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What Are Your Best Tips For Getting Through Long Flights?

By Kaeli Conforti
updated September 29, 2021
Hoi An Vietnam
Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Hoi-An-Vietnam/photo/2119732/21864.html" target="_blank">mala/myBudgetTravel</a>

Three days from now, I will be making my first trip to Asia, going on World Spree's 12-Day Amazing Vietnam tour, a trip that will take me through Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi, and includes an overnight cruise on Halong Bay. We've written about this travel package in the Real Deals section of BudgetTravel.com on several occasions because it's a great value vacation priced from $1,899 per person and includes 5-Star accommodations in four Vietnamese locales, an overnight cruise on Halong Bay, several guided tours, most meals, and international airfare from San Francisco (additional fees apply for airfares from L.A., New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.) There's a good mix of free time to explore on your own and an extensive guided tour-filled itinerary, as well as several affordable optional activities in case you're looking for special experiences like a 6-hour guided day-trip to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels (from $40 per person) or a $50 half-day guided tour of Hanoi that ends with a traditional water puppet show.

I'm really excited about this trip, but at the same time I have to admit I'm not really looking forward to what will be the longest flight of my life so far. I have (thankfully) conquered my initial fear of flying and have gotten used to 3-hour hops between New York and Florida, and more recently, 6-to-9 hour flights back and forth from Europe. So far, my longest flights were between New York City and Hawaii (where I grew up) but we always had a layover in California at some point to help break it up a bit. This flight coming up on Thursday will be 14 hours straight from New York to Seoul, South Korea, then another 3.5 hours from Seoul down to Ho Chi Minh City. The flight home starts in Hanoi and takes me back through Seoul again before another 14-hour odyssey home to New York City.

This is where you guys come in. I've always had trouble sleeping on planes to begin with (I'm always too excited about wherever I'm going!) and would love to hear your tips for getting through a long flight. Are you supposed to sleep in one direction and not the other? What do you do to pass the time? Is there anything else I should know about before my first real long-haul international-date-line-crossing trip?

Also, I just wanted to say a special thank you to everyone who shared their favorite places to visit (and eat!) in London and Paris in the comments section of this story this time last year when I visited those cities. I loved reading through these and testing them out (they were delicious!), and if you're in the process of planning a trip to either city, I suggest you do the same! Your comments were also very helpful when I asked for suggestions for things to do in Lima & Cusco and in Amsterdam and Barcelona. Thank you so much for all your helpful tips and best of luck with all your future travels!

