How to Travel Savvy- Tips to Make the Most of Your Dream Vacation

By September 23, 2016Art adventures, Italy

Got the Bug To Travel?- Some lessons I Can Share

After spending a fantastic week with my sweet hubby in Venice, I’m getting ready to greet my group of Art Adventurers tomorrow in Florence Italy.  We are about to begin this year’s Eat Paint Cook Tour of Tuscany!  It’s so exciting!!! This amazing tour is something that never gets old for me.  When I return to our home base of San Fedele, it’s like coming home.  I love coming back here over and over, and hope that I’ll be able to continue to do so for years to come.  Someday maybe you’d like to join me!  I like to help those who travel with me avoid the potential pitfalls of travel. They exist.  During the past few weeks, I’ve met a lot of Americans in my travels, and many are traveling outside the USA for the first time.  It’s exciting and yet it can be a little anxiety producing to go somewhere new.  If you don’t speak the language, anxiety can quickly turn to panic if you’re not prepared. Today I’ll share a few things that will lower your anxiety levels and help you enjoy your trip all the more.


Arrivederci Venice…

Florence Italy

Hello Florence Italy! Getting ready for our EAT PAINT COOK TOUR OF TUSCANY 2016

There are 8 million stories in the naked city…but don’t be one of them!

Naïve travelers can put themselves at risk without even realizing it. At dinner last night I heard an all-too-familiar story from a guy who lost all his money and his only ID when his wallet disappeared. It can happen. In the past, gypsies have accosted me as a group, and tried to relieve me of belongings.  On another occasion, my phone was lifted out of my pocket on a public transport in Venice.

The fact is that things happen and it’s wise to be prepared.  I don’t believe in letting your fears deter you from living your dreams of traveling the world, but experience has taught me to take a few precautions. After many trips to foreign countries, (often on my own), I can tell you a few things about how to travel savvy.  I want to share these hints with those who are joining me this week on my Eat Paint Cook Tour of Tuscany, but even if you can’t join me in Italy, keep reading for the inside scoop on my best travel hints.


Morning mist at San Fedele, our home away from home in Tuscany

The Bells of San Fedele- Watercolor by Rebecca Zdybel

The Bells of San Fedele- Watercolor by Rebecca Zdybel


Travel Tips- How to travel safely

Before You Leave:  

  • Take photos of all your documents before you leave. Include the front and back of credit cards, the inside picture and information in your passport, and your health insurance cards.  If you use a note taking app (like Evernote or Apple Notes, you can store the photos in a file there).  In case of emergency, you’ll have these available to you for reference.  Otherwise, you can make copies with your printer and print them out to keep somewhere at home where family or friends have access.  You could also stow them in your luggage/documents.
  • Before leaving, contact your bank and credit card companies. Let them know your travel plans.  This will help to avoid interruption of your services and access to your accounts while traveling overseas.

Learn a few phrases in the language of the country you plan to visit:

Manners are important in Europe.  It’s something I find brings out the best in those I encounter while traveling.  My advice is to over emphasize manners when traveling.  As Americans we are so lucky that English has become the almost universal international language.  Many people speak English in Europe, especially in tourist destinations.  However, don’t forget that if you can’t communicate in the language of the country you visit, it’s due to YOUR ignorance of THEIR national language. Be polite.  Greet the shopkeepers in their language with the appropriate greeting when you enter their shop.  Say thank you.  Say goodbye as you leave. These little things grease the wheels for better and more positive interactions.

There’s an Apple app that may help you in Italy:  Learn Italian the Easy Way- Learn Italian the easy way on iOS #free #app via @CodegentApps


The beautiful Duomo in Siena Italy

Cell phones:

Download these Apps

  • What’s App – a great app that can allow for free calls, voice recordings, and texts over WiFi
  • Skype- Video calling can be easy from overseas via WiFi with this app

Cell phones: Get a grip on your Data

  • Call your carrier and think about getting a data plan or calling plan that will allow you to do what you need to do while away.
  • Data: is any usage of the cell phone towers in Europe.  This is how information is transmitted when you are not connected to WiFi.  This can be a dangerous source of excessive cellphone fees for naïve travelers.  My suggestion is to go into your phone settings and under the Cellular data section, disable all access to roaming for any of your apps you don’t plan to use while roaming around.  I keep my data on for photos and google maps, but be sure to keep your apps closed when not in use.  Turning off the cellular data function will still allow them to be used when you are operating on WiFi.
DSC_6986 (1)

San Fedele Awaits us…Watercolor by Rebecca Zdybel


Happy Hour- Italian Style

Beautiful Food and wine… a major reason I love to travel in Italy again and again

Invest in some lightweight luggage with 4 wheels and sturdy handles.

