We all have our favourite travel tips and tricks.
There are hundreds of this kind of post on the internet!
For my version I’ve tried to keep the tips simple, and stay away from the obvious ones that are repeated time and time again on travel blogs.
As I travel more, I learn more, so I’ll be back to keep this post regularly updated.
So without further ado, here are my favourite travel tips and tricks….
P.S. If you have any unique tips of your own, it would be great to read about them in the comments below this post.
1) Unpack as Little as Possible
There is nothing more frustrating than losing something when you’re travelling.
And when do things generally get lost? It’s moving from one place to another.
I’ve found the best way to avoid this is just to not unpack!
For what I do unpack I have a system.
- Washbag always hangs in the bathroom.
- Wallet and keys always sit on the desk.
- Kindle and chargers on the bedside table.
- Folder of essential documents straight into the safe.
For the rest of it I try to unpack as little as possible.
We use packing cubes, which make this process a lot easier! Need a clean t-shirt? Just pull out the relevant cube, transfer the dirty one to the laundry bag (AKA the hobo sack!), take a new one and zip the cube back up, putting it straight back in the rucksack.
When packing up to leave this makes everything super-quick and stops hours of searching through drawers and wardrobes looking for things you might have lost.
The only thing we lost on our trip to Asia?
Because we stayed in a room without power and I decided tying it to the bed frame for easy access overnight was a good idea!
The system was broken, and the head-torch is now somewhere in the jungle outside Chiang Mai!
2) Put Your Money in Order
For the irritatingly organised among you (I count myself firmly amongst your ranks), this will be common practice. I mean it surely is the very basis of any rational human being to organise notes largest to smallest, face side forward. Isn’t it!?
For the more liberal-minded out there, then now is the time to start.
When you are moving from country to country, currencies can become very confusing, very quickly.
Let’s take Vietnamese Dong as an example. Both the 10,000 and 100,000 notes are green and have a lot of zeros on them! If you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to mistake these two, your eyes flicking over the additional digit.
But nicely nestled amongst the other notes, there you’re more likely to get it right.
It’s simple, but you’ll thank me.
Oh, and if you’re hoping the street vendors will point out your mistake, they will, but only if it’s not in their favour!
3) Visit UNESCO Sites
If you’re looking for the ultimate ‘Best Places to Visit in the World’ list, then, in my opinion, it’s easy to find.
It’s called the UNESCO World Heritage Sites website.
Places only make it on this list if they have a particular cultural or natural significance that should be protected for the future or humankind.
In other words, they’re a pretty big deal!
I’ve been to UNESCO Heritages Sites all over the world, and never once felt let down. They are the pinnacle of human creation, and the very best mother nature has to offer.
So before I head to a new country, I always have a quick check of the UNESCO website, and use this as a basis to plan out my trip.
4) App up
There are some travellers out there who long for the ‘good old days’, when travel was a complete escape from the modern world.
I’m not one of those people, and take every opportunity for technology to make my life easier when on the road.
I’ve spoken to solo backpackers on the road, who only feel confident enough to travel because of the safety that being connected brings.
A modern phone can now take the place of numerous books and gadgets of yesteryear, so make the most of this space-saving miracle and get your device travel-ready before you go.
- Maps.me for offline mapping (see tip 14 for another way to do this).
- GlobeConvert for quick and simple currency conversion.
- A VPN for safe internet browsing and getting access to your home country’s services (I had always used Tunnelbear, but am now finding NordVPN to be more powerful).
- Google Translate for translating without WiFi.
- A Password app for storing copies of your important documents (I prefer 1Password, but you could also set up a folder on Dropbox, though it’s less secure).
- Uber or the local equivalent (Grab in Asia).
5) Join Local Facebook Groups
There is a wealth of sites on the internet that will help you plan out your trips, but if you want up-to-date information, then the best way is to ask local people.
