Having the right gear makes a world of difference.
It can make or break your entire experience.
While we all have our own preferences, there are certain things to remember when traveling. For years I couldn't understand the need for those "U-shaped" neck pillows and thought people were a bit ridiculous in lugging those along on trips. But I am not too proud to admit I am now the owner and advocate of a great neck pillow. This revelation occurred to me after a few 9+ hour international flights and a realization that a sore neck and lack of quality sleep was no badge of courage for a traveler. The first neck pillow I bought was made out of a not so comfy plastic and you had to blow it up. When I saw it online I figured it would be perfect as I would not have to add more bulk to my already stuffed carry-on bag and I could just inflate it on the plane. I hate to admit I was sorely disappointed in the fact that it is impossible to blow it up enough to make it comfortable or useful. It was a lesson learned.
That experience motivated me to do my research and I even watched other travelers on long haul flights. After trial and error, I have now found my new traveling best friend. It is a super comfy neck rest pillow that had the added benefits of earplugs and an eye cover as well as a convenient drawstring pouch. I put it to the ultimate test during a trip to Spain (9 hour flight each way) with a few train rides between cities followed by a trip to Vietnam a few weeks later. It takes around 24 hours each way to get to Vietnam so this travel pillow quickly paid for itself in comfort. Similar ones can cost $30+ but I found this one for under $14 (including shipping)! Check out the Amazon link if you'd like a new travel best friend too.
If you are heading to Europe you will want to make sure your suitcase has durable and quality wheels. Many of the streets, sidewalks and squares are made of cobblestone or other uneven materials. A poor quality suitcase will leave you sidelined.
On one of our trips to France we decided to treat ourselves to new suitcases. We wanted to upgrade to the hard side cases for durability. I had read some travel blogs that recommended getting a "distinctive suitcase" so it would be easy to see on the luggage belt at the airport. Now mind you, we would typically purchase something like this online so we could read reviews about the item but we were both excited to get new luggage and decided to shop at a local discount store that sells name brand items for less. Of course Steve was practical and went with a nice neutral black. I on the other hand fell head over heels for a really colorful one and completely failed to check out the quality. Little did I realize what a critical mistake I had made. That rash decision ended up costing me dearly in time and frustration.
The first issue I noticed was when we picked up my (beautiful) suitcase from the luggage carousel after landing in Paris. The entire side of my "hard case" was dented in and much of that "colorful design" was rubbed off and scuffed. At that point it wasn't a big deal as we had just landed in PARIS and a few scuffs and a dent were the last thing I cared about. But as the trip went on it got worse. A lot worse. Later in the trip I was happily pulling my case along the sidewalk at the Paris Gare du Nord train station when my wheel fell off!
Yes, even though I had a full ten year manufacturer warranty on my brand new (beautiful) suitcase, what good was that when the warranty required I send the suitcase back for repairs? How was I supposed to send a suitcase back in the middle of a trip? Thankfully Paris is a touristy city and there are lots of places you can pick up a fairly inexpensive piece of replacement luggage. So, keep in mind that quality and durability matter a lot more than being "pretty or unique". For a great quality and affordable set of luggage check out the Three Piece Merax Expandable Luggage Set at Amazon.