Going on vacation can be an exciting, relaxing, and incredible experience, but it can also be quite stressful at times. However, if you keep certain things in mind and take steps to prepare correctly, your next vacation can be one of the best times of your life!
Here are 11 essential do’s and don’ts for your next vacation:
- DO take photocopies of important documents.
- DON’T overpack.
- DO research ahead of time about tipping etiquette.
- DON’T overplan.
- DO bring plenty of layers and dress respectfully.
- DON’T carry large sums of cash.
- DO try local food.
- DON’T forget sunscreen.
- DO book flights and lodging as soon as possible.
- DON’T overschedule yourself.
- DO be flexible.
Let’s go over each of these in detail, so your next vacation is your best one yet!
1. DO Take Photocopies of Important Documents
Hopefully, you won’t ever need them. Still, if you lose or damage your passport or license or another important document, a photocopy will make the process of getting a replacement easier.
Make a photocopy of your passport as well as copies of your passport photo, itself, to help speed up the replacement process. Photos should be 2×2 in (5.08×5.08 cm) and with a plain background.
To photocopy your passport correctly, open your passport to the second page, where your photo and personal information are shown. Lay the open passport down on the photocopy machine and adjust the settings, so all the details are visible.
If you do lose your passport while on vacation, contact the nearest American Consulate or Embassy. Explain to them in detail what happened and present any documents they ask for, which are typically proof of identity, passport photos, and a photocopy of your passport.
2. DON’T Overpack
We’ve all been there: you start to pack what you think are only essentials, and suddenly your suitcase is so full it won’t shut!
Many people are chronic over packers, so don’t feel bad. Here are some ways to avoid bringing too much:
- Go over your itinerary and plan your outfits. If you’re going on a shorter vacation, you may already have somewhat of an idea of what you’re doing every day. If this is the case, it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine what you’ll need to wear on that day. If you plan ahead and only bring what you need (with maybe one extra of everything in case of emergency), you’ll avoid overpacking.
- Bring multipurpose shoes. Shoes are the natural enemy of packing. They’re bulky, eat up space in luggage, and are awkward to pack around. Bring shoes you know you’ll wear on multiple occasions: if you like to run, pack running shoes that are also good for casual sightseeing. If you need to bring dressy shoes, make sure they aren’t too dressy so that you can’t wear them for lunch, too.
- Stick with a color palette, so everything goes together. When I travel, I bring lots of neutrals to mix and match almost everything without worrying about clashing too much.
- Locate laundry service in your destination. Most hostels, hotels, resorts, and Airbnbs will have laundry services or access to laundry facilities. Knowing you’ll be able to have your clothes cleaned will prevent you from bringing too much.
- Coordinate with traveling companions. If you’re going on vacation with someone, coordinate with them to avoid bringing two giant bottles of sunscreen when you really only need one.
- Use packing cubes. This is a great way to save space in your luggage. And if you limit yourself to only bringing what fits in your cubes, you can avoid overpacking. I recommend the Veken 6 Set Packing Cubes (available on Amazon.com) because they’re thicker and more durable than other packing cubes on the market. They also come with a laundry bag and a shoe bag.
Don’t burden yourself with too much stuff! Avoiding overpacking will save you a lot of hassle and headaches on your vacation.
3. DO Research Ahead of Time About Tipping Etiquette
If you’re traveling internationally for vacation, take a moment before you leave to research tipping etiquette in your destination. Tipping customs are always developing and changing, but it’s better to know how it works in the country you’re visiting before you arrive. Here are some general tips about tipping:
- Europe. Many countries within the European Union have laws that standardize gratuity within the restaurant industry, so larger tips aren’t necessary or expected. Most European countries add a service charge to the bill, but you should leave between 5% and 10% in cash if you don’t notice this charge. In general, you should always tip tour guides in Europe 10-20%.
- North America. For restaurants in the United States and Canada, you should tip 15-20% of the bill. You should tip tour guides around $10-20 dollars.
- Central and South America. In restaurants, a service charge is typically added, but you should tip an additional 10-15% in local currency if the service is exceptional. Tour guides are typically tipped $5-$10 per tour or per day in countries in this region.
- Asia. Most countries in Asia don’t have a strong tipping culture. Still, in areas where there are many tourists (such as Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam), restaurant workers are becoming more accustomed to receiving tips. However, tipping isn’t expected, and it’s okay if you don’t leave one (one exception is India, where service staff have become used to tips from tourists). Tips for tour guides vary greatly among each country.
- Africa. If there isn’t a service charge automatically added to your bill in a restaurant, you should add 10-15% as a tip. In North African countries, $20 a day is a good amount to tip a tour guide. In other African countries, 10% of the overall cost of the tour is the expected tip.
- Oceania. Staff in the hospitality industry typically earn decent wages in Australia and New Zealand, so tipping isn’t expected but is appreciated. Tour guides should be tipped between $20-$50 a day.
