Essential Travel Tips
How to maximize your travel goals without breaking the bank? What steps to follow to minimize stress when traveling to exotic places and abroad?
Read our take on our top travel tips that we swear by whenever possible –
- Passport – (This one is crucial) There are multiple theories on carrying passports on your side trips from the hotel. We like to carry them in a secure pocket with us as well as keep a photocopy in the hotel room/in a luggage. Losing a passport (hope it NEVER happens to anyone reading this), can be detrimental to the trip and sometimes cause a lot of damage if you are not planning to return to your home country after the trip. Have a fair idea about the local consulates and email yourself the passport and visa documentation. ALWAYS.
- Choose your preferred airline – When flying, try to choose a preferred airline or even alliance. Even if sticking to that airline costs you a hundred bucks or something, believe us, it will pay dividends later. Find out more on choosing the best airlines (or alliances) in Frequent Traveler Resources.
- Booking flights – There are theories around timing the flight booking process, not one is 100% accurate. Searching for a million aggregators (e.g. Expedia, Kayak, Hotwire) for the lowers price often will not result in significant savings but may cost you a lot of stress later on. Tickets are arguably cheaper during the middle of the week and in off-peak seasons. But there are no rules, and it is advisable to monitor the prices for a couple of weeks if you have the time and luxury. Also, try going incognito or disable cookies so that airlines and websites won’t be able to push you expensive tickets.
- Double dipping – On international long-haul flights, often the tickets with long layovers are the cheapest by a margin. Call the airline and arrange for a ticket on the next day from the connecting city. Negotiate with the airline to provide a hotel since the layover is long. Voila! You can take this time to explore the city and add it to your bucket-list.
- Seat Selection on Airplanes – Always get an aisle seat for long haul and short flights, because it is easier to get up and walk around to keep the blood circulation going. Also drink plenty of water as the humidity in the planes are dangerously low, and sometimes it is better to get up and walk to the restrooms where there are normally the drinking water fountains. Also, choose a seat towards the front of the plane, because you can beat a lot of people to the passport control line. Due to the narrow bottleneck in the passport control line operations, the wait times grow in arithmetic progression as you move backwards in the line. As a guideline, with each minute you are late in getting out of the plane, you will lose 5-7 minutes more in the passport control line.
- Carry an empty water bottle through the security check point and fill it up later. It will come handy in your travels around the world wherever you go.
- Order some Currency – Most currencies can be ordered in the US, except a few like Indian Rupees, and plan ahead to order cash currency in multiple denominations from your bank. The foreign exchanges in the airport and hotels are known to offer eerily low exchange rates. Instead, draw cash from local ATMs, but restrict yourself to withdraw once or twice only to minimize bank fees. Some US based banks have affiliated banks in other countries, drawing money from which will waive off the ATM fees.
- Travel Credit Cards – Get a travel credit card that offers no-fee international transactions. Using credit cards significantly reduces the stress of carrying a lot of cash and the rates are much better since the larger banks have the leverage to negotiate better exchange rates on your behalf. Bank of America Travel Rewards card for example gives you points as well for transactions and has zero foreign transaction fee. There are other cards from AMEX and Chase that offer great benefits. Invest the time early and apply for one. You will not regret it.
- Try not to check-in a suitcase – The savviest travelers make it a point to not check in a luggage. They slow you down considerably and from the experience of flying close to a million miles, it can be detrimental to your travel plans. If you have connecting flights or flying to multiple cities, then checked baggage is a sin. Even if you have direct flights, and you are running late for your return flight, your check-in baggage could be the sole reason for missing the flight and/or a hefty fee for changing flights.
- Pack light – You’ll be forced to pack light if you only have carry-on, and sometimes it is best to not carry a bunch of clothes (yes even winter garments), and rather buy some from the shopping districts. That way you also get to buy memorabilia hoodies or tees from the destinations. A genuine hack to carry more in your carry on is to buy the max sized carry-on’s (20″ or 21″), that has more space and durability than others in the market, and carry a slightly larger laptop bag or camera bag (but only carry a tablet if possible). That way you can stuff some items in that extra space. Also, as a benchmark, take only up to 75% of the clothes you think you will need.
- Never carry towels – Unless you are planning a camping or road trip, do not waste space on towels. If staying in an Airbnb, request towels in advance. Carry smaller towels for urgent needs. We have not seen a hotel around the world that do not provide fresh towels, and pool/beach towels if you are a guest.
- Maps – Even in today’s world where free wi-fi is ubiquitous, roaming data fees are extremely high. Learn and get used to using a map. Don’t be afraid to ask around or point to the map. Asking for directions from locals get easier if they can point towards a physical map. We have found going by a map typically enhances the overall experience of traveling.
- Lose yourself – Sometimes, go out of the beaten path and be flexible in losing your way to find places that are not in your touristy guidebooks or Tripadvisor. The best kept secrets are the ones worth investing time on. Throughout our site, you will find at least a few instances where we followed our gut feeling and discovered a wonder. Hidden gems always make great stories.
- Visitor Center – Almost always, pay a quick visit to the tourism office or visitor center. Typically the advisers are intimate and caring to give you information. They can point out free activities, special occasions or activities happening during your time of visit, and more importantly, MAPS.
- Travel Pouches – The belt-pouches scream to the pick-pockets and thieves and point out easy targets. Do yourself a favor – carry less cash and use your travel credit card instead.
- Language – It is always good to know a few basic phrases in local languages, such as “Hello”, “Where is blah”, “I want xx”, “How much is it”, “What is this”, and “Thank you”. But if needed, Android smartphones has offline Google Translate packs for most common languages. In iOS though other offline apps are available, though we have not had good experience with any yet. Please leave a comment if you happen to find any.
- Food and Beverage – We have found it to be great to walk into a Starbucks as a place to relieve some of the travel stresses in a foreign country. Some McDonalds in Asia serve completely different food than they do in the US, but it should never be cited as an instance for tasting local food. Opt for street side food joints to really travel like a local and be global. Eat in fancy and famous restaurants during lunch. Typically they have fewer guests and you can enjoy the view if available (e.g. 95th floor restaurant in Hancock building in Chicago, Tower Restaurant in Shang Hai).
- Navigate the Airport like a pro – In the security lines, if you do not have TSA Pre, choose the lines where business travelers are. Try not to have airport food, as they are pricey and are low on quality. Chew on some protein bars if you absolutely need to.
- Pack a flash light and basic first aid kit – Some band-aids, antibacterial creams, sunscreens, bug repellents, medicines for flu, cold, indigestion, and in some areas water purifiers go a long way in terms of survival. Carry some protein bars and dry food like nuts and seeds just in case you are stuck and famished, not literally. Many countries are not privileged with continuous power supply, so make the habit of carrying a flash light.
- Eat Street Food – If you see something that locals are devouring on, just give it a shot. Although sometimes it can be risky, more often than not, trying street food becomes the most memorable event of a trip. In our travels around the world, we tried ant larvae, grasshopper fries, deep fried bugs, etc., and never regretted.
- Last but not the least, plan but keep a lot of leeway. Relax and enjoy the days in a foreign land. Plan for a few things and let the sequence of events unfold, lest it becomes a travelogue instead of the memories taking shape of a story.
It is said that there is no better way to learn from mistakes. But it is way better to learn from others’ mistakes!!
We do have a lot more to share from our experiences but if you have some, please feel free to leave those in the comments below. We’d love to learn from other mistakes. Appreciate your invaluable advice.