There are a ton of videos and blogs on this subject. But welcome to my take on the situation. I have only found a few things to be true when travelling and the rest to be crap.
I don’t put necklaces through straws so they don’t get tangled, because I only take one set of jewelry with me so I lessen the risk of losing something (or having it stolen). I don’t take much shampoo in little bottles because it’s far more logical to “buy it when you get there” and in small quantities.
Perhaps this sounds a little rugged and I know we have favorite hair products, BUT the reality is that one exploded bottle of shampoo or lotion in your suitcase can make a mess that’s way worse to deal with than messy hair. And unless you are going somewhere where you know they won’t sell cosmetics, then just buy something when you get there. You often can find better products in places like Europe, that will work better in the water/sun/humidity in that location.
For instance, a pharmacist in Rome noted how pasty I was, and insisted I buy some SPF50. “Blanca, blanca, come here” she told me and shoved the bottle in my hand with some tampons. This was the best sunscreen I have ever used and I wish I could find it here in the states! It didn’t cause me to break out, it was light and it worked to keep “blanca” from being “rosso”.
A friend posted on Facebook just now…which inspired this post, that she, after travelling part of Europe HATED her massive luggage that she took and never wants to travel with it again. To which I reply….well duh!
However, 6 years ago I learned this lesson myself, and have learned it many times since. Travel with less= enjoying more. TRUTH.
I found on my first trip to Europe, 6 YEARS AGO that taking extra crap was a waste of my time and money (you know you have to pay more for heavy bags on planes). I stupidly took books to read (which I never had time to), I took travel guides (now I rip them apart or use my phone) and I took a massive book to put ticket stubs and other crap in (this was EXTRA DUMB) this book weighed about 5lbs and now 6 years past most the ticket stubs have fallen apart or the thermal paper has erased itself….so that was also a waste of time. Anyway my first trip also meant that I bought a shit-ton of books at different places I went, which was well-meaning, but it also meant that I had a hell of a lot of extra weight that I had to ship home or pull all over Europe.
Oh to be 19, young and stupid…
Since then two more trips to Europe have taught me a lot, and mostly by mistakes.
First of all: DO NOT plan on mailing anything home unless you have like $300 extra to spend because international mailing rates have gone up, up, up. That goes for U.S. or Europe and let’s just say you can throw away a lot of money on knick-knacks and then to send them home, and the reality is YOU ARE BUYING CRAP so STOP!!!!!!!! This also goes back to a philosophy of DO NOT buy people souvenirs unless they are SMALL and light weight and squishable.
Second: Invest in good luggage. Luggage that is lightweight, can take some knocks, can stretch and that maybe has a warranty. My first suitcase barely functions (I keep souvenirs in it) and it started to fall apart halfway through a 2.5 month trip. ALSO- buy one with WHEELS and four wheels that are fully rotating. Even if you don’t do much walking with your luggage, the few hours at the airport make it worthwhile. If you are backpacking, then different rules apply.
Third: Plan for the length you will be gone. For 1 week-3 weeks, take a carry-on or medium suitcase, and plan to do laundry, and pack extra undies. For 1 month+ you’re allowed a larger bag, however if you are traveling a lot (in the moving place to place sense) keep in mind that a backpack may make trains and hostels a lot easier. For longer trips I take a larger bag and only pack it half-full, then there is room for gifts/souvenirs/supplies that I may need. For instance, the Hostel I was at last year in Edinburgh left me FREEZING every night, so I bought a wool blanket that not only helped with the cold, but now I use daily as a throw. Having extra space meant I could bring it home.
Fourth: Listen to friends/family that have traveled a lot and don’t be too proud to look stuff up. If I had listened to more Samantha Brown and less grandparents/dad’s friends I would have taken WAY less on my first trip and had a better time.
Fifth: Take a big enough bag. It’s a fine line between too much and not enough, but when I went to Italy for my study abroad and lived in Florence 5 weeks, I accumulated a lot of stuff. Such as clothing….because fashion and street markets….. So taking the train to meet some friends to get to Germany was a nightmare. It was stuffed train+ suitcase+ two bags I bought + other random crap….It was bad, and embarrassing and HEAVY. Lesson learned.