I bought a fantastic set from Costco.  I suggest you don’t use the largest suitcase you can find.  Instead, I’d suggest two smaller ones.  When traveling on trains in Europe the elevators and escalators never work and space is limited.  Smaller and more portable luggage is always a good choice.

Arrive early: 

Giving yourself extra time is always a way to decrease anxiety in unknown situations.  Arrive at least ½ hour early for trains and 1.5 hours for planes.

Pay attention:

If you’re in a situation where you’re uncertain, watch what others around you are doing. Perhaps you’re riding a train for the first time…if you see folks looking at the electronic board, it’s probably a good idea that you look at the board and figure out what it can tell you.

Be ready to Move quickly at train stations:  

If you see folks hurrying to get on board your train, it’s probably because it’s a good idea to move quickly.  Trains don’t hang around for long once they arrive (especially the local trains).

Once on the train, be ready to move out before you get to your stop.  Gather your luggage and be at the door.  I know of a couple who dawdled onboard once they arrived at their stop, and the train left with them still onboard before they were able to get off!

How to Avoid Pick Pockets: Be on Guard and Public Transportation Locations and in Large Crowded Tourist Attractions:

There is a tradition of thievery and pick pocketing in some high traffic areas of Europe.  Paris, Rome and Venice are all notorious.  The train stations, the public transport and big tourist attractions are all prowled by pickpockets that make it their business to look for naïve travelers.  Be smart.  Don’t put your wallet in your pocket.  Don’t put your cell phone in your pocket.  If you have a purse, ZIP IT UP and put it in front of you with your hands around it.  If you have a money belt, wear it and put your valuables in it.  I often have a small purse around my next under my top that contains my valuables.  My fanny pack is also in front of me, and I make a habit of keeping my hand on it when in vulnerable locations.

Avoid 1-Point of Failure

My husband is a pilot, and this precaution is one that pilots are taught during their training.  “Avoid having all your eggs in one basket” is another way of putting it.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  If you’re traveling, it often means you have to keep track of a lot of stuff.  You’ll want to have your passport, driver’s license, cash, credit card, tickets, travel documents, phone, computer, iPad with you.  You’ll want to have them packed away, and yet make sure they’re accessible.  Let’s face it, there’s a lot to keep track of!

Packed and ready!

Packed and ready!

How to Pack Savvy:

I carry 3-4 bags- This is more than many of you will need, but this is how I handle it.

  1. I travel wearing a pack around my waist (perhaps known as a “fanny pack”, but I wear it facing the front with all the zippers closed!)
  2. A rolling backpack is my carry-on. I love having the flexibility to roll the backpack if I’m tired, or carry it on my back, leaving both hands free.  The backpack I use is: Everest Rolling Backpack
  3. My main suitcase contains mostly clothes and my IPad (which I don’t use while on the road, so I keep it in my suitcase so I don’t have to worry about it).
  4. My art materials suitcase (As an instructor, I bring a lot of materials, but you may not need an entire suitcase dedicated to your art materials.)

What’s in my backpack

  • My laptop
  • My chargers for phone and computer (with an international adapter for the country I plan to visit) I place these in a Ziploc bag to keep the cords together.
  • A folder with all my travel documents, hotel vouchers, tickets and itinerary. I like a two pocket folder that opens and allows me to easily shuffle through my paperwork, but a manila envelope works too.
  • My sketchpad (a must for me but perhaps not for you)
  • A jacket in case I’m cold (because I often am)
  • Medicines that I do not want to go without
  • Cosmetics
  • Small purse containing my extra credit cards/driver’s license

What’s in the fanny pack around my waist:

  • I carry my primary credit card,
  • Cash
  • My lipstick
  • an assortment of pens, pencils, water-brushes, erasers, a piece of wax, a white crayon, and various other plein aire painting essentials. (Notice that all my credit cards are not in one place).

