Tag Archives: Travel Girl

Now You See Me…

MNphoto

It’s 1 a.m. in Minneapolis, and my friend and I are sharing a 20-inch tall, boot-shaped glass of beer with three young professionals we just met. Polka music is playing in the background, and the air smells like cinnamon and wood smoke.  With each sip of dark brew, we become more pleased that we heeded the advice of a random article about “best hipster bars” and took a cab across town. We each take turns allowing a 75-year-old man to waltz us around the room to the rhythm of the accordion.  We laugh at each other’s expense when he gets a little too close for comfort.  The lights dim and the polka fades into hip hop and the old man disappears.  My friend gets caught up in conversation with a dark and handsome stranger.  I forget myself and approach the attractive guy I spotted when we first walked in.  He’s all-American – blonde hair, blue eyes, and built like a football player.  I grab his hand and lead him into the crowd, knowing that after tonight, he’ll never see me again.

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When we travel, we try to absorb as much about a destination as we can.  That’s the point: to discover some place new and discover more about ourselves in the process.  So it makes sense to believe that the longer we stay somewhere, the more we learn.

But there’s something to be said for fleeting getaways.  The quick trips we take just to escape for a moment, where there’s not enough time to adapt to a new environment – there’s only the present.

When we travel somewhere briefly, we remove the stress around doing things “right.”  We don’t have to worry about running into someone we know, or ordering the wrong food, or mispronouncing a word from our phrasebook.  We’ll be gone tomorrow.

Short-term travel might seem a little selfish, but only because it’s liberating.  For one or two days, we can be bolder, braver versions of ourselves.  We can come into people’s lives suddenly and leave them just as soon – and that’s okay.  We can throw ourselves right into the heart of a city with no preparation and little hesitation – and often learn more than we ever would have with more time.    Maybe we don’t come out with lasting friendships, or a new outlook, or a list of best restaurants, but we still leave with memories.  And those are always worth the trip.

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7 Ways to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist in Italy

This post is a re-blog of an original guest post for A Girl and a Suitcase. Make sure to check out Adria’s blog!

Can I Get A What? 

Incredible food. It’s likely one of your main motivations for traveling to Italy, so you should know how to pronounce what you’re about order. Meals are a great source of pride for Italians, and by butchering the name of your dish, you’re disrespecting the work that went into it. Skim through a phrasebook and familiarize yourself with some common food pronunciations. Also memorize a few courtesy phrases like, “Could I have…?” Your Italian doesn’t have to be perfect. Just putting in the effort will please the waitstaff and ensure that the cook is the only one doing the butchering…

Put Your Foot Down

Italians are notoriously pushy when they’re stuck waiting in line. Market stands and cafe counters often teem with people and can be overwhelming to tourists. Stand your ground and don’t be afraid to push your way to the front. Always know your order ahead of time. At the counter, speak clearly and have your money ready so you don’t slow down the fast-paced service.

Riding Dirty

Trains are a great way to get around Italy–if you know what to do. Tickets are easy to purchase at electronic booths, but make sure you’ve chosen the proper fare and destination. Riding the wrong train or taking it further than your fare allows can get you kicked off the train or fined. After you buy your ticket, STOP! Find the yellow validation machine and stamp it. An unvalidated ticket can also warrant fines.

Big Spender

In the US, it’s normal to pay for small purchases with large bills. In Italy, it’s like the 8th deadly sin. Cashiers hate making change and can be rude if you deny their request for exact coins. Use your larger bills for larger purchases and save your 1 & 2 euro coins for gelato money. It’s always smart to be on the cashier’s good side, especially if you plan to go back for more gelato (you will).

Under My Umbrella

If you want to see that piazza when it’s less crowded, wait until it rains. Italians scatter at the first sign of precipitation and those who can’t escape come prepared. Sleek raincoats and long umbrellas are rainy day essentials. Check the forecast and always carry a compact umbrella so you don’t end up the only person in Italy who’s drenched.

Energy Boost

There are no Starbucks in Italy because coffee is an art form. It’s perfectly acceptable to sip an early morning cappuccino or latte. This window closes after the clock strikes noon, when true Italians drink only espresso. Other coffee drinks are still served throughout the day, but show that you’re a newbie.

Food Rules!

The typical Italian dinner doesn’t start until 8pm and many restaurants don’t even open until then. If waiting to eat late is difficult for you, have a late lunch or buy a snack to tide you over.

Good gelato is always served in metal bins, which signify it’s homemade. Gelato should appear smooth and fluffy, and never grainy.

You’re probably used to eating pizza by hand and by the slice. Many Italians actually use a knife and fork and most order a whole pizza for themselves. Take out is frowned upon. Hope you’re hungry!

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One Hour in Valletta, Malta

A country’s capital city is usually an urban metropolis bustling with frenzied energy.  Not so in Valletta.  The authors of Let’s Go Europe claim you can explore Malta‘s capital in only an hour–and they’re right.  Sandstone buildings line quiet, narrow streets that lead downhill to the sea.  Old haberdasheries and family silversmiths snuggle in with modern stores on the island where Italian, Arabic, and American influences combine to make the perfect escape.  In Valletta, the views are breathtaking, the people friendly, and the traditions strong.  So take just an hour to meander.  You’re sure to feel right at home.

