No matter how much planning you do, it’s impossible to know everything before starting to travel.
Some things you just need to learn as you go.
In October 2015, I peaced out from the US with a one-way ticket to Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
The plan was to take 10 months and slowly travel by land (and sea) all the way down to Brazil for the Olympics.
Well, that 10-month trip never ended.
Today marks my 5th anniversary leaving my secure “normal” life behind and replacing it with a life of uncertaintly and adventure.
And boy has it been a wild ride.
To celebrate, I want to share 50 travel tips I’ve learned (oftentimes the hard way) over the past 5 years exploring the world.
My hope is that you pick up at least a few new ideas that will help you on your next trip.
Alrighty, let’s dive in!
1. When in doubt, smile.
2. Google Translate is your friend (charades work too).
3. That said, the more of the language you learn, the more interesting experiences you’ll have.
4. If you wanna learn a language, make yourself flashcards to practice on flights and bus rides. Try to avoid other travelers who speak your language. Also, use Tinder (if you’re single, of course 😉)—it’ll open up opportunities into local life that would be very hard to find otherwise.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask a local for help. People like to help.
6. Have gum or a toothbrush handy at all times. It’s no fun traveling with poop-mouth.
7. Don’t take videos or photos in government buildings or airport security. They don’t like that.
8. Hide your phone in your nuts (or lady nuts) when walking through sketchy areas (secret pockets work wonders too).
9. Make checklists for common activities so you don’t have to always stress that you’re forgetting something (ex. flight checklist, leaving accommodation checklist, border crossing checklist, etc).
10. Stock up on earplugs before you go. They get lost and gunked up with wax easily (at least mine do…but I may have a wax problem). Also, people will be grateful and love you forever if you have extras to share—the perfect gift for travelers.
11. Keep a travel journal. Force yourself into the habit of writing every day. You’ll thank yourself later.
12. There are many ways to earn money while traveling if you keep your eyes peeled and get creative. If you’re on a long trip, it feels good to work on a project and feel productive (even if it’s just a few hours per week).
13. Speaking of which, stay on the lookout for opportunities. The more people you meet, the higher the odds of stumbling on cool opportunities you’d never find at home.
14. Take more pics and videos than you think you need to. The things you take pictures of are usually the details you remember most. So if you want to remember more than just the main attraction, take pics of the small things too (like random, special, and quirky moments)…BUUUUT don’t forget to enjoy the moment either. Nothing makes me sadder than watching people get to an amazing place, look at it through their camera lens for 5 minutes, snap some shots, then leave.
15. Be nice to flight attendants. Give them candy and a smile to make their day. If you’re hungry from traveling, put on a hunger-pained face and ask for an extra plate of food once everyone has eaten (I’ve never had this not work).
16. Don’t give to beggars (even if it breaks your heart). If you want to help, find a reputable organization.
17. Zipper wallets are awesome.
18. Fanny packs are also awesome (no matter what people say). Keep repellent, hand sanitizer, and a ziplock bag in your fanny pack at all times.
19. Laundry sucks. Learn to recycle clothes (wash in the shower and air dry for next day).
20. Quick travel friendships can last a lifetime. Don’t be too lazy to chat with a stranger and make a new friend (even if you’re about to leave the destination).
21. Everyone should travel solo at least once. It’s a whole different experience.
22. But it’s also nice to have a loved one by your side to share special moments.
23. Stay flexible. With planning, with people, with schedules, with expectations, with EVERYTHING.
24. Save the best place for the end of your itinerary. That way you don’t set the bar too high at the beginning.
25. Switch scenery often to reset the “awe factor”. If you see an amazing mountain, switch to beaches. Too much of the same thing in a row and you’ll start to get de-sensitized.
26. If amazing places start to feel meh, it’s time to take a travel break.
27. A fruit shake a day keeps the doctor away (also, staying off motorcycles keeps the doctor away).
28. If you purposely choose to not buy travel insurance, you’re dumb—especially when it’s this cheap. After three surgeries and over $16,000 in medical bills while traveling, I’ve earned the right to say that. I will never leave home without long term travel insurance.
29. Never pay the first price without asking for a discount. Negotiation skills will save you lots of monies.
30. Sometimes the extra comfort or time saved is worth the extra money…no matter how hard you’re penny-pinching.
31. Smart phones and data plans make travel ridiculously convenient (but less exciting and adventurous).
32. For cheap authentic food, look for where locals are eating (local markets are usually a safe bet).
33. Fake onward tickets are a one-way travelers best friend.
34. Never travel without snacks. You never know when a landslide will tack on 10 extra hours to your bus trip.
35. Don’t skimp on cheap headphones. They never last.
36. Bad water will F up your trip. Bring a travel water filter and buy insurance.
37. Check the weather before booking boat trips. Especially if said boat trip is followed by a flight. Typhoons will throw a wrench in your plans.
38. Download maps offline using Google Maps or Maps.me.
39. Load up with podcasts and kindle books for offline use.
40. Reading books about the country you’re traveling to will make your trip more meaningful. Movies work too, but aren’t quite as special.
41. Don’t be afraid to settle down somewhere longer if you really like a place (or a person). No need to rush. If you do, you might miss something amazing and always wonder “what if”.
42. Don’t skimp on your backpack or gear. You’ll be depending on it, and it won’t always be easy to replace. Here’s the one I like.
44. Take advantage of rewards credit cards for free flights and hotels.
45. Use a free Charles Schwab checking account to get reimbursed for all ATM fees worldwide.
46. Bring a backup credit card and ATM card just in case, and hide emergency cash stashes throughout your bags.
47. Act like you’re right where you’re supposed to be (even if you’re completely lost).
49. You’ll have your whole life to play on your cell phone. Put it away if you have the opportunity to meet someone new.
50. Look for SMALL hostels. Big chain hostels are comfy and convenient. But they lack the character and warmth of more basic local places. If a place is too big, it’s actually harder to connect with other travelers.
BONUS: Don’t fly your brand new drone over a river without GPS. It won’t end well. (This wound is still fresh from a few days ago…)
There you have it, amigos! I hope these help you on your next adventure.
I know it’s a lot to chew on, but the point is this:
As a traveler, you’re always learning. Sometimes you can learn from the mistakes of others. Other times you have to make them yourself (which usually leaves you with a good story).
Either way, long-term travel will force your to grow and change you in ways you never expected (it sure did for me).
Can’t wait to see what the next 5 years bring!
What are you’re favorite travel tips? Leave ‘em in the comments below.