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Travel Tips

Shocking Celebrity Travel Incidents and How NOT to Make Their Mistakes

"Do you even know who I AM??" Is there a sillier sentence in the English language? But when celebrities aren't zooming around on their private jets, they have to travel like the rest of us. And when things go wrong, the same rules apply to everyone... Stars just shout a little louder in protest. Here are eight downright bizarre celebrity travel incidents—and our advice for how to handle sticky travel situations better than they did. Hint: Don't take to Twitter when you're the one who's wrong. Will.i.am Rants About United Airlines Giving Away His Seat Wacky celebrity travel incident: Boom-boom-ouch. The Black-Eyed Peas rapper lashed out at United Airlines on Twitter recently when the airline gave away his first-class seat: "@united I'm sitting in the airport ready to fly to china for a business meeting &amp; i want to thank you so much for giving my seat away..." He went on to name-check airlines that he says "wait for premium passengers to arrive," giving props to British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Air, and Qantas. United didn't respond, but Will's case isn't exactly sympathetic: He himself admitted he arrived the airport at 12:30 p.m. for a 1:15 p.m. international flight. What Will.i.am should have done: Pulling up at an airport only 45 minutes before the plane is scheduled to take off is courting disaster. United's website specifies that you need to be completely finished with check-in and baggage 45 minutes before the flight. And always check in online beforehand. When flights are oversold, airlines start giving away the seats of people who haven't checked in yet, says travel expert John DiScala, better known as Johnny Jet. If you do find that your seat was given away due to over-sale, not weather issues, don't take to Twitter to vent. Politely speak to an agent, and look on the bright side: "If they involuntarily bump you, you can get compensation," DiScala says. "The rules are if they take four hours or later to get you to your destination, they owe you $1,300 in cash." Kanye West Pretends to Yell on His Phone Rather Than Talk to Fellow Travelers Wacky celebrity travel incident: Yeezus's travel behavior is legendary. He was arrested twice for altercations with the paparazzi at airports and once grabbed the PA mic on a Delta flight to do an impromptu rap of "Good Life" and "Gold Digger." West, who once tried to launch his own travel-booking website, Kanye Travel Ventures, was recently seen on film saying he tries to "avoid airports at all costs" due to people pestering him and often pretends to be speaking harshly to an imaginary person on his phone when fans approach. What Kanye West should have done: We feel Kanye on this one: It's painful to endure others' attempts at chitchat when you want to be left alone. If pretending to be absorbed in a fake task to avoid talking to your seatmate rings a little too rude to you, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founding director of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, suggests always traveling with headphones or simply closing your eyes to get the point across. "If the person still insists on talking to you, simply say something like, 'I hope you don't mind, but I've had a long day (or I'm going to have a long day), so I'm going to X,'" she says. "Fill in the blank with 'get some rest,' 'catch up on my reading,' or 'get some work done.' Be firm but polite." Alec Baldwin Refuses to Put Away His Phone on a Flight Wacky celebrity travel incident: The only winner in this famous kerfuffle was Words With Friends for the free publicity. After being thrown off an American Airlines flight for refusing to put his phone away while playing the game, Baldwin took to Twitter to complain, later writing an entire blog post for the Huffington Post explaining his side of the story. His real beef wasn't with rules about electronics during takeoff; it was with the flight attendants, some of whom he said don't adhere to the "old idea of service" and instead "walk the aisles of an airplane with a whistle around their neck and a clipboard in their hands and they have made flying a Greyhound bus experience." One of those killjoys, he says, unfairly singled him out. What Alec Baldwin should have done: Flight attendants have one of the most underappreciated jobs in the travel industry. "Rarely are people nice to the flight attendants," DiScala says. "All they really care about is if you smile and you're kind to them." Baldwin could have gotten on their good side by toting along chocolate for them and for the gate attendants—and not necessarily the expensive stuff. "I'll go to Target and get a couple bags of Hershey Kisses, and they love it." And if the flight attendant tells you to put your phone away, just do it. The game will keep until you land. Naomi Campbell Flies Into a Rage About Her Lost Baggage Wacky celebrity travel incident: Woe to the person who gets on Naomi Campbell's bad side. When she heard British Airways had lost one of her bags, Campbell went postal, even telling the captain to get off the plane and go look for it himself. Later, she kicked, spit, and swore at two police officers onboard—and accused a member of the staff of using a racist slur. She was arrested and later sentenced to do community service and pay a hefty fine. British Airways banned her for life. What Naomi Campbell should have done: Losing your baggage is the worst, but throwing a fit won't find it any faster. Before you even leave the