25 Travel Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Vacation
Anyone who's done it knows that traveling can be an adventure. And, like all adventures, good preparation is half the battle. Whether you're visiting some far-flung corner of the globe or the next big city on your bucket list, knowing these 25 essential tips can aid you in making the most of your trip:
1. Be on the hunt for good travel deals
In the initial stages of excitement, it can be quite easy to book the first thing that pops onto your computer screen. But exercising patience is key when it comes to finding the best deals on everything from flights to accommodations and even attraction entrance fees. Use different websites to compare offers and be on the hunt for special deals and vouchers. You can easily save up a significant amount of money this way, which can then be put to good use once you arrive at your destination.
2. Pack light whenever possible
While the amount of things you take with you will inevitably vary depending on the length of your stay and your destination of choice, always make a point of only bringing along items that you know will serve a clear purpose. Remember that even essential items such as clothes and toiletries can be bought on the cheap in many destinations, thus allowing you to travel light. This goes doubly for backpackers, who typically move around a lot and have to always lug their baggage with them. Once you've established the items that you really need, take care in folding and arranging them properly so that they occupy the least amount of space in your luggage.
3. Get your phone unlocked before you leave
In this day and age, smartphones are a traveler's best friend. So it makes sense to ensure that you'll actually be able to use them once you arrive at your destination. Some places have spotty wi-fi, while others boast choppy roaming signals. Your best bet is traveling with an unlocked phone, which can then be immediately affixed with the appropriate SIM card upon arrival in a foreign land. This will allow you to make phone calls without the fear of amassing a huge bill. If you do go for this option, be sure to save your contacts into your phone's memory, since doing so onto your old SIM card will result in you having to transcribe them manually afterwards.
4. Notify your bank about your plans
As one would expect, banks can be quite protective of their customers. When charges come pouring into your account from a foreign location, there is a significant chance that your bank will assume that your cards have been stolen and block you from accessing your account. Dealing with this is the last thing you need on an overseas trip, so take the time to clear your travel plans with your bank beforehand. If you have cards from multiple banks, you'll need to notify each one individually prior to your trip.
5. Make extra copies of your passport and other important documents
While having identity-proving documents is essential wherever you are, they become even more so after you exit your country of residence. Once you're on foreign soil, keeping your passport safe becomes mandatory, because it's the only document that allows you to cross borders legally. For this reason, it should always be kept in a safe place, alongside other important documents such as your visa, your driver's license and your insurance. For all other purposes, having a few copies on hand of each document should suffice, and will even aid you in the bureaucratic process of obtaining new original documents in case the worst happens and you do end up losing them.
6. Opt for comprehensive travel insurance
Speaking of important documents, travel insurance is an oft-overlooked part of every tourist's arsenal. When you go on a trip, you're exposing yourself to all kinds of risks, from potential transportation accidents to sudden bouts of illness brought on by exposure to different foods and climates than your body is used to back home. For this reason, getting comprehensive travel insurance is essential, as it covers you on all fronts and allows you to enjoy your trip to the fullest, safe in the knowledge that you'll at least be financially covered should the worst come to pass.
7. Have a first-aid kit at your disposal
Despite what we said earlier about packing light, one thing you shouldn't skimp on is your first-aid kit. This doesn't mean you should bring your whole medicine cabinet with you, but having a bare minimum of bandages, cold meds and anti-allergy pills can be a godsend. Countries can vary wildly when it comes to which pills they give out over the counter, so if you have specific medicine that you need to take such as antidepressants or pain relief pills, be sure to bring them along with you together with the appropriate prescription, just in case they get flagged by customs.
8. Wear sunscreen every time you're out and about
Traveling typically involves spending large amounts of time out in the open, which makes wearing sunscreen pretty much mandatory if you want to avoid getting sunburnt at all the wrong moments. This is obviously more important in warm areas, but even colder spots can have a sneakily active sun that can do some real damage to your skin if you leave it unprotected. The Sun Protection Factor of your chosen sunscreen can vary, but experts typically say that an SPF of 30 should do the trick. You can even opt for a moisturizing cream with sunscreen included in order to kill two birds with one stone.
