By Tina Lu
I have a serious case of wanderlust, but I’m unfortunately limited in my real-life travel. Instead, I’ve taken to browsing travel blogs and watching those ridiculously addicting travel hacks YouTube videos. But these past two weeks, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to trek central Europe. Along the way, I’ve learned several travel tips those blogs failed to cover.
- Bring an eye mask wherever you go
If you’re a traveller like me, you’re probably not getting much sleep in the nights (why waste time sleeping when you can be exploring the city??) I always bring an eye mask wherever I go, so I can take a quick snooze and catch up on sleep every single time I have a train, plane, or bus ride. Remember to always set your alarm for about 10 minutes before the estimated arrival time, so you don’t miss your destination!
- Your student ID will save you serious money
If you’re planning on visiting any museums, palaces, or anything that requires an admission ticket, a student ID can save you hundreds. A lot of these exhibitions have significantly discounted tickets for students, but you won’t get the markdown price without the ID. You can even get discounted railway ticket packages in some European countries if you have your handy ID.
- Supermarkets are your next best friend
If you’re traveling for any longer than a week, you’re going to miss your fruits and vegetables. Of course, you can buy overpriced fruit bowls in restaurants, but a much cheaper alternative is taking a pit stop at a local supermarket. I always buy my water in supermarkets as well (1.5 liter bottles are my favorite), since it’s so much cheaper than buying overpriced water anywhere else. Also, it’s fun to try out the junk food in a foreign country, and sometimes supermarkets have super cheap bakeries or cafes that sell yummy local foods!
- Bring an external battery—but if you’re out of juice, just ask restaurants to charge your phone while you eat
I always bring an external battery with me whenever I travel because I use my phone so much for directions, online travel guides, restaurant recommendations, and pictures! But if you don’t have any power left, you can always ask your restaurant waiter to charge your phone as you eat. This involves, of course, always carrying around your adapter (if necessary) and phone charger. I normally ask after I order the food, and wait until I’m paying the check before I request my phone back. Usually, my phone charges ~50% during the meal.
- You don’t need wifi to use Google Maps!
Hold up—Google Maps works without wifi?
…Not quite. You won’t be able to use turn-by-turn navigation or make any searches in the app, but you still can use Google Maps to help guide you through a foreign city. Personally, I prefer searching up my destination and setting the route to it when I have wifi. You can do this in the morning before you leave your hotel, at a train station/airport (sometimes), or at any Starbucks! Whatever map you just searched up will remain accessible without Internet. Fortunately, your phone can still detect your location since it uses GPS, which is independent of Internet signal. So even though Google Maps won’t tell you when exactly to turn left or turn right, it can give you a map of the city with your exact location, which is infinitely more helpful than just a regular paper map. If you want to save more offline maps ahead of time, you can find out how to do so here.
- Don’t buy those overpriced bottles of water—just ask Starbucks!
Unfortunately, in most countries, water can’t be carried onto an airplane. But, as humans, we’re obviously going to get thirsty as we wait in the airport before and after our flight. Sometimes, supermarkets aren’t super accessible and water bottles can cost up to $5 each. But to cut the ridiculous cost, just ask Starbucks for water! I would normally walk up to the barista making the coffee, and ask him or her politely for a glass of water. The barista will usually fill a plastic cup with filtered water, which is way better than gross bathroom (or even water fountain) tap water.
- Wake up earlier (like, really early)
I know, I know; sleep is good. (And if you lack it, just follow tip #1.) But waking up early is the best way to truly experience a foreign city. I usually try to wake up around 6 to 7 at least once in every city I visit even though I am NOT a morning person. Plus, waking up early means you have more time in your day to explore more than just the touristy locations during your travel. The lighting for pictures is also so pretty during the mornings!
- Views are the prettiest from 6 to 8ish
This is generally the case for every season besides winter (5 to 7 is better for those colder months). In the morning, 6 to 8 is the time around sunrise, which, as I’ve mentioned before, has really really nice lighting! Make sure you’re facing east to see the gorgeous sky. In the evening, 6 to 8 is the time around sunset, which is just as beautiful. I always try to catch the prettiest city view during this time (I stayed in the Prague Old Town Hall Clock Tower for three hours during sunset.) The view drastically changes as daylight progresses to nightfall, but each view is beautiful in its own right.
- Don’t just stay in the city
Everybody knows that cities are drastically different from the suburbs and the countryside. To get a taste of the real way of life in foreign countries, just go out of the city! The Austrian countryside honestly looks like a fairytale, and food is honestly so much cheaper when you leave the city. I got a really good fish dish for less than $4 in the Czech countryside. Countryside towns are super accessible through European railways, and are typically less than an hour from the capital city.
- Walking > public transportation
I’m a lazy person, but when I’m travelling in a foreign country, I walk on average ten miles per day. Many times, walking can be faster than public transportation, especially when you factor in the waiting and transfer times for subways and buses. But even when walking isn’t faster, you should consider walking anyways. It really makes the entire experience of travelling so much better. You get to see sights from a different perspective, stop at shops or stands along the way, and revel in the feeling of simply being a part of the local culture. From one lazy person to another, walking is the way to go!
- Uber is awesome!
Honestly, Uber can be a lifesaver in foreign countries, and I greatly recommend that you at least download the app before you leave for vacation. Ubers are generally very inexpensive in big cities, where there are a lot of cars ready to service you. They’re the best deals when you’re travelling with friends who are willing to split the fare. I usually use Ubers when I first arrive in a city, and I don’t want to lug around my suitcase for a mile. They’re also great in bad weather conditions, although you may need to pay 20% more during periods of high demand.
- Grab breakfast at bakeries
The best on-the-go local food you can get in a foreign country is from the bakeries. I like to go to bakeries for breakfast because they’re cheap, easy, and great places to try local delicacies! Go for sweet pastries or savory breads; they all taste fantastic and you know what they say—a good breakfast boosts your metabolism!
- Packing cubes are great for on-the-go!
When I traveled to Europe, I hopped from hostel to hostel, staying for only a couple of days in each location. I found packing cubes to be super helpful in the hostels, where I needed to pack and re-pack my suitcase every night and morning to prevent my possessions from being stolen. Packing cubes save space and allow you to compartmentalize your outfits, so you don’t have to mess up your entire suitcase to find that one red sweater. I won’t recommend them for weeklong hotel stays, but they work super well for when you’re on-the-go!
I use Shacke Pak packing cubes, which you can find here.