17 Things the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You

Call it bad luck or blame it on unleashable curiosity, but after my 11-year travel safety record, I can bank on running into trouble abroad. Either I’m in London for the bombings or stuck in a Greek jail or stung by jellyfish or stranded in a German airport or  broke on the road. I’ve been through the ringer and it’s an adventure I embrace, but here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that I wish I would’ve known ahead of time. Don’t worry, you can prep for most situational travel troubles, so with a little research and a lot of luck, you’ll stay safe, dry, rich and well-fed during your trips.

1. Pack your suitcase with everything (you think) you’ll need. Then set aside your money. Put half the clothes back in your dresser and take twice the money.

2. Good rain gear is priceless. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

3. If you don’t think you should eat it because it looks gross or old, you probably shouldn’t. Hunger beats food poisoning.

4. Invest in a quick-dry travel towel. Best $20 I ever spent.

5. Don’t trust foreign police.

6. European beer is a lot stronger than Bud Light.

7. Don’t try to catch a Greek island ferry to Athens the same day as your flight out. Odds are, your ferry will hit a sailboat and you’ll miss your flight.

8. Make friends with waiters and bartenders. Locals always know the least touristy places to shop, dine, and visit.

9. Buy yourself a backpack that fits your frame, and DON’T under any circumstances lend it to anyone. No one will treat your $300 gear as well as you do.

10. Take at least two credit cards. Keep them in separate pockets in case a thief steals your wallet. Also, give your bank a head’s up you’ll be abroad. There’s nothing worse than rejection at an ATM.

11.European nude beaches are not a figment of Hollywood imagination. They’re very real and very naked. Go to one.

12. Don’t stand in line for the Vatican museums. Book tickets online ahead of time and save yourself hours of waiting.

13. If you’re stranded in a foreign airport, don’t turn on your American phone to call home unless you have a global plan. American phone companies are merciless.

14. Ladies, most Italian men (like Paulo here) will drop every pick-up line to marry you. They’re not serious.

15. Ditch the map. European cities are built on the medieval town model with a church, river and town square. If you know where the river is, you can use your sense of direction to find everything else.

16. Take out your earbuds. Listen harder to noises around you. Hearing is an important way to grasp a sense of place.

17. Figure out the way back to your hostel before you head out for a night of clubbing, and make sure you can find your way home at the end of the night. Throw a map in your purse or back pocket if you have to.