Mistakes are a part of life. Especially when it comes to traveling. It’s always easier to look back on a trip and see things that you would have done differently. I have made a lot of mistakes in my travels in the 30 or so countries that I’ve been to. So I’ve made a list of my top travel tips. Learn from my mistakes, people 😉.
When you are traveling, things are never going to go exactly like you planned or expected. Your flight might be delayed (or canceled), your train doesn’t show up, you lose your luggage. Learn to expect the unexpected. And be patient.
This is so important! I personally like to take just a backpack and maybe a little purse. It makes traveling so much easier and less stressful.
Make a list.
One of the best ways to pack light is to make a list! You’ll help make sure you don’t forget anything, but also avoid overpacking. Download my packing list template here.
Weigh your bag ahead of time.
Especially if you are only taking a carry on, many airlines these days have a weight limit in addition to a size limit. Although some may not care if you are over, it’s better to know ahead of time what to repack in the airport if it comes down to it.
Keep your outfits simple and versatile.
A key to packing light is making sure everything matches with everything. Don’t take a shirt or pair of pants that can only be worn with one other thing. It will ease the stress of picking out your outfits too!
Take at least one outfit in your carry on.
If you are a checking a bag, that is. If your luggage gets lost for some unfortunate reason (trust me, it happens), at least you won’t be completely stranded.
Bring earplugs and an eye mask.
Unless you are one of those people who can pass out anywhere. Otherwise, they are great for planes or hostels!
Do some research.
While I’m not advocating to plan every move on your trip, it definitely can be helpful to get an overview before you get there. I’ve been to some places that you need to book ahead of time (like Accademia in Florence or Auschwitz in Krakow). Otherwise you might be stuck paying a huge amount for a private tour or missing out on a must-see.
Download offline maps.
I always use Google Maps when I travel. My phone doesn’t have unlimited data, so I always download an offline area before going (sometimes it works even better than my husband’s map running on data!).
Take a free walking tour.
Let me tell you: I love free walking tours! They aren’t 100% free — you still need to tip your guide. But they are totally worth it. They can give you the insiders view on the city, interesting history, and help you get oriented.
Dress in layers.
It gives you more outfit options and helps you adjust for unforeseen weather changes.
Bring a lock.
If you are staying in a hostel, usually they have some form of locker that you can lock your bag in. Even in a private hotel room, I always at least lock valuables in my bag.
Learn some local phrases.
Making even a small effort can go a long way. ‘Hello’, ‘thank you’, and ‘please’ are a good start.
Download the native language on Google Translate.
This is another offline feature I love on Google. It comes in handy trying to read signs or menus, as well as trying to learn other phrases.
Wear sturdy, versatile shoes.
In the winter, boots are my go to! They are comfortable, good for walking in, and can be dressed up for going out. In the summer, I usually bring a pair of sneakers and flip-flops (smaller shoes are easier to pack!). Whatever you are wearing, be prepared to do a lot of walking.
Keep a journal.
Yea yea, even if you aren’t a big journaler, it can be a great way to remember your trip, the people you met, the foods you ate, and the experiences you had. It might not mean a whole lot now, but I love going back to read journals about the trips I took when I was younger.
Bring a scarf.
Scarves can have so many uses! Emergency towel, to sit down outside, extra layers when it’s cold out. Many churches and temples have a strict dress code, so a scarf can be useful to cover up your shoulders and/or knees (it came in really handy in Thailand).
Try the local food.
My motto is that I’ll try anything (within reason!) once! Sometimes you’ll find some really awesome foods! And other times maybe not so much… but at least you’ll have a story to tell 😉.
Bring a reusable water bottle.
Help save the planet AND always have water on hand!
See above. It’s important, people!
Be willing to say yes.
There are so many cool experiences you can have when you travel! Some of the best times I have are when I just said “yes”! Get outside your comfort zone!
But don’t be afraid to say no.
You don’t have to do it all! You can take a slower pace trip if you want. Feel free to take time for yourself and go at your own pace.
Don’t just take selfies.
I definitely have the tendency of falling into this trap, especially when I’m traveling by myself. But you should get at least one real picture! There are definitely times I regret not having done this.
Have an open mind.
You never know what is going to come your way. The way other people live is different than what you are used to. That’s okay. We just have different ways of living. Try to understand that we all come from different places.
Use public transportation.
Metros, trams, and buses are a great way to see a different side of a new city! Living in London made me a huge fan of public transit.
