Fun 203: How To Have Awesome Vacations & Trips

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Before you make plans

  • Ask why you’re going
    • Vacation planning is extra stress
    • If it’s because of something given free that needs to be used, then it will be more stress than it’s worth
  • Have a budgeted dollar amount in mind
    • You can recklessly spend within that budget
    • If saving money is truly priority number one, then don’t go on the trip
  • Plan for the worst and hope for the best
    • False idealism will destroy any enjoyment from the trip as soon as any problem arises
    • Get a health check-up and any required immunizations for traveling to your destination country
  • Think of what you actually need
    • Most people will overpack
    • If you can buy it there or can live without it, don’t bring it
    • For longer trips, it is best to only pack for 2-3 days and then wash clothes there
    • Life will be immeasurably easier to only have to carry-on
  • Keep everything related to the trip in one single place
    • Destination, departing airport/airline, departure date and time
    • Any transfers or trips to a second destination
    • Returning airport/airline, returning date
    • Tickets and confirmation numbers of all travel arrangements and events
    • Contact info of everything
  • Be as proactive as possible when making plans
    • Try to do it as early as possible to ensure that you can get the time off and the services you need
    • This is even more true if you’re going at the same time as a major holiday
  • Make sure everyone will enjoy it
    • Not everyone in the group going to the event will like the same things
    • Make sure the activities are things that everyone will like doing
  • When travelling with children
    • Give them the responsibility of their own luggage to carry along
    • Surprise them during the trip with new toys or books

Day trips are usually easy to plan for

  • There are a few things you should always do
    • Research to be sure that the event is open when you want it to be
    • Make a mental note of what you want to take and what’s not allowed to take to the event
  • Museums, parks, movies and other routinely open venues require practically no planning
    • Simply go to the event, bring what you can and enjoy your time there
  • Going fishing isn’t hard either
    • Make sure you’re up early enough to get to the water before the fish start feeding
    • Bring food and drinks for the whole time or research good places to dine out
  • Going on a hike requires as much planning as how long you’ll be out
    • Wear good hiking boots
    • Bring enough water and snacks for everyone
    • Pay attention to the needs of the people who are the least in shape
  • Most festivals, concerts, exhibitions and cultural events aren’t hard to plan for
    • Make sure you get a ticket as early as possible and make sure everyone going will have the time blocked off in their schedule
  • Going to the beach is simple, but planning will make it more fun
    • Budget spending for gas money, parking, snacks, lunch and dinner
    • Try to bring everything you think you’ll need
      • Beach towels and blankets
      • Beach chairs
      • Kites, beach balls, footballs, frisbees, volleyball and net
      • Umbrellas, sunscreen
      • Snacks, dinner
      • Stove or grill with propane or charcoal
      • Firewood, kindling, lighter fluid, matches/lighter
      • A basic first aid kit with rubbing alcohol, bandages, eye drops and triple antibiotic ointment
  • Camping takes a bit more work than most other trips
    • Abide by the Leave No Trace guidelines, where you leave everything the way you found it
    • Bring shelter with you
      • If you have an RV you can bring everything together, but some frown on it and say it’s not the real camping experience
      • Sleeping bags, air mattress, mattress pump, pillows, tent, tent stakes
      • Tarp as a ground cloth
    • Wear enough clothing for the trip along with an extra outfit if one of you get wet
      • Wear good hiking boots
      • Have a swim suit if you intend to go swimming
      • If it gets cold, keep layers of clothing for the nights
      • Bring sunglasses and sunscreen, even if it seems counterintuitive
    • Pack all of the essential toiletries
      • Toothbrush, toothpaste
      • Only use deodorant that is unscented to avoid attracting mosquitoes
      • Any prescription medicine
      • Glasses/contact lens case, saline and lip balm
      • Use camp soap to avoid polluting the rivers
    • Bring everything you need to cook
      • Stove, cook kit, griddle, lighter, matches
        • Don’t bring firewood unless collecting firewood is illegal
      • Skewers, tongs, spatula, ladle, knife
      • Dish set and silverware
      • Scissors, can opener
      • Table cloth, if you want
      • Coffee/tea
      • Cooking spray, salt, pepper
    • Bring other supplies that have multiple uses
      • Tin foil, paper/plastic bags, toothpicks
      • Dish towels, dish rags, towels
      • Tissue paper
      • Extra batteries for everything
    • Bring fun items
      • Camera, video camera or phone that doesn’t need to be connected to data
      • Books and magazines
      • Folding chairs, blankets
    • Bring special survival items
      • First aid kit with rubbing alcohol, pain reliever, skin lotion, triple antibiotic ointment and bandages
      • Insect repellant, insect bite remedy
      • Flashlight, head lamp, lantern, fuel
      • Bucket, water jug, broom, work gloves
      • Hammer, nails, saw, rope, shovel, axe, screwdrivers, camp knife
      • Duct tape, twine, newspapers, clothespins

