25 Travel Bloggers Weigh In: Travel Tips & Tricks – What Should You Know When Planning Your Trips
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When I was 30 years old, I took my first trip abroad that lasted longer than a day. It was particularly memorable because I found myself bursting in expletives all the way from Heathrow airport to my hotel in London.
The reason? In addition to my carry on, I also had another luggage that I had to drag around town – and it was definitely a pain. This annoying experience made me swear to myself to always pack lightly and to never bring a check-in luggage when traveling. Eight years later, I’ve successfully kept that promise.
Fast forward to a couple of years later, I decided to travel with a group of friends for New Year’s – this too was a less than stellar experience. This time around, I learned the hard way that it’s *very* important to choose my travel companions carefully. These days, I opt to only travel with my husband.
Like me, many travelers experienced Aha! moments that sparked major changes in the way they travel. And because we want all of you to have a hassle-free planning and an unforgettable travel experience, we’ve done the legwork for you by asking 25 travel bloggers from around the globe to share their best travel tips and tricks.
With that, here are their tips and tricks that may just help you to seamlessly plan your travels and make the most of your globe-trotting adventures. Bon voyage!
Create a travel spreadsheet
One of my top travel hacks is to create an Excel/spreadsheet that I share with my other travel companions to ensure that we thought about the major details of the trip. A lot of people get really overwhelmed when trip planning as there are so many details to think about. However, if you like to do independent travel, a spreadsheet can be really helpful for figuring out the logistics of your trip ahead. This way, you can just show up at your destination with no stress.
I usually include a note for each day noting where we’ll be, where the hotel is, and if we remembered to book the hotel. Similarly, I also note potential tours, trains, and flights, so that I remember to book them.
I find that this method is really helpful for people who are planning a more complex trip or planning with a large group of people so that everyone is on the same page with knowing what they need to book. Many tend to wait until the last minute to book flights and thinking through your transportation as well as hotels can really cut down travel costs. It also helps you figure out whether your plans are realistic.
Karen from Wanderlustingk. Follow her travels on Instagram
Make electronic & paper copies of important documents
I worked in travel insurance for nearly five years, and if I had been given a pound for every time something went wrong when people didn’t know their policy details, policy number, passport number, or anything similarly important or useful — well, I would be a very rich woman!
It’s very important to have copies of such documents, should you lose them and then require emergency assistance. To cover all eventualities, scan the documents and email them to yourself, then save the email somewhere where it is easily accessible. I would also recommend taking photos of them on your phone and saving them to your favorites. It is also a good idea to make some photocopies of these documents. Keep a paper copy for yourself in your important documents folder and leave copies with your next of kin. That way, if you need help and can’t get hold of your copies for any reason, they can act on your behalf quickly with all the necessary information.
Documents I would suggest making copies of include: your travel insurance details (such as policy type and policy number), your passport, your flight details, any applicable visas, and any documents required for work abroad such as TEFL certificates and school grades/degree certificates.
Donate and/or volunteer while traveling
One of the best tips that I can share with you is to try to donate and volunteer while traveling. Some of my most travel meaningful experiences have involved helping local communities while visiting destinations. I suggest researching reputable charities and looking up what is most needed in that particular place.
For example, when I went to Cuba, I collected several bags of computer cables, electronics, and other household and personal items to donate through a local casa particular run by a family. When I went to Myanmar, I linked up with a group of punk rockers who volunteered to feed the homeless and provide school supplies to rural areas. My friends and I brought supplies and supported their compassionate work, and I wrote multiple articles about them.
Most recently, in Laos, I gave school supplies to a library in Luang Prabang that helps children further their education. It was rewarding to see the children excitedly rummage through the items. Even a small amount of volunteering and donating can make an immense difference, and result in some of the most awesome experiences you can have while traveling!
Visit destinations out of season
One of the best travel tricks is to visit destinations out of season. It’s a great way to save money, as both flights and accommodation are generally available at reduced rates. Unfortunately, not all destinations are suitable to visit out of season – for example, you probably wouldn’t want to visit the Philippines during the typhoon season! That being said, visiting out of season it one of our top tips for traveling South America and is a great way to visit many other places on a smaller budget.