Always bring some cash.
Especially if your flight is arriving late and you need to get a taxi, it is always smart to at least of some cash when you first arrive in a new country (even if you use credit card for most of the rest of the time). And in some countries, cash is king.
Know the tipping custom.
In America, our tipping culture is a little weird. In Europe and much of the rest of the world, tipping isn’t really a thing — or at least to the extreme that we do it. If you don’t want to set yourself apart as a tourist or spend extra money, do a little research first. Some places don’t normally tip, others round up, and some tip about 10%.
Or at least know how much it’s going to cost ahead of time. In London and Italy, taxis are outrageously priced. But in Bangkok, it was super cheap! Always use a meter if you do take a taxi. Uber might be viable alternative.
Shop at grocery stores to save money.
Who said you have to eat out every meal when you travel? Shopping at a local grocery store can give you a fun view into the local culture while also making your trip more affordable.
Become good friends with hostels.
If you are on a budget or just looking to meet people while traveling, hostels can be a great option. And if staying in a dorm room with a bunch of strangers isn’t quite your style, most hostels offer private rooms. One of the appeals of hostel is a central location for a decent price.
Try AirBnb for a more “homey” stay.
AirBnB’s can be another cheap alternative to hotels. It’s like having your own home for your stay! Use my referral link for $40 off your first stay with AirBnB :).
Use free bathrooms whenever you can.
In Europe particularly, there aren’t many free bathrooms. So if you stop for coffee or a meal, be sure to use the bathroom!
Always bring tissues.
I can’t tell you how many bathrooms I’ve been in that haven’t had toilet paper. It doesn’t hurt to have tissues just in case! Oh, and hand sanitizer!
Take lots of photos.
Photos make a great souvenir! I love looking back on old travel photos and reliving those experiences and memories.
Take time to be in the moment.
Get off your phone! (As I’m writing this on my phone, standing in line at the airport…). But seriously, capturing the moment is great but don’t forget to be in the moment too. Disconnecting can be freeing.
Bring a portable battery.
The worst thing is having your phone/camera die right as you are trying to get that awesome sunset photo! Or trying to find directions back home…
Keep your money safe.
Try not to keep it all in one place. If anything were to happen, at least you won’t be stranded AND penniless. Also, don’t forget to alert your credit card(s) you are traveling internationally. Check to make sure you don’t have any foreign transaction fees on your card.
See the city from a high point.
One of my favorite things to do in a city is to find a spot to get a panoramic view. Sometimes I’ll hike up a near by hill or climb a bell tower, church, or castle. Sit and take in the view.
Don’t be afraid to get lost.
Wandering around a new city aimlessly can be a great way to spend some time and get to know the city. You don’t need to plan every minute of your trip.
Know how to get from the airport to your hotel.
Especially if you are arriving late at night. Otherwise you might be stuck with a pricey taxi.
If you want to avoid crowds or get into a really popular attraction, getting an early start can be your best bet. Even better — you might have the place to your self.
Consider cultural differences.
Not everyone has the same way of life as you. In Italy, nobody rushes. And everything is “domani” (tomorrow). Keep an open mind.
Ask for suggestions.
Whether you ask your hostel or go to a tourism office, locals can give you helpful tips on when to go where and great places to eat.
Get over your fear (but be smart).
This goes for solo travelers and people traveling in groups alike. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want. But maybe avoid things like walking down dark alleys at night. Or flashing your diamonds everywhere.
Don’t be afraid to take that “tourist” photo.
We all do it. Besides, everyone already knows you are a tourist anyways, so who cares?
Eat farther away from tourist areas.
Don’t get me wrong, you can still get good good in tourist areas (you may have to look a little harder). But it’s definitely WAY more expensive. Even walking 5-10 minutes away from a big tourist site can make a difference.
Don’t feel guilty about visiting an American chain.
Especially if you have been traveling a long time, it can be nice to have something familiar. Plus places like Starbucks and McDonald’s often have cleaner bathrooms, so win-win in my book.
Do your “must do’s” first.
If there is something you HAVE to do in a new city, do it first. That way, in case there is a delay, it’s booked, or closed, you still have the rest of your trip to get there.
Talk to strangers.
Yes, I know our parents told us not to talk to strangers, but you can meet so many cool people while you travel! Be smart — but don’t let that stop you from striking up a conversation with your seat mate or the person standing in that crazy long line with you.
What travel tips would you add to the list? Share them in the comments below!