If you’re a budget traveler who must carry or drag your luggage through airports, subway systems and city streets, then you’ll want to travel as lightly as you can. One area where you can really cut down on both the size and the weight of what you carry on a trip, plus make yourself less of a target for street criminals, is when it comes to packing travel information.
Before your trip, by all means, read all of the guidebooks about your intended destination that you can get your hands on. Use them to help you plan your itinerary and to choose your personal must-see sites for each city or region that you plan to travel to. Read them, but don’t take them with you on your trip. They can be extremely heavy and bulky and amount to dead weight. In addition, sitting in a big city park or on a subway train reading a travel guidebook to that city marks you as a pigeon ripe for the plucking. You may as well wear a big hat that says, “Tourist.”
I use two alternative means of carrying critical trip information with me. First of all, as I read travel guidebooks, I take old fashioned handwritten notes: from particularly interesting bits of historical information, to the opening hours of shops and banks, to key foreign language phrases. I take notes on each city or town, including specific monuments or buildings that I know I’ll want to see due to my personal taste in art and architecture, not just going by what the guidebooks say that everyone should see. This way a few pages of lightweight handwritten notes allow me to distill key bits of information without adding to the weight of my luggage.
I know that as I arrive in each town I can pick up a brochure that will include a town map and the opening hours for each site of interest. This single brochure can stay right in my pocket where it can easily be consulted as needed while I’m sightseeing, yet stay discretely out of sight the rest of the time. If I’m in Prague, for instance, one slim combination map and brochure in my pocket is more easily consulted than a big guidebook, plus it sure beats traipsing around Prague carrying a heavy travel guidebook that covers all of Europe.
Today, with the advent of Internet, trip planning has become easier than ever. Although there are many bogus travel sites on the net that are nothing but come-ons for overpriced hotels, there are also many good ones. I particularly like going directly to the official websites of each monument, city, region or country that I want to learn about. It can be a time-consuming process, but there’s a treasure trove of travel information, plus maps and photos, to be found. Via books and the net I can learn about the major tourist attractions of each place, as well as find details about the quirkier sites or the downright odd ones that might be of interest to me.
I can gather up train schedules for each leg of my journey, historical information, up-to-date prices, and opening days and hours for each historical site and museum, and plenty more. Patience during the planning stages of a big trip can save infinite time and inconvenience during the trip. Anyway, learning about places you’ve always dreamt of seeing is part of the fun.
Online I can seek out low cost hotels and chart them on city maps to determine which ones seem the most conveniently located in relation to historic town centers, and I can then book rooms via email. If I were to print out every single Internet page that is of interest to me, though, I’d soon end up with a mass of papers as heavy as those inadvisable-to-lug-around traditional bulky travel guidebooks. Much of each printout page would amount to wasted blank space or irrelevant banner ads and link lists, as well, so this is what I do: I create a blank text document and each bit of information that I’ll want to have with me during a trip gets copied and pasted onto this one document. On it I can list a variety of train schedules, hotel contact information and sightseeing information. I can freely combine bits of information gleaned from many different sources so that, for example, all of the bits of information about a particular castle are together in one subsection of my text document.
When I’m done gathering all my information I can eliminate any duplication of information and reduce the size of the text font on the document before printing it out. That way I wind up with just a few sheets of paper that are tightly packed with relevant information. I can even print on both sides of each sheet of paper to further reduce the total number of pages. I can organize the text document anyway I like, with hotel confirmation emails all on one sheet, or all train schedules on a single sheet, or travel phrases all together or, if I’ve accumulated lots of details about historical sites to be visited, I can create separate printouts for each city or country.
That way, as I visit each locale, I only need to carry that one page of information around with me during my stay there – one piece of paper that can be folded up and carried in my pocket for easy consulation or to supplement a travel brochure that I picked up locally. From Internet I can also print out a map for each town on my route, so that I’ll be able to find my way from a train station to a prebooked lodging even if I can’t immediately get my hands on a more detailed local map when I first arrive in a new town.
It is possible to have with you all the travel information and transportation schedules that you’ll need during your trip, yet not let it add to the burden that you must carry around as you travel from place to place. A handful of condensed printouts in lieu of a big fat guidebook is one more means of traveling well prepared even though you’re traveling light. You can have your cake and eat it, too, so Bon Appetit!