23 Tips for Traveling: Big Cities
Currently, I have travelled to several European and Asian cities. Most of which are in Europe because it is convenient and most affordable for me given that I work and live in Norway. It is quite challenging to visit a place, where there is a different culture and language, as well as the landscape is physically demanding. In this blogpost, I will enumerate several tips I learned from my travel in some key cities in my bucket list.
1. Tickets first before hotel reservation.
The rule of thumb is to buy airplane tickets at least three months before the travel. Ofcourse, watch for promo fares especially at the end of the year or the start of the year. By buying tickets early, one could save money. Interestingly, my airplane ticket to Stockholm and Amsterdam were more expensive than my ticket in Berlin or Prague, just because of the time I bought my ticket. Moreover, after the tickets are paid, it is fine to find your hotel just within one month before the travel. Hotels are always on discounts depending on your travel app. I used Hotels.com and Booking.com. It is better to use only one, so one could enjoy more advantages and promos on the site. This was quite beneficial in my travel in Berlin, Prague and Budapest.
2. Pay hotel reservations beforehand.
In Budapest, I used Booking.com. I forgot I only reserved the hotel without paying it. It actually gave me a little bit of inconvenience, because I had insufficient cash in their currency in the middle of the night. The owner of the hotel asked me to pay. I opted card, but the owner wants cash, so I have to go out in the middle of the night, just few minutes I checked in to withdraw money in an ATM machine. Finding a safe place to withdraw cash is another challenge. Always remember ATM machines are unsafe points in a large metropolis, regardless of where you are.
3. Use apps to determine your destinations
Before my trip in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, I was determined to cover as much tourist attractions as possible. I was also decided that I will not go inside museums because I wanted to reserve them on my possible second trip in those cities. I used Tripadvisor to get an overview. I did not intend to read extensively before trip because that will just lessen my excitement. I only see the number of attractions, so I do have an idea how much time and energy I need to spend in an area.
4. Print out a map.
Recently in my trip to Berlin, I printed a map to guide me in my travel. Although I have a good overview, the city was so large, such that I have to change my route from time to time. Printing a map beforehand helped a lot in deciding on these changes. Yes, it is fine to download offline maps or rely on the tourist maps available in public transportation hubs or tourism offices, but a customized map would certainly be better. I used Tripadvisor and Rome2Rio in creating a map. One could just find the map in Tripadvisor, make a screenshot and print in document form of the desired walking tour route. Just follow the orange dots and one is good to go. On the other hand, Rome2Rio provides an idea of the cheapest and quickest route from the hotel to and from the hotel, or in between cities. By doing so, you travel like a local in the area.
5. Get a general overview of the public transportation.
Before my travel to Seoul and Incheon in South Korea, I was already quite aware of the extensiveness of their public transportation. I had to search beforehand, anticipating the language difficulties, I could experience. True enough, the airport personnel advised me to take a bus instead of the route I researched prior. I trusted the airport personnel and I was lost, because nobody in the bus, including the driver could answer me in comprehensible English. I just have to find my way again to the origiBudaonal plan and luckily arrived in the hotel after 3 hours, gaining so much experience about transportation and language challenges during travels.
6. Explore also nearby cities.
The concept is to visit tandem cities. I did Malmö-Copenhagen, Amsterdam-Haarlem, Berlin-Dresden, Seoul-Incheon, Prague-Brno, and Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest. Tandem cities are nearby cities which does not require more than 3 hours of travel through bus or train. By doing so, one could maximize time, money and effort in traveling. Simply, it is getting the most out of the situation. However, in doing so, one needs to travel like locals to save money and time. I used the train in Netherlands and crossing borders from Sweden to Denmark, but mostly I took the buses in Central Europe, such as Student Agency and FlixBus. They have cheap prices and well-equipped buses. It just take some diligence and knowledge of geography to do so.
7. Use appropriate camera to take pictures
In my travel with my sister in Prague, Amsterdam and Stockholm, we used my sister's camera because it was quite convenient. However, when I travel alone, I do not use her camera for several reasons. When one has a camera, particularlt DSLR, it gives the impression that one is a tourist. Being a lone tourist in a big city, that gives a kind of vulnerability. This might not be true in Scandinavian countries, where it is considerably safe for tourists. Howerver, the cities located south from Scandinavia, especially in Central and Southern Europe, tourists are at high risk for robbery and petty crimes. Be unknown as possible especially when you are a lone tourist.
8. Adapt the tour with your travel buddies.
Most of my travel, I am not alone, and on these travels, the most challenging is being with my sister. We have two contrasting views of travel. She wants to relax and eat, while I want to experience and immerse in the city as much as possible. Because of this, I usually plan the forst day to be as hectic as possible, trying to take advantage of my sister's excitement, and the succeeding days will be opposite of the first day. In this way, there is a compromise. We just have to do this after our trip in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Bangkok. In Stockholm, I allowed her to sleep in the hotel longer, while I started my walking tour early in the Swedish capital. We were both satisfied.
