Recently I’ve realized that I take for granted some of the travel tips I’ve learned the hard way over the years. It was through a lot of trial and error that I tailored my travel experience to what it is today and without sounding pompous, I think I’m a pretty good traveler. But I absolutely understand that most people don’t travel with the frequency I do so I thought I’d share just a few basic tips that hopefully will help you on your next trip.
1. Finding Flights – I get asked this all the time, as if there’s a hidden secret I’m keeping from everyone. I wish there was actually, I’d make a fortune selling it but alas, there is not a well-concealed secret. Instead finding a good flight at a good price just takes a little planning and common sense. First, once you settle on your destination, use a few websites to get an idea of the general price. There’s no sense in searching too many though because most sites get their price data from the same source. Once you have an average price for that time, set a budget you want to spend realizing that the best price probably won’t deviate too dramatically from what you’ve already found. That doesn’t take into account deals, sales or other specials of course. Then either set an alert or check back once a week to see if the prices match your budget. If they do, then book! Also it pays to be creative. Take a look at a map and see if there are other airports you can fly to that might be cheaper. A site like Hipmunk will allow you to search a variety of flight options with different legs so that you can see how the prices change.
2. What to do with your phone – If you have a smartphone the quandary of what to do with it when you travel out of the country is usually a source of tremendous angst and anguish. Most people know that data overseas is expensive, but they don’t know how to avoid these horrible charges. Check with your plan provider and see what the data package options are for the location you are traveling to. See how much data you use in an average week and then compare to the prices listed. It may be worth it to you to buy one of the data plans and then just monitor your usage overseas. If you don’t want to pay extra, then you have to take a couple of extra steps in order to make sure you aren’t inadvertently charged while traveling. To be totally safe, turn off your phone and don’t use it. However, this is a little extreme and you may want to use free WiFi hotspots in order to get online. The safest way to do this is to turn the phone to airplane mode and then switch on Wifi. This way you won’t risk unwanted data charges. If you don’t switch over to airplane mode then at least make sure that the data roaming feature is turned off. Also, if you purchase and use an international data plan, check your apps and make sure they 1) aren’t running in the background while the phone is on and 2) are set so that they don’t update when you don’t want them to. Otherwise you may use all of your data without realizing it.
3. What kind of camera you need – This is another common question I get and the answer is deceptively simple. Buy the best camera you are comfortable paying for and then learn everything there is to know about it. Many of the photos on this site weren’t shot with a fancy DSLR, but a simple point and shoot that I loved dearly until I accidentally broke it. Those pictures I think are pretty good and I didn’t need 1,000 settings to get the shots I wanted. What’s most important in photography isn’t necessarily your equipment; it’s knowing how to use it. Buy an intro to photography book and learn about some of the basics like the rule of thirds and the importance of composition. These techniques more than anything will greatly elevate the quality of your travel photography.
4. Don’t overpack – Don’t do it, even though I know you want to. Resist the temptation to bring everything from Wellington boots to a third coat “just in case.” In almost every situation you won’t need many of the items you pack and if there is an extreme need while you’re there, you can always buy something cheaply to help fill the gap. Overpacking can be expensive, annoying and physically demanding at times so do yourself and everyone traveling with you a favor and only bring the true essentials with you when you travel.
5. Plugs, adapters and other tech – I was asked about the tech side of travel recently and it made me realize how important this is and how for many people it’s a source of great confusion. Generally when traveling overseas you will need to bring an adapter with you in order to plug in your electronics. Never depend on hotels being able to supply these for you because most won’t. I’ve tried universal adapters before, but in my experience they just don’t work and rarely last more than a trip or two. Instead go to Target or someplace similar and get a simple kit of adapters for each region. They come in sets and cost anywhere between $10-$20. I have a few I use and I love them. I’ve mentioned my two other essential items before, but they bear repeating: travel power strips and a portable battery pack. The travel power strip is great because depending on the model you can plug in several devices at once and only need to use one outlet. It’s easy and has greatly improved my travel experience. The battery pack is essential for anyone with a severe smartphone addiction like I have. My iPhone rarely lasts the day when I travel and so I use the portable pack to recharge on the go. It is easy to use and convenient, a win-win.
These are just a few more practical and simple travel tips that I hope are useful for everyone. What are some of yours?