Travel Advice

Transportation

You might be planning a summer vacation right now, and in between the daydreaming you have to get some actual planning done. Having organized all kinds of trips, from domestic travel, to road trips, and even lengthy stays abroad, I know that sometimes the planning starts to feel like a scary chore rather than an exciting part of your adventure.

So just in case you feel like you don’t know the fist thing about where to start I decided to round up a list of all my personal tips and tricks about traveling, to know before you go. 

For me, the first step of planning a trip for is always buying the plane ticket. I get super giddy whenever I click the ‘confirm’ button on a purchase of a ticket. So to kick things off I rounded up some tips about transportation for wherever you’re going.

Observant Nomad | Before You Go : Transportationkayak.com – There are some great websites out there for booking tickets, I personally use Kayak the most. It’s a great reliable site that searches multiple airlines including independent smaller ones. Kayak  also puts together reliable data on when to buy a plane ticket so you get the best deal. I have several of the price alerts set up so I can pounce when the price hits an all time low.

skyscanner.com – Skyscanner is another great resource for international flights. Skyscanner is unique from other flight websites in that it searches all possible connecting flights  – even if the flights aren’t in a partnership. They always allows at least one hour between connecting trips just to be safe.

traveler’s insurance – When booking a flight abroad it’s worth it to ante up for traveler’s insurance. I’ve missed an international flight once, and you can sure bet I wish I had payed the extra dough to be able to re-book without a huge fee.

when to buy your ticket – Here’s a good rule of thumb for when to buy your ticket, if you’re flying domestic the best time to buy is 6-8 weeks out on a weekday. Seems specific and strange, but it works. If you’re heading international it’s a bit more complicated. It’s best to book Europe 8-10 months out, Asia at 9 months, South America 6 months, and Africa 3-5 weeks.*

your flight essentials – When getting settled in for a long flight, I’m always happy I have made a little flight kit. My kit always includes a lightweight scarf for staying warm, a sleeping mask, earplugs, and melatonin for sleeping. Headphones, an entertaining movie, my journal, and a good book for entertainment. Emergen-c, instant coffee, aspirin, some essential bits of makeup, fresh wipes, and a pack of gum for any troubles in the air. And when I get past security I buy a couple snacks and a bottle of water to keep the hangry at bay.

leaving the airport – Before you get there, plan exactly how you’re getting from the airport to where you’re staying. Many large cities have services that run from the airport to the city area for cheap. If you’re traveling somewhere less advanced and more rural, contact your hotel (or host) and ask them the best way to get there. Some hotels offer car pick-up services for free.

Observant Nomad | Before You Go : Transportation

safety first – When it comes to taxis remember, safety first. If something  in your gut says not to go with it, don’t. There will always be other ways to get where you’re going. Keep asking questions until you feel like you’re getting the right kind of answers. With that said however, I’ve always had good luck with taxis throughout my many trips, so don’t be shy!

meters & no meters – Some cities cab systems don’t use meters. If you flag down a cab without a meter ask how much the price will be before you get in the cab. Don’t let them rush you or answer incoherently. If they can’t help you, let them move along, another cabbie would love to do proper business.

haggle the price – If there isn’t a meter and you’re not sure if the price is too steep or not, a great app to use is the TaxiFareFinder. It will give you a quick idea of cost to get from A to B, so don’t be afraid to offer a more reasonable price if the taxi is too steep.

car service apps – There are plenty of great alternate options to taxis that are both reliable and safe. Uber and Lyft serve many cities and are easy to use. We loved using Lyft in Seattle, and used it the entire time we were there. It was a great way to meet locals and get advice and what to check out and what to skip.

Observant Nomad | Before You Go : Transportation

buy before you get there – Train tickets are one of the rare times with transportation where you should buy the tickets before you get to the platform. So it’s worth doing the research online before you leave. Look up how much your tickets are and buy them online beforehand.

crossing borders – Make sure to check the route of your train before climbing aboard. Some trains cross borders and will make a stop so officials can check passports and visas. For some countries you might need a visa to simply cross the border. So make sure to look into the laws and rules well before booking an extended trip.

see the country – Using a high-speed train to travel from one city to another is the best way to go about it. Europe is the quintessential example of traveling by train since the distances are much shorter and it’s very easy to find a high-speed train from one spot to the next. RailEurope is a good site to use. Besides, riding a train through the remote areas of countryside can be indescribably beautiful.

Observant Nomad | Before You Go : Transportation

learn some local language – You might be wondering what does this have to do with public transportation, well I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to ask a bus driver “does this bus go to ___?” So it’s worth learning a few pieces of language for where you’re going. Some good phrases to know (besides the one above) are how much does it cost? how long will it take to get there? and some basic directions like left, right, up and down, just in case you’re at the wrong bus. Duolingo is a fun website that can teach you all the basics before you go.

use if you’re not in a rush – Many buses outside the states don’t always run on time. You might find yourself waiting for the bus longer than you thought, or the route might stop unexpectedly. If you’re ever unsure about what’s going on just take a look around. Are other passengers worried, relaxed, or all doing something in particular? Be patient and follow the crowd’s body language and you’ll know what to do. I mostly use public buses when it’s the last option or significantly cheaper.

conquer the subway – An app can be extremely helpful when you’re trying to navigate the metro in Barcelona, the subway in Tokyo or the bart in San Francisco. Do yourself a favor and search for a reliable app based on the service to the area you’re visiting. Many cities now have official apps, like this one for the London Underground. If all else fails, Google Maps has a pretty reliable public transportation schedule built in to wherever you’re going. Just enter the destination and select the little train icon to see buses, subways, trains, railways, trams, you name it.

Observant Nomad | Before You Go : Transportation

get old fashioned – Most of my trips I prefer walking from A to B. I love it, I get to meet people, see locals, observe all the sights and really get to know my way around. But when I actually need to find where I’m going I pull out a good old fashioned guidebook or map. I really love Lonely Planet’s Pocket & Encounter Guides, and trust me I’ve tried them all. I love that these books are small and discreet but packed with the highlighted information about the city/area I’m visiting. There are great little color coded maps in each area of town and a nice larger pull out map as well. Perfect for drawing and making notes on.

invest in some good footwear – Even if you think you’ll be driving or getting a ride during most of your trip, you’re going to need a good pair of walking shoes. Something you can walk miles in and still feel great in. Feeling comfortable is the difference between turning a uh oh we’re lost moment, into a delightfully unexpected adventure versus a miserable blister-causing experience. I bought a pair of Aerosoles flats when I lived in Barcelona and probably put 5 miles a day on them for 6 months, and my feet always felt great. 5 years later I still have those shoes!

keep it light – Many people forget that when they get to where they are heading they’re going to have to carry that huge duffel bag all over the place. So make sure to pack as light as possible. A rolling hard case piece of luggage is the best gift you can buy yourself. Perfect for gliding easily to your destination and won’t get damaged if you take it off the beaten path.

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BONUS! Megan from The Fresh Exchange recently turned me onto Rome to Rio, and let me tell you I’m super impressed with this site. It’s such a valuable tool when planning how to get somewhere. I love that it provides all kinds of options and even breaks down the time and cost. Most definitely worth consulting before you book anything!

Well I hope that gives you a solid foundation to build your trip on. And if you have any personal tips or resources that you swear by when it comes to transportation, please leave it in the comments. I’d love to hear about any hidden gems I’m not aware of.

* data via Kayak.com 
Image via Margo Brodowicz
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