Before you decide to visit anywhere out of season, it’s important to do some research. Many destinations in Asia have dry and rainy seasons, but overall the rainy seasons aren’t too bad – with just a few hours of rain a day. If that’s the case, then you shouldn’t be put off by visiting out of season. If there are other reasons, you’ll need to weigh up whether it’s worth saving money to visit at this time. As long as you’re happy going out of season then you’ll have the added bonus of fewer tourists too – so it really is a win-win situation!
Sam and Natalia from Something Of Freedom. Check out their travel snaps on Instagram.
Don't plan too much
Before you go on a big trip, it is tempting to try and plan every aspect of it. As tempting as it might seem, make sure to leave plenty of room for serendipity. Try to just plan the skeleton of your trip and leave room in between for discovery and for things to come up which you didn't plan. Talk to other travelers that you meet on the ground and you'll have a much better idea of what you want to do once you land.
Spend more time in fewer places
Traveling with kids like us? Then spend more time in fewer places. Don’t try and go everywhere and do everything – that’s a recipe for burnout and blowing your budget! Instead of racing from one end of a country to another, or tearing through 6 countries in 6 weeks, slow down and take more in. Constantly having to pack and unpack, spend time searching for flights and accommodation and transport, and deal with different time zones, currency changes, and even visa issues can be exhausting.
Be realistic about what you can accomplish, especially when traveling with toddlers. The less you feel you must see and do, the more enjoyable and stress-free for everyone. Understand that you will never have time to see and do EVERYTHING. And be okay with that.
Be open to going off-plan
Our top travel tip is to understand that it's OK to leave something on the table, that you don't need to do it all during a trip. When we think of travel in terms of accomplishments or checking things off a list we are less likely to really appreciate all that we are seeing, experiencing, and sensing as we are already thinking of the next sight or two before even leaving the current one.
Rushing around like this prevents us from being present as everything begins to blur together, and the travel experience becomes less connected and more superficial. It's good to have an idea of what you want to do in a place, or a destination in mind, but then allow yourself to be open to going off-plan, to getting lost along the way and discovering something completely different.
Sure, you might not return home having seen the top ten list for that city or country, but you'll likely return with stories of the people you met and the unexpected adventures that happened when you weren't so focused on getting to a particular sight.
Seek out local food
The single biggest difference in my travels is seeking out local food. A lot of people go to a destination looking for a deal on fine dining or experiencing a famous Michelin restaurant. That is absolutely fine, but it's also where you'll dine with other tourists and not get a sense of how locals really live. Food is a great way to begin a conversation about history, politics and family values in a way that isn't intrusive or rude.
When you go to a less developed country and really take a genuine interest in local food and traditions people open up and feel more comfortable to talk. I've been based out of Havana and I've learned so much about being curious at the bar. I discovered that it's rare to find a Cuban drinking a Cuba Libre cocktail.
While lots of tourist restaurants and bars sell them it's not something Cubans order. I would have never known if I hadn't met locals and noticed my drink orders were sorely sticking out as a tourist. Instead of asking your concierge where to eat, ask the bellhop where he has lunch. It will open up an entirely new world to the culture.
Always pack a good pair of earplugs
A good pair of earplugs is an essential item on any packing list. No matter where you’re traveling, whether it’s on the other side of the world or in your home country, there’s always a good chance that you’ll end up somewhere that’s just too noisy. It could be a hotel with poor noise insulation, an Airbnb with noisy neighbors, or a hostel dorm with noisy roommates.
While a lot of people pack a pair of earplugs, most people just pick up a pair at the airport, in a shop, or at their pharmacy. Not all earplugs are created equal, however.
Firstly, earplugs vary in their ability to cancel out sound, and each tested earplug is given a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The highest NRR is 33, so look out for earplugs with this rating.