You will find people willing to help running hostels, behind bars and driving cabs; but for a modern day twist, then try joining the local Facebook group ahead of time.
Most towns and cities will have a group dedicated to the area, often named something like ‘Siem Reap Expats’ or ‘We Love Phnom Penh’. Just type the name of the place you’re travelling to into Facebook search, click on the ‘groups’ tab and see what you find.
Jump in, say help and ask questions that you can’t find an answer to elsewhere.
Our best example of this was whilst in Siem Reap in Cambodia. We were desperate to see the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk, but couldn’t find any tour companies who would take us there for less than $120. After joining the local Facebook group, I asked the question, and within an hour had received a dozen private messages. It took a bit of time to sort them all out, but all seemed legitimate, and after some more research we ended up getting a private driver for $80 from a small company who wouldn’t have shown up in many Google search results.
Even if you haven’t got a burning question to be answered, they’re still handy to hear the local gossip! We were in one small town in Asia where the police went into a bar and arrested tourists for minor offences to make some bribe money. I saw this thread appear on the group and made sure we stayed away!
6) Your Bag is Your Home…
….So don’t buy cheap.
It will be bashed, squashed, scraped and soaked.
And inside will is everything that’s important to you.
Don’t be daft, spend that extra £30 and get a bag that will take some punishment.
And if you’re confused by the options, just buy Osprey! They are as reliable as reliable can be.
It might seem like a lot of money now, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did.
7) Look for Accommodation Near the University
If the city you’re heading to has one, then the university district is often a fantastic area to stay.
In my experience they’re generally safe, with cheap but tasty restaurants, lots of small supermarkets to top up your supplies and a good night life. Hawkers and touts also generally stay away, preferring to be close to the more affluent tourists.
In countries that have seen the worst side of British colonialism or been on the wrong side of our many wars, you will often find the older people to be quite nervous of westerners. But strike up a conversation with the someone from the younger generation and you’ll often find people who want to share their love for their country with you, and are genuinely interested in learning about yours.
This makes the area around the university a perfect place to try and find somewhere to stay, so we often start our search here.
BONUS TIP: If you are travelling alone and want to meet some local people, just go to the cafe of the biggest university in town. Look for a friendly looking group and ask them if you can help them work on their English in exchange for them teaching you the basics of the local language. Unlike in the tourist district, students will generally have no hidden agenda, or try to sell you anything, so some will be happy to help. It’s amazing how quickly you can build a rapport and potentially then get invited out that night or shown around the town.
8) Use Banks to Split Down Money
It’s an annoying part of getting money out abroad; you want to take out larger sums to avoid fees, but when you do you often end up with huge notes.
No-where did we find this more frustrating than in Cambodia. Like a lot of countries, Cambodia is quite cheap to travel when compared to Western countries, but are they still largely dependent on using the US Dollar, with the Riel only used for very small transactions. However, all the ATMs seem to be loaded with $100 bills, and don’t charge a % fee, they charge by transaction! This means it makes sense to get larger sums out, to avoid being charged multiple transaction fees.
Have you ever tried giving a $100 bill to a street vendor selling Beef Lok-Lak for $1!? It ain’t happening!
There are a number of solutions to this, most of which involve spending money in bigger establishments such as restaurants and supermarkets.
But a simple trick is just to walk into the local bank, and ask to change the money into smaller denominations. Most are happy to do this, and I’ve never been charged, though a few have refused. They tend to be more open to the idea if you have used their ATM, so get a receipt, even if you don’t need one, and take it inside to show to the vendor.
It might sound like an obvious tip, but I’m amazed at how many people don’t do it!
9) Get up Early
Yes, I know you’re travelling and it’s a time for relaxing, but if you’re want to see the best of a place, then get up early.
There are so many advantages to waking with the rising sun:
- The light’s better for photos.
- There are less tourists around.
- Pickpockets, hawkers and con-artists will still be in their beds.
- There is far less traffic.
