Trouble-free travel |

Trouble-free travel

Eileen JoyceTravel light, keeping necessary items with you in a fanny pack.
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First time traveling abroad?

Well, you are in for a treat and maybe just a few challenges. Having spent a lot of time on the road, I’ve learned a few things that might make things a little easier for you or more fun.

The very first thing, of course, is to pack light. I know, everybody says that, but what this really means is you need to be able to carry all of your luggage and packages by yourself, with no help, for at least 400 feet or maybe a lot more.

Roller bags are great for this – consider investing in one. But remember, you may just have to carry them up several flights of stairs so they still need to be fairly light.

Besides, if you don’t pack light, you won’t be able to bring home many souvenirs. I take a special, lightweight, foldable bag just for that purpose and stick it in my suitcase. Since I long ago ran out of space for 5-inch replicas of the London Bridge, my current mementos consist of a variety of kitchen gadgets. Looking for kitchen utensils gives me a purpose in Harrods, London’s famous department store.

Packing light becomes a lot easier once you understand that most Europeans wear black or dark-colored clothing, even in the summer. Since I prefer to fit in, my colors are limited to three, and I nix the white tennis shoes because they definitely label you a tourist.

It’s better to wear a good pair of leather shoes (they do better in the rain) or, if you have to, buy a black pair of sneakers. Many of the sidewalks and walkways in Europe and the rest of the world are cobblestones or uneven surfaces. This is pretty rough on the feet and legs after a couple of hours, so comfortable shoes are a must.

Don’t even think about anything with a narrow heel; they won’t last more than two days. Whatever style you have, break in the shoes before you go. I sometimes take a pair or two of wool ski socks; they help my feet when walking on cold and wet pavement.

If you are traveling during the cool season or expect rain, take an all-purpose coat (trench coats are great) and a warm-but-thin sweater or two. Check to see how cold it will be at your destination.

If it is going to be cool, make sure you have gloves and a warm scarf, which can often make up for a not-quite-warm-enough jacket. If it is going to be really cold, my long wool coat works the best. Big bulky jackets don’t travel well.

Depending on your budget for hotels, you may or may not have access to a hair dryer, so I would strongly consider traveling with an easily maintained hairstyle, just in case. The electrical outlets and currents are different in Europe, and even the best transformer is no good if there isn’t a plug to be found in your room, other than the one behind the bed.

I have a small hair dryer that has two settings, 125 or 250 volts. This usually works fairly well (sometimes) with an adapter plug. Forget the hot rollers and curling irons.

Unless you’re unusual and can sleep comfortably scrunched up in an airplane seat, you will be tired and probably somewhat dazed from the flight. A short nap at your hotel might be in order.

But be careful about anything longer. Adjusting to the time changes will be difficult enough without waking up in the middle of the night for hours. Drink lots of water and walk a bit during the flight to avoid “balloon feet.”

It is surprising how many travelers expect foreign countries to be just like home, only quaint. Well, it isn’t quite that way. For one thing, most are very conservative when it comes to using electricity. I spent almost a year in Germany putting my makeup on under a 40-watt bulb. Reading the small print on maps is impossible. I carry a small magnifying glass just for that purpose.

Other differences include a more formal way of addressing strangers. For example, In Germany, most people are addressed as “Herr” and “Frau” (mister and missus). Many Europeans are taken aback by the casualness of Americans. I would suggest a more conservative approach, especially when it comes to flag-waving.

It is a good idea to carry change. Many shops and restaurants often charge for use of toilets, even the local McDonald’s.

Instead of a lot of cash, consider using credit cards. The exchange rate is sometimes better for credit cards anyway, and there are cash machines available.

After my purse was snatched in Spain and I had to delay my departure by four days, I switched to a fanny pack. Dangling purses seem to be quite a temptation to the local thieves, even if they are tucked between you and your husband. My tickets, passport and travelers’ checks are now kept in the hotel safe if I have any doubts about the area.

Most important is to relax and have fun. Try taking the underground, or maybe the bellman knows a taxi driver who will give you an inexpensive tour of the area. Do a half-day city tour to get the lay of the land. You can ask the hotel for a business card; if you do get lost, hand it to a taxi driver.

Expect new adventures and don’t sweat the small stuff. Enjoy the differences.

Mary Jepsen of Grass Valley is a regular traveler to Europe and has visited most of the world.

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