Just because a pair of earplugs has an NRR of 33, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best one for you, however. You want a high rating, ideally 33, but it’s worth trying a few different pairs with this rating. The reason for this is that some earplugs fit certain people’s ear canals better than others, and the only way to work out what works for you is to try a few different pairs.
Thankfully, you can order sample packs on Amazon and eBay. This will give you a chance to try a few different pairs, and see which ones work best for you.
Pack light & travel carry-on only
Packing light and putting everything into a carry-on luggage is easy and doable. You don’t have to worry about your missing luggage or pay extra check-in luggage fees to the airlines. To pack light, ensure that your backpack, duffel bag, or rolling luggage is within the carry-on size. You may even consider buying a smaller luggage to pack less.
One of the best space-saving techniques is to roll your clothes and place everything into packing cubes. The packing cubes are a life-saver as they help organize, compress the rolled clothes, and save time with repacking. They come in different sizes, so you can’t overstuff them. Another way to save space is to layer your clothes so you don’t need to bring as many heavier items. Wearing moisture-wicking clothes and lightweight, warm jackets is practical for any location.
Depending on your preference, you can handwash moisture-wicking clothes and they'll dry the next day. If you need to bring bulky items, such as hiking shoes, it’s best to wear them onto the plane and change to comfy shoes during the flight. Remember to bring only the essential items during your travels.
This is always my number-one travel tip -- there are just so many benefits and so few downsides to taking less stuff with you when you travel. When we first set off on our travels, we maxed out the full baggage allowance, and it slowed us down. Carrying so much also caused various types of pain and annoyance: actual physical back pain, the irritation of having to lug around a whole lot of not-so-useful gear, the difficulty of finding somewhere to store our stuff on transit days.
Now, we travel with just carry-on sized luggage. This saves us money on check-in fees (though budget airlines are now starting to charge for carry-on bags too); it reduces the risk of our bags being lost or stolen, and; it means that we're a lot more mobile. Walking a kilometer or so with our bags is not a problem, which it would be with the enormous backpacks we used to travel with.
Check reviews for accommodation and activities planned
When planning your next outing, it’s always best to recheck what others have to say about the place or accommodation you plan to stay at. I’ve been lucky to find great places to stay at most of the time and only one that turned out to be a bit smaller than expected. It’s always important to look at red flags. Yes, you look at the usual area, distance from attractions and transport, reviews, ratings, verified accounts, host rules, and all that. But also check for the average number of ratings the host accommodation has had before. Say, if you had 5 ratings with an average of 4 stars, it’s definitely better than 1 rating with 5-star.
Also, look at the bad reviews first. Say for example, if a review says, bed too creaky, bed bugs or drapes haven’t been touched in years, or air-conditioning leaks or coffee mugs cracked; you know you need to avoid that place.
Preferably skip the accommodations that haven’t been rated yet, unless you’re super adventurous. We were lucky, the one time we took a chance on staying at an unrated place, but you never know. Follow a few tried and tested tricks, and most of your stays will turn out to be good.
Explore your accommodation’s neighborhood on Google Maps before your trip
This way, you’ll have an idea what shops are nearby, and their approximate location and distance from where you will be staying. Take the extra step and go on a Google Street View stroll through the neighborhood to familiarize yourself with the streets so you can confidently walk around without having to whip out a map or your phone.
Mark places that are of interest, so you can easily find them later on. Make sure to download the offline map of the area on your phone so you can find your way around even if you don’t have wifi or data connection!
Be open to meet new people
The best thing you can do while traveling is to be open to meet new people! When traveling you can meet so many people from all over the world, each with a different culture and perspective.
When you are in a new country, meeting locals is one of the best ways to experience the country’s authentic culture. Smile at strangers, try to learn the local language, and ask questions to the people you meet who live there. You never know, you might end up making a friend who can take you off the beaten path and offer you some true insight into what life is like for those who live there. This kind of experience and knowledge can’t be bought on a tour and can only be achieved by making genuine local friends!