9. Use cards as much as possible.
This is quite possible in Scandinavian countries: Norway, Sweden and Denmark. One could use debit cards even each country has a corresponding unique currency. By using debit cards, one could maximize the use of money. There is literally no waste. Since one is using debit cards, it is considered real money and not borrowed money. Although using credit card is advisable, judicious use of these cards is a must. Furthermore, allocating reasonable amount as a cash to be used in travel is important to limit unnecessary expenses. Do not use cards on which your entire savings is accessible. Make it quite difficult for you to use more money in travels. In this way, one enjoys the travel without compromising one's economic situation. Just a rule of thumb, make sure that you have at least one month salary as savings AFTER your travel. It means you still have enough money to survive for month, even you went and spent for travel. If it is less than a month salary, think of not traveling. Perhaps, it is better you save first before traveling.
10. Withdraw small amount in the currency of the destination.
Slovakia and Hungary share the same borders, the same way Norway and Sweden does. These countries are part of Schengen area, and use their own currencies. Because I was used to Sweden accepting krones from Norway, euro and their own currency, I had the anticipation that Slovakia and Hungary do the same. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I intended to buy a train ticket from Budapest to Bratislava. I paid in Hungarian Fotrint and did not bother to see the ticket afterwards. I had insufficient euros with me, expecting I only need Fotrint to buy the ticket. However, just after I crossed the Slovakian border, someone checked my ticket and told me I had only paid from Budapest to a city in the border. I was required to buy a ticket from the border to Bratislava. Unfortunately, I had no euro cash so I suggested I could pay through card, just like what I did in the train in Hungary. Worse, it was not possible for me to pay through card, because the train has no network connection. It is impossible to buy the ticket online, even I had 4G coverage. In the end, I moved out the train, bought a ticket in the train station and waited for 2 hours for the next train, just because I did not withdraw cash beforehand.
11. Check border crossing rules and requirements.
Winter 2015, I, my sister and some friends went to Malmö, Sweden and went further to Copenhagen, Denmark. We crossed twice on our way to the Danish capital. Although the cross border checks were not so tight during that time, but we were already prepared in case our passports and visas will be checked during the trip. It is also advantageous if one has a scan copy of these legal documents in their e-mail address in case these are lost.
12. Arrive in the airport reasonably.
Arriving late in the airport is perhaps the worst thing that could happen to a traveler. In my experience, one must take at least 3 hours before the flight to travel towards the airport from the hotel. This has always helped me, except in Seoul. The train network is so extensive, such that from the hotel to the airport, it took me 2 hours, I had barely 1 hour for check-in and immigration queues. Luckily, I had extra 5 minutes to eat before the plane started boarding passengers. I almost did not catch my flight. It was lesson learned, requiring me not just to know where is the airport and the route towards it, but also how much time I need to take the route for it.
13. If possible, travel lightly.
A challenge to every traveler is to take a one backpack with him. For some, this is quite impossible. However in my experience, it is possible. A day of travel requires only a pair of pants, one traveling shorts im summer, two underwears, two or three shirts/polo shirts/T-shirts, accessories for electronic gadgets, travel documents, and toilettries. It is optional to have flip flops for convenience. For a two-day trip, one does not need another pair of shoes, unless there is a formal gathering to be attended. This list makes it possible to travel light. This allows one to move around the city even after checking out of the hotel, while waiting for one's flight. Last tip: jackets consume a lot of space, make sure that there is no sudden change in air temperature or weather in your travel so one does not need jackets. Travel perhaps either in winter when you always your jacket on you, or in summer where you do not need a jacket in general. In spring and autumn, it is fine to use light jackets while traveling on you, saving space on your backpack.
14. Wear clothes appropriate to the weather.
It is very important to check the weather beforehand. I experienced walking in the rain in Gothenburg, Sweden and in the snow in Stockholm, Sweden. In both cities, I was wearing clothes inappropriately so I had some forms of colds after those trips. The best time to travel perhaps is not during winter season, although this period could be off season so it is cheaper to travel. Remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Yes, there others who are very concern about fashion. They travel for fashion and shopping. If you are one of them, expect your travel expenses will easily double, with added baggage, a probable additional day in the hotel for storage of baggages. Fortunately, I am not one of them.
15. Buy a power bank.
In my trip to the northernmost tip of Denmark, Skagen, I experienced that my phone is always out of battery. Since I use my phone for various purposes so I used a lot of energy. So I decided to buy a powerbank thereafter. This helped me to take pictures, maintain access in social media and secure my safety during my travel. Moreover, to save battery, turn off location, vibration, sound and wifi. Use power saving mode while taking pictures. Turn your wifi or 4G only during, while you are eating or about to sleep, or during emergency especially when you are lost.