What’s in my main suitcase:

  • Copies of my cards and passport are at home on the kitchen counter where family can access them, but storing them in your checked luggage is another option.
  • Clothing (usually two light athletic pants in black, a pair of leggings, and 5-7 tops that can be layered if the weather is cool) I then bring a skirt that can be worn with the tops if I want to get dressy, a jacket for rain, a light black jacket for evenings, assorted scarfs for warmth and to dress up a casual outfit. I also brought a puffy lightweight winter jacket that can be compressed into a Ziploc bag in case it’s really cold- in the fall in Northern Italy the weather can be a bit unstable, so it can happen).  Comfortable slip on black Skechers are my favorite travel shoes, but when it’s hot, I’m in flip-flops.  I also brought a pair of short boots with a low heel for evenings.
  • Cosmetics, extra adaptors, and converter (if you need it- generally not needed for rechargeable devices).
  • I bring a universal plug power strip that allows any and all devices to plug in and charge. Many hotels have only 1 outlet available next to the bed. My husband and I both have multiple devices we use and charge overnight.  This power strip has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion.
  • For C-Pap users- My husband uses a C-Pap machine and it goes with us everywhere. He has found that bringing a long extension cord is often helpful.  He brings one of those long heavy duty cords that you might use during the holidays.

Every evening at San Fedele we gather here before dinner for Apperitivos on the deck…ahhh

What’s in my Art Materials Suitcase:

For a list of what I like to have with me, see my Free Art Adventurer Travel Supply List

Nearby winery at harvest time

Nearby winery at harvest time- Terra Bianca

Interested in more blogs I’ve written about traveling?

Here are a few that range from informative to funny, with maybe a story or two of my travel mistakes…

Follow Your Bliss, But Think Twice Before you Follow Your GPS

Tips for Traveling Abroad- Passports

Lost and Alone in a Foreign City- Learn from My Mistakes

Cinque Terre Italy- ©Rebecca Zdybel

Want to Join me Next Year in Tuscany and the Cinque Terre?  Eat Paint Cook Tuscany 2017 (September 23- 30 With 4 Day Optional add-on to the Cinque Terre Sept. 30-Oct 4. ) We tour, we eat, we cook, we paint, we laugh, we enjoy it all together!

You can sign up HERE! Click this link: 

Love and Cappuccinos~


Author Rebecca Zdybel

Artist, Instructor, Art-Travel Instructor - Spread Light, Share Love, DO Art! Rebecca Z Artist (Rebecca Zdybel) is an artist and instructor in Myrtle Beach, SC. She blogs and teaches locally and internationally. Sign up for her blog, classes, workshops, art travel tours, or see her work at

More posts by Rebecca Zdybel

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • patricia v merrell says:

    Excllent blog Rebecca, you have obvioulsy learned a great deal from your many travels! My lists are virtaully the same as yours except that not being the teacher I need a lot less in the way of art supplies! I would add only two suggestions. On the packing list, look for a 6 foot power strip that has two usb slots. This is our new favorite accessory. We both use cpap machines and both carry a 6 foot power strip. Last year we stayed in a 4 star hotel in central London that literally had only one plug and it was by the door! We asked the desk for a long extension cord, which I am sure everyone had to do. Then of course you need the adapters to plug in those power strips.
    My travel skills suggestion would be to have everyone in your group identify the place where they will keep travel tickets – like train and bus and theatre tickets. We travel often with family members and everyone has to keep up with their own.. it is bad news when one member of your group can’t find that ticket to get out of the train station or into the theatre. Teach them to be consistent about where they keep it and it becomes effortless. Don’t be the one fumbling with every pocket and holding up the group! Glad to read Paul was able to join you in Venice. You need to go to Venice several times to be able to appreciate it.. huge learning curve there!

  • You’re so right about the power strip. We carry one with a 20 ft long extension cord. Each of you having your own is another good idea if you use a Cpap! Thanks for that suggestion. Consistency with where you stash tickets is also a very good idea. It’s so easy to get disorganized while traveling and that can create real problems. Thanks for weighing in Pat!

Leave a Reply