house, take a picture of your suitcase with your phone. When you're sure your bag didn't make it (the Fly Delta app tracks your baggage, as does USAirways.com), make a beeline for the airline's office near the baggage claim. Be the first person in line, DiScala says, and show them the photo of your luggage. When the airline finds your bag, they'll deliver it to you. And never put anything expensive in a checked bag. In the future, Campbell might consider stashing her signature Christian Louboutin heels in her carry-on. Ivana Trump Shouts at Children on a Flight Wacky celebrity travel incident: We can't even print what the ex-Mrs. Trump called a group of rowdy rugrats running down the aisle of an airplane she was on in Palm Beach, Florida. She yelled at the kids, then yelled at the flight attendant who was telling her not to yell at the kids, using some choice profane terms in the process. The plane had to return to the terminal, where she was removed from the flight. What Ivana Trump should have done: Disruptive kids are tricky to deal with. Whether you involve the flight attendant or not is up to you, but chances are the attendant would rather you try to solve the situation yourself first, DiScala says. Ask the parent politely if they would mind, say, giving their child headphones to listen to their iPad movie or game so you don't have to hear every ping. Or try talking to the child directly, saying, "Hey, listen, I'll give you five bucks if you stop kicking my seat. I'll give you a few dollars up front and then the rest at the end." If you can't solve the problem civilly and you sense the situation could escalate to a ruckus, press the call button and ask the flight attendant to step in. Kevin Smith Is Told He's Too Fat to Fly Wacky celebrity travel incident: Poor Kevin Smith was following all the rules. A big guy, Smith bought two seats in advance to fit his frame on a Southwest Airlines flight. When only one was available on a standby flight he boarded, he was ejected from plane—after he had already been seated—for posing a "safety risk." Southwest apologized, put him on another plane, and gave him a $100 voucher, but the damage on social media was done. He tweeted, "You [messed] with the wrong sedentary processed-foods eater!" along with other strongly worded sentiments. The incident went viral. What Kevin Smith should have done: Smith didn't really do anything wrong here, assuming he went through the proper channels first. Taking to social media is reasonable if neither the agent, nor the supervisor, nor customer service is helping you. (In this case, Smith suspected someone who didn't like his films booted him on purpose.) If you're removed from a plane for any reason, talk to the gate agent. If the impetus for your removal isn't weather related, you'll likely be compensated somehow, DiScala says. Minka Kelly Is Distressed When Her Dog Isn't Allowed in First Class Wacky celebrity travel incident: Wherever Minka Kelly goeth, her dog, Chewy, goes. She thought she had made arrangements for the cockapoo to ride with her in first class on a New York-to-L.A. Delta flight, but—oops—due to space issues, a flight attendant told her the dog had to go back to coach for takeoff and landing. Kelly was so rattled she got her manager on the phone to try to rectify the situation (onlookers say tears flowed). In the end, Kelly consented to riding with the dog in economy during takeoff and landing; the pair hung out in first class the rest of the time. What Minka Kelly should have done: Calling ahead to make doubly sure there was room for the dog would have avoided any on-flight misunderstanding. Airlines are only supposed to take one or two dogs per flight, DiScala says. Small dogs can go underneath seats in an approved carrier if there's room, but in Kelly's case, there wasn't. Adequately prepare to bring your pooch onboard by taking him to the vet and getting paperwork that says he's okay to fly, paying the fee to bring him onboard (usually $125 to $200), and calling the airline to ensure you can be with him the whole way. Rules can vary airline to airline, so read the fine print for the one you're riding. Richard Patrick of the Band Filter Boozes It Up and Takes Off His Pants Mid-Flight Wacky celebrity travel incident: Naughty, naughty! Lewd behavior on airplanes is one thing, but only a few celebs manage to get drunk, expose themselves, and fight with the flight attendants trying to stop their shenanigans. The band Filter's frontman, Richard Patrick, says he did all three and wrote a song, "Take a Picture," about it. Choice lyric: "Hey, dad, what do you think about your son now?" Patrick has since gotten sober for good. What Richard Patrick should have done: Obviously, don't get drunk and take your pants off on a plane—but that's not a problem for the majority of us. What can catch you off guard is how much alcohol you unintentionally consume when you're flying. Dry cabin air could cause you to guzzle additional booze when you should be drinking water, plus your nerves are frayed. "Flying is a practical prescription for stress, and many people de-stress with alcohol," says nutritionist JJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet. "You're bored, you have a three-hour layover, so you hit the bar before your flight. Then you decide another glass will make your flight go by more quickly, so you order another cocktail when the flight attendant comes by." To avoid bad boozy behavior, follow Virgin's prescription: "Keep it to a glass of wine, avoid sugary concoctions, and drink three glasses of water for every drink in air or before you board."

