Guest post by: Lauren Hamilton

You’ve waited so long for this vacation. Put in extra hours, saved your pennies, sweated double time in the gym for that skin-baring swimsuit, or poured over guidebooks to research the local must-see spots.  

1. Don’t take everything. One week prior to your trip, pack your bag. Then take half of what you gathered and put it back in your closet. Do it! Yes, even that extra sweater that looks so good. Now, do it a second time. I promise you, you wont need all that stuff. Travel is about experiencing what’s around you, not what’s on you. Select a few tops and bottoms that can be paired with each other on different days, and whatever appropriate layers you need, a pair of comfortable shoes (not just sort-of-comfortable), and a scarf or hat. You’re set. And now you don’t need to worry about those pesky overweight baggage charges or having to lug around a cumbersome bag.

2. Prep your important documents. Passports get lost, bags get stolen, alarms get slept through, and foreign ATM machines sometimes refuse to work with your card. Having copies of critical information, phone numbers for your bank’s international help line, spare cash and traveler’s cheques, and a list of important login and password information in the hands of a trusted emergency contact back home can mean the difference between a ruined vacation and a disaster averted. Research the visa requirements for your destination country, and plan ahead by applying early if necessary. Bring an envelope of passport-size photos with you—ten is a good number for heavily regulated countries.

Do your homework: in some countries, to get a permit for government-regulated trails or tours you must supply copies of your visa and passport, so having multiple photocopies of these are useful to speed up the process in-country. Travel forums such as The Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree are a fantastic resource to get first-hand information from travelers who are in the country now, or who have been recently and may have the most up-to-date suggestions for certain areas that you want to visit. Always get a second or third opinion, especially when it comes to safety and cost.

3. Embrace solo time. This applies if you’re traveling with your partner or friends, and if you’re traveling alone already. Coordinating a trip with one or more companions can be both fun and challenging. You might not always want to be doing the same thing at the same time, and that’s OK. Take some time out each day, if you need it, to go for a walk by yourself—on the beach, down the alleys of the city where you’re staying, into the markets—determine a time and place to rendezvous later, and then go on your way. The freedom to walk in any direction you choose, while observing quietly and thinking anything or nothing at all can be a valuable practice in refreshing yourself to get the most out of your day with your travel mate. If you’re already journeying alone, you might feel daunted by the solitude. But remember how inundated we are daily by communication from all angles—some of it quite unnecessary. Revel in the gift of self-exploration and meditation in a new setting, which can help to free you from routine thoughts and set the wheels in motion.

4. Mentally prepare yourself for the unexpected.

This might sound like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed travelers completely lose their composure when unforeseeable and unpreventable delays throw a wrench in their plans. In other cases, the comforts of home simply aren’t available and an inability to adjust to a different way of life causes a bad mood that simply isn’t necessary. Remember that experiencing something new and unfamiliar is part of the reason for traveling in the first place—otherwise you could just be comfortable somewhere closer to home!

It can be hard to stay calm and positive when something goes wrong, especially during a vacation that is only a certain (usually short) length of time, might have cost a lot of money, and that was built up so much in your head. Being in a foreign location can add extra stress when cultural and linguistic differences make communication a challenge. But if you can adopt a sense of humor about these challenges, you’ll avoid adding another ten pounds to that pile of bricks on your shoulders—you know, the one you were trying to shed with this vacation?

The bottom line is that a trip abroad will be a learning experience whether you want it to be or not. By doing the legwork to prepare for the unforeseen, and choosing to keep an open mind, you can ensure that the lessons learned will be positive and enriching, rather than part of a trip you wish you’d never taken.

Lauren Hamilton is a professional blogger who enjoys providing consumers with travel advice. She writes for SouthAmerica.travel, a leading South America Travel company specializing in 4* & 5* Peru Tours.