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Lean Traveling

21 Jan 2014

If an interview ever asked me my biggest weakness, I’d probably walk out on the spot. I could rant for days about how awful and pointless that question is for judging candidates. But if I ever really had to give an answer, it’d be that I sometimes suck at paying attention. This manifests in the form of occasional lost belongings and misread / unread directions. (Please still hire me employers, I’m very tedious when it comes to code I promise).

In order to make up for my carelessness, I try to stay organized with lists and guides, leave less room for screwing up. Since traveling has been a major part of my life recently, I’ve made many lists for it. Here I’ve collected ones that may be useful to others as well as my guidelines in general for traveling with minimum stress and maximal fun.

Keep your plans as barebone as possible (minimum viable plan), then iterate on them. The extent of my concrete plans are usually when will I get to a place, where will I stay, and when will I leave. Sometimes not even these. It may just be the overpaid syndrome giving me this mindset, but I find reservations get in the way.

I’m not saying to not plan things to do. I Tripadvisor places before I go and ask friends for recommendations. One or the other will usually inform me if I absolutely need a reservation. From the suggestions I create a list ordered by my interest, then make my way through it. Along the way when I hear about great new things to do or places to go, I can put the list on pause. If you don’t have a strict timetable to follow, you have the room to be spontaneous. Sometimes you may even spend hours just talking to some new people you met; some of my best memories consist simply of that. And as long as I followed my list, I know I did the things that interested me most with the time I had so there’s no regrets.

Minimize belongings. There are very few things you actually need. All that I consider vital I carry on my person – passport, phone, wallet. That way whenever I worry if I lost something, I just do a TSA pat down of myself and I know I’m good to go. If I lost anything else, the trip can still go on at least.

Whenever I check out of a hostel, I do a more thorough screening with a list roughly like this:

Be sure to keep valuables deep in your bag, and don’t put anything of importance in your pants’ butt pockets. Pickpockets love it when you do.

Clothes will be the biggest space hoarder. In order to minimize the quantity yet still be ready for all weather conditions, consider bringing one of every type of clothing and just layering up. The lightness makes up for being unfashionable (this is probably why I’m still single).

Consider all modes when booking transportation. I avoid flying whenever possible. They always try to get you with checking bags or other fees and travel times are never nearly as short as advertised. You have to deal with security, customs, and getting to the airport (which is always a ways out of the city).

Trains on the other hand are usually in the center of the city and you can just hop on minutes before departure. If you’re worried about the time loss, try overnight ones. Those also save you a night of stay.

If you’re looking for something even cheaper and you can pass out cold no matter the sleeping position, buses are the way to go. Another cheap one is ridesharing, though I don’t have experience with it.

When booking tickets for transportation, make sure you’ve got all the information right. Being stuck somewhere because of a silly mistake is no fun. Here’s a checklist to make sure you don’t mess up. I (or other friends) have had the unfortunate pleasure of getting these things wrong:

Don’t have any single points of failure. I use Tripit to aggregate all my hostel and transportation info, but I also have a written copy of my itinerary and key contacts for each in case I lose my phone or run out of battery. Keep photocopies of your passport and other important documents in your bag and maintain a small stash of emergency money just in case you get robbed (knock on wood).

As a sidenote, I mentioned a couple of apps above that I use to make traveling easier. My friend Jamie actually wrote an article highlighting some good ones.
If you’re interested check it out here.

Give yourself wiggle room. If you minimized the amount of plans set in stone, you also have less deadlines. Inevitably you will still have some, like flights. Make sure you have room for error when trying to catch them. My rule of thumb is to be early by:

  • 30 minutes for trains where you’re not retrieving tickets at the station. Sometimes they do crazy things like not show your destination on the signs if it’s not the final stop, or have a different number listed if the train splits Transformers-style off to different routes
  • 1 hour when retrieving tickets at the station
  • 1 hour for flights within the EU or within a nation
  • 2 hours for international flights

It may seem like wasted sight seeing time but I can’t imagine a bigger waste of time and money than missing your ride. And there are plenty of ways you can entertain yourself while waiting. Like write guides.

Venture farther out for food. Not only do you get more authentic food when you do this, you also get cheaper food. Touristy spots don’t just trap people, they also trap wallets. You can think of it as a linear plot – the greater your distance from the city center, the cheaper and more local of cuisine you’ll find.

Lastly, enjoy yourself! The longer you travel, the more likely it is that bad things may happen. Stuff get stolen, people act racist or sexist. Try to stay positive and not let them get you down. You’re somewhere new! It’s exciting and amazing! No point filling it with bad memories. Remember, as long as you still have your wallet and passport, everything is manageable.


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