I love going to the Travel Adventure Show and was glad that it was at the Los Angeles Convention Center this year. It was so easy for me to get to it from the subway. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it’s a huge expo where you can visit the booths of hundreds of travel companies, listen to well-known travel experts, enjoy entertainment and food. (there were literally pages and pages of vendors in the program guide)
My favorite travel expert, Rick Steves, was there and was just about to speak when I entered the expo hall. He’s my kind of traveler so I immediately sat down to listen. His entire talk is available for free on his website, but I wanted to mention some of the tips that I found most helpful.
Best time of year to travel
Try planning your trip in spring and fall, especially if you’re going to Europe. Most people travel to Europe in the summer and it’s not only hot and crowded but many places don’t have air conditioning. If you travel in summer, go to the Alps, Ireland, Scandinavia, or Germany.
Travel for the experience
Sit at the bar in a Taverna and make friends with the locals. Go hiking in a hill town or spend time in places like Cinque Terre, Italy where there are no modern buildings or “comfortable” hotels. If you visit the Holland windmills, try going on a windy day.
Timing is everything to avoid big crowds
If you want to visit a landmark like the Acropolis, or the Pantheon, show up at the end of the day. It’s cooler, there are beautiful shadows (for photos) and most of the crowd has left.
Understand the destination you are visiting
Do research before you arrive (and carry a travel guide) so you will already know what most tour guides will not tell you. For example, learn the history of an aqueduct or the symbolism behind images you might see in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Find out what’s near a major city you are visiting
If you travel to Salzburg, plan time to drive 2 hours south to the Lakes District so you can get to know how the locals live in their normal environment.
Spend the night in historical towns rather than take a day trip
If you want to visit the sights in Toledo, San Gimignano, Bruges, or Venice, spend the night there. During the day they’re usually mobbed. But if you spend the night and early morning in a 400-year-old hotel where the elevators don’t work, you’ll have experiences tourists who have already boarded their cruise ships or left to go back to their comfy hotels do not.
Find a tour company that caters to YOUR needs and not theirs
Booking a private tour with a local is ideal. You may spend $100 – $150 for the day but it will be worth it. Or, be your own tour guide.
Be aware that many tour companies or cruise expedition guides work on commission to sell something. For instance, they may take you to buy “Tanzanite” or diamonds. Don’t waste your time and money “shopping” when you can be out exploring something much more memorable.
Medieval architecture is cool, but so is modern
If you’re visiting a metropolitan city like Paris, Hamburg, Glasgow or Berlin, make sure to spend time in the modern part of the city. That way you’ll see the city truthfully as it is NOW.
Travel along small rivers
The Rhine is full of traffic. If you travel the Moselle, you’ll see amazing castles like Berg Eltz.
Free sites often yield the best experience
You can find ruined castles in countries like Portugal, Ireland, or Poland that are fascinating, free, and easy to walk around.
Avoid aggressively promoted travel deals
You know, those Kiosks offering tours to major landmarks and attractions connected to timeshares.
Go for the unusual
Find quirky places to visit such as the Capuchin Crypt in Rome. You’ll see more bones there than in the Catacombs.
Be a cultural chameleon
Infuse yourself with the local style, eat in the same restaurant residents do, sit in coffee shops or pubs to get to know them.
Don’t OD on museums
Museums are wonderful, but if you spend too much time in them you’ll get art overload and possibly a terrible headache.
Air travel vs trains
Because of airline deregulation, it’s often cheaper to fly from country to country rather than take a train. However, trains are great for traveling within a country. 2nd class is a better deal than 1st class. It’s just as comfortable and will arrive at exactly the same time. LOL
If possible, only take a carryon bag. It’s exhausting to drag luggage around when you’re over 50, especially if you’re traveling from city to city. Or, consider renting a car to store extra bags. A 9” x 22” x 14” spinner suitcase or backpack is best. Bring a small backpack as well to use when you’re out and about. That way you can carry a water bottle, extra snacks, stash a sweater, or pick up brochures and mementos.
Get off the highway
European infrastructure is modern and well maintained but make sure to veer off the freeway to see the most interesting sights.
Try riding a bike
Cycling is popular in big cities like Munich, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. In Europe, helmets are not required. Europeans think we are a little paranoid about safety. It’s a good way to get around a city and a great way to exercise. Some cities have bikes you can rent and drop off at different locations.
Where to eat
Don’t bother dining at the biggest or most expensive restaurant. You should also avoid choosing a restaurant located in a big piazza. Instead, walk down a small alley to find a hole in the wall trattoria that posts a handwritten menu in only one language. There you’ll enjoy food that is in season and locally sourced. Sit in small gastropubs, wine bars, family style eating establishments, or large market halls with multiple vendors. (like in Florence, Barcelona, and Budapest)
Don’t spend the bulk of your money on hotel accommodations. Keep track of your credit card points to get free flights, hotel rooms, and discounts. Spend your money on experiencing the city or town you’re visiting instead. Stay in the center of Old Town rather than at a large hotel chain outside of it. That way you can get up in the morning and enjoy the most interesting sights without having to deal with boarding a bus or driving a car. To really save money, try staying at a hostel that offers discounts to people 55 and over. Or forget staying at a hotel and rent a home or flat or stay in a local’s home with them.
Don’t carry a purse
Purses attract thieves. Use your daypack instead and wear a fanny pack or money belt to carry cash, credit cards, and important documents. Thieves specifically target Americans.
Don’t overreact to terrorism by staying at home
Europe is safer than ever to travel to because cities are on alert. The police and even the militia are actively on patrol. Barricades have been installed in public areas and on promenades like in Nice or the La Rambla to prevent trucks from charging into pedestrian zones.
Remember when we used to say Bon Voyage as someone was leaving to go on a trip? Now we say, “Have a safe trip.”
“Fear is for people who refuse to get out of their comfort zone.”
Other speakers at the Travel Adventure Show
I also listened to Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. She gave suggestions on several destinations to travel that she particularly loves. They included:
- Hebrides Islands in Scotland
- Paris, France
- Bruges, Belgium
- Norway fiords – Take a cruise from Bergen during the warm weather months to see the midnight sun.
- Vienna, Austria
- Salzburg, Austria
- Venice, Italy
- Petersburg, Russia
- Slovenia (formerly Yugoslavia) Visit Lake Bled
- Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Marrakech, Morocco
- Lalibela, Ethiopia (9 world heritage sites)
I missed Samantha Brown (Travel TV host) and Phil Keoghan from “The Amazing Race.” There is only so much you can see and do with hundreds of vendors to wade through.
Cool Products I found there
In addition to tour companies at the Travel and Adventure Show, there were also travel product vendors. Here are a few items I thought were cool.
Clear – The best and easiest way to breeze through airport security. Once you become a member all you have to do is gaze into a screen at the CLEAR kiosk in the airport or use your fingertips. It will instantly recognize you and you’ll be cleared for takeup with zero hassle.
TSA Pre – Global Entry – Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. This site offers a great guide on how to use it.
Vision Global Wifi – Carry your own high-speed mobile hotspot wherever you go.
Genius Pack – Luggage designed for traveling with organizable pockets to pack clothes and other items into a compact spinner suitcase.
GOSLEEP – Travel Kit! – Sleep mask and pillow all in one for airline flights.
I’m ready to “keep on traveling.” How about you? Please leave a comment below.
For more information about the Travel Adventure Show and where you can find one in your area, click here.