- If you’ve only got a couple of days, it extends your time. Flights are also less likely to get delayed at the start of a day.
- In hot countries, it’s a great way to avoid the main heat of the day, but still have daylight.
I’m not saying you should do it every day, but planning in a couple of early mornings will give you space and time that will really enhance your experience.
10) Learn to Haggle
It’s intimidating, frustrating and embarrassing, but haggling is just the reality of life in many parts of the world.
If you think you’re doing the local community a favour by not haggling you’re wrong.
If every tourist takes the first offer, the prices will eventually get pushed up permanently, often putting them out of reach of local people.
This article really changed my views on haggling:
As long as you do so respectfully, and treat it as a game rather than a challenge, you’ll be just fine.
I find doing some homework and research before taking the plunge is a good idea:
- Have a look at what the locals are paying. Whilst you shouldn’t be expecting to get items this cheap, it gives you a ballpark figure to aim for.
- Email hotels in advance to advise on taxi fees. They will be able to tell you standard prices from stations and airports, so you can make sure you’re not ripped off.
- If you see a gift in a market you really want to buy, chat it through with someone on reception at your hostel or guesthouse. They will be able to give you an idea of the price you should be paying.
- In large markets, I often find going in at half price is a good place to start. Most vendors see a Western face as an easy opportunity to make money. You will see form their reaction if they’re genuinely offended or if you’re on to something.
- Use multiples to sweeten the deal. Buy two or three items from the same stall to get a bulk discount.
- Shop early in the day. In a lot of cultures, the first sale of the day is good luck. Don’t abuse this knowledge, but you will find it easier to grab a bargain.
- Always be polite. Keep smiling, use phrases like ‘what is your best price?’, ‘is there no way you could help me out?’, ‘I need some time to think’. If it feels like it’s getting out of hand, just firmly, but politely say no and walk away. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a better deal comes your way, and if it doesn’t, you’ve lost nothing.
- Use a partner to help out. Get them to stand a bit away, so they don’t get drawn in, but still in earshot so they can hear. When you’ve done a bit of haggling, bring them over and say ‘do you think this is worth the price?’. If they agree that it is, you’ve got a deal, if not it gives you another bargaining angle – ‘I’m sorry sir, my friend thinks I’m still paying a bit too much, could you go any lower?’.
11) Get Local Guides
Local guides are a fantastic way to quickly learn about a destination but also a small window into everyday life in that country.
Whilst they are an added expense, using them when you can afford to will give you a unique experience, and usually put money straight into the hands of a local family.
They can often be found for cheaper than you think. We were often paying $6 ($10 with tip) for guides at UNESCO sites in Southeast Asia. We did three full days at Angkor, with a car, driver, guide and water for $50 per person. In the grand scheme of thing that’s incredible when you consider what you’re getting for it.
With a guide you get all of their knowledge, plus the chance to ask questions of your own. You’ll be shown aspects of a site that you would never have known existed if you went alone.
But more than this, I love building a rapport with a person, and then getting to ask them big questions about their countries. With the car doors closed, and no-one else listening, it’s amazing how much people open up to what life is really like. One of my biggest aims when travelling is to learn, and it is in these conversations I learn more than at any other time.
12) Photograph Everything
If you’re anything like me you’ll have 10,000 photos when you come back from your trip.
But this tip isn’t about memories, it’s about safety and security.
If you remember this tip it might just get you out of a bind.
A photo is the ultimate proof.
Proof that those scratches weren’t on the hire car when you picked it up.
Proof of what you left in the draw at that dodgy hotel where they didn’t provide a safe.
Proof you have travel documents even though your luggage was stolen.
Proof of the condition of your luggage when you dropped it off at the airport.
It might not get you your money back, but it’s a start. And it certainly will stop hire companies charging you for damage they didn’t notice in the first place or help you to travel when the tickets have been lost.