Plan longer trips like shorter trips, but with more involved

  • Make a window of time off work for the trip
    • If possible, give a day or two before and after the trip to recuperate from jet lag and travelling stress
  • Try saving money every step of the way
  • Get the house ready for a vacation
    • Get a house/pet sitter
    • Arrange for child care, if your child isn’t going
    • Contact the post office to hold your mail
    • Empty the fridge
  • Do all of the necessary paperwork
    • Verify your passport is up to date with all relevant visas
    • Get traveler’s checks and/or small denominations of foreign currency
      • In the West, it’s better to use cards, but poorer countries need cash
    • Get traveler’s insurance
      • It may be tempting to risk it to save money, but it’s worth it when you’re in an unfamiliar environment
  • Reserve and pre-purchase everything you can
    • Reserve your transportation arrangement
      • If it’s more than 1000 miles away, you should take an airline
        • If you have 2 people, pick a window seat and an aisle seat to increase the chances of an empty seat between both of you
      • Consider alternative transportation like trains or long-distance bus if it’s closer
      • Arrange for transportation to and from the airport or depot
    • Reserve your lodging
    • If there are any events you’re going to, buy the tickets before leaving if possible
      • If you can’t get tickets, have other plans for the day
    • Have backup plans if you miss a flight or transfer
    • Try to create a general itinerary with your plans
      • You can usually only achieve 3-4 major things in a day unless you rush it
      • One alternative to stressfully planning everything day-by-day is creating several lists
        • Must Go To list of things that are the best things to see
        • Want To Try list of other not-so-important things that can fill in gaps
        • Wish To Try list of things that will probably not happen
  • Learn all the local laws and customs of the region you’re visiting
  • Pack the suitcases
    • Try to pack everything into as few bags as possible
      • You’re not bringing your home, just what you need for survival that you can’t get during the vacation
    • Try painting/printing something on your bag or using a distinctive tag to make it easier to distinguish
    • If a suitcase is bigger than a carry-on, try mailing it to your destination instead of checking it at an airport
      • Inform the lodging group about the mailed package
      • Mix everyone’s personal possessions across the containers to ensure that a missing bag won’t destroy the vacation
    •  Toiletries
      • Soap, shampoo (often complimentary at a hotel)
      • Sun screen, sunglasses, umbrella
      • Vitamins, prescription medications, decongestant/allergy medications
      • Toothbrush, toothpaste
      • Razor, electric shaver, shaving cream
      • Makeup, skin care products, nail trimmer
      • Hiar spray, hair gel, hair dryer
      • Deodorant, cologne/perfume, body powder
      • Tissue packets, basic first aid kit, lip balm
    • Clothing
      • Pack only 2-3 days’ worth and bring laundry soap
      • Underwear, socks
        • Pack extra just in case
        • Roll them into shoes to save space
      • Shirts, pants, shorts, jackets, sweaters
        • Wear clothing that doesn’t make you appear wealthier, since tourists are the easiest people to scam
        • Roll them into military-style cylinders to pack them more tightly together
          1. Fold into a rectangle by folding in sleeves or flared ends
          2. Fold the left and right sides inwards towards the center, overlapping each time
          3. Roll it from top to bottom and then tuck it in to keep it
        • Alternately, Fold them all normally in the exact same shape to make them easier to stack
        • Try using packing cubes with vacuum sealing
      • Swim suit, hat
      • Bags to hold dirty laundry
      • Pocket sewing kit
    • Fun Things
      • Deck of cards, pocket board games
      • Pens/pencils, notebook, puzzle books
      • Reading books, clip-on reading light or pocket flashlight
      • Laptop, mobile devices, music player
      • Extra batteries for everything
      • Power converter if you’re travelling internationally
      • Camera and charger
      • Snacks for travelling
    • Reference Items
      • Frommer’s Travel Guide for the destination region
      • Paper maps of the areas
      • Guidebooks from travel agencies
      • Mobile device maps pre-downloaded for the region
      • GPS unit or GPS-enabled mobile device and charger
      • Any necessary paperwork or documents like driver’s license or confirmation printouts
    • Miscellaneous
      • Battery alarm clock
      • Snacks
      • Luggage locks
  • Once-over everything before leaving
    • Clean out wallets of anything that would be hard to replace
    • Turn off the thermostat and set the sprinklers
    • Lock up the whole house
    • Unplug appliances and computers
    • Set the radio, TV and lights on plug-in timers
    • Remove all valuables from your car if you’re leaving it at the airport
    • Unplug your car battery and top of the gas tank if you’re keeping the car unused for a long period of time
      • This prevents moisture from building up in the tank and keeps the seals from drying out

