There are probably a million results when you search the Internet for ‘travel tips’ and most of them are probably useful. But, it is not a one-size-fits-all world, so why should the tips apply to everyone? They don’t.
Now that that is out of the way here are my top 9 travel tips which apply to everyone regardless of your home country, gender, age, travel style, or destination. I have settled on these after a lot of travel experiences; some good, some bad, but all educational.
1. Don’t rely on electronics. Batteries dies, chargers fail, signals fade. Always have a hard copy of trip information like flight numbers/times, accommodation addresses, contacts back home, and identification. When you are stuck in rural Japan without a way to translate the address of your ryokan and are about to vomit from motion sickness, you’ll wish you took my advice.
2. Get up early. Even if you are not an early riser, do yourself a favor and get up and out before everyone else. Not only does this give you more time to explore, it practically guarantees that you’ll get the best photographs of the (temple, beach, monument, castle, bears) because there will be fewer, if any, people around. The caveat to this is seeing the sunrise over Angkor Wat. That will always be crowded starting about 4am. The good news is that it is (usually) a subdued crowd, whether from being hungover or having the good sense to be respectful of this national treasure.
3. Pack light. Even if you are a clothes horse, when you hit the road do yourself a favor and pare down to the essentials. There are so many ways to remix a few key pieces that you’ll never notice what you didn’t pack. A small, well-curated bag can take you from exploring the city to ziplining through the forest, trust me. Not convinced? Imagine arriving in Belgium and walking from the train station to your hotel, checking in and then, trying to get your 25 inch (or larger) suitcase in the elevator with yourself and the bellman. Oh, did I state the size of the elevator? It’s about the half the size of the x-ray booth at the TSA line. Good luck. If that isn’t enough to sway you, consider cobblestone streets, lack of elevators, and the possibility of your bag ending up somewhere you are not. Think about it.
4. Get your face out of your camera/device. Yes, it’s great to document every second of your fabulous life (she writes sarcastically), but all this does is cause you to miss out on some incredible experiences. Sitting in a cafe by Montmartre, watching the tourists as they watch the street performers. Trying to speak Spanish to a Quechua woman who has no clue what you are saying. Seeing a hundreds of flying foxes take to the skies at dusk. Watching two men loudly argue in the streets of Old Jerusalem until they shook hands and embraced like nothing ever happened. They may not seem like special moments, but to me they are gold and I’d have missed them if I’d been taking a selfie or instagramming my coffee. Social media is great, just don’t forget to be social in the real world.
5. Pack a scarf (ladies) or a sarong (gents). A large square piece of soft fabric has more uses that you can imagine. Besides the modesty issue for women visiting religious sites, it can be used as a towel, a curtain, a pillow cover, an impromptu bag (think hobos from 1930s film), a sheet, a tourniquet, or even a fishing net if you go full “Castaway”. It also makes a great sling when you’ve accidentally fallen off a wall at Machu Picchu, landed on your camera and arm and aren’t quite sure you didn’t break your wrist. Before the men roll their eyes, let me tell you a man in a sarong can be pretty damn attractive, trust me.
6. Learn at least 5 words of the local language. It cannot be overstated that when you make an effort to speak the local language, people will be more inclined to help you. Learn to say please, thank you, excuse me, help, hello/goodbye with the best pronunciation you can achieve. Little niceties like this go a very long way. At the very least, you and your local speaker can laugh over your bad Mandarin and laughter is universal.
7. Split up your cash/card/travelers cheques. Don’t keep your entire trip bankroll in one spot. If you get robbed, pickpocketed, or leave the small bag behind you are screwed. Consider having some ‘walking around’ money, some stuffed-in-the-sole-of-a-boot money, and the rest locked in a hotel safe with your passport. If you don’t have a hotel safe put those funds in a container (sock, soap dish, Altoid tin) wrapped in some clothes in the center of your bag and then, lock the bag. After having some cash stolen from my bag at a hotel in coastal Belize, I use a small padlock and a cable lock that allows me to secure the bag and tether it to the bed/desk/door. Most thefts are acts of opportunity so if you make it challenging, most thieves will walk on in search of easier prey.
8. Create a ‘what if’ kit for your carry on bag and not the thing you think is a carry on bag, the actual “personal item” bag that has your wallet, ticket, and lip balm. This kit is a Ziploc (resealable) bag that has a tee or tank, an extra skivvies, leggings or shorts, and socks. When you travel for 30 hours from Phoenix to Seoul (2 flightsand 3 airports) being able to change your underwear and put on a fresh tee shirt makes you feel like a new person. This kit is also a lifesaver when you land in Tampa, Florida but your suitcase lands in Talkeetna, Alaska. Having something to sleep in makes everything seem better, even when it’s not.
9. Be patient, be kind, and have a sense of humor. Consider this tip a good one for life in general. Life is messy. Travel is messier. Don’t start any adventure thinking everything will run like clockwork. When you travel, the smartest thing you can do is to hope for the best and prepare for the inevitable pains-in-the-ass that will happen. After all, half the adventure is the trip itself.
What do you think? Are there other universal travel tips you live by? Let me know in the comments.