Sixth: Use tech to your advantage. BUY A SMARTPHONE already! Seriously, on my last trip that is all I took was my iphone, leaving back my DSLR and computer. Why? Well usually I LOVE taking lots of photos but for only a week of running around and some extra time with family, my IPhone 6S was PLENTY to take fun photos, stay in touch and pull up maps/directions. Also, buy a GOOD smartphone, and make sure you have international coverage where you go. T-Mobile offers FREE texting and slow data overseas and is about $0.20/min to call. Which is pretty good! If you are going somewhere a long time and think you want to call a lot (I use SKYPE btw) then think about getting an unlocked phone and buying sim cards abroad that you can “top-up” or buy a month-to-month plan. It really helps and in this day a phone can be a lifesaver if you get lost or can’t find a taxi at 3am. Even if you take a DSLR in addition, having the cellphone can lighten your load by leaving the computer at home, and carrying important information (scans of passport etc.) Along with access to people back home. Anyway, just join the 21st century and be savvy. Compared to traveling 6 and even 3 years ago, having a SMARTPHONE make a HUGE difference and is worth the time/headache it saves.
Seventh: Buy disposable entertainment. MEANING: download audio books/digital books (utilize the library), books you can leave at a hostel, movies that are digital, music that is digital etc. This keeps things lightweight and also if you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have to feel guilty about lugging around the weight.
Eight: Pack minimal clothes and buy new things. I try to leave some room in my budget and suitcase to buy some clothes. This is my “backup” for not only weather conditions and “unknowns” on what might be fashionable or more comfortable for the travel conditions. This acts as an awesome souvenir and a great amount of fun.
In Grand Cayman there is this cool little spot in the middle of the main island called Hell.
Hell is a funky bunch of rock formations that are limestone which have been worn down into their funky shapes through biological erosion. Algae is one of the main culprits and its acidity have worn into these crazy spires and formations that look…well if there is a Hell, what it must look like. Read more on the geology here.
If you are mostly interested in something different to see, most tours stop here on the way to or from other locations. And it makes for some cool photo opportunities and a look at some of the unique geology that makes up the Caribbean islands.
The final tip, and the only time I’ll tell you to bring your passport out of a safe or safe place, is to bring it to Hell and have it stamped at the little shop! Then you have the proof of having been to Hell and back!
Okay, actually I did a lot of really great stuff last year! REALLY cool stuff. But one of them, that is by far one of the most unique experiences I have ever had is going to a Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman while Ryan and I were on our cruise! For about $60 each we got an AMAZING adventure!
The Grand Cayman Turtle Farm was established in 1968 as a way to not only help restore the depleted turtle population of Grand Cayman, which had been run down in the early 1800s but also provide educational resources for those already in Grand Cayman and those that visit the island.
They also use some of the turtles for meat, which is the national dish of Grand Cayman. Ryan and I did not eat any turtles in the making of this vacation. Learn more here.
The great part, and the reason we signed up for the tour was that it provided a unique experience of getting to see baby turtles and also getting into tanks to swim with them and hold them. SCORE for this animal lover! Beyond that I found out they release 1/3 of the turtles born back into the wild, which means that my money for that tour was going to helping the fragile sea ecosystem. It was a win-win for me, and Ryan was excited to do something with water.
However, what really blew us away was that not only did the venue have thousands of turtles of all ages, sizes and backgrounds, they also provided really nice breeding environment and plenty of well-educated and animal loving people to make the project work! Not only that but they had a lot of other wildlife experiences. They had a massive tank with shark and barracuda in them, which Ryan loved. Then they had a saltwater swimming area where you could actually swim with turtles!
AND I would have been in there for the whole time if my bikini top had not given up and broke BEFORE the tour even began….luckily I was wearing a t-shirt. I did not have anything for backup and we were too far from the boat to go back…
Beyond the water adventures they had a beautiful large aviary with a bunch of local birds that were quite a delight to see and experience! And to finish the adventure they had a nursery full of 2-day-old baby turtles! *squee*
Finally, Ryan finished our time by taking a trip down their water slide at their fresh water pool and then we were on our way to hell….
I just got back from a cruise to the Western Caribbean. And though, for my boyfriend and I it was a pricey and luxurious break from our lives, we did a lot but didn’t spend too much.