16. Better to have 4G mobile subscription.
Recently, Europe has introduced free to low 4G subscriptions. This has become very advantageous for frequent travelers. A good internet connection is not just to have constant access to social media for pictures, but it is safety net in case of emergency. It is useful when one is lost or to find the cheapest place to eat or shop. With a cheap and good network coverage, a traveler becomes wiser and safer. However, travelers must take note of network connections in boats. Most likely, the roaming charges are very expensive. Before going into the boat, turn off your 4G, or less pay exorbitant fees afterwards.
17. Prepare to be lost.
As I have said, I was lost in Seoul, Korea. I actually wasted time and effort just finding out the right station to go, avoiding buses due to almost no chance of talking to someone in comprehensible English. It provided me a very big challenge, but I learned afterwards. Worse, because I was too tired whole day in Seoul, I overslept in the train and passed by my desired destination at 11 o'clock in the evening. I had to find my way back again before I become stranded in the Korean city, helpless and vulnerable.
18. Have a watch.
Many seem to disregard the importance of watches. It is actually very beneficial for travelers. One should not just rely mobile phones, which could ran out of battery. Watch provides a reminder to travelers that time is the most important resource in a trip, more than money. Moreoever, the travel experience is highly dependent on time. Being wise in using time is a must. Decisions and changes in travel plans are strongly associated with time. If I had no watch with me, I could have not enjoyed my trip in Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest in short period of time.
19. Buy drinks outside the hotel.
In my travel to Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague, I made it sure that I bought some drinks outside the hotel in a usual local shop. The prices are way lower and one could take opportunity to immerse in the local community. Buy at least one liter of water to be stored in the hotel and another drink while going around the metropolis. It is crucial to keeo yourself hydrated at all times. Unfortunately, I forgot this in my travel to Vienna and Bratislava, I felt so weak and dehydrated along the way, making my tour difficult and inconvenient.
20. Eat nearby. Have a taste of the local food.
There are many travelers who find convenient to eat in the hotel. This is okay, if the meal is included in the hotel payment. Otherwise, one could use Tripadvisor to check for cheap places to dine in nearby the hotel. One need not to eat the local food every meal time. Hamburgers, Asian food and fastfood are still good choices in traveling. It is because one does not eat, just for taste, but also for energy. For one to have enough energy in traveling, one must eat carbohydrate-rich food. In my experience, I eat a sumptous meal just before taking the plane back, with little consideration to price. I do this because the mind sometimes remembers most what happened last.
21. Buy at least one souvenir.
In my first travel in Hongkong, I was out of my budget due to unexpected circumstances so aside from pictures, I had no souvenirs at hand. It was very unfortunate and I was decided not to experience such travel again. The next time I was out of the country was in Bangkok, Thailand. I bought four souvenirs but later on regretted it, since I felt it was exaggerated. So thereafter, I decided to have only one per city. I also thought of having a key chain in the country I visited at least thrice. So far I have only Norway and Sweden. Ofcourse, after I travel I write everything in my blog, Conozco Pablo. In this way, I could immortalize the experience. Currently, I post summary videos in Youtube and in Instagram as well. I just do not post pictures, but study sufficiently the history and background of those pictures to create a lasting memory of the place.
22. Know what you like.
In my trip to Bangkok, Thailand, I knew that the city has a lot to offer in terms of culture and history. It could be very overwhelming for me for the first time. So, I chose to list at least 10 destinations I wanted to visit based on Tripadvisor. From there, I checked the map if there are tourist attractions in between so I could pass by. In the end, although I was not able to see Bangkok in its other phases, I was satisfied with my travel since I got to achieve what I want plus some bonuses in between.
23. Be vigilant and be safe.
The world is changing today. There are threats to every places, particularly to tourist destinations and transportation hubs. Travelers, therefore are easy and vulnerable targets for crimes and terrors. One must be vigilant at all times. It is beneficial to walk as much as possible, rather than take train and subway routes. Use the walking route that is not so popular for tourists. The more popular the route, the more people are in the crowd, the higher risk for unsafe and unexpected events. Observe the people around, and not just the tourist attraction. In this way, one is still aware in the surrounding, reducing risks and keeping oneself safe and less vulnerable. Rule of thumb: act and do like locals, not like tourists attracting much attention.
What is most important in traveling is the appreciation of other cultures. It expands an individual's understanding of the world around. The similarities and differences of groups of people provide one a unique perspective in one's life. At least, the traveling person becomes learned in history and culture, and perhaps become a better person.