Your vacation technically starts when you leave your house, but it isn’t stress-free until you get there

  • Traveling to and from the destination can be stressful
    • Make sure you have enough to read
    • Add an extra half hour to every deadline to allow yourself time to relax or room for error
  • Find ways to make the travelling more comfortable
    • Stand up about once every hour to keep your blood flowing
  • Use the Las Vegas twenty dollar bill trick to get a better room in many developed nations
    • Slip the desk clerk a $20 bill with your credit card when checking in and ask if they have any complimentary upgrades available
    • Generally, if they can’t find anything they’ll return the $20 tip

Keep an eye out for scams, cons and thievery, especially when going to a poorer country

  • Many service workers are unscrupulous
    • Drivers, waiters, shop keepers and others will pretend to drop your change and will pick up similar-looking but less valuable coins instead
    • A cashier may appear to be on the phone while talking to you, but they might be taking a photo of your credit card with their phone to replicate later
    • Some cashiers will count painfully slowly to inspire you to impatiently take the change, but they’re often
    • Someone that claims to be a doctor will sell papers that they claim will give you a fraudulent insurance payout, but insurance companies are aware of this
  • Be careful when traveling
    • The kindness of strangers might be a scam
      • Rented and hire cars are usually obvious in poor countries, so some people will try to puncture your tire and then flag you down to help you out, then they’ll steal from you while you’re distracted
      • Taxi drivers will offer free drugs that you’ll take, soon afterwards fake policemen will threaten to throw you in prison unless you pay a “fine” to be let go
    • Pay attention to the rate you’re paying
      • Some people will offer extremely cheap overnight bus trips, but will rummage through bags to take anything valuable
      • Some taxi drivers take advantage of tourists’ ignorance of a region by taking intentionally longer routes to increase the fare
      • Other taxi drivers use altered meters that run the rates up higher than normal
    • A taxi driver may offer to help you with your bags but will appear to be in a rush, he will leave a less memorable smaller bag in the trunk of the car as he drives off
    • Your taxi driver might convince you that your hotel is closed for renovations and redirect you to another place you can stay, the hotel will be highly overpriced in an awful location
    • Your driver might say that the place you’re looking for is closed, he’ll direct you to somewhere else where a jeweler will offer you very cheap gems, the whole thing will be a scam
    • Pickpockets are most common in extremely crowded areas like trains, concerts and train stations
  • Keep your guard up wherever you’re staying
    • Two men dressed as hotel staff will knock on your door for a routine room inspection, one will distract you with conversation while the other will steal your valuables
    • Someone will slide a delivery food service menu underneath a hotel door, after placing an order they will steal your credit card information and you won’t get any food
  • Giving people “free” things is a common way to extort them
    • Someone will forcefully start making a bracelet on your wrist and then demand payment for it
    • Offering a rose to your girlfriend at an unreasonable price and making you feel guilty for not buying it
    • Someone will drop their shoe brush and you’ll pick it up for them, they’ll thank you and shine your shoes in appreciation, then will demand payment for it
    • An old woman will offer a sprig of rosemary and say it symbolizes friendship and then will try to read your palm, and will then demand payment and curse you if you don’t pay
    • A friendly musician will offer you a free CD, when you receive it he’ll demand payment and intimidate you with his friends
    • If you’re lying on the beach someone might offer a free massage, they’ll give a free sample even if you decline and then demand payment
    • An attractive woman will approach a single man and ask if he wants to go to a bar or nightclub, at the end of the night he’ll be billed for a very large amount
