We’ve all made mistakes while traveling and throughout the past two decades, I’ve learned from my own and from my parents’ mistakes so that YOU don’t have to! After traveling to 32 countries on 4 continents now, I’ve been able to narrow down to 22 things I will always try to complete or consider before and when I’m on my trip. Most of the next travel tips will be helpful for long-term (over two-week) trips but can easily be applied wherever and however long you go!
Bring local money, even if they accept your currency
You might think that going to Mexico or Puerto Rico or many Caribbean/Central American countries would permit you to simply bring cash in USD and you’re right. BUT you’ll also be ripped off with a brutal conversion rate. We realized this the first (and second) time we visited Mexico so we promptly converted some US to MEX pesos and saved so much money. It also made tipping a lot easier, as we had a lot more smaller bills to spare with our pesos.
2. Be prepared to lose cell service (don’t be so phone dependent)
We had no idea that Yosemite National Park was so cutoff from the outside world until we got there and saw the foreboding “No service” warning on our phones. Prepare for a lost service connection wherever you go, especially on the road. Hardcopy maps are the best thing to have or print off directions prior to your trip. Be sure to also print off your itinerary, booking confirmations and tickets as well because you just never know! But a lack of cell service can also be beneficial. When we were in Yosemite and whenever I’ve been on cruises, it was easy to be more in the moment and interact with strangers. Take advantage of the time you have away from your phone!
3. Get a SIM card vs. using roaming data
This tip is most applicable to Canadian travellers who have to pay upwards of $8 a day for a roaming plan! ($8 for travel in the US, $12 for other eligible international destinations.) Not only do we have to pay our $60+/month plan, but on top of that we pay a hefty fee to use that same plan in a different country. So rather than using your precious data when abroad, consider purchasing a SIM card or renting a pocket wifi prior to your trip. It’s a much cheaper option! We’ve used SIM cards in Mexico and China and rented pocket wifi in Japan.
4. Build an itinerary
Some trips you might want to be a little bit more spontaneous with and I get that! But forming a rough itinerary or checklist beforehand will help you determine what you want to see, do, eat, etc. I’ve traveled a lot with my parents where I had no hand in the planning process and realized how much I missed out on. If I had only looked things up, we would have been able to do so much more. But definitely be lenient with it because after all, plans can fall through. There are many things out of our control so if you aren’t able to do something you planned on doing, don’t be disappointed but use it as a reason to go back. Jason and I weren’t able to go to Mount Fuji like we had hoped, due to the dreadful Typhoon Hagibis, but we praised God that we were safe, healthy, and that our paid-for travel plans weren’t affected at all. It was all the more reason to visit Japan again!
5. Research proper local etiquette
Every time you visit a new place, you want to do your best to be respectful of the people welcoming you into their country. Take some time before your trip to look up what to do and what not to do in your destination. You don’t want to be so easily picked out in a crowd and you also want to protect yourself as well. In India and Egypt, I avoided wearing shorter dresses, shorts and any revealing tops as not to attract attention and not to offend the people.
6. Learn some basic words in local language
Same thing goes for learning some basic words and greetings in the local language. Touch up on your vocabulary and pronunciation and try to reciprocate as much as you can when someone greets you in their mother tongue when you’re in their country!
7. Travel light
When you’re traveling to multiple spots in one trip, you want to make life easier for yourself. Avoid checking in luggage when you can and bring a carry-on. This is particularly important when you’re visiting big cities and transiting a lot in between them. Bring clothes that can survive multiple wears without smelling and think about grabbing some solid-form detergent with you to hand-wash your clothes. You can find a powder or soap bar version of detergent to bring with you, but lots of countries will have cheap and nearby laundromats near your accommodation if you don’t want to hand-wash everything. Our hotels in Japan actually had coin-operated washing machines and dryers which made us EXTREMELY happy to finally have freshly washed apparel!
8. Check the weather before booking and packing
This might come as an obvious one but if your trip can be anytime in the year, try to find a middle ground between favourable pricing for low season and favourable weather. It wouldn’t be fun to visit a place in the middle of hurricane season, for example if you could have avoided it! And of course, you want to pack light but also ensure you’re comfortable with the range of temperature and weather conditions you’ll be meeting in your destination. A thin windbreaker is the most versatile piece of clothing for colder and warmer weather ranges. Make it a habit of checking your weather app prior to each trip!
9. Take only what you need when going out but carry your passport at all times
Take what you need not all that you have. If you’re lucky enough to have a safe in your accommodation, stow away your important documents and extra cash in it. Always carry some cash on hand whenever you leave your base. You typically want to carry your passport with you at all times in case of emergencies or if you get stopped by authorities. In China, security is one of its most valued pillars so there are often check stops on the highways where each member of the vehicle must present their government-issued ID.
