Have you ever wondered why some girls get upgraded to first class while others aren’t even asked if they’d prefer coffee, tea or juice? Well, there are a few simple tricks that can help you stand out from the crowd and be first in line for special treatment when you travel. No matter your budget, you can be treated like a princess when you travel!
Remember that first impressions count. Backpacking and budget travel are not synonymous with slovenliness. You’re not going to be upgraded on your flight home from Budapest if you haven’t showered since Belgrade. Same if you’re wearing the same pair of sarouel pants you’ve had on since Tangiers (actually, make that any pair of sarouel pants). However, you don’t have to show up in head-to-toe Chanel to look clean and polished. When you arrive in the city you’ll be flying out of, do a quick load of laundry so that your nicest clothes will be clean for the flight home.
Look chic and comfortable in a pair of cuffed boyfriend jeans with a nice pair of flat shoes or sandals. Cover up your fifteen-dollar Target t-shirt with a well-loved leather jacket and throw your eReader into a cute satchel. A great packing tip is to make sure everything you plan to bring on your trip, including the clothes you’ll wear on the plane, fit into your checked luggage. When it comes time to head home you can wear your bulkiest items (like the leather jacket and jeans, or boots if you’re traveling in the winter) on the plane in order to free up some space in your luggage for duty-free shopping!
Also, pick up some key words in the local language. I know this is hard when you’re traveling from country to country. I’m embarrassed to admit that after ten days in Turkey I could barely say teşekkür ederim, and I felt so guilty about my bad pronunciation that I would often look at the ground rather than make eye contact as I thanked the staff in restaurants, shops and hostels. However, I did a lot better in Romania, because I had practiced the local language before I arrived using sites like LiveMocha and Duolingo. When people see that you’re making the effort to learn their language, they will often go above and beyond for you. It’s also totally okay to ask a local on the bus, train or plane how to say a few words in the local language prior to your arrival.
When you get the opportunity, talk to people. I found myself chatting to a girl from Denmark in my hostel in Riga. In a hostel it’s easy to put in your headphones or immerse yourself in a Skype call with your friends back home (just like in a hotel it’s easier to stay in your room with BBC World News than go down to the lobby for a solo cocktail), but it’s so much more interesting to get to know your fellow travelers. When the Danish girl departed the next day she asked if I would like to stay with her later that month, when I had an overnight connection in Copenhagen. On another occasion I was the only diner in one of the best restaurants I’ve ever visited. The owner/chef came out of the kitchen and joined me at my table for a glass of wine. We chatted about being vegetarian and he surprised me with a free, off-menu dessert (minimally-sweetened vanilla ice cream with sea salt, black pepper and fresh raspberry sauce- his favorite, apparently).
And finally, don’t be a princess. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Nobody likes the person who expects something for nothing, or who thinks they’re more important than everyone else. If a business class seat or a reservation at the hottest restaurant is really that important to you, pay for it or do it yourself. In my experience, the more I’ve shown a willingness to accept what I’m offered gracefully, and the more I’ve proved that I’m willing to solve my own problems and do things for myself, the more the people around me have stepped up and offered to help.
I once got a bus… to the wrong country. I didn’t blame the hostel that had written out the directions for me. I didn’t blame the bus driver. I didn’t blame a bad map. I accepted the mistake as one of the risks of leaving my comfort zone, got off the bus, crossed the highway and flagged down a bus in the other direction. Through a combination of gestures and sound effects I explained what had happened (my Greek, Albanian and Macedonian skills are really lacking!) and everyone on the bus found it hilarious. The bus driver asked the passengers if it would be okay to go off-route and drive me straight to the border, and they agreed. One of the passengers called his grandfather, who picked me up at the border crossing and drove me across to the nearest town on the other side. I’m pretty sure nobody would have gone out of their way for a spoiled English girl throwing a tantrum beside an Albanian highway because she accidentally went to Greece instead of Macedonia!