After backpacking solo to nearly every continent over the past decade and encountering both amazing and terrible travel experiences, I’ve learned that these are the best travel tips for having a great travel experience:
Do what YOU want to do. You’ll figure out your travel style and what you like to do and what you don’t like to do as you go. Some people like to stay in a city for a week, while some stay for a month or two. Some people love museums, while some have little interest in museums. There is no right or wrong travel style, so do what will ultimately makes you happy. But also…
Be adventurous and try new things. There’s a chance you’ll only be in that foreign place once, especially while you’re young, so you might as well try new things. Don’t be like the English guy I met in Thailand who told me he was there for a few months so he could relax, eat English breakfasts and watch football. Great things happen outside of your comfort zone.
Travel solo. Doing what you want to do is a lot easier when you travel alone because you have the ultimate freedom. See Why I Prefer Solo Travel.
Stay in hostels not only to save money, but to meet great people.
Be adaptable. Shit happens. Go with the flow and remember that even during the rough times, the good far outweighs the bad.
Don’t be afraid to get lost. It’s part of the fun and the adventure and you’ll discover new places.
People watch. To get a feel for a place, park yourself in a cafe, busy street corner or park and watch life happen.
Be spontaneous and be a “yes” person. Don’t plan too much, be flexible and say “yes” to new adventures, experiences and opportunities (this applies at home too). Know the key spots you want to see, but be open to new plans, places and people and go with the flow. See The Best Travel Advice? Be Spontaneous.
Observe daily life. Sit in a busy cafe or a park and people watch.
Learn how to bargain. You’ll save money and it teaches you important life skills.
Take Dukoral. If you’re traveling in developing areas, take Dukoral before your trip. Dukoral is an over-the-counter oral vaccine that coats and protects your stomach from travelers’ diarrhea, E. coli and cholera. Surprisingly, many travelers haven’t heard of it, but I absolutely swear by it and I’ve never had any major stomach issues while backpacking places like South and Central America, Mexico, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where I regularly indulge in street meat, salad and fruit (while still using some precautions). When I traveled to Egypt, the people who had taken Dukoral were fine, however, the people who did not take it got very sick and the trip was a lot less enjoyable for them.
Try the local food. Especially the street food. It’s super cheap and it’s the most authentic cuisine you can get. And contrary to what we’re taught, it won’t make you sick, if you’re careful about which food stall you choose (pick a busy one). See Legal Nomads How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick.
Don’t survive off of cheap ramen noodles. Trying the local cuisine is a huge and great part of the traveling experience. If you need to save money, cook your own food at the hostel and when you do go out, don’t eat in the touristy (ie. overpriced) areas.
Pack light. I packed five shirts, two shorts, one dress, two leggings and one hoodie in a slightly larger than a carry-on sized backpack for my 3 month trip in South America. You really don’t need much, it’s easier and lighter when you’re always on the move and it leaves room for souvenirs. And if you really need more, you can buy when you’re there.
Don’t pack things you really care about. If you’re backpacking, your things will very likely get trashed, and even lost or stolen, and you will be sad.
Learn a few phrases in the local language. It makes the locals so happy.
Carry a stash of emergency cash. At some point, in some place, your bank card and credit card won’t work. Also take a backup credit card and bank card in a safe place in case of emergency.
Always be aware of your things and your surroundings to avoid pickpocketings and unwanted situations.
Only carry around what you need on a day/night out. Don’t bring your bank card, credit card and passport if you don’t need them.
Dress according to the local culture. You don’t want to offend the locals or attract unwanted attention or harassment.
Know the difference and know your audience.
Interact with with locals for an authentic experience. The people you meet while traveling make the trip more than the sights do.
Bring earplugs. Earplugs are life. I don’t think I would survive travel without them. They’re an absolute must if you’re staying in hostels.
Go on the free walkings tours, where available. Many cities have them and they’re a great way to become orientated and learn about the city you’re visiting. They can be hit and miss, but the great walking tours have far outweighed the bad. Locals can take you to lots of cool places and give you tons of great local info, history, anecdotes and advice that you’d miss out on otherwise. Always leave a tip at the end of the tour.