10. Acquaint yourself with the locals
In most developing countries, the locals are eager to help you out in some way or another. Yes, they can sometimes be aggressive salespeople but more often than not, they want to make you the most welcome while making a buck to provide for their family. In Riviera Maya, Mexico, we met an incredibly kind and friendly taxi van driver Joel who was our transit driver to the resort from the airport. He made our group of nine so happy that we hired him to be our driver for the rest of the trip and he organized excursions for us for super cheap. He was incredibly responsive to our WhatsApp messages and he was one of the highlights of our entire trip. In Durban, South Africa with my parents, we met the kindest driver who picked us up from the airport. During the ride, he gave us his card and my mom realized she actually found his website online. We loved him so much that he drove us and picked us up from our early morning safari drive and even drove us across the Mozambique border to our hotel in Maputo!
11. Try public transit
I think that walking around, eating local foods and checking out local shows/festivals aren’t the only ways to immerse yourself in the culture you’re visiting. Taking public transit is one of the top methods to see what life is like for a local resident. It was definitely interesting getting on a train in Delhi during rush hour! Or getting so well acquainted with the transit system in Paris, Japan, New York, etc.
12. Use social media apps for ideas
As content creators, we’re always making a list of sights, hidden gems, and angles to take photos from when visiting certain places. I like to save Instagram posts I find for a specific destination or landmark I plan to visit into folders on Instagram for future reference. Pinterest is also my favourite itinerary and photo idea tool, since most who pin on Pinterest are professional bloggers and creators. Byo Experience (see below) is a new travel app fantastic for collecting itineraries and authentic captures from people who’ve already visited your travel destination. You can download the app for free using my referral code Lau93baf5!
13. Bring your student ID even if you’re not a student anymore
Most entrance fees (to gardens, museums, etc.) are discounted for students when you display your student ID card. I’ve saved money in the US, Asia and Europe with my card so just bring it with you even if it’s expired!
14. Look into local ride sharing platforms
Often we look into ride sharing apps to save money with discount codes. When Jason and I were in New York, we saved a ton of money as first time users of VIA, Lyft and even Uber. Uber actually has the lowest rate in most places such as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico as well. But the main reason you want to see if ride sharing is available in your destination city is because of the safety that comes with it. Everything is tracked is ever something happens.
15. Ask for an upgrade
You never know what could be available on your airline or at your accommodation for free. There’s no harm in asking for an upgrade and seeing what your options are! If you’re also in content creation or blogging, offer some form of advertisement in return and see what they think!
16. Be an early bird
You might be a night owl at home but when traveling, you don’t want that habit to transfer as much because you’d be wasting precious time and money. Get in the habit of getting up early to beat the crowds, enjoy a sunrise, and get amazing photos. New York was hectic because we kept leaving our Airbnb at 9-10 am, but in Japan, we had the best time even though our wakeup calls were between 5 and 6:30 am. I know, it’s exhausting, but it’s so worth it!
17. Check online for good/cheap/unique eateries
Avoid the highly touristy areas if you want to enjoy, good, cheap and authentic food. Of course, street food is highly sought after in the heavily trafficked areas, but in most developed countries, the best food spots are away from the hustle and bustle. In Rome, Venice and Paris for example, I’ve had a couple of mediocre and expensive meals in the famous plazas when there were more narrow streets that had amazing hidden gems! Check out online food advisors websites for info on where to get some of the best food experiences. Join a gastronomy tour to enjoy a local’s guide of the top eateries.
18. Get travel insurance
Travel insurance is the thing you always want to have but never want to use. If your company has a benefits plan, travel insurance should be included and you should always carry your card as well as your health insurance card when you leave your country of residence. If you don’t have travel insurance, there are many affordable providers that can protect you from a full list of incidents if ever you find yourself in a difficult situation abroad.
19. Always check if you need vaccines/preventative medication
Check the regions you’re visiting for any outbreaks and diseases. A consultation with your local travel clinic is something to consider having a few months before you’re trip to ensure you’re properly vaccinated and have the right medications. For my trips to India and Africa, I’ve had to make sure to get my hepatitis and tetanus shots and of course, get a proper dosage of malaria pills. You can also look up what regions of the world are at risk of which diseases on Red Cross’ website.
20. Portable charger/power brick
You never know when your electronics might die when you’re out and about for long periods of time. Especially if you’re carrying around a pocket wifi, you’ll want to have a power brick on hand with you! This saved us in Japan and in New York many times.
21. Carry handwipes and tissue packs
These are a must when you know you’ll be out adventuring for long periods of time. In some Asian countries like China, most public restrooms either don’t have toilet paper or require that you pay for some. Tissue packs are the best way to save yourself from the result of not wiping! Same goes for sanitary wipes as some public washrooms don’t have soap at the sinks.
Last but not least, PRAYING is the most important thing to help prevent and protect you from any harmful situation, from bad weather, to stolen belongings to contracting a disease or injury. After all, we are only human and there are SO many external factors out of our control. And if we don’t ask, how can we expect to be kept safe and healthy? So pray when you start your day and pray when you end your day, while traveling and at home!