Travel Tips

How to Negotiate More Vacation Time (Plus the One Thing You Should NEVER Say!)

Did you hear the news that Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson gives his employees unlimited—yes, unlimited—vacation time? He was inspired by Netflix's vacation non-policy, which states "there is no policy or tracking." And then there's the story of San Francisco real estate search engine 42 Floors, which offers new employees a "pre-cation": two weeks of paid vacation before they even show up for their first day of work. We're jealous! But what about those of us who don't work for a pioneering company like Virgin? How can we negotiate more vacation time? And, more importantly, how can we make sure we take all of the vacation days we have, unlike the 40 percent of Americans who don't? We talked to Jill Jacinto, millennial career expert at AOL Jobs, who shared her pro tips for negotiating and enjoying all the time off you can get, even in a workaholic culture. Bye-bye, cubicle... Hello, European river cruise! How to get more vacation days when you're accepting a new job... Have an offer in front of you first before even bringing up vacation time, Jacinto says. Once you see the terms, ask for around three or four extra days, preferably over email so there's a record. "You don't want to shoot for another week, because that would really be an over-ask," Jacinto says. Additionally, if you aimed for a higher salary but didn't get it, take heart: The company might want to meet you in the middle by lobbing you an extra day or two. How to get more vacation days at your yearly review... Make a plan before you set foot in your boss's office. Then go in for the kill. "You want to come on with a few career wins that have recently occurred," Jacinto says. "You can say, 'Look, I'm doing great work here. I've made the company X amount of money; I've increased our traffic 20 percent in the last few months... In addition to a promotion, I believe I have really earned two more vacation days for the year." If you're a workaholic (whether by choice or out of necessity), use it to your advantage. "If you're in a job that has a lot of overtime hours, or if you've worked a lot of weekends, you could ask for it in that way as well," she says. "You could say, 'For every weekend I work, I'd like to add another vacation day to my schedule.'" How to get more vacation days out of the blue... These days, many companies, startups in particular, don't conduct formal reviews. If that applies to your workplace, first gauge both the mood in your office (a.k.a. you didn't just lose your biggest account) and your boss's perception of you, then ask, mentioning the same measurable performance stats you would if you were angling for a raise, Jacinto says. Even spartan companies have wiggle room. "What we've really seen, especially with the recession, is more companies are able to give less monetary things, like extra vacation, when they don't have money to pass around," she says. "Or you could negotiate a flex work environment." How to make sure you actually take those vacation days... Almost a quarter of vacation days go unused, Jacinto says. Make an effort to take them all, even if no one else seems to be. If leaving for a large chunk of time is truly frowned upon, consider taking days non-consecutively or going away during your company's low period. But do take them. "Offices definitely work as a tribe, so you want to follow in their footsteps a bit," she says. "But if nobody's going away, why should that hamper your energy level and charge level? You are given those days for a reason." And when asking for more vacation days, NEVER say... Keep your personal life personal, even if you're tempted to float those details as "reasons" you need time off. All your boss should be concerned about is the company's bottom line. "That trip to Australia, your higher rent increase, those are things you shouldn't throw out there," Jacinto says. "What if the whole company was asking for that? It really has to be individualized to your own work." Got it? Now go for it—and tag your vacation Instagram photos with #MyBudgetTravel to show us where you went with your extra time off!