CRUISE (Food, room and on-ship FREE activities)= $1600
Excursions (1 in Cozumel, 1 in Grand Cayman) =$250
On board expenses (Massage, gratuities(have to be paid), 1 all-inclusive drink package, Makeup/massage oil)= $850
Flights= $300 (roughly)
Hotel= $0 (we stayed with my sister’s in Orlando and they drove us to the airport)
Shopping on the islands= $120
TOTAL= $3120 for two people and 9 days of fun, or $1560 a person or $173.34 per person per day
Now you may look at that and freak. Which for us, this is a lot of money, but we did extra luxury things that we don’t usually do and it was in fact worth it! Because both of us were able to refresh our batteries after what has been, at times, a hard year due to the loss of my grandma, and working hard.
Anyway, here are ways that we saved money, even though we did a ton!
Book a deal. Wait for cruise prices to go down so they can fill rooms, we booked about 8 months ahead giving us $175 on board credit that paid for my spa treatments and 1 day of tips per person. We used priceline and I just got an offer that we can book any cruise in the future with no money down for already booking with them. Also, with Royal Caribbean if you have sailed once and you go again you get Gold Status that with enough times turns to silver and diamond.
Buy the package. If you will drink more than 3 drinks (alcoholic) a day, then get the drink package. I don’t drink much, get me one and I’m happy. Yet my boyfriend enjoys drinking when he can, and when you don’t have to drive, get out of bed at 4am (his usual time). Meaning the package was worth the money for him to have margaritas, beer, wine and the like for $55/day. He then tipped on top of that a dollar or two a drink.
Bring the necessities. Bring all you need from home, such as deodorant, ibuprofen, nail clippers etc. Because the mark up on these goods on the ship is INSANE! We made the mistake of forgetting a few things and paid a lot for basics. It won’t probably break the bank, but you will cringe at $12 for 24 Advil.
Eat the food (don’t pay extra). The awesome part about Royal Caribbean is that all of their food is great! You have options too. Traditional sit-down 3-course meals (more if you want it), buffets, and snacks are all over the place. You can even get room service for no extra charge most hours of the day, including breakfast in bed. Yet if you want something different there are other restaurant and drink options such as Starbucks, Italian, Mexican and a fine Steakhouse. Also: for allergy sufferers they will make every effort to make sure your vacation is AMAZING, I even got a private tour of the kitchen!
Barter. When shopping in many parts of the world it is common to barter on goods. Meaning they say a price, you make a counter offer, they say another price and you try to agree. Know it is okay to walk away if it is more than you want to spend. Also, take note of places that have prices on tags on items usually are set on that price. However, there is no harm in asking. DO NOT pay the full price they first give you, because you will get ripped off. OR pay that price, but you better get some extra goodies.
Don’t get taken. Jamaica was the only place we REALLY experienced this. Where a local attached himself to us and “showed us around” and then demanded $20/30 dollars from us while he showed us where his friend’s sold stuff and talked us into buying things. I usually can walk by and say no, but my boyfriend didn’t feel right ignoring them. So DALTA took us around town. As a better tip, stay in the “designated shopping” in Falmouth, Jamaica just to avoid unwanted problems.
Take the freebies! One cool aspects of Caribbean cruises is that a lot of people sail in order to go shopping for luxury items like jewelry and watches. Which, if you want a nice price for a good piece, you should go for it. Yet the other little perk is that you can get some free items from different stores just for coming by with a flyer. We took advantage of a charm bracelet from Diamonds International for my boyfriend’s daughter, which included free charms from different ports and from the cruise ship. It made for a fun souvenir that an 8-year-old will LOVE and if she breaks, loses, or dislikes it we are not out anything. Also, other jewelry shops, like EFFY will give away free gemstone pendants etc. So keep an eye out for flyers, coupons and if your cruise offers a “shopping expert” to get more information from.
Go back to the ship. For lunch and other needs, if you aren’t too far away or if you aren’t on an excursion, then head back to the ship for food in between. It’s usually no problem and often you’ll be done with shopping and exploring.
Pack lunch. Depending on the port it’s pretty easy to bring a few things with you such as bananas, nuts etc. Granola bars are a good idea as well. This way you spend less time worrying about food and if you have allergies like me, this is even less to worry about.