Last year Marco and I got married in America, then enjoyed a 21-day honeymoon exploring Singapore, Java and Bali Indonesia. Considering that we came early to America for the wedding, we were traveling for nearly two months all in all. It was incredible and hectic and between 14 hours of time zones, washing our clothes in sinks and getting sick abroad, we learned a thing or two about how to handle long trips to ensure that they’re as great as we hoped they would be.
Be prepared for your flight
Bringing magazines, sleeping meds, earplugs, or whatever will help you survive a long flight, is of course important, but nothing is as important as being prepared in security! Perhaps the biggest stress of airplane travel is the airport itself. The long lines, the mean TSA agents, the canceled or delayed flights. Only by going with a drugged-like zen can you hope to get out with your nerves intact. That, and with a little bit of preparation. Before security be sure you have your liquids in a ziplock bag (and research online what and how much you can take in advance, obviously!), take off your jacket and belt, untie your shoes, have your bag already unzipped to pull out that laptop. Anything that will make the security check faster, more streamlined and less stressful. You don’t want to be that bumbling, fumbling person that holds up the line.
For more suggestions, check out my tips for surviving long flights.
Pack lightly – or at least smartly
Though every travel related advice suggests to pack lightly I admit, I flew dozens of international flights before I actually decided to do so. For some, packing lightly is as foreign a concept as the place they plan on visiting, but even more difficult to imagine. I understand. That said, with an extended honeymoon planned to multiple different cities, with planes, taxis and even boats planned, I knew I didn’t want to be lugging around a body-sized suitcase. I rolled, folded and stuffed my clothes into a carry on bag, with an emergency stash in my carry-on backpack and never had to worry. We walked 15 minutes from the train station to our hotel in Singapore with no problem dodging pedestrians and curbs. We hopped from a boat into the crystal sea to get to Gili Air, with no problem hoisting our carry on above our heads. Travel is stressful when you feel helpless, so don’t put yourself in a situation where you require help to simply move your bag. No one cares what you wear. Pack what you need for a week, rinse and repeat. I promise even the most exotic locales have laundromats (or at worst, a hotel sink!).
Buy and study a guidebook
Of course I do research online, but there’s nothing like an organized, easy to use guidebook for when you’re on-site, offline and need the info quick. Once upon a time I was against guidebooks. But also, I was stupid. A guidebook is a one-stop-shop filled with expert, compiled and packaged information all for your travel convenience. Why wouldn’t you want a guidebook? Marco and I were able to plan our itinerary throughout the massive Indonesia archipelago after hours consulting our guidebook (and, of course, supplementing it with the Internet). What did we know about Indonesia? Nothing! Without a guidebook, we would have never been able to plan a decent trip, let alone a jaw-dropping awe-inspiring honeymoon.
Traveling to a country on a whim and a prayer is romantic, but ultimately you’ll miss out on something without a minimum of research. Those touring so many cities in Europe that they head to the center of Milan and don’t even walk into the Galleria next to it simply because they “didn’t know” break my heart. Some pre-travel research is the surest way to get the most out of your trip.
Save money with individual flights
Our long honeymoon meant we had time to visit multiple different places, but the only way that was actually possible was through independent flights. We saved so much money booking individual budget tracks that we were able to add an entire island to our itinerary. When planning an extended vacation, it pays to try many different simulations, even beyond the simple “multi-city” option. It saved us nearly $1,500 and our honeymoon!
Get more details on how to do it here.
Travel days don’t count as sightseeing days
Of course this all depends on where in the world you’re traveling, with what form of transportation and what the distance is, but the truth is that in all my travels no matter what the transportation, a day of travel is a day predominately wasted for sightseeing. Though you might get lucky and be able to squeeze out a visit somewhere or a lovely walk around the neighborhood, travel days nearly always take longer than you originally calculated. In Indonesia we had flying days, bus rides that took multiple hours more than the original estimate and boat rides so rough that the rest of the day was spent lying prone to overcome the nausea and we learned: Don’t include travel days in your initial time count and you won’t be disappointed.
Fine tune your budget
Marco and I have a flexible budget that we’ve used for nearly every trip taken around the world and we find that for us it’s remarkably accurate. The more you travel the more you’ll understand what your personal budget is, but it’s also important to remember the cost of your destination. (See the guidebook tip). There’s nothing like an American coming to Europe for 30 days with less than $2,000, thinking they’ll be able to do all the things, see all the things. Be realistic with your budget and plan accordingly.