9. Bring ear plugs and a sleep mask
It's easy to forget, but traveling can be a noisy experience. Whether you're stuck in transportation for hours at a time or spending the night in a busy hotel, chances are there will be moments when peace and quiet just aren't an option. For this reason, bringing some quality earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones is a must, as is having a sleep mask and any other supplies that can help you rest and sleep outside the comforts of your own home. Some people like to bring a travel pillow along, others may feel attached to certain objects back home. Anything that does the trick and doesn't take up too much space is a good idea.
10. Dress comfortably and appropriately
Although it's understandable if you want to travel in style, remember that going from place to place is not the same as attending an evening gala. You will likely be walking a lot, and may also have to deal with vastly different weather than the one you're accustomed to. For all these reasons and more, you should put comfort first when it comes to clothing. That doesn't mean you can walk anywhere in cargo shorts and flip-flops though. Some places will have dress codes, particularly in more conservative areas, so it's important to abide by the rules and customs of the place you're visiting.
11. Carry some toilet paper in your backpack
This one might sound odd at first, but you have to remember that using toilet paper isn't even the standard in all parts of the world. In some places using a bidet is commonplace, while in others the toilet itself may be present, but the toilet paper is the visitor's responsibility. Which is why experienced tourists always carry a roll of toilet paper or at the very least some tissues in their backpack. When nature calls, you'll be glad you took the extra precaution.
12. Don't be rude or disrespectful
This goes without saying, but aside from universally rude behaviors such as yelling or swearing, there are many other subtler forms of showing disrespect that you may not be aware of. For example, something as simple as giving a thumbs up sign can be interpreted as a rude gesture in parts of Western Africa and the Middle East. Always read up on local culture before a trip in order to avoid making such gaffes and, when unsure, practice common sense and explain your actions to help clear up any misunderstanding.
13. Be on the lookout for potential scams
Without verging into paranoia, you ought to be reasonably guarded when it comes to interacting with strangers on your trip, at least at first. That's because scams are rampant in some parts of the world, with many of them targeting foreigners in particular due to their lack of familiarity with the area. These range from taxi fare rip-offs to scammers demanding money for supposedly "free" services and plain-old pick-pocketers as well. Although there are too many potential scams to count, as a general rule of thumb be wary when people interact with you in an excessively enthusiastic manner, and try to only use registered services where you can get a receipt for your money.
14. Protect your gadgets from the elements
You may feel like neither rain nor sleet nor snow will get in the way of your trip, but the truth is that the elements may have a larger impact on your gadgets than your body. Smartphones and laptops alike can break down in extreme weather, so it's essential that you protect them by using special cases and gear. High-end level accessories can even make your gadgets waterproof and impact-resistant, so you'll never be stuck holding a broken phone in the middle of nowhere.
15. Keep an open mind
When it comes to cultural differences, people often talk the talk but rarely walk the walk. The truth is that being surrounded by people who are markedly different than you can quickly get under your skin. Which is why it's important to go into every trip with an open mind. Resist the temptation to judge different cultural standards and customs and simply partake in the experience as a curious outsider eager to learn more.
16. Don't overplan your trip
Having a plan and an itinerary mapped out is generally a good idea. Unless you're going to an area you know is safe and accessible, winging it can lead to a lot of frustration and missed opportunities. But there's something to be said about not overplanning your trip. When your schedule is filled to the brim with so many timed activities that you hardly have room to breathe, even an incredible trip will start feeling more like a chore. So leave a little wiggle room in there and don't be afraid to stray from your schedule once in a while – you might be surprised by what you find.
17. Learn a few foreign words wherever you go
Languages vary considerably in difficulty, so it would be insane to suggest that you actually start learning the lingo of whatever place you're visiting. But memorizing a few key phrases can make all the difference in your interaction with the locals. Suddenly, you're not just a foreigner, you're someone who has taken the time to learn a bit about their language and culture. This can greatly ease the cultural barriers between people. Start with small things such as "hello", "thank you" and "please" and work your way up from there.