Travel Tips

11 Most EMBARRASSING Travel Questions

"You're going to think this question is so stupid," a recent travel companion of mine told me over the phone, before we went on a trip to the Caribbean. "You're going to laugh." I promised her I would do neither, and wondered what she could possibly think was so humiliating that she was afraid to ask me. "After I get off my connecting flight," she began slowly, "do I have to pick up my luggage before I get on the plane to Aruba?" Think the answer is obvious? Not so fast! Recently, American Airlines announced that it would no longer "through check" bags to a final destination if separate tickets on an airline not affiliated with American are presented at check-in. So if she had been flying two different airlines, she would have had to grab that bag. (Other airlines like Delta and Frontier also have this policy.) In this case, though, I assured her the airline would make sure her suitcase got to Aruba, no need for her to intervene. And I definitely didn't laugh! It just goes to show you: "The rules change," says Sally Watkins, travel agent at Century Travel and Cruises in Austin, Texas. Because even seasoned travelers can use a brush-up, we asked travel experts to share questions people have been embarrassed to ask them, along with their no-nonsense answers. What you learn might surprise you. 1. WHEN MY MILES EXPIRE, CAN I GET THEM BACK?  Sometimes, yes—even if you feel foolish for asking or for letting them lapse to begin with. "People feel really guilty about letting them expire," says travel expert Brian Kelly, better known as The Points Guy. "Most airlines will charge you to get them back, if at all. Or some airlines, like US Airways, are more lenient than others." Other airlines, Kelly says, will give your miles back to you for free if you do something for them, like sign up for one of their credit cards or do another "certain qualifying activity." "In general, it never hurts to ask, so don't feel guilty," Kelly says. "Always ask the airline or credit card company. But it's not always worth it to pay the price. Always make sure you'll get more value than what you pay for them." 2. CAN I SWEET-TALK MY WAY INTO AN UPGRADE ON A FLIGHT? First-class upgrades are more difficult to score than, for example, being moved to a seat with more legroom in coach, Kelly says. That said, never underestimate the power of that great equalizer: chocolate. (Yes, really!) "Gate agents at the airport get berated all day long, and being nice and bribing them, whether it's a box of chocolates or just being super-sweet, you'd be surprised how much that still [counts for]. They have a lot of say. Gate agents are in control of who gets what seats. There are processes, and if coach is oversold and there are some business-class seats, they can still absolutely move whomever they'd like up front." The takeaway? It doesn't hurt to try. "You never know," Kelly says. "Go into any situation with an open mind. A simple candy bar to a gate agent could potentially get you first-class upgrade, and if not first, one of the best seats in coach. A small gesture can still go a long way even in 2014." 3. DO I CHECK MY LUGGAGE ON THE TRAIN?  Unfortunately, no—not in these post-Victorian times, says Watkins, who says she is sheepishly asked this question a lot. "The days of porters in the rail station are gone, unless you pay for a private service," she says. "Otherwise, you are responsible for getting your luggage to your correct train car, and getting it up whatever little steps there are, and putting it on the luggage rack." She offers this step-by-step advice to people who are lugging their things across Europe, especially: "At the end of each car, there will be shelves to put your luggage," she says. "Some trains have overhead racks for luggage; some trains have seats that are back to back, leaving a triangle in between, where they can slip a suitcase. It all depends on how that particular train is configured. I recommend that if they have smaller bags, in particular, when the train stops at a station, they might want to go back and lurk around the luggage rack. I used to never worry about that, but there have been reports that, when the train makes a quick stop, some guys jump on and grab a bag and take off, and then the train leaves. I've never had it happen to anyone, but I have read that." 4. HOW MUCH SHOULD I TIP?  Whether you're signing the bill in a restaurant, taking a sightseeing tour, or trying to score discounted tickets to a hot Broadway show via your hotel concierge, his one's a toughie, and the answers you'll hear often depend on whom you're traveling with. "A New Yorker is going to tell you different amounts for the USA than someone in almost any other part of the USA is going to tell you," says Tim Leffel, author of The World's Cheapest Destinations. "That's why people struggle with it so much, and why the whole practice causes so much anxiety. I'm convinced it's a huge factor in why all-inclusive resorts are so popular." The best thing to do is gather as much information as you can, preferably from locals or, if you're feeling bold and friendly, others in your group. Tipping apps, like GlobeTipping ($0.99; iTunes), can nudge you in the right direction too. "I rely on guidebooks, culture shock kinds of books, and local advice," Leffel says. "If a local says they would give $5 a day to a guide, based on local norms, but the 'suggested amount' from the tour company is $20 per day, then I know what the extremes are and can leave an appropriate amount in the middle." 5. MY CREDIT IS LESS THAN PERFECT. CAN I STILL GET APPROVED FOR A NEW CREDIT CARD TO EARN MILES?  "The answer is: It depends," Kelly says. "Everyone should know what their FICO score is. Some credit-card companies, like Barclays, will give it to you for free. FICO-score-wise, generally you want to be above 700, but I definitely know people who have been below 700 and have gotten approved for premium cards. "I think the biggest thing to take into account is not necessarily just your score, but how much available credit you have, and how much debt you're carrying. If you're carrying a huge amount of debt, the chances of getting approved for a brand-new card or a premium card are low. You may have a blemished score or mistakes from years ago, but credit card companies can see past that. I think the biggest factor is how much of a balance you're carrying every month. If you can get that down, the chances of getting approved increase dramatically." 6. WILL ANYONE SPEAK ENGLISH WHERE I'M GOING?  Nervous travelers ask this question "over and over," Watkins says. Her advice is basic. "Generally, yes, there will be someone who speaks English," she counsels them. "There could be some awkward moments when no one does, but very often the next person that walks up to the counter will speak English and will interpret. Or you can get by drawing pictures and using hand gestures." Watkins also encourages her clients to memorize simple terms like "good morning," "good evening," "please," and "thank you." "You're still going to sound like an American, but it's appreciated," she says. "It shows that you're trying." 7. WILL THE GPS BE IN ENGLISH?  It's a fair question! A GPS that speaks only foreign languages is a scene from a buddy comedy waiting to happen. But that's not the case abroad, funny as it is to imagine. "I always say, 'Yes, it can be set to English,'" Watkins says. "When you pick it up, with the car, make sure that it is before you take off. Generally, GPS's are not as frequently built into a car as they are here now. So unless you get a premium model of some kind, you generally get a handheld GPS. Just make sure. Turn it on, see that it does get English, and if not, ask the car rental people to adjust it." 8. WILL I HAVE MY OWN BATHROOM IN MY HOTEL?  These days, you probably will, says Watkins, who says she hasn't booked a room for a guest without its own bathroom in years. Still, if you're on a strict budget and going with the lowest priced hotel room you can find, there is a chance you'll be sharing a restroom with the whole hallway. "Anything above about a two-star hotel these days is very likely to have its own bathroom," she says. "The term that they use most in Europe is 'en suite'—that's saying it's connected to your room. There are one-star hotels and two-star hotels that are above hostels that may have a mix of rooms—'X' number of rooms with private baths and 'X' number of rooms with a shared bath. If that is important to you, find it in a description. Or write the hotel directly and ask, 'Do all of your rooms have private baths?'" Similarly, nail down the air conditioning situation if that's a pressing concern of yours, Watkins says: "There still are hotels that have A/C in their public areas, but not in the individual rooms. You need to ask, 'Do you have air conditioning in the bedroom?'" 9. IS IT OKAY TO USE AIRLINE MILES FOR NON-FLIGHTS?  Magazine subscriptions, hotel rooms, concert tickets, rental cars, and gift cards are a few of the many non-airline-ticket ways you can spend your miles. Whether you should is your call. "No matter what your redemption is, if you're happy with it, then that's all that matters," Kelly says. "And that's it. Period. Are non-flight redemptions the best way to use airline miles? Pretty much no. You'll probably get more value elsewhere, but I know a lot of people who are mileage rich and cash poor, and sometimes redeeming miles to cover expenses that you'd otherwise have to pay out of pocket can make sense, even if they're not the ultimate best way." 10. ONCE I ACCUMULATE A DECENT NUMBER OF MILES, IS IT EASY TO REDEEM THEM?  This is where miles get tricky, says Peter Greenberg, host of TV's "The Travel Detective." It's best to assume the path to a free travel ticket will be rocky, to say the least. "People are still operating under the delusion—helped in no small part by the airlines' effective marketing and advertising campaigns on their mileage programs—that the minute you get to 25,000 miles you'll be on a beach with a piña colada in your mouth. Hardly the case. Earning miles is one thing. Redeeming them often takes herculean efforts at a time when airlines are flying 86 percent load factors and have rapidly decreasing financial incentive for redeeming those miles." Another thing to bear in mind: whether "free" is really free when credit cards get involved. "If 54 percent of all mileage earned is earned on the ground with credit cards tied to individual airline mileage programs, that means for every 25,000 miles you earn, you've spent on average $14,000!" Greenberg says. "And that's before you find out there are no seats available at 25,000 miles—only 50,000 miles. Ouch." 11. CAN I DRINK THE WATER?  In first-world countries like those in Western Europe, the region that Watkins says she was asked this question about, yes. As for the rest of the world, especially developing nations, double-check with your hotel or resort about the safety of its water supply, and go to cdc.gov/travel for country-specific health warnings and guidelines. If you're still wary, as a general rule, the Centers for Disease Control says it's OK to drink sealed bottled water, disinfected water, ice made with bottled or disinfected water, carbonated drinks, hot coffee or tea, and pasteurized milk. Steer clear of tap or well water, ice made with tap or well water, drinks made with tap or well water, and unpasteurized milk.