That said, always budget more flex-money in case you go over
My rule of thumb is to budget a clear and realistic amount, but leave a $200 window (or more or less, depending on your personal budget) for a surprise activity, tour or event that you didn’t know about before your trip – or even for a mistake. Things happen in travel, and they often cost you money. No trip is fun if your budget is already so stretched that the train you missed or the taxi you just had to take has already thrown you financially overboard.
Forgive travel mistakes
Even the most experienced travelers make travel mistakes. They are inevitable. All that’s important, is that you don’t let your silly travel mistakes ruin your trip. Whether it’s paying too much for a souvenir or missing a flight, it’s not worth it to spend the entire trip wallowing. If there’s anything that travel teaches you it’s how to pick yourself out of the dusty road and keep on walking! Or, to not make any decisions when jet-lagged and exhausted. (See, that time I got ripped off on my own honeymoon.)
Ditch the diet when necessary. Otherwise, try to stay on track with your health
Helloooo you’re traveling! No need to get all extremist on your diet here. I’m a firm believer that the best way to travel is through a culture’s food. Through the food you can learn the geography, history and current state of the country. Diving into the food is another way to know the culture. Still, a long trip might require a bit more attention than a short one, when it’s easier to justify throwing the healthy bird food to the birds (literally). Determined to try as much of the local cuisine as possible, I noticed about halfway through our honeymoon that my travel diet was unsustainable. Eating out meant large portions and the sudden influx of fried foods was catching up to me. To compensate I made at least one meal of the day about half the size of the others, and took advantage of Bali’s juice culture to drink down some healthy, hearty juices instead. I have few qualms about ditching the diet, but on long term travel my health won’t support it!
Know your body
We take long trips because they save us flights and money. They give us the chance to see more, to immerse ourselves in a location and to really get to know it. That said, they can also be quite stressful. Usually a long trip involves a longer flight, perhaps a more exotic locale. It’s not just mentally taxing to navigate a new country, but even physically. Long flights are hotbeds for germs and bacteria and new food or unclean water can push a traveler’s immune system to its limit. Know your body enough to know when you need to cut your 8+ hour day of sightseeing into just a morning tour and an afternoon siesta. The beauty of a long trip is that you can take it a bit slower. Know your body enough to know that the stomachache is the flu or simply a response to multiple days of entirely new cuisine. Listening to your body and not pushing it too far can be the difference between a long trip well taken, and a hotel turned-sickbed.
Know your limits
A long trip can teach you a lot about your travel limits. Marco and I passed through X time zones. we took hours and hours of flights. We held our vomit in on a horrid 3 hour bus ride and again on a boat ride from hell. We pushed through to see more on days we were already exhausted. And then, we didn’t push it any more. Our bodies were tired, our minds were tired. We knew our limits and calculated them into our day. Sightseeing all morning, then a dip in the pool this afternoon. I also learned, that my personal limit of salt water showers – even on a tropical paradise island – is just three days. Three days of salty hair, salty sheets, salty hands to take out my contacts and salty toothbrushes. It was fun, but my limit is three days. Going beyond your limit just makes the travel unpleasant for everyone.
For the love of God, bring medicine!
My husband is a walking pharmacy. While I am sitting on top of my suitcase to close it, my husband is calmly collecting enough medicine to keep a small village alive. I never think of these things, preferring to just go, but the thing is, Marco is right. (Don’t tell him!) Our honeymoon was long, but luckily any fevers, gastrointestinal problem or headache was well taken care of, helping us to truly enjoy it.
Pamper yourself every once in awhile
An extended trip wrecks havoc on your daily routine. After more than a week abroad, especially if the culture is drastically different, be sure to pamper yourself a bit to make the trip feel more like home. No matter what your budget, there’s something you can do. Decide to sleep in one day instead waking up at the crack of dawn to go sightseeing like always. Get a foot massage, an extra cappuccino, room service, that taxi instead of the bus service that you have to change three times. Including wiggle room in your budget to be able to afford that taxi when you’re just too exhausted to navigate the public transportation makes all the difference during an extended travel.
Leave your expectations at home
We all have dreams of how our upcoming trip will be, but far too often traveler’s let these expectations infiltrate every aspect of the destination, tainting the reality of the place. If you come to a destination having already decided exactly how it will be, why come in the first place? Travel is to discover a new (for you) place, culture, environment. Come with a clean slate and you won’t be disappointed. When one traveler went to Ubud, Bali, she was disgusted by the hawkers, the tacky souvenir shops, the grit. I remember being delighted in them. Sure they weren’t for me, but they were a sensory part of the location. A location that existed before me and will exist well after me – with or without my opinion. As a traveler I’m a voyager, documenting what I see with as little footprint as possible. Like I’ve said before, I want to understand the grit as much as the grace of a city.