Travel is like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you get. Well, that’s the theory at least. However, over the years there are many little tips and tricks, travel hacks if you will, that have helped me travel easier and with more comfort. I actually had taken these for granted until it was recently brought to my attention that not everyone may be aware of these travel hacks. That’s why today I thought I’d share some of my favorites. You may know a few or not, but hopefully there’s something on this list that you will find useful to enjoy a better travel experience.
Talk to everyone
I’m a people watcher. I could sit in the airport for hours just watching folks walk by and be perfectly happy. In watching people carefully when I travel I have noticed one thing; very few of them actually talk to anyone else. Whether it’s a family or a couple traveling around, we all tend to stay fixated on our own packs, rarely engaging other travelers or locals. For me, travel is about personal enrichment and growth and to do that I need to talk to people. I’m highly extroverted, so it may be easier for me but even if you’re not, find ways to learn about the people you’re visiting. One of the best ways to do this is to join a tour, either a private one or a free public walk. I nearly always walk alongside the guide, peppering them with questions along the way. “What do you love about your city? Where are your favorite restaurants? Where are you from? What’s your background?” and so on. It’s a friendly interrogation, but a good way to understand how places tick. It’s not just locals I question though, I love chatting with fellow tourists as well. On an afternoon boat cruise in Queensland, I was joined by a group of 3 couples, all traveling around Australia. They had all recently retired and were kicking things off with a dream trip around the country. After a few minutes of chatting a gentleman told me that he had watched the movie “The Bucket List” and he said that it changed him. After watching that he decided to go ahead and retire and do the things he really wanted to do while he was still able. It was a wonderful conversation and really drove home the importance of travel in people’s lives and made a significant impression on me. It was a brief, simple moment but one that I know I’ll remember for a very long time.
This is a tip I’ve been doling out since I started my web site more than 7 years ago, and it’s still one of my favorites. There are a lot of ways to quickly learn about new cities, countries and cultures but one of the best is to simply visit a local grocery store. You may not always notice them, but they’re always lurking, even in bustling city centers and spending a few minutes in them will teach you not just about the food habits of wherever you’re visiting, but what the locals value as well. Food and travel go hand in hand and it really is the best way to become a part of a new culture, rather than just a voyeur. Whether it’s seemingly endless rows of olive oils in a store in Madrid or the chocolate and dessert options in Australia, grocery store experiences have been very important in my own travels. They’re also a great way to stock up on drinks and snacks at the lowest possible prices or even to grab the ingredients for a fun picnic out on the town. You save money and have a better time in the process than eating at generic cafés all the time.
This is brand new for me actually, but already I love it. There are few things I hate more than being too hot when I’m trying to fall asleep. Unfortunately, air conditioning is hard to find around the world, even in some of the best hotels. Frustrated at losing precious hours of sleep while on the road, I did some research and found what I think is a good solution. For around $25 I bought a very small fan on Amazon that actually doubles as a portable battery charger. It’s not huge, but it is oddly powerful and having used it on a couple of trips, I’m a convert. Even better than cooling me off as I sleep, it also provides the much-needed white noise I require in order to fall asleep. One thing to note, it’s best to keep this plugged in overnight otherwise you’ll wake up to find a dead portable battery.
Improvised amenity kit
This is an essential travel item for me and I keep it packed in my carry-on bag no matter where I go. While it’s convenient for any style of trip, the components of my prized kit are key when I’m on a long-haul flight. In the bag I keep: an eye mask, plenty of earplugs, disposable prepasted toothbrushes (like Wisp), hand lotion, compression socks, travel sized deodorant and a few other goodies. You get the concept though; the idea is to pack things that will give you a better chance to rest on that long flight and to deboard the plane looking and feeling refreshed. After spending a night on a plane, there is nothing better than being able to feel slightly human. The toothbrush, deodorant and lotions all help with that. No matter what you pack in your survival kit, it’s a good idea to have one.
Long haul flight – compartmentalize your time
This is my own personal way of coping with a long haul or ultra long-haul flight and it might work for you too. Thinking of a flight as one chunk of time is almost too much for our brains to handle. The idea of spending 15 hours next to The Snoring Guy or Miss Likes To Talk is a huge mental weight to bear. Instead, think of the flight in segments. First of all, eating will take a considerable amount of time. On a ten hour flight at least 2 hours will be spent waiting for or consuming meals. That leaves 8 hours. Watching one movie will take another two hours, leaving you with six. Figure on trying to sleep for at least 5 of those hours and you’re left with one hour to read, watch a TV show or stare aimlessly at the seat back in front of you. Or, you could divide your time between: eating, doing work, sleeping, watching a movie and reading equally. No matter how you decide to divide your time, it’s a useful mental exercise and will help make your long flight seem like less of a challenge.
Don’t exchange money at home
I thought this travel tip had died out a long time ago, but I was saddened to read it again just recently. In 2017 this is horrible, horrible advice. If you exchange money before leaving home the rates are awful, there’s no arguing with that and there’s no need for it. If you want money in your pockets when you arrive, just go to the ATM at the airport. I have never been to an international airport anywhere in the world where they didn’t have plenty of ATMs. An ATM should always be your first choice for local currency; they provide the best rates possible. The same advice goes for traveler’s checks. You have to pay to get them and to use them, a senseless waste of money. Once again, ATMs are your best friend.
Travel power strip
The technology of the 21st century is amazing and has changed our lives forever. However, traveling with our modern conveniences can be difficult given how many things we all have to charge. When I travel I have to charge my: laptop, DSLR camera, GoPro, portable batteries, iPad, my iPhone and so on. While I don’t mind lugging around all the wires necessary to power up my devices, it can be challenging in hotel rooms with just one or two outlets – especially if I’m traveling with my partner. That’s why I always carry a power strip when I travel. Not only does it make living in a hotel room much easier, but it’s also easier to power up several devices anywhere. It also makes you incredibly popular in airports.
Another very simple item, but one that I don’t travel without. Packing can be a chore, but so can traveling with a disorganized suitcase. Using a variety of different plastic bag sizes you can keep separate underwear, socks and even clean and dirty clothes. They also help in reducing the size of your clothes and make unpacking a breeze. At the end of the trip, instead of rooting through my suitcase to find the dirty items I just unload the Ziploc bags directly into the washing machine. The usefulness of plastic bags doesn’t stop with clothes, I use them to organize almost everything, from ‘extra’ items to ties, toiletries and carry on items. There’s a certain peace of mind when things are organized and when traveling this isn’t just a nice luxury but an important way to improve the overall experience.
What are some of your favorite travel hacks?