I used to be a superstar trip planner. I’d research locations and cultures for days, weeks and months leading up to my trip, so that the minute I stepped off of the plane, it was like second nature to me.

Some travelers are just naturally good at planning – they enjoy it, and feel it helps them get through rough situations. It’s important to really know a place before you get there, so that you don’t waste time trying to guess the ins-and-outs upon arrival.

But there are also people who travel spontaneously without little more than a plane ticket. Others don’t have enough time to thoroughly plan their adventures because of work, school, and/or home life demands.

Here are a few things you can do to help prep for any adventure, even if you’ve got less than 24 hours to get everything together:

Bring a guidebook

“Toss away your guidebooks!” many travelers say. But these can come in very handy if you choose the right ones, and use certain information.

Nowadays with Kindles, smartphones and tablets, you can seemingly carry as much information as you need. But a guidebook will never run out of batteries, or be a target for thieves. They are also great to skim through on flights that don’t provide  inflight entertainment.

My favorite are the Top 10 guides from DK Eyewitness. They are super slim and can be carried in a small purse or clutch bag if necessary, and they contain all of the essential information: not only places to go and things to do, but vocabulary, maps of streets and transportation, and emergency information/practical advice.

Carry a language crib sheet

Gone are the days when I studied the language of the place I was traveling to, so much that I felt confident finding the airport exits, ordering from a menu, and even having light conversations with the people I met abroad.

Even if you don’t have as much time for language lessons, try to carry a sheet of paper with useful phrases. “Hello” “Goodbye” “Please” “Thank you” and “Do you speak English?” are top five essential lines.

REALLY pressed for time? Politely ask your flight attendants if they can spare some helpful words and phrases for you. Most airline crews have locals from the country you are traveling to, and many are multilingual.

They will be happy to help you (as long as they aren’t busy), and they will teach you the best things to say. While traveling to Thailand, my flight attendant gave me a few shopping phrases that helped me earn discounts at the markets.

Reach out to people on social media

If you need quick travel advice, look no further than your Twitter and Facebook accounts. There are tons of individuals waiting to give their best take on the places you’ll travel to, and you have the ability to chat with locals in-the-now. Our Travelettes Facebook group is a great place to start.

Create a question and use hashtags to get the answers you need. For example:

Then wait for the responses to pour in. You might even make new friends! Always proceed with caution before meeting someone off of the internet, but there will definitely be times when chatting with a local over some great food, or having them show you around their community, will be worth it. 

Get to know your neighborhood at least

If there is one piece of research you do within a short amount of time, focus it on the area where you will be staying. I tend to stick to the neighborhood where my accommodation is during the first few days in any place, to really feel grounded and a part of the community.

Find out what is around you – where to get coffee, where the closest bank or cash machine is, where the nearest form of public transportation is, and which lines go there.

Nothing is worse than enjoying a night out on the town, and then forgetting how to get home. Even if all you can remember is a famous landmark nearby, it’s better than becoming panicked and overwhelmed.

It will also help you feel more “at home” during your trip. You might not get to see all of a city, but coming back and feeling like you were a part of the Grünerløkka district in Oslo, or New York City’s SoHo, is both fun and makes for a great story.


Sit back, and let the trip happen

One benefit of not planning every piece of your trip out in advance, is that you are pretty much guaranteed to have a good trip – because you will have zero expectations going into it.

Everything is cool because you don’t actually know what is lame to begin with. Maybe you will realize that something you did was more “touristy” than you wish, but it is better to experience and make that judgment for yourself, than not experience it because someone said it was “overrated.”

On a recent trip to Thailand, I boarded the plane without so much as a map. I didn’t even know what the weather was going to be like when I touched down. While it was a great trip, prepping for it with some more background information would have made me feel more connected. Knowledge is power, but even without everything there is to know, you will return from your travels with greater wisdom.