18. Try the local food
Sampling the local cuisine is a great way to get immersed in the culture of the place you're visiting. Generally, you'd want to go for street food and restaurants frequented by locals as opposed to visiting places that specifically cater to tourists, which are often overpriced and stingy with their food. But by all means, practice caution and avoid eating in places that look dirty or unclean. And be aware that trying foreign food may expose you to different spices and cooking techniques, some of which may not agree with your palate or your stomach on first try.
19. Take full advantage of travel apps
These days, traveling is made a whole lot easier by the widespread availability of always-online smartphones. This means that you'll be carrying the equivalent of a high-speed computer in your pocket at all times. Be sure to take full advantage of that by installing travel apps that can aid you in everything from booking accommodations to calculating ideal transportation routes. Some apps can even connect you with local guides and people who are willing to share their knowledge about your destination, as well as aid you in organizing and decluttering your itinerary.
20. Get up early
While vacations are all about relaxing and enjoying your time, the benefits of having an early wake-up time are immense. After all, what better way to beat the crowds than by ensuring that you're first in line to every attraction? Aside from that, getting up early means you can avoid the worst of the heat in the warmer areas of the globe, and it also gives you great photo opportunities without the swarm of fellow travelers clogging up your every shot. It's not an easy feat, but if you have the discipline to pull it off, getting up early can really reap dividends.
21. Learn to haggle
There are many cultural differences that you're going to have to navigate when traveling abroad, but one of the most notable is the approach to buying and selling that some cultures have. Whereas in most Western countries you're expected to pay a fixed price for every good and service, in places such as China, India and Thailand haggling is commonplace, and if you accept the seller's initial price you may just end up paying double for everything you purchase. Instead, try to politely counteroffer and see if the vendor is willing to budge. If not, don't be afraid to walk away and look for a better deal. This can save you a lot of money in the process and is considered culturally acceptable in many parts of the world.
22. Opt for local guides if you can afford it
No matter how well-read and good-intentioned you are, no amount of online research can make up for real-life experience when it comes to exploring a new place. Having a local tour guide can make all the difference when you're trying to learn about the history and culture of a city or attraction, which is why they're sometimes included in travel packages. Even if you can't afford them, services such as Airbnb now have dedicated networks of hosts that can provide a valuable glimpse into the specifics of the place you're visiting.
23. Don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path
You don't have to be Indiana Jones in order to have a thirst for adventure. If you're the kind of traveler who always seeks the unexpected, you already know that there's plenty of ways to go about visiting a place without patiently hitting all the usual tourist spots. But even if you see yourself as a more conventional traveler, don't forget to sprinkle in something new once in a while. For instance, in historically rich areas you may find that the more uncharted areas are just as interesting as the ones that everybody takes pictures of. That said, always be on the lookout for potential dangers – lesser-traveled areas tend to be rougher in general, so be sure to only visit places that you know you can handle.
24. Stay in touch with your loved ones back home
No matter where you go in the world, keep in mind that there will be people at home who will want to know that you're safe. The allure of being in a new place is sometimes so strong that we tend to forget those back home. So take the time to remind them that you're OK and maybe even send them a tidbit that showcases the place you're visiting. In the pre-Internet age, sending postcards used to be the norm, but they're slow to arrive, so nowadays simply posting a pic or a video or directly messaging them from time to time is probably your safest bet. And don't forget to shop for some souvenirs on your way back home.
25. Expect the occasional bump in the road
With all the tips we've listed, you'd think we covered everything. But, in reality, every trip is different, so no matter how well-prepared you are, you're bound to run into some snafus down the road. Whether it's bad service or a plan that fell through, don't let these moments deter you from enjoying your trip. Instead, take them in stride and keep focusing on the big picture, otherwise at the conclusion of your vacation you'll likely regret sweating the small stuff. In the end, every trip is what you make of it, so it's up to you to keep the positive momentum flowing.
All in all, we hope that the tips presented here will be helpful to you in your travels. Remember that having a bit of foresight and a common sense approach can help prevent some of the more common mishaps that befall tourists everywhere, thus making your trip as memorable and hassle-free as possible.