Know the difference between frugal and cheap. It’s important to watch your money, but also know the time and place. Don’t be like the backpackers I met in Cambodia who tried to bargain to the death over a $1 dinner at a sit down restaurant (which is not an appropriate place to bargain) or the girls I met in Laos who made a very dramatic scene over having to pay an extra $0.75 for a tuk tuk ride. It’s insulting to the locals and you embarrass yourself and the people you’re with.
Don’t feel guilty if you splurge once in a while. I’m a budget traveler because it allows me to travel longer and to more places; however, living on a tight budget gets old after a while, so it’s nice to treat yourself once in a while with a nice dinner or a nice hotel.
Pack extra underwear. Lack of laundry facilities and the time to do laundry happens, so pack extra underwear. It doesn’t take up much space.
Keep photocopies and emailed copies of your passport, visas and credit cards. If something happens to them, this will make your life a lot easier.
Back up your photos online. Just in case.
Get off the beaten path. The best places are typically the least touristy and therefore the most authentic and memorable. Still travel to the popular places, but don’t write off other places just because they’re not on the tourist trail.
Wear sunscreen. Sunburns and skin cancer are very real things.
Wear sandals/thongs/jandals/flip flops in the hostel showers. You might be lucky if you don’t, but I’ve heard horror stories of infections.
Keep a journal. It can feel tedious at times, but you’ll be happy you did, especially once you’re older. And it gives you something to do when you’re waiting for a plane, train or bus.
Volunteer. It’s a great way to interact with locals and you’ll be rewarded with amazing experiences and memories.
Don’t stay too far outside of the city action (unless that’s what you want) only to save a few dollars on accommodation. You’ll spend that same amount of money or more just to get to and from your accommodation and it’s a waste of your precious travel time.
If your accommodation doesn’t have free wi-fi, Starbucks, McDonalds and cafes always do.
Get travel insurance. Hopefully you won’t need it, but if you get sick, robbed or injured while traveling, travel insurance will have you covered.
Use common sense. For example, just because a place doesn’t have a sign saying that it’s unsafe to enter, doesn’t mean that it’s safe to enter. Developing countries lack these kinds of signs and precautions, making it a survival of the fittest lifestyle.
Trust your instincts. They don’t fail you. If something doesn’t seem right, get out. But at the same time, don’t be too paranoid. The vast majority of people don’t want to harm you.
Do not be afraid to be assertive if you’re put in an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation.
Do your research on certain tourist attractions, as many popular activities are unethical (i.e. the Tiger Kingdom in Thailand) and sometimes they exploit the locals (ie. visiting the pygmies in Uganda).
If it’s extremely hot and humid and sweating is unavoidable, wear black or other dark colors. It seems counterproductive, but you’re going to be drenched in sweat regardless and black hides it well, which is especially nice when you’re in pictures, without obvious sweat stains.
Take lots of pictures. It’s a great creative skill that you will continually improve on, so who cares if you look like a dorky tourist? You’ll look back at all your amazing photos again and again and all your travel memories will come flooding in and make you so happy. If I’m ever a little down, I look at my travel pictures and immediately feel better. Just remember to enjoy the view without your camera as well.
Take pictures of yourself and the people you meet. Until fairly recently, I used to dislike pictures of myself, but I had to make more of an effort to take pictures of myself for my blog and now I actually enjoy it and have fun with it. Even if you dislike pictures of yourself, I highly encourage you to take some anyway or you might regret it later on. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t and you may even start enjoying it too. Landscape and architectural pictures are great, but sometimes having a person in these pictures gives perspective to the size and it gives the picture some personality. And having some pictures of the awesome people you meet will always bring back the best memories.
Keep in touch with loved ones at home. They miss you and worry about you.
If you experience post-travel blues when you get home, you’ll know you did well. Here’s how to deal with the post-travel blues.