Whether you travel a couple of times a month (as I do) or once every few years, being well prepared for a trip can make the difference between an amazing vacation you’ll remember forever and an easily forgettable one. Over the last year, I covered 13 countries and 3 states, and I have learned quite a few things that I think are helpful for any traveler. Here are some of my travel tips – the things I learned after circling the globe 11 times in one year.
Travel tips: 1
Bring your own medication. Although we are used to things being easily accessible in the United States, don’t expect the same accessibility across the world. Between the language barrier, cultural barrier and a host of economy issues, it is very possible that you won’t be able to access necessary medication during your travel. Here is the medication I suggest you bring: general painkiller (Tylenol, etc), vitamin C, anti-diarrheal, anti-allergen (including cream and pills) and emergency antibiotics. Vitamin C is known for helping to prevent illness and I generally suggest taking 500 to 1000 mg every day of your trip (disclaimer – I am not a doctor so be sure to consult with yours before taking any medication, even over the counter supplements). While traveling with a group I managed to avoid a major bout of illness that put almost every other group member out of commission.
Travel tips: 2
Get a credit card with good travel rewards. One of the questions I get asked the most is “How can you afford to travel this often?” Its an interesting one because I probably spend less per trip than 90% of people I know. Having a solid credit card that you can use to generate points for trips is my number one tip to travel the world on the cheap. My favorite cards include: Chase business ink (you can get a business card for any type of business, even if it’s a small business selling a few things on e-bay), chase sapphire reserve, and American express delta. If you are very particular about a certain airline get a credit card for that specific airline. If you like lounges, get the sapphire reserve which comes with a free priority pass. How much can you save? Last year I got roughly half my flights for free – paid with credit card points and miles. That’s a lot of trips. There is a lot of blogs out there dedicated to traveling the world with credit card points, and educating yourself on the system can save you thousands upon thousands a year.
Travel tips: 3
Consider bringing only a carry on. When speaking with other travelers I find that they rarely use everything they bring on a trip. Most don’t even use half. Bringing a large bag is a hassle and may also cost you in additional fees – and checked in bags do get lost on occasion. If you pack wisely and use a good size carry on bag you might be able to fit everything you need into just the carry on. Saves a ton of hassle. I rarely bring checked in bags anymore, unless I am travelling with a lot of goods for donation.
Travel tips: 4
Speaking of donations, if you are travelling in the third world, consider leaving a little spare room in your suitcases to bring some important supplies. Depending on where you are travelling the following may be desperately needed: prenatal vitamins, kids vitamins, formula, children’s books and school supplies. Sometimes those things aren’t available in the country where you are travelling, and often if they are available they may be low quality. There are a few ways to distribute donated supplies. You can ask your hotel or hostel for the closest orphanage. You can donate directly to a community in need (for instance, distribute to the children or the local leader). You can donate the supplies to a school or give them to students individually (yes you can just show up with gifts, I’ve never been turned away from a school in a third world country). For vitamins, I like to ask locals about a good doctor, one who might treat people who can’t afford to pay and donate the goods there. Two bottles of prenatal vitamins might not seem like much to you, but at times they can make a huge difference and give a baby a chance at a better life. For books, I try to bring educational books such as non-fiction leveled readers, as a teacher I can guarantee these will get a ton of use in any country that teaches English (and most do). Don’t forget little kids – good board books are almost never available abroad, just be careful with topics. Nothing western culture centered (no books on baseball for instance), nothing about foods (their supply may be limited) and if you are going to an orphanage – nothing about family. Animals and the world around us are safe topics and serve the additional purpose of helping educate young minds on taking care of environment and wildlife.
Travel tips: 5
Talk to everyone. People often ask me how I find hidden gems in almost every location I visit. There is no big secret – I simply chat up everyone who seems open to it. Waiters, hotel workers, people at a neighboring table, neighbors at an airplane seat. I ask them about the location, what I should do, where to eat, how to save money – everything. Folks are often willing to help a traveler, especially one who seems receptive to new ideas. Write down all their suggestions and try to google before you go. Be sure to join a good Facebook travel group – I run one – and ask other travelers for advice as well.
