

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