Tipping varies greatly around the world, so it’s a good idea to know what the proper etiquette is in your destination before you arrive. That way, you avoid shortchanging or offending somebody.
4. DON’T Overplan
If you’re a Type-A, organized planner, this might seem like an impossibility. Planning ahead of time for your vacation is a good idea (to a certain extent) to avoid wasting time or missing out on an activity you’re excited about. However, locking yourself into an ironclad plan takes away any chance of spontaneity, which can be the best part of vacation!
Don’t put away your vacay planner just yet; just be sure to give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected adventures or issues to arise. Sometimes, the best experiences in life weren’t scheduled beforehand, so allow yourself the chance to find those.
5. DO Bring Plenty of Layers and Dress Respectfully
It’s best to bring layers everywhere, even if you’re traveling somewhere tropical and hot. You may be tempted to leave your jacket behind, but what about usually-chilly planes? Or the breeze on the beach at night? Ensure you have the clothing you need for the journey, not just the destination.
You should also be aware of and respectful of the rules or expectations of dress in foreign countries. Dressing in adherence to these expectations could prevent you from sticking out from the crowd too much and becoming a target of theft. It’s also more likely the locals will want to engage with and relate to you.
Do some research before you leave about the culture and religion of your destination countries. Sometimes, there are explicit rules, especially if you’re a woman, about how you should dress. For example, women need to wear headscarves to enter mosques in Morocco.
In general, it’s best to err on the side of conservatism when choosing an outfit. Observe those around you in your destination country and choose outfits that cover the same amount of skin.
6. DON’T Carry Large Sums of Cash
If you’re on vacation, you may be tempted to withdraw a large chunk of cash to pay for everything, especially if your bank or credit card has international purchase fees when vacationing abroad. However, this isn’t a great idea.
Flashing a large amount of cash could make you a target for theft, so you want to be discreet about how much money is on your person. Furthermore, if you were to get robbed or pickpocketed, it’ll be a lot less damaging to your financial security should you only have a day’s worth of cash on you instead of a week’s worth or more.
7. DO Try Local Food
Experimenting with different foods is one of the best parts of traveling! Make sure you get to local hangouts and markets to try the food instead of sticking to large chain restaurants that are available anywhere.
This is a vacation “Do” for regional vacations as well! Different regions of the United States have food specialties you should try if you find yourself vacationing in that area. Here are some recommendations:
- Crab and lobster in Maryland. Because it’s so close to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland is known for its delicious crab and lobster. Try a fried soft shell crab sandwich!
- Poke in Hawaii. Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish, although it has become more popular in restaurants around the United States. Poke in Hawaii will have fresh Hawaiian seaweed and other yummy ingredients, so it’ll be even more delicious!
- Gumbo in Louisiana. Creole food is one of my favorite cuisines, and there’s no better place for a big pot of gumbo than Louisiana.
- BBQ in Texas. Texas beef brisket with some creamy coleslaw and potato salad? Sign me up!
- Cheesesteak in Philadelphia. It’s called a Philly Cheesesteak for a reason! This sammie is made with thinly sliced beefsteak and perfectly melted cheese on a long roll.
8. DON’T Forget Sunscreen
Nothing can ruin a vacation faster than a bad sunburn, so don’t forget to wear sunblock! Especially if you’re going to spend a lot of time at the beach or hiking in the sunlight. Be extra cautious if you’re going to a place with a higher altitude, as being at high altitudes quickens your chances of burning.
I recommend the Sun Bum Sunscreen Lotion (available on Amazon.com). This sunblock is reef-friendly, which is essential if you’re going to be in any ocean with reef life. It’s also packed with vitamin E, which moisturizes your skin as it protects it.
9. DO Book Flights and Lodging As Soon as Possible
Flights and lodging are some of the most costly parts of going on vacation, so it’s best to book these as soon as possible if you have set dates in mind. You’re more likely to get better deals if you book months in advance, especially for flights.
If you’re flying domestically, aim to book your tickets between one and three months before your trip. Most domestic flights reach their lowest price seven weeks before departure.
International flights tend to stay relatively consistent, but the price starts going up 90 days before departure, accelerating fast. The best time to buy these tickets is between five and a half and two months before departure.
10. DON’T Overschedule Yourself
I get it; you’re finally going on vacation and want to ensure you make the most of every moment. This is an understandable impulse, but are you really going to want to be doing sixteen hours of activity every day? Probably not.
Vacations are meant to be fun and relaxing, and if you get too ambitious about your itinerary, you may forget about the relaxing part. You don’t want to go back to work after your vacay even more tired than before you left, so don’t be afraid to take it easy.
11. DO Be Flexible
No matter how well you plan and prepare, something will probably go awry on your vacation. That’s just how traveling is! There’s no such thing as a perfect vacation, so it’s best to let go of that expectation before you leave.
Allow things to change and evolve naturally and go with the flow to the best of your ability, and you’re still going to have a great vacation, even if it’s not a perfect one. Keep in mind, sometimes the best vacation stories are about when something went wrong!