Making friends with other travelers is also really beneficial. You can travel to new places with other travelers, share stories and experiences and make your trip that much more social. By talking to other travelers I learned about new places and things to do that I would’ve never read about in a guidebook!
For me, some of the best friends I still have today I met while traveling!
Get out of your comfort zone and make an effort to meet local people. This is easier said than done, especially if you're traveling with friends or a partner, but it will dramatically affect your travel experience. So many of us go to the all-inclusive resorts or backpacker hostels and never get a real taste for local culture, food, or traditions, and then come home and talk about what the "country" is like. Stretch your comfort zone, push your social boundaries, and travel deeper.
Take advantage of free walking tours
Free tours provide great value without the upfront commitment or the hefty price tags.
Most free walking tours are led by extremely knowledgeable local experts who are happy to share their personal experiences, culture, and lifestyle. The tour guides can be a great resource for all sorts of tips in their hometown.
Walking tours are a great way to get to know a place intimately and make connections. Free walking tours make them more accessible because of the flexibility they offer. Free walking tours don’t always need a reservation, so you can show up at the designated meeting point at the published meeting time and join a group of fellow travelers.
Do remember to carry cash. At the end of a free walking tour tip the guide to reflect the price of a comparable paid walking tour and the quality of service.
Jyoti from Story At Every Corner. Find more of her tips on Facebook.
Visit popular landmarks and/or attractions as early as possible
Getting up early in the morning is the last thing anyone wants to do while on vacation. But, once you embrace the early rising way when traveling, you’ll appreciate and understand the importance of it. We learned it the hard way.
There are many benefits of waking up early when you travel, avoiding crowds being the major one. A place overwhelmed with noisy tourists is repulsive. It spoils the whole travel experience.
Most people choose mid-morning to start their exploration. Get to the main attractions and famous sights as they open and relish the luxury of having the place all to yourself. It’s a great way to enjoy the otherwise crowded touristy places in peace. Be an early riser. Get ahead of crowds. As a family traveler, I’d say waking the kids up at the crack of dawn is hard but well worth an effort. Better than dealing with the hordes of tourists and cranky kids. Isn’t it?
Getting up early also gives you more time to explore the destination in every way possible and oh yes you are rewarded with beautiful sunrise views.
Find the right travel companions
Traveling is a funny thing, it can be the best experience of your life or the worst. The best tip that I can give to ensure that you have the best travel experience possible, is to choose your travel companions really carefully. In my opinion, travel is an opportunity to experience things that you wouldn’t necessarily come across in your daily life.
Good travel companions are people that might have slightly different interests than you so that they push you to experience new things that you would never have found on your own. But a good travel companion also can have completely different priorities than you, or you might as well have separate vacations!
So, the trick is to find someone who shares some of your passions and hobbies, so that you both feel like you’ve had the trip of your dreams. If you find someone who both pushes you out of your comfort zone a little, as well as making sure both of your travel priorities are fulfilled, you have struck gold!
Support the local economy
Over the past couple of years, I've become increasingly concerned about the impact of tourism. From stress on the environment to the inability of locals to find affordable housing due to the proliferation of vacation rentals, tourism is beginning to have a negative effect on many of the world's most iconic destinations.
Yet, I still believe that the positives of travel outweigh the negatives. Travel provides an unparalleled educational experience and is hugely beneficial to promote cultural understanding and world peace. So today, my tip is to embrace your travel experience by staying in a locally owned guest house or B&B, eating in locally owned restaurants, and hiring local guides.
Not only will they be better able to steer you in the right direction regarding what to see, do, and eat, but you will be helping locals more directly by doing so. And as an added benefit, you will enjoy a much more authentic and immersive experience that makes memories (and maybe even friends) for life.
Carry a reusable filter water bottle
I travel everywhere with a reusable filter water bottle. That’s even in the UK. This lets me avoid buying bottled water when the tap water isn’t potable and keeps me safe. It also stops me contributing to the increasing problem of plastic in landfills and oceans. Even when the tap water is good to drink but smells or tastes bad – even of chlorine my filter water bottle gets rid of it for me.
