Lessons I Learned Traveling the World

Which is better? Backpack or Suitcase? Hotel, Hostel, or Airbnb? Did you also assume the rest of the world uses ice cubes in beverages and provides air conditioning all lodgings, like I did? These are some seriously divisive questions & topics within the travel community and every wayfarer has an opinion! I fell into the trap of caring about these things and in the end I was just a hot, sweaty mess. Let me explain!

as a Floridian you’d think I’d learn how much I depend a/c by now!

Now, I know, the rest of the world doesn’t use it, need it, have it, etc… etc… etc. I know all this. BUT I’m a Floridian. I am simply miserable without it. It’s my comfort level. And that my friends is what we’re here to talk about: knowing your own comfort level.

I’ve read blog after blog over the years to plan all my trips and most are out there to tell you the obvious, things like air conditioning is a luxury in life that traveling simply cannot always afford. There’s a lot of argument out there for sucking it up and that backpacks are better than suitcases. That hostels will get you a more authentic experience than hotels will. And sure, to some degree, they have a point. But if you’re not comfortable on your trip, that’s all you’re going to think about. I’m here to smash that hostel, backpacker, no A/C living travel narrative to tell you that YOU need to decide for yourself, where to draw YOUR lines. If you haven’t traveled much yet, you’ll likely be surprised by your own needs once you’re out and about. Even seasoned travelers like myself can hit bumps along the way. Let me tell you about the three times it took me to learn my lesson before I woke up and realized, I’m the one who’s doing the traveling, so I should be making the rules for my travels. ALL OF THEM.

Paris, July 2016.

Ah, the city of love. Beautiful architecture, the romantic Seine River, Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum. I couldn’t have cared less about any of it because there was a heat wave in July of 2016 and my spoiled Floridian self learned the hard lesson that Parisian flats generally don’t come with air conditioning. So, no respite from the blazing sun would be presenting itself throughout my stay. This was my first major trip out of the country, which I proudly planned myself. I was gung-ho about traveling as authentically as possible, so no hotels for me! I wanted a true Parisian flat to live like the French. If only for a few days I would BE French. However the reality was brutal! We walked the streets by day popping in and out of any shade and shops we could find to take a break from the blazing sun. At night, we fought over an oscillating fan which barely whistled it’s tiniest breeze. I was miserable. And it’s all I could think about! To be honest, it’s mostly what I remember of Paris. In retrospect, I should have just found a hotel with A/C and cancelled our reservation. But I (begrudgingly) stuck it out. Trying to be the backpacker and living up to those Instagram and Pinterest Gods/Goddesses who never mentioned such discomfort. Surely, I thought, I just needed to learn to tough it out.

Fast forward to July 2017, NYC.

Okay, now I’m back in the USA. A/C is everywhere, I assumed. WRONG AGAIN. What do they say about assuming? Anyway, once again I had gotten caught in the dream of renting out an NYC apartment on the Upper East Side for a few days to live like a true New Yorker. The problem is, I’m not one and yet again, I faced another heat wave. There was a window unit (thank goodness) in the bedroom of this apartment, but no where else in the flat. Forget popping in to cool off in the middle of the day, and GOD FORBID you use the subway in summertime. Where my New Yorkers at?! You know what kind of humidity I’m talking about! Once again, I’d cornered myself into an uncomfortable situation in the name of what I thought was authenticity and money (I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that bit) to prove something to …who was I proving this to again? Exactly. I should have ditched that Airbnb for a stay that included A/C!

Now we can skip to the next big trip. Alaska in July 2019.

Surely Alaska wouldn’t be an issue. Guess what, turns out they get heat waves too! It was 90 degrees the week I was there (Are you seeing a pattern?). And you can bet you can’t find a building in that state with A/C. Why would they need it? Oh, of course they would need it the one time a Floridian shows up. Not that I can’t handle that kind of weather, I’m very familiar. But 1. I went on vacation to escape that and 2. the sun DOESN’T SET in the summertime in Alaska. So it’s basically 24 hours of that heat with little to no break. Ugh!

I know. I know. What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I plan for this with a back up plan? In the beginning, it wasn’t even on my radar. The second time, I was too cheap to change the situation. The last time I had my light bulb moment. Air conditioning is just something I’d prefer when I’m away from home because it makes me comfortable. I guess I’m a slow learner but I got there eventually! I’ve learned what some (I’m sure I’ll find more in the future) of my needs are and now I won’t compromise unless I have to.

Why is knowing your comfort levels important? Because it can effect your entire trip! If you’re miserable, you’re not going to enjoy a minute of it and memories of that trip will always be overshadowed by the discomfort of your stay.

These questions about your comfort and accommodations are to seriously be considered before you leave for your trip and then need to be revisited while you’re there since things are always subject to change on a trip. All trips and travelers are different. One adventure may be more comfortable with a backpack while others may fit a suitcase just fine.

Suitcase vs Backpack

On my first trip to Europe, I hemmed an hawed over this decision. Diehard travelers usually go for the backpack and so upon their advice, I went that route. I found myself struggling to fit all my necessities in it and had to unpack/repack constantly on my trip. As far as getting through customs, turnstiles, train, bus stations and beyond, a backpack is way easier because it frees up your hands. However, if you’re going on a trip where you’re literally leaving it in your room for a few days or weeks, that becomes less important. Sometimes it’s just easier to be able to see everything all in one place, something very easily done by flipping open a suitcase. I’m not here to tell you which one to choose. Pick the one that suits your needs for that specific trip. Don’t worry about what other travelers are persuading you to do. Do YOU. A week long trip in France may be fine for a suitcase but a European tour on a shoestring may call for a backpack.

Hotel vs Hostel vs Airbnb

Again, this depends on the destination, duration and type of trip. Personally, I want to feel like I live there but, as I (begrudgingly) learned, I can’t and now won’t sacrifice a good night’s sleep in air conditioning for a cute Airbnb if I can get a similarly priced hotel with all my creature comforts. Hostel travel has it’s own perks and drawbacks. Sometimes you want your privacy and some people are introverts. A hostel wouldn’t be the right choice for either of those travelers. However, if you’re solo traveling, on a budget, and/or looking to meet people it’s the best way to go. Do YOU on YOUR trip.

A/C vs why is it so hot in here?

Well you know where I stand on this one! I didn’t know that realize it until I had a few trips without it under my belt but now I know it’s a must for me IF I’m in a place that can provide it. I’m not unrealistic. There are many places in the world that it just isn’t available and I’ve learned how to cope in those situations by:

  1. Bringing an umbrella, for the sun!

  2. Having a hand fan like this one or even a manual one like this. I don’t get the ones with misters because they make me sweat more!

  3. Always having a cold drink on hand. You won’t believe how much this can fix you right up! I like to keep my collapsible water bottle on hand because it doesn’t take up space and in some countries there’s free fountains to fill up.

  4. Drink, drink, drink WATER. Your body’s A/C is your sweat! You need to put liquid in to keep it going!

At the end of the day though, If I can have A/C, I’m taking it!

Finally, when traveling expect the unexpected. There are going to be unpleasant surprises. So if it’s within your power, change it. It’s that simple. Had I just decided to bite the bullet and lose some money to make my trip more enjoyable, I probably wouldn’t have thought to write this post. Sometimes it’s worth a little to save a lot! Don’t dwell on memories of heatwaves and night sweats like I do now. Figure out your comfort levels and where you draw the line. Solving easy issues along the way will provide for a more enjoyable trip.


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