Travel Tips

8 Tested Tips For Visiting Barcelona

Even when on vacation, it’s hard for a travel editor to stop working. Last summer, I went on Contiki's Amsterdam to Barcelona tour all around Europe for my vacation, taking notes and photos for our Instagram page as we worked our way through Amsterdam, Paris, Lucerne, Nice, and Barcelona. There's so much to see and do in this beautiful city—it's kind of a relaxed, cleaner version of Paris—and we managed to fit a lot into the three days and nights I stayed there. Here's my cheat sheet for visiting Barcelona and some special tips to help you make the most of your time there. Always book your tickets online ahead of time If you're planning to see the three big Gaudí sites—La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, or La Pedrera at Casa Milà—make sure you book your tickets online ahead of time to avoid being locked out of something you came all the way to Barcelona to see. As an extra perk, you'll get to skip the long lines by planning ahead. Parc Guëll, a sort of Gaudí Disneyland for the senses, only allows a certain number of people in each day and gives you a specific time to enter, but is well worth visiting. A basic ticket to La Sagrada Família costs 14.80 euros, or 23.80 euros for access to the towers and a guide. Tickets to Park Güell start at 7 euros for adults and 4.90 euros for seniors over 65 and children ages 7-12. Tickets to La Pedrera at Casa Milà are 20.50 euros for adults, 16.50 euros for students, and 10.25 euros for children ages 7-12. During my trip, we learned only too late that this is a necessary practice for getting inside La Sagrada Família. The day we went to see it, only the one person in our group of five who had booked his ticket online weeks before was able to get inside that day (the rest of that day's tickets were already sold out by the time we arrived). The rest of us snapped photos of the outside of the church, still very impressive, and took out our frustrations on a pitcher of sangria and a table full of tapas at El Tastet de L'Artur around the corner (mentioned below) as we waited for him to finish touring the inside. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but a little bit of a let down and a lesson in planning ahead we will never forget. Two Words: Tapas and Sangria Barcelona is known for its amazing food and the best way to sample it is by ordering plenty of tapas and washing them all down with a cool, refreshing glass of red or white sangria. There are tons of little cafés and restaurants all along the beach at Barceloneta and on all sides of La Rambla, and plenty of daily deals to be had. Right around the corner from La Sagrada Família, we discovered a cute little place called El Tastet de L'Artur that had a set tapas lunch menu for 15 Euros per person. The tapas just kept coming and sangria was included, yum! While you're in Barcelona, make sure you try the seafood paella, another popular and delicious dish. If you're spending time at the beach along Barceloneta, stop by Tapa Tapa, a great spot for a tapas-filled dinner right along the water. Visit La Boqueria One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting La Boqueria, a huge market located just off La Rambla (the official address is Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria) where local vendors sell everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables to locally sourced meats and cheeses. Everything was so fresh! My friend and I spent our morning visiting all the shops, sampling and buying little candies and nuts to snack on, tasting colorful fresh fruit juices, and collecting enough food to have a picnic. Seriously, don't miss this beautiful European marketplace. See a Flamenco show If you're feeling adventurous, travel up the hill to the Montjuïc neighborhood for sweeping views that overlook the entire city. Stick around for the Tablao de Carmen dinner and flamenco show, one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Afterwards, walk down the