I also suggest photographing your hotel or hostel the second you arrive. It’s amazing how many have similar names and how easy it is to get lost (especially after a couple of drinks!). Picking up a business card from the front desk helps too as these can easily be shown to a taxi driver.
And what if you lose your phone?
Make sure the photos are backed up to a secure cloud so you can access them from anywhere if needed.
13) Search Instagram…
…or any other social media of your choice to be honest, but I prefer Instagram, because it’s so easy to browse.
When reading about a place you intend to visit, it can get quite repetitive. It’s easy to get stuck in an echo chamber of books, websites and blogs all recommending the same locations.
So search for it on Instagram.
It’s the easiest way to find the odd hidden gem. It might not have been written about or recommended, but if you see a photo you like it’s easy to track it down.
It’s how we discovered the Black Spur Drive in Australia. We were heading to Healesville and had read all the guides, but none mentioned this place. One search on Instagram and we noticed people tagging this road-trip.
You might turn up nothing, but you may just find an out of the way little gem that you wouldn’t have discovered yourself.
Oh, and give me a follow while you’re there 🙂
14) Use ‘Ok Map’ to Download Maps for Offline Use
This simple tip is perfect for countries where data is expensive or you don’t want to pay for a local SIM.
If you bring up and area you are interested in travelling through and type in ‘Ok Map’ or ‘Ok Maps’ into the search bar and it will download the map to your phone for offline use.
I have recorded a quick .gif below so you can see exactly what I mean.
15) Take the Train There, but the Plane Back
Everything feels like an adventure at the start of your trip. Go slow, take it all in.
But at the end you just want to get home.
If you need to compromise on cost or time at any point, always make it at the beginning. At the end just get home as fast as you can, or you’ll just feel frustrated.
16) Make Your Own Packing Lists
If you travel regularly creating your own packing lists makes the process so much simpler.
I use an app called Notion and in it I have multiple pack list variants for various trip types.
- Europe Short-Haul Hot
- Europe Short-Haul Cold
- Cycling Holiday
- Business Trip
- Europe Long-Stay
These allow me to build lists that are personal to me and fit the type of travel I’m about to do. For example, when I lived in England, European short-haul trips would mean hand-luggage only so would need a different list to a longer stay. I need specific kit for a cycling or business trip and can pack a lot more in if I’m going on a road trip from home.
When I travel I just refine these lists (what didn’t I us? What did I forget?) and update the list for next time.
Now when I go away it’s as simple as grabbing the list and working through it.
Here’s an example of a list I’ve ticked off recently:
17) Be An Ambassador
Strictly this isn’t a tip, more an opinion but I feel like we have a huge opportunity to influence other’s opinions where we travel.
I love travelling to learning about other cultures, but don’t forget that the people you meet are also learning about you too. Your country, your culture your way of life.
So try not to spend the entire time moaning about the bad weather, weak economy and sketchy politicians back home. Wherever you come from there are always things to feel proud of and be positive about.
Be An Ambassador.
18) Embrace Being a Tourist
“I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller”.
Stop that bullshit.
You’re a tourist.
Let’s be clear, the locals are not at that huge attraction marvelling at this once in a lifetime experience and taking selfies. They’re working, paying taxes and getting on with their daily life.
Tourist or traveller, no different. You’re there because you’re visiting the place for pleasure. Stay for three months and then we can talk, but until then you’re just like everyone else.
You are a tourist. That’s ok. Be comfortable with it.
19) Buy a Local SIM Card (Here’s How)
The money you can save by buying a local SIM is huge, but that’s not a new tip.
The tip is to use this fantastic prepaid SIM Wiki that shows you all the information you need to know for SIMs in every country.
It’s getting easier to do this now with some modern phones allowing an eSIM which essentially means converting the SIM from your home country to be electronically linked to the handset, which frees up the SIM card slot for a second card.
This allows two SIMs to be run out of one phone meaning anyone who tries to call or text on your original number will still get through. Very handy!