Whether you're going away for a weekend or taking that long-awaited international trip, knowing how to plan before you go always helps. Here are some of my travel tips, based on a lot of trial and error over the years ;)
1) Know what kind of traveler you are
I think this one is really important, and one that may take a lifetime to understand, but knowing who you are and how you like to travel is crucial in my opinion. For example, do you like to wake up early and go, go, go all day long? Or do you like to take a true vacation, sleep in and casually decide what you're going to do for the day? There's no wrong answer, but it's good to know what kind of traveler you are so that you know what your needs and limits are. This will also help you with planning how and what to do on your trip and even who you will travel well with.
2) Don't try to do everything on your 'to-do list'
I learned this the hard way. When I first started traveling a lot, I wanted to see and do as much as humanly possibly. I would research places and make giant to-do lists that I could tick off to feel accomplished, but I would sometimes exhaust myself both mentally and physically trying to do it all. When traveling, do what you can but don't stress if you don't get to do everything you want, you might get tired and even be jet-lagged. It's important not to run yourself ragged checking things off, inevitably feeling like you haven't actually experienced that place. What I've learned to do is make a list of a few 'must-sees' that I absolutely need to see and a list of 'would like to sees' if time and energy allow.
3) Plan your trip but leave room for unexpected circumstances
When thinking about what your 'must-sees' are, it's important to do some planning beforehand so that you can get the most out of your trip. Whether that's planning what kind of transportation you'll need (public, private, taxi) or where you'll stay when you get to your destination, planning the logistics is crucial for me (because that's also the kind of traveler I am). I like to take a look at a map of the city I'll be visiting to acquaint myself with the major points so that when I get there I have a general understanding of directions. I also like to have a general itinerary of what I'm going to do so that I can make the most out of any trip, which typically includes day-trip excursions if I'm visiting another country. With that said, I don't keep this too strict. If I wake up one day and decide I'm too tired to do the thing I had planned and would rather go on to the next city or simply give myself more time in the city I'm currently in, I'll do that. The point is to plan with freedom, check off your must-do's, have other ideas in mind if you can do them, but don't stress if you don't fit it all in.
4) Seek out YOUR version of comfort
Whether you're the kind of person who needs an upgraded flight, room service or a large cocktail at the end of the day, knowing what will bring you comfort is extremely helpful in making you feel rested and comfortable on your trip. Sometimes absolute comfort isn't always possible depending on who you're with or the destination you're traveling to, so set realistic expectations and find comfort where you can. For me, I love a hotel with a bathtub, I'll even book a more expensive room if I have to because soaking in a hot bath after a long day of travel is crucial for me. Also, I tend to like to do as much as possible on a trip but do get tired towards the end of my time there, so I try to plan on a spa day if time allows to relax. This might be a day 'taking the waters' in Budapest or soaking at a traditional 'onsen' in Japan. Whatever it may be, take your comfort where you can.
5) Invest in the right kind of travel gear
In this day and age, it's important to bring along the things you will need to make your trip the best it can be. For me that's a portable charger for my phone while I'm out on the town (and using up my battery trying to find where I'm going), universal travel adapters to make sure I can charge all of my devices abroad and my laptop to make sure I can stay in contact with work and friends. For others, that could be a super fancy camera with all sorts of lenses, a tripod or even selfie-stick, or air-pods to listen to music or podcasts while out and about. Whatever techie bits you need while traveling, make sure you have invested in good quality products that will allow you to do what you want to do while traveling (and of course remember to pack them)!
6) Pack smartly
When I first started traveling I thought I needed the biggest suitcase with all of my creature comforts from home to make me feel comfortable (especially abroad). Over time (and over the course of many trips), I realized that was far from the truth. You don't need giant suitcases and tons of luggage to travel well, a medium suitcase and a carryon is about it. This of course varies with the type and length of travel, but I assure you even the best travelers can survive for months while packing a small carryon. You can pack essential items like toiletries, clothes and shoes but don't need a different option for every single day. Pack one or two pairs of shoes and a few outfits that you can inter-mix. It's also a good idea to pack one nicer outfit for fancy nights out but that's about it. Trust me, when you're traveling from city to city over cobblestone streets, on and off trains, you will not miss having that heavy suitcase and will thank me for that smaller piece of luggage. It's amazing how much we all think we need to be happy and comfortable, but I've found that living with higher quality, not higher quantity items is what really matters.
7) Pick your travel companions wisely
If you're like most people you know someone who complains while visiting bucket-list destinations, or that couple who tends to bicker when traveling. This speaks to my point above, know who you are and what kind of traveler you like to be. I'm sure we've all taken trips with friends or loved ones who've made the trip 'difficult'. The last thing you need on a long-awaited trip is stress from a poorly chosen travel companion. I've had one or two friends over the years that I absolutely love in life, but realize that traveling with them was not so fun lol. Some travel companions bring with them stress or drama or simply have a different travel philosophy than you, so knowing that upfront can be crucial for planning or setting expectations if you absolutely have to travel with someone difficult. Traveling can be stressful at times even for the best of us so it's important that the people you're with are making the whole experience better, not worse.
8) Do your research
Be a respectful traveler and know a little about the history and customs of the destination or country you're traveling to. We all want to learn from our destinations while we're there, but researching do's and don't beforehand will allow you to be a knowledgable tourist. For me that's looking up customs, taboos, religious know-how's and anything else that might come in handy. For example, many places in Japan require you to remove your shoes indoors, so wearing socks is a good practice (imagine having to remove your shoes and not having any socks)! The last thing I want to do is be seen as a rude American who doesn't respect the customs and practices of another country, so I try my hardest to be knowledgeable and respectful of another culture's customs before traveling there.
9) Visit the tourist traps first, then go off the beaten path
Some travel gurus scoff at people who rush to the Eiffel Tower in Paris or to Buckingham Palace in London, but not me. I realize that many people don't have the resources to travel as extensively as they may want, so I say if you're traveling to a city (especially a foreign one) for the first time, go and see those magnificent sites that make that place special, because they're amazing and none of us ever really know for certain if we'll be able to come back for a second visit. With that said, if you do happen to have the chance to visit a city more than once, consider exploring the lesser known places, the quirky places that are obscure and not as popular to travelers. Think about days trips from major cities to visit towns that might not be as spectacular, but will still probably have a lot to offer while being cheaper and less touristy.
10) Travel with an open mind
With all these tips in mind, the most important travel tip I can give is to travel often and with an open mind. The whole point of travel is to experience something new. To allow yourself to be enlightened and discover new ways of being. Sometimes our fear of other cultures simply stems from not knowing them, but when you put yourself in the way of wonder and new experiences, I'm sure you'll find that we're not all that different and that's why I think traveling is so so important.
These are just a few tips I've learned over the years but I'm still learning. As always please comment below with anything you've learned that helps with your travels.