If anyone knows about how to get the most out of travel, it’s a travel blogger. Travel bloggers spend a good chunk of their lives on the road, searching out great (and not so great) destinations, and sharing their finds with their online readers. In an earlier post, some of the world’s best travel bloggers gave us the insider secrets to getting ready for a great trip.
This time, we asked them to share their best tips for having a great vacation once you’ve left on your trip. We’ve been traveling regularly for over 10 years together, and some of these tips were even new to us. Check them out.
Sail through security. It’s never fun, but clearing airport security can be a smooth experience. Do your research to know what items are forbidden – water bottles are still blacklisted! Arrive early and have your papers organized. Wear a simple outfit and keep your belt in your suitcase for now. Be prepared to take off your shoes & put all loose belongings in bins – wallets, coins, keys, toys, coats should all be corralled in advance. Your 3-1-1 kit and electronics go near the top for easy inspection. Never complain about government policies or make security ‘jokes’ – be polite, be professional, be pleasant and you’ll be just fine.
Carrying a computer? Don’t send it through x-ray security check until you’re ready to go through yourself. Scam artists work in teams. The man in front of you holds the line up by deliberately leaving change in his pocket and setting off the metal detector. While you’re waiting to go through, his partner is picking “your” computer off the conveyor belt.
Don’t drink the water. When you fly, don’t use the airplane bathroom water for anything other than washing your hands. My husband once tried to rinse our daughter’s sippy cup in the sink, and the flight attendant frantically corrected him and offered him bottles of water to use instead. She said that the water is “purified” with chemicals, and it would make a grown man sick if he were to drink it. When I emailed the airline for clarification, I received this cryptic reply: “[Aircraft] water is not intended for drinking. Bottled water is available for consumption on our flights.”
Walk the Talk. Try to learn at least some basic phrases in the local language. Even just a smattering can go a long way to helping break down barriers with the locals. Key phrases to learn include hello, goodbye, thank you, please, yes and no. Once you’ve grasped those, move on to I would like… and other useful phrases and, with a little effort on your part, you may surprise yourself at how well you can get by.
Do it like a local. When I travel I always try to Do it like a Local at the markets and grocery stores. I go partially out of curiosity, as I love to see what the locals use, and partially to stretch my travel dollar as far as it will go. The grocery stores are a great place to get drinks and snacks plus all the fixings for a great meal. Last time I was in Mexico I bought two soft drinks, two large buns, a complete roast chicken and treated myself to ice cream at the grocery store for just $130 MX pesos. At the current exchange to the US dollar that’s about $10 for a complete (and delicious) meal for two. Pretty hard to beat that price at a restaurant and I bet that the presentation of the ice cream wouldn’t even be half as tempting!
Make friends. Here’s a little secret: Couchsurfing.org isn’t really about finding a place to crash. It’s a true community of travelers sharing their insights and meeting each other along the road. The information you’ll find in the forums alone are worth the visit. Also, consider going to a CS meet up during your travels – it’s a great way to meet locals and other travelers.
Chill out. It sounds cliché, but our biggest tip for travel is to be flexible. Enjoy moments in 5 star hotels with swimming pools and kids clubs, but don’t ever be above trying new things like hostels. We have had amazing times in each. In one you get the pool and the food and the relaxation. In another you meet new people and have the opportunity to find places no one knows about. Both have a place in travel and both can lead to a whole new set of experiences.
Be adventurous. Try things at least once. If you don’t like it then at least you know that. Get out of your comfort zone and try new foods, experiences and meet new people. Your life will be richer for this. A friend I met in college introduced me to this way of living and it has been a fun part of my travels since then. It has made for some interesting stories too!
Get on the bus, Gus. Don’t be afraid of local transport. Taxis are fine when you absolutely need to be somewhere at a certain time, but when traveling, it’s nice to take your time and there’s no better way to do that than a city bus or a shared pickup or a commuter train. Sure, it might take a while to get to your destination and you could get lost, but that’s half the fun. And who says you even need a destination? Just seeing how the locals go about their daily lives is a great experience in itself.
