How I Get the Most Out of a Trip

There are few things more exciting to me than leaving for a new adventure.  This weekend, Luca and I are flying to Berlin for three quick days of exploring, and it got me thinking about the ritual I have before every new trip.  Through my many travel experiences in Europe, I’ve learned there are certain things I can do before going to a new place in order to get the most out of the experience.  

1. Research.

map travel destination

The first thing I do before booking my accommodation is research: which are the good neighborhoods to hang out in at night?  Where are the best restaurants to go?  Which sights can I absolutely not miss?  If it looks like there’s a certain area where I will be most drawn, I definitely want to look into staying near there.  I’m not recommending researching to plan every last detail of your trip (unless that’s your style, in which case, go for it!), because I think that sets you up for stress and too much rigidity.  I just think being informed and having a flexible plan is a good way to go into anything in life, no??  Also, researching gets you excited for the cool stuff you’re going to see, eat, and do!  

2. Book accommodation in a good location.

Rembrandtplein: the well-located square we stayed off of in Amsterdam.
Rembrandtplein: the well-located square we stayed off of in Amsterdam.

Once, Luca and I went to Paris and stayed in a cheap hotel that was wayyyyy off the beaten track.  We thought we were doing ourselves a favor by paying less for the hotel so we would have more money for the trip.  Instead, we simply wasted precious hours on public transport getting to and from the city center.  We ended up being super tired that whole trip with nowhere to rest our sightseeing-weary feet before dinner, and having to carry a load of stuff around all day as the weather changed from morning to night.  Since that city break, we’ve realized it’s better to spend a bit more money on accommodation (whether it be a hotel, hostel, or AirBnB) to be closer to all the things we want to do.  You have such little time to soak in the place you’re visiting, it’s a total bummer to spend hours of it simply getting to where you want to be.  There is definitely something to be said for the experience of navigating public transportation in a foreign city, but if that’s all you’re doing, it can exhaust you and stress you out even before getting to your destination.  Finding accommodation that’s within walking distance to sights you know you’ll want to see or in a cool nightlife spot that’s close to a metro or bus stop is a good idea to optimize your time and energy.  In Amsterdam, Luca and I stayed in a hostel on a really lively square so we knew we could go home before dinner to rest and then find good nightlife spots right outside our door!  We took public transport to major sights, but we felt much more relaxed knowing that we could go back to our room easily before dinner after spending the whole day on our feet.

3. Watch movies.

roman holiday real life
Feeling like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday :]

For me, it means so much to know the background or the stories of what I’m looking at when I go sightseeing.  It’s so easy to look at major sights in any given city as crumbling bits of rock or think, “Oh, woo-hoo, another church.”  (I’m sooo guilty of that last one :-/)  I went to Portugal once without having done any research, and it was definitely a cool trip, but nothing really meant much to me because I had no idea of the history of the country.  Nothing has really stuck with me about that trip other than the pretty sights I saw (about which I can’t really tell you much).  

On the other hand, before coming to Rome, I watched Roman Holiday, which made me almost FAINT with GLEE feeling like Audrey Hepburn on my first scooter ride with Luca!  Before going to London, I re-watched some of my favorite British films; for example, Notting Hill brought magic and romance to Portobello Road when I visited.  Before I went to Paris, I re-watched Midnight in Paris and felt the history of Montmartre and its expat-artist community while I sipped cocktails at a speakeasy.  Do yourself a favor and add a little movie magic to your trip!

4. Read books.

marie antoinette juliet gray versailles
Walking in Marie Antoinette’s footsteps at Versailles.

Before going to Paris, I read a series of historical fiction novels on Marie Antoinette, which pumped me up for visiting Versailles.  Having that frame of reference when I visited the palace where so much of this infamous woman’s life took place gave everything about it so much more meaning.  I remember going across the palace gardens to Le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s personal home and oasis, and vividly imagining her wild parties and affairs that took place there, because the scenes from the books were so prevalent in my mind.  Rather than being just another old building, knowing the history of it truly brought it to life for me.

5. Listen to podcasts.

rick steves london
Our London destinations, thanks in part to Rick Steves’ recommendations. Clockwise from top right: a street performer at Brick Lane Market; learning the correct way to serve a Guinness at a pub; taking a tourist pic near Covent Garden.

Listening to podcasts is another way I like to inform myself of a destination before going.  Usually, I listen to tracks on my Rick Steves Audio Europe app the week or two before I leave.  Before going to London with Luca last year, I listened to almost every single talk Rick Steves had with different London travel guides!  They were full of up-to-date advice on how to do London on a budget, which museums and markets were the best to choose, etc.  The information from these podcasts allowed Luca and me to make informed decisions about how best to spend our limited time there.

6. Be open and flexible!

plaka agios nikolaos crete
Our unexpected destinations of Agios Nikolaos and Plaka, Crete.

This is the most important of all!  Weather, long lines, transport strikes or simply bad directions are just a few things that could affect your itinerary.  When these detours happen, it’s important to stay positive and look at them as opportunities!  When my mom and I went to Vienna, we were super discouraged after wandering around for half an hour searching in vain for a restaurant that had been recommended to us.  Finally, we ducked into a McDonalds to use the wifi to find somewhere else on TripAdvisor.  It was there that we ran into a nice guy who gave us easy directions to a beer hall down the street, which ended up being the best, most authentic meal we had that weekend!  We never would have found it without our other plans falling through.  

Similarly, after doing a bunch of planning and research, you still never know what opportunities could pop up when you reach your destination.  Be open and flexible to change: some of the best experiences can be the ones you never saw coming!  In Greece this summer, Luca and I planned a bunch of beach trips and sightseeing on the island of Crete.  When we spoke to a couple of locals about our planned destinations, they recommended ditching the towns we had researched and going to lesser-known towns.  We followed their advice, and it ended up being one of the most memorable days of our vacation!

The point is this: research and be prepared in order to get the most out of your destination.  But also remember that detours and changes along the way just make it more of an adventure!  

Do you have anything specific that you like to do before leaving for a trip?  I would love to hear your tips and tricks!

Happy travelling, loves!  xx Katie

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