There are a lot of travel tip posts out there, but they're usually about picking the right luggage and the proper tshirt rolling technique.
Don't get me wrong, packing guides can be helpful (I mean heck, I even wrote one). But since we started traveling full-time, there have been a bunch of things we had to learn the hard way. Things that weren’t listed on most of the guides we read.
So we made a list from our own experiences in hopes they’ll help you avoid embarrassing tourist moments and give you a bit more confidence on the road.
Double check liquid restrictions at airports
We used to think the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) was hardcore with their liquids policy, but boy were we terribly mistaken!
As full time travelers, we never know what amenities our next Airbnb will have, so we’re constantly carrying a billion travel-sized bottles of shampoos, body wash, contact solution, hair gel, toothpaste, lotions, hairspray… you get the picture.
We’d recently taken flights from Barcelona and Dubrovnik without any issues though, so imagine our surprise when the security agents in Copenhagen’s airport started freaking out as soon as our carry ons went into the scanners. They stopped the entire line and had us open our severely over-stuffed bags to show them all the liquids we were “hiding”. Talk about a stressful tourist moment!
Turns out, not only are you supposed to take all of your liquids completely out of your carry on luggage in Copenhagen’s airport, but you’re also supposed to stuff them all into one (and only one!) impossibly small plastic baggie. (We’ve since found that it’s the same flying out of Berlin, but they weren’t as strict.)
Sadly, we ended up throwing away about half of our supplies, most of which were new, not-cheap items :(
Lesson learned: always double check the airport security policies before getting to the front of the line. You can use this link to make sure you’re complying with all of the EU’s travel policies and this one for when you’re flying in the US. If you still have questions, I’m sure an extra friendly airport attendant will be only mildly annoyed if you ask for clarification.
Oh and one last thing: always make sure to check your airline's carry on policies! Though we’ve yet to see these policies heavily enforced, a lot of European budget airlines have stricter size and weight limits than in the states.
Check for major events and holidays happening during your stay
Not once, but twice now we’ve arrived in a new city excited for a fun day of exploring only to find it’s a national holiday and everything’s closed. Bummer! While it’s interesting to experience holidays in other cities and countries, it can also mean that trains, grocery stores, and museums may have restricted hours or closures during your stay.
Holidays and festivals may also be the reason you’re having a hard time booking an affordable hotel or Airbnb during your stay. Check out timeanddate.com to see if there are any major holidays falling during your stay. And a quick peek at the city’s website or facebook pageshould give you a list of any festivals or big events in the area.
Take a free walking tour!
We were recently turned on to the amazingness of free walking tours and we can’t recommend them enough!! The people who lead them work on tips so basically it’s up to you to decide how much the tour is worth. And they are seriously the most excited people we’ve ever encountered. It’s a great way to get a feel for a new city, meet fellow travelers, and get some exercise!
Our favorite tour company is Sandemans. Definitely check their website to see if they have a free walking tour in the city you're visiting!
Pro tip: Your guide will usually offer a free map. Snatch that baby up and have them mark all the cool places you should go while you’re in town!
Wait a day before making assumptions about a new city
While travel days are typically super exciting, they’re almost always really stressful - especially when you’re traveling to a new country. You arrive stale and jetlagged, have to deal with the nightmare that is customs, and then have to navigate a new public transportation system, often in a foreign language, using a foreign currency.
Needless to say, you’re probably not the happiest of camper by this point and are a lot more inclined to project that negativity on the city.
We recently made this mistake when we arrived to a cold and rainy Berlin, exhausted from carrying our bags all day. And unbeknownst to us, it was a holiday so nothing around us was open.
Instead of doing something fun, we just had a dreary night in our little apartment eating Chinese food, watching Saving Private Ryan and second guessing our choice to visit Berlin. (In retrospect, we agree that those were probably the weirdest choices for someone’s first night in Berlin...)
The next day we woke up refreshed and determined to have a better day. We ended up finding an awesome coffee shop to work from... okay maybe Berlin isn’t so bad, we thought. Then we happened upon an even more awesome lunch spot... 2 for 2 - we’re starting to warm up to you, Berlin! Finally, we ended the evening at a really cool bar with super cheap beers.
Turns out Berlin wasn’t the problem - our attitudes were the problem!
We let our emotions dictate our experience instead of appreciating where we were. Since that first day, we’ve fallen more in love with Berlin each day and are having a blast exploring the history and culture.
Lesson learned: Berlin is intense and badass and cool and we’re sorry we were mad at you!