 

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Travel Girl’s 10 Tips for Packing Light

Courtesy of Google Images

I don’t claim to be a travel expert, but when it comes to packing, I’m awesome.  Most people dread packing; I enter into a state of packing nirvana.  For me, it’s like fitting the pieces of a layered puzzle together.  The prize? Getting to go on an exciting trip, of course!

OCD-like raving aside, these days an efficiently packed suitcase gets you more than an easy trip up the escalator.  Airlines continue to tack on new fees for both checked and carry-on luggage, and these pesky costs can eat away at your budget before you even arrive at your destination.

Below is a collection of 10 simple tricks for squishing in all that stuff.  Unfortunately, there’s no miracle solution for a well-packed suitcase.  You have to put in some time and thought (and patience) to reap the benefits.  But if you do, you’ll be sashaying past that flight attendant and dropping the extra $60* on the perfect Paris dress instead!

*Actual amount saved by Travel Girl due to packing efficiency

Roll With It

Neatly folded shirts are great for clothing store displays, but they still take up space in your suitcase!  Instead of making your clothes perfectly square, fold them in half and then roll them like you would a towel.  Rolling not only saves room, it saves time, minimizes wrinkles, and allows you to fit items into smaller crevices.

Stack Attack

Now that your clothes are rolled and ready, it’s time to stack them.  Larger items like pants and sweaters make up the bottom row, with items getting increasingly smaller as you approach the rim of your suitcase.  Keep all of your clothing in groups by type; pants with pants, long-sleeve shirts together, and so on.  You can easily snatch a tank top out of your bag if you already know where it lives.

Doggie Bag

Ball up that plastic bag from your last grocery store trip and stuff it somewhere accessible in your suitcase.  When your clothes get dirty, you can just throw them in the plastic bag until you’re home or able to do laundry.  Separating dirty items  prevents you from rifling through your luggage in search of clean clothes and turning order to chaos.  This trick works especially well for shorter trips when you don’t plan to unpack much.  It’s also really easy to dump dirty clothes straight from the plastic bag into the washing machine.

You Won’t Wear Those

We all like to imagine strutting through the streets of Milan in our trendy red pumps, but ladies, a well-packed bag requires altering your fashionable travel fantasy.  Heels don’t fit into each other like other shoe styles, and the pointy spines are very difficult to pack around.  And then there’s the truth we try our hardest to ignore: high heels hurt!  They’re great for a fancy dinner, but terrible for a night walking around a foreign city (especially those European ones with cobblestones–ouch!).  Substitute  a pair of sophisticated wedges or flats for your stilettos.  Both are more packable and wearable, and they can be dressed up with the right outfit and accessories.  If you absolutely must bring heels, invest in brands like Aerosoles or Naturalizer, which offer shoes made specifically for comfort.  These companies have recently revamped their lines to offer more stylish designs.

You Won’t Read That

Vacations seem like the perfect opportunity to finally tackle that stack of books you’ve been meaning to read.  They’re not.  Unless you plan on plopping down on the nearest beach for the entire trip (totally fine if you do), you’ll likely be too busy exploring your destination to make much progress on Tina Fey’s new biography.  Books eat up room and add extra bulk, making it more likely you’ll be charged for exceeding an airline’s luggage weight limits.  I’m a book lover, so I would never want to deprive you.  Pack the book you’ve been wanting to read the most so you’ll be more likely to read it.  Paperbacks and shorter novels are always preferable.  Long flight ahead of you?  Consider downloading books on tape, which will spare your eyes from poor airplane lighting and also shrink your suitcase.

Woman With A Plan

You’ve mapped out your entire itinerary, so why wouldn’t you extend the same courtesy to your wardrobe?  Lay out staple items (cardigans, skirts, etc.) from your closet, to see what clothes will combine with other pieces to be worn multiple times.  Check the weather forecast to pinpoint what you’ll need to bring, and then start planning.  Using a 2-week trip as an example, plan a week’s worth of outfits that reuse your staple items at least twice.  Do laundry at the end of the week and then repeat your outfits.  If you’re backpacking or traveling to a country where a washing machine is a luxury, do your best to predict a realistic laundry schedule and adjust your planned outfits accordingly (i.e. pack more t-shirts to wear with the same pair of pants).

Need more ideas? A dark-colored dress in a light weight fabric is low maintenance and can be dressed up or down.  Pants and shorts can be worn repeatedly without getting too dirty, so always keep them to a minimum.  Statement jewelry is better left silenced at home in your jewelry box.  Opt instead for a simple pair of faux diamond studs for everyday wear and one pair of fancier earrings for nights out.  Only bring jewelry that you always wear and/or won’t miss if it’s lost or stolen.