    • When you’re at a table a man might offer free peanuts and dump a pile of them on your table, as soon as you touch one he’ll demand payment
    • Attractive girls will want to practice their English with you, they will return the favor by taking you to their favorite cafe and leave before the bill for an extortionate amount comes
    • If you’re taking photos, someone may offer to take a photo of you and your companions
      • The best case scenario is that they demand money for the service and the worst case is that they run off with your camera
  • Not all begging is straightforward, and some of it is deceptive
    • Attractive girls will want to practice their English with you, their story will turn into a guilt-ridden sob story and they will ask you to help them
    • A small child will ask for you to help them write a postcard to their family back home, he will make you feel sorry for him to get you to give him money
    • A large group of Gypsy children might surround you and harrass you until you give them money
  • If something seems out of place, it is often that way on purpose
    • An identity thief might call your hotel phone claiming to be the front desk, they’ll tell you there’s an issue and ask for you to verify your credit card information
      • This will usually be in the middle of the night, since you’re less likely to want to sort out the situation
    • You might see a wallet sitting on the ground and your instinct will be to reach for your own wallet to see if it’s safe, and someone will be watching to pick your pocket later
    • While waiting in a ticket line someone official-looking may offer a higher-priced ticket to bypass the line, but the tickets won’t work
    • Some beggars will ask for change to learn where you keep your money when they pickpocket you later
    • Someone will hand you a broken camera asking to take a picture of them, it won’t work and they’ll drop it as you hand it back, they’ll demand payment or pick your pocket in the confusion
  • A stranger’s kindness may be theft
    • A nice man will help you out if you seem confused at a vending machine, but he’ll actually memorize your PIN number for later when he pickpockets you
    • Someone will drop a ring in front of you and ask if it’s yours, they will then inspect it and say it’s real gold and charge more for it than it’s worth
    • A pickpocket will warn you about cell phones and wallets being stolen and will watch where you instinctively grab, then will inform an accomplice later about it
  • If anyone is doing anything that could distract you, they could be trying to steal from you
    • Some street performers using a side-street cup game or magic trick will draw your attention while the audience are all accomplices to the theft
    • Spilling something like ketchup or bird poop on you subtly, pointing it out to you and then offering to clean it off
    • Throwing a baby or a doll wrapped like a baby at you to allow an accomplice to go through your bag
    • Official-looking fake policemen will approach you and tell you about counterfeit money circulating and will ask for your wallet, they’ll steal some of your money as they look through it
    • Someone will try to sell you a map and unfold it in front of you to block your view while someone else picks your pocket
    • Children pretending to be deaf will ask you to sign a charity petition, while you’re writing they’ll pick your pockets under the clipboard
    • Gypsy children will try to sell you newspapers and open them up to distract you while they pick your pockets

Explore more thoroughly than the guided tour

  • A tourist trap is one of the most expensive and unfulfilling ways to enjoy a vacation
    • Everything will be tailored for safe, predictable and reproducible experiences
  • Go unconventionally and try something new
    • Visit the local city center and wander around
    • Meet people and engage with them
    • Watch the people and observe how they behave
    • Try the local food and drink in out-of-the-way restaurants and bars
  • Sometimes it’s best to leave the mobile devices at the hotel
    • Being unplugged from others is a liberating and fulfilling experience
    • This should happen because escaping is the entire reason for the vacation!
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