block from the restaurant's location in Poble Espanyol into the park and watch the Magic Fountains of Montjuic light-music-and-fountains show, an event similar to the Bellagio light and music show in Las Vegas, happening each night between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. free of charge. Stay in the center of town—for less You don't necessarily have to spend a fortune to have a great vacation in Barca—stick to fail-safes like Airbnb to stay within local neighborhoods in an apartment rental at reasonable prices. The metro system in Barcelona is so extensive you can even stay in the suburbs and take the trains back and forth—we stayed at the super-swanky Hotel Novotel Barcelona Cornella, located mid-way between downtown Barcelona and El Prat airport, but there are lots of other Accor Hotels, a well-known hotel brand throughout Europe, that offer many budget-friendly options. If you're deadset on staying in the city center, another affordable option is Generator Hostel, a new type of hostel designed to resemble a boutique hotel—the only difference is that some of the rooms have bunk beds. I stayed in a private room at the Generator Hostel in London during a trip in March and would definitely recommend this brand for its unique design and fun nightly activities they host to encourage everyone to hang out and get to know their fellow travelers. The metro is your friend If you're going to be making a bunch of trips on the city's metro, it's better to purchase the 10-trip pass and you and your friends can work your way through them for up to 10 trips for about 10 euros. The Barcelona metro is pretty easy to navigate, and reaches just about everything you'll want to see, often leaving you within a short walk of whatever you're trying to find. If you're going to be out late, please be aware that parts of the metro do shut down after midnight. We were stuck one night as a result of this and ended up splitting a cab, which wasn't really a big deal, but it can be pretty surprising when you're in a new place and plans change suddenly. Party like a boss If you feel the urge to party like a rock star, there are plenty of places to choose from for amazing nightlife. Try the trendy Port Olympic area, home to Opium, one of city's hottest nightclubs. As some people in our group learned, Opium requires its guests to be classy individuals, dressed to the nines, and not appear to be intoxicated when you enter (so take it easy before you go out, and be on your best behavior when in line and are close to the door as this policy is strictly enforced). If you've ever wanted to dance all night til the sun comes up, this is the place to do it—during the summer months, the doors open onto the beach and the party continues in the sand at sunrise. A word about safety Our Contiki Trip Manager gave us a big speech in Barcelona warning us about purse-snatchers and pickpockets, especially in tourist hotspots like La Rambla. Keep a close eye on your personal belongings, especially fancy phones and cameras, and whenever you leave the city's various bars and clubs at night. Female travelers should always take a taxi home with a group or at least tell someone where they are going and when they expect to be back. That being said, our group didn't really have a problem—most of the time on La Rambla (at night after dinner and drinks) it was no worse than being in Times Square and seeing people hawking different things at you, like "Hey girls, want to get free drinks? Hey girls, want to see a show?" It all comes down to you being alert and paying attention. Once during my time in Barcelona, I stopped on the street during our guided walking tour to buy something, and realized later on that the man had given me back the wrong change and I had been scammed. I should have only paid 8 Euros and I had inadvertently paid 15 because our group was nearly out of sight and I was distracted, hurrying to catch up at the time. It was really only 7 euros, but still something to watch out for.