No Size Fits All

When deciding how many bags to bring, stick to the Rule of 3: one large suitcase (the checked bag), one medium bag like a backpack (the carry-on bag), and one small bag (the personal item).  An over-the-shoulder purse with a zipper will hold your important documents and work for daily travel without getting in your way.  Your carry-on bag should hold other important items that you want to keep near you like iPods and cameras.  Carry-on sized bags are also great for weekend trips if you plan to leave your larger suitcase behind.  Low-cost airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet only allow one personal item, so make sure your purse fits inside your packed carry-on bag.  For trips that only require a carry-on, pack your toiletries last so they’re easy to take out before you go through security.

Layer Up

I hate looking like a tourist, but I’ll make the sacrifice if it means saving suitcase space.  Wear heavier items like jackets and sneakers on your flight to lighten your luggage.  Both are easy to remove and place in a security bin without too much extra hassle and also easy to change out of once you arrive at your destination.

Golden Rules

Follow the instructions!  Immediately after you book your flight, go on your airline’s website and read their luggage requirements.  If you don’t know the proper luggage measurements and weights before you start packing, you’re already sabotaging a successful suitcase.  Use your bathroom scale to check whether your bag is the proper weight.  Eliminating some items ahead of time is always better than being shocked when your bag pulls big numbers on the airport scale.

Love It or Leave It

We all have them: those articles of clothing that just hang in our closets, waiting.  We swear we’ll wear them when the perfect occasion rolls around!  While it’d be a nice surprise if that opportunity were to occur on your trip, the chances are unlikely.  You probably haven’t worn it because it’s impractical, and there’s no room for the impractical in an organized suitcase.  My motto: if you have doubts, leave it out!  Yes, it’s painful at first, but you’ll forget all about that sparkly tube top when you’re using the extra luggage space to bring back a colorful Indian sari.

Final Note: Efficient packing is all about editing.  Focus on what you definitely need, not what you think you might use.  You can always make up for packing too little, but you’ll end up paying more if you overpack.  Think of your suitcase as a representation of your trip: bring some of home with you, but be open to the place you’re about to visit.  Happy travels!

Have any great packing tips that I’ve missed?  Share them below, and I’ll include them in a follow-up post!

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I Can See My House From Here!

I’ll admit it: when it comes to travel, I’m a snob. No, I don’t expect 4-star hotels, exquisite cuisine, or everyone to speak English in the foreign country I’m visiting. I do, however, scoff at the glorified reality that is the “tourist attraction.” One mention of the term, and I immediately picture myself squished between people with visors and fanny packs, waiting in a five hour line to hand over piles of money just so I can glimpse the world’s largest beer can. Although sights like the Great Wall and Machu Picchu are admittedly breathtaking, they only represent one aspect of cultures that are immensely complex. Are they important? Yes. But where’s the travel? When you’re visiting a place that most of the world could recognize and hundreds of thousands of people have seen before, where’s the excitement?

So of course it makes little sense how on a recent trip to New York City, my friends and I wound up at the Empire State Building. It gets worse. I was the one who suggested it. Yes, at 11:00 at night, we found ourselves still awake in the City that Never Sleeps, wondering what to do. Suddenly, I was struck by an idea too strong too ignore. And as much as I resist becoming a “tourist,” I am a sucker for a great view. You know New York too well for this, the Travel Girl part of me whispered. Real New Yorkers don’t go to the Empire State Building. But myself didn’t listen to me, and before I knew it, there I was at 11:30 pm striding into that famous lobby.

As we walked to get our tickets, part of me was groaning at the prospect of standing in line for hours on end so late at night. But to my surprise, there were no such lines to be found. We breezed through the ticket booths, practically galloped down the hallway past the maze of velvet ropes, and sauntered right up to the elevators. In less than five minutes, we arrived at the 86th floor.

The view was more than incredible (and well worth my $18). It was as if someone had shifted the night sky and placed it below us, thousands of lights stretching out across the distance. The dark had made all seem quiet; everyone spoke in whispers and huddled close to fight the nighttime chill. As I marveled at my surroundings, it suddenly made sense. Although we were all aware that millions of people had stood in our places before, on that night, it felt as though we were sharing something secret only to us. Was I suddenly alert to all the mysteries of New York City? No. Not even close. But looking out over the expanse of the city, I felt as though I had glimpsed its essence.

Plenty of people travel to a place, snap some photos to show their friends, and return home without ever appreciating what they have actually seen. I now realize that my aversion to the notion of tourist attractions arose from this fact alone. I didn’t want to seem ignorant. But for a lot of travelers, this just isn’t true. There’s a reason why people walk the Great Wall, why they climb the steps of Machu Picchu, why these destinations are even famous at all. They’re magical. They speak to the history of a place and its people, aging signs of the power of human accomplishment, inspiration, and influence. Nothing but experience will allow you to understand a culture, but for those who appreciate them, tourist attractions can offer a sneak-peak. I didn’t see the magic before. Now I do. To Americans, the Empire State Building may not seem as wondrous as the Parthenon. But it’s New York’s Parthenon, and I can proudly say I’ve been to the top.

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