Travel is one of the most searched for topics in the world, which should come as no surprise. Everyone wants not just more information on the places where they plan to visit, but also how to be a better traveler. Travel though, at its base, isn’t that complicated. Most times it’s just common sense, but to help everyone on their next adventure I thought I’d share some ridiculously simple travel tips that you may have overlooked searching for that forest amongst all those pesky trees.
Trust your gut
Humans are amazing creatures and we don’t even realize the full extent of our own abilities. One thing that I’ve learned though is that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually not. Listening to our gut, our primal reactions to new situations will keep us safe and make the journey much more enjoyable. Don’t’ stay in uncomfortable situations for the sake of it, get out of there and be smart.
Always visit local grocery stores
I’ve written about this several times, but one of my favorite ways to learn about local culture quickly is by visiting the nearest grocery store. Instantly you will learn what they eat and what importance they place on certain foods. The multiple aisles of olive oil in Madrid says something about Spanish culture. Grocery stores are also a great place to get cheap snacks, drinks and even meals.
Bring a personal fan
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.
I’m actually a horrible packer but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the importance of packing lighter and smarter. Be very realistic when packing and take only what you need. Stop creating scenarios that will never happen, instead pack for each day and nothing more. If you’re checking a bag, then be sure to include at least one day’s worth of clothes in your carryon. Having had an airline lose my bags before, I know from experience what a pain buying a new wardrobe in a foreign city can be.
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 2018 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.
Be flight aware
Every time I’m at the airport I overhear people complaining about not getting the seats they want or a tight connection. Sorry folks, but ultimately this is your own fault. Flights are an aspect of the travel experience that I focus on with perhaps the most attention. Where I sit is critical for my flight enjoyment for a variety of reasons and I do everything I can to ensure a comfortable experience. If you’re booking through the airline, you can select your seats before you purchase the ticket. DO THIS. If you purchased the air through Expedia or similar, as soon as you get the airline’s booking reference number, access the flight through their site and select your seats. If you have to pay extra, do it. This will help ensure not only that you get a decent seat, but it reduces your likelihood of being bumped should the flight be oversold. Also keep both your bag tag and physical ticket until you have retrieved your bags at your destination. I keep mine for a few days afterwards, in case my points don’t show up online. This is your flight and it’s your responsibility to manage it properly. Don’t blame the airlines because you made a mistake.
Buy a travel power strip
I’m not trying to sell you anything here, I won’t even provide a link, but purchasing a small travel power strip was one of the best decisions I ever made. Several companies make them and they fold up to easy to stow sizes and better yet, allow you to easily charge multiple devices with just one outlet. Many times I’ve camped out in airports charging everything using only that one rare outlet.
Keep a journal
I don’t always do this, but I usually carry a small Moleskin notebook with me as a way to keep track of my thoughts and emotions. Photos tell me what I saw and did, but many times I forget about the emotions, smells and other sensory details. Journaling also helps me go through the process of mentally digesting and ultimately evaluating a trip, which in turn makes it a much richer experience.
Power of plastic bags
I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve spent on plastic Ziploc bags, but it’s a lot. I use them when packing my suitcase for undergarments, socks and toiletries that may leak. They can also be used during a trip to keep dirty clothes segregated from everything else. I also use smaller ones in my carryon bag as a way to organize everything from medicines to power cords and even my makeshift in-flight amenity kit.
Granted, in some cultures this probably isn’t a good idea, but in many places around the world it’s a simple way to demonstrate that you’re a positive person. We’re communal creatures, and subconsciously we are drawn to those with whom we think we can get along. A smile is a simple way to communicate that to strangers. But, as I said, be careful, not all cultures feel the same way about grinning like an idiot.