Hunt for food. We suggest getting out and exploring the neighborhood you’re staying in. And what better way than with a food tour?! Whether you book a tour, or just make your own – get out and explore the little neighborhood food shops, the local restaurants and try to find the street food. You’ll find you can learn so much about a city (or even a whole culture!) that way.
Keep an open mind. Never judge a country based on pre-conceived notions or stereotypes built up before actually visiting that country. When you visit a country and spend some in depth time exploring, you discover the realities of the location and get to know people and often find your perceptions will change.
Slow down and breathe. We found that when we move too fast, we spend way too much money, and though we have tons of pictures, we’re not really there, not really, really there. In our third year on the road, it is precisely those unplanned moments when we are chilling with the locals that we have those pzazz-moments where we become in love, we laugh, we cry, and we are true travelers. Not tourists, but travelers who feel what the frequency and energy of the place is and become a part of that white noise. Slow down, stop planning, and breathe. It’s better, in our opinion to spend two months on this one island in the Philippines, than two months hopping every few days. We lived from one month to five months at a time in the same spot on the globe, and because of that, that ranch in Costa Rica, the indigenous village in the Ecuadorian jungle, that shack off the pier on that island have become deeply ingrained into the fibers that make us who we are today. That would never happen if we skirted in and skipped out.
What floats your boat? Think about whether you have any special interests that might help you get off the beaten path during your trip. For example, I’m vegan and because of that I often trek to non-touristy neighborhoods to try out vegan bakeries or restaurants that I’ve read about online. It can be a pain (especially for non-vegan traveling companions) but it can also be a fun “excuse” that leads to seeing parts of cities I wouldn’t otherwise see. Another example of ways your personal interests can take you off the beaten path is taking classes while traveling that are related to one of your interests e.g., I took bike mechanic classes in NYC last summer. Look for classes aimed at locals. You can also look for groups and activities connected to your interests e.g., If you’re a hiker, why not go hiking with a local hiking group etc.
Eat like the locals. Eating great food is one of my ultimate travel pleasures, and nothing taints the experience more than being served up overpriced, bland fare aimed at helpless tourists. I’m often able to avoid this kind of food by skipping past the restaurants that have menus in several different languages posted outside (you know what I’m talking about!). Look for restaurants with menus written in the local language only — and therefore aimed at local customers. Don’t worry, there’s almost always an English menu kept behind the counter.
Be coy – carry a local store’s shopping bag. One of the first things Journeywoman does when she arrives in a new city is to find the local grocery store. I make a small purchase just so that I get a shopping bag with the store’s logo on it. To avoid looking like a tourist and to fit in, I leave my backpack at the hotel and carry my camera and maps in this grocery bag. One added benefit — thieves are far less prone to steal my shopping bag than to grab my backpack.
Use a decoy. Have a throwaway wallet you use when out and about. Stock it with just enough money for a day or two and an old, expired credit card. Keep your main wallet back in your secure room or hotel safe. If you get robbed, your loss will be minimized.
It’s all about the Benjamins. Always carry some emergency US dollars, regardless of your nationality. In a pinch, you can always convert dollars to local currency, and some places (especially some visa applications) require US dollars. Make sure your bills are in good condition since some people/places won’t accept worn out bills.
Split up the snacks. No matter where we travel or what means of transportation we take, we always have travel snack foods at the ready. With two kids, without fail each kid wants to eat what the other has. This is fine as long as there are 2 of those items available and they aren’t accusing the other of “eating more”. My top tip for solving this dilemma you ask? Individual snack bags! I get a zip lock bag and label each one for every family member and place the same exact items in each. This way when the food is gone, it is because they ate it and all is calm.
Share the work. When road tripping with children, give every family member a job that is age and ability appropriate. One family member might be responsible for fueling up the car, one for filling water bottles, one for clearing the car of trash and so on. On longer trips and when children are older, allow kids to switch jobs at each stop or on different days of the trip.
Plan for chores. Often we travel for a few weeks at a time. With three small children and two adults, our laundry really piles up. In order to save room in our luggage, we plan at least one laundrymat stop or book one night here and there at a hotel with laundry facilities. Money saving tip: take laundry detergent samples or pack laundry pods.