Travel tips: 6
Use Pinterest for research. Reading other blogs is one of the best ways to find hidden gems and to be fully prepared for the trip. But blogs, especially smaller blogs may not be so easy to find with a google search. Try Pinterest instead. A lot of bloggers create a dedicated Pinterest post to promoting every article they publish, and you can easily find hundreds of blog posts on any location with just one search. Then, save those articles to your own board for a location and viola – an endless list of resources. Just remember that anyone can have a blog, so information may not always be accurate or up to date. Be sure to double check any attractions or other information you find helpful with a google search.
Travel tips: 7
Get the right apps. There is no shortage of travel apps out there but here are a few I have found helpful. Skyscanner is great for finding fares. Hotel tonight for last minute hotel rates. Tripadvisor, to find attractions and restaurants. Google trips for great self-guided walking tours. Uber is very helpful for catching a cab almost anywhere – and as a big global brand they stand by their drivers, so if a driver took the wrong route you can often get a refund. In every location, ask the locals about the preferred taxi app of choice and ask if catching taxis on the street or using the app is the safest and most affordable option. Twitter is very helpful to follow deal sites. Here is my list of twitter deal sites I follow:
@theflightdeal @airfarespot @cheapflightseur @faredealalert @travelpiratesUS @secretflying
You can follow me on twitter, I often retweet great deals to and from NYC.
Travel tips: 8
If traveling solo, consider a hostel. If you are out of your teens, chances are you have never even thought about staying in a hostel. But hostels are one of the best ways to meet people no matter how old you are, and of course to save money. Most cities have a wide selection of hostels – from the highest end to the cheapest. As an adult traveler I always recommend staying at the best (usually most expensive) hostel in a location. These tend to be very central, very clean and attract a slightly older crowd. Here, chat up other travelers – hostels often have bars where you can hang out and at times you can simply make friends in your room. Before long you will have a couple of buddies to walk around with, or to go out to dinners. I have made life-long friends by staying in hostels – and saved thousands.
Travel tips: 9
Get a good camera and learn how to take pictures. If creating great pictures of your trips abroad is important to you, dedicate a bit of time and money to getting good equipment – and learning how to use it. You might consider purchasing a DSLR and several lenses. There are also thousands of youtube videos that demonstrate how to compose a shot and edit a shot. With the resources available it will take most people 10 to 20 hours to improve their photography skills by close to 50%. Even something as simple as the rule of thirds can make a difference between a beautiful picture and an average one – and you can learn this rule in about 30 seconds. Check out some more of my photography tips.
Travel tips: 10
Learn when to tip – and not. America is unique in that it has a very strong tipping culture and tipping is expected in many different situations. This is generally not true across the globe. However, because tipping is not expected in every situation in most destinations, this does not mean its not expected in some situations. Its very important to learn the tipping culture of every location – in some it might be customary to tip the waitress but not the taxi cab driver. In some, a bell boy might need a tip and in others still – a tour guide might be working off tips alone. Read in advance, ask the locals and feel free to abide by the rules they give you. In some places tipping in the wrong situation might even be insulting – so pay attention and follow the local rules.
Travel tips: 11
Keep an open mind and remember – you are the guest. Things are done differently abroad. The difference might be slight – as in the case of travel to western Europe. Or it might be huge, as in the case of travel to parts of Asia or Africa. Culture is very place relative and its critical to be aware that other people’s tradition, and way of doing things, are as important to them as yours are to you. Approach every trip with an open mind, and have no expectations that locals will act in a way you find most satisfying. Become receptive to the host culture, and you will gain a valuable opportunity to make friends with local people, and to wind up with the richest set of travel experiences. Try to learn as much about local culture as you can, and to judge as little as possible. You will be rewarded with a bigger, more fulfilling experience – and a much better vacation.