From a health perspective filters can remove Giardia and Cryptosporidium from untreated or contaminated water and other bugs which can cause nasty gastrointestinal diseases. And then there's the plastic – you can reduce the amount of plastic (between 8 and 12 million tons a year!) that ends up in the ocean. Finally, my filter water bottle saves me on average US$425 a year on buying bottled water. Now, why wouldn’t you want that?
Sarah Carter & Nigel Dockerty from A Social Nomad. Check out their travels on Instagram.
Don’t forget insurance
This travel tip may not be as glamorous as tips about flying in business class, breezing through security lineups, packing ultralight, or finding swanky accommodations for pennies on the dollar (I have all these tips in my repertoire as well). But it’s the travel tip that could save your life - or at least your finances - when the crap hits the fan on the road.
In my 12 years of full-time travel, I survived three natural disasters, contracted three tropical diseases, and survived one near-fatal accident. I’ve seen the insides of more hospitals than I’d ever planned on. And while the travel insurance claims process can be aggravating, to say the least, every single time I was grateful for the coverage. Don’t leave home without it!
Nora from The Professional Hobo. Find her inspirational escapades on Facebook.
Buy a local sim card with a data/internet package
Travel with an unlocked smartphone and buy a local sim card with a data/internet package at your destination. Not only it is much cheaper than paying for data roaming from your mobile carrier back at home, but the service and internet speed is always better. With this, you can make local calls with VOIP apps, search for last minute information about your destination, book things on the go, use maps to navigate the city and find attractions, and much more.
Also, if you're traveling Europe, most carriers have mobile plans that work all over the European Union, so with just one sim card, you'll have service all over the continent.
Have a working phone number
Not having a working phone number that was registered in my country was an absolute nightmare on the road! I left with a pay-as-you-go British number, but once it stopped being used, the number was canceled. For the next 3 years, my bank and Paypal had no one to text when they had paranoia over security when I was in a foreign country.
Cards were canceled immediately on multiple occasions and often the replacement cards never got to me. I now pay £21 a month on a rolling basis, it's worth it compared to the potential stress of me not having access to my money. Americans and Canadians can get around this issue for free with the 'Google Voice' app.
Email to confirm your reservations
No matter where we travel, there is one 'trick' I use each and every time. I use it, frankly, because it works.
For every cruise, hotel reservation, tour reservation, car rental, etc., that has options for upgrades, I schedule an email to confirm my reservation. I schedule it to be delivered 72 hours, or 3 days before we are scheduled to arrive.
The email is sent to the concierge, customer service rep, or manager (depending on where it's being sent) with just a few sentences of text:
- I confirm the reservations
- I let them know how excited I am about our travels and note if there is any reason for the trip (birthday, anniversary, etc.)
- I inquire about available upgrades and note that we would be interested in one if possible.
I am happy to report that most of the time, I not only receive an upgrade but usually a complimentary upgrade at that! Sometimes they are a better view or room, a longer tour, or a better cabin assignment on our ship. A few times I have received a response about a paid upgrade. Each time they were very inexpensive, so I jumped on it!
Explore countries that are off the beaten path
My number one travel tip is to explore countries that are off the beaten path. Do not let the fear of the unknown discourage you from traveling to places like this. Off the top of my head, countries that perhaps one doesn't immediately think of include Oman, Iran, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Dominica, and Myanmar.
Pick a preferred airline & use their miles program
Our #1 travel tip is to pick a preferred airline and try to fly them as much as possible. Our favorite is Air Canada. By flying the same airline carrier a lot, we gain miles towards their rewards program.
For us, that's Aeroplan. Recently, we bought tickets to Palm Springs and we made sure to purchase tickets on Air Canada. Now, when we fly, we'll automatically earn miles towards future travel. This saves us a lot of money each year because we can use our Aeroplan miles towards airline tickets or hotels. It really saves us a lot by picking a preferred airline and flying with them as much as possible.
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