Learning to Be a Better Traveler

I have to admit, prior to moving to Budapest, I thought I was cultured and worldly and well-traveled, but now that I've traveled a whole lot more in the last few years, I see that I really wasn't (and I'm still not). I realize now that travel is like anything else - practice makes perfect.

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I just returned from my longest flight thus far and my first trip to Asia. Prior to this trip, the longest flight I'd ever taken was the one between Budapest and Chicago and every time I've taken it, I wanted to burn everything I was wearing the second I got off the plane, so I was expecting to feel extra ripe when I disembarked after almost 24 hours of travel in Taipei. But lo and behold! I didn't want to scuttle off to the shower and relinquish my clothes to the nearest dumpster. So, what was the difference? 

I discovered that learning to travel better and smarter makes the process easier and more pleasant. Here are the travel necessities and tips I now swear by. 

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1. Find the perfect travel outfit
This will make all the difference on that long-haul flight. I used to just pick a standard outfit like a t-shirt and jeans, but this time, I decided to channel those comfy, yet stylish travelers I envy in the airport security line. I found a pair of stretchy black pants that didn't make me feel like I was wearing leggings or pajamas and a basic long sleeve tee because with the unpredictable temps on planes and in airports, layering is key for comfort. The finishing touch was a super cozy (and soft) sweater. Another pro tip for the ladies: I ordered super comfy new bras just before my trip and luckily, they arrived the day before I left. If you don't have a comfortable bra, make that a priority! It made a huge difference for me.

2. Come prepared
Wipes are your friend. Seriously, they're versatile, easy to pack, and can get you from feeling gross to pretty fresh in two seconds flat. Packing an extra set of clothes in your carry-on is a good idea, too. This way you're covered in case you're not great at balancing food and drinks on your tiny, rickety tray table (or is that just me?), which brings me to my next tip...

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3. Carry-on only
I know, I know, you just have to bring four pairs of shoes, except no, you don't. Don't do it. The best travel investment I made this year was my Osprey Farpoint 40. It's carry-on approved for all European airlines (that goes for the U.S., too, since the carry-on size is larger there) and is the most logically designed bag I've ever come across. It holds a surprising amount if you pack (roll your clothes, please!) smartly and use the compression straps, and because of it's stellar organization, it's so easy to find whatever you need. Thanks to its weight-bearing hip straps, it's comfortable to carry, too!

4. Arm yourself with entertainment
A sure-fire way to make a long day of travel feel excruciating is being afflicted with boredom. Emirates had a surprisingly good selection of entertainment, including trivia games, Tetris, Sudoku, music, and movies. Nonetheless, I was armed with enough downloaded television shows and movies, plus a Kindle full of various books to cure even the most wretched bouts of boredom. Variety is key. I'm not always in the mood to watch certain things or even to read certain books, so be sure to download from a variety of genres, so you have something that will strike your fancy no matter how you're feeling.

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5. Five days max
No matter how long my trip is, I never pack more than five days of clothes, max. I spent nine days in Taiwan and didn't have access to a washing machine, but I packed a small bottle of Dr. Bronner's in my liquids bag and washed clothes here and there in the sink and shower. You could also head to a laundromat during your trip, but I didn't want to waste my precious vacation time doing that, so the sink was the perfect solution for me. Added bonus: Dr. Bronner's is good for pretty much everything, so if you run out of or forget to pack shampoo or shower gel or face wash or whatever, you're covered. Plus, it's environmentally friendly!

6. Order a special meal
This is kind of an odd tip, but I discovered this one quite a long time ago and have been sticking to it ever since. When I was vegan, I naturally ordered a vegan meal on my flight. I was super thrilled when my meal came out before anyone else's. How lucky was I?! Turns out, that's how the meal service works. Anyone who orders a special meal gets served first. I always, always, always order the vegetarian meal on any flight I take now.

For one, even if you're seated in the very back of the plane, you'll be one of the first to be served your meal (sometimes up to 20 minutes before everyone else is served). Next, you won't be stuck with the meal no one else wants (which I witness happen on every flight by the time they get to my row). "Sorry, we only have weird chicken noodles for breakfast left. Is that ok with you?" Third, I don't know about you, but meat in an airline package just doesn't appeal to me and I find the vegetarian meals to be inventive and tasty every time. I had some amazing pumpkin ravioli with pesto on my last flight, among other surprisingly delicious meals. So, even if you don't want to do a vegetarian meal, take a look at the options on the flight (gluten-free, lactose-free, kosher, etc.), order something special, and when you get served first, close your eyes and pretend you're in first-class for a moment.

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7. Comfortable shoes
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it's worth mentioning because it makes such a huge difference. I tend to walk a lot when I travel, so packing a pair of comfortable shoes is mandatory. Even if I end up wearing them with things I wouldn't normally wear them with at home (as in the orange dress/sneakers combo pictured above), comfort above style every time. You'll have so many more fun vacation memories if they aren't clouded with the memories of your miserable, sore feet. 

8. Roll with the punches
Not everything will go according to plan. In Taiwan, our first Airbnb was totally filthy and when we came home to sleep on the first night, we were greeted by some cockroach friends. It's not fun when stuff like this happens, but it shouldn't derail your whole trip. Figure out how to deal with the situation and move on, so you can get back to enjoying your trip.

Hope these tips are useful and make your next trip even more fun than your last! What are your favorite travel tips and necessities?

P.S. Stay tuned for a recap on my trip to Taiwan + maybe a whole post dedicated to the food, because you know I'm all about food and Taiwan was a food lover's dream.