We recently passed our two-year travelversary (that's a thing right?). We've seen a lot in that time and travelled to different parts of the world, as a couple, with groups of friends, with family. We've been on buses and overnight trains, gone on road trips and camped, stayed in hostels, fancy hotels and beach shacks. We've spent months in some cities and rushed around others in a day or two. Here are a few of the tips and tricks we've learned along the way:
Before you go
- Figure out your priorities and budget before you go, especially if you're travelling with a group.
- Decide who's paying for what and how to split the bill on the first day. Sometimes it's easier to have a kitty that everyone contributes to. If you're a couple, get a joint account.
- The Skyscanner 'Everywhere' function is great for finding cheap places to fly to. It's particularly useful for long flights. For example, it worked out much cheaper for us to fly from Italy to Madrid and then Cuba on two different airlines than direct from Italy to Cuba.
- Google your destination plus 'travel blog' to find things to do, restaurants and more up-to-date info than your guidebook. I also like using Instagram and Pinterest for destination research.
- Learn how to say a few words in the local language – hello, goodbye, please and thank you.
- Download the area on Google maps so you can navigate on your phone without using data.
- You need so much less than you think – buy the smallest bag you can cope with and pack as lightly as possible.
- I honestly don't think I'd still be travelling if it wasn't for packing cubes. Taking each item of clothing out of your bag every time you arrive in a new place and then packing it all up again a few days later just seems like a massive waste of time. Packing cubes keep everything neat in your bag and make packing and unpacking so much easier (I use these Eaglecreek ones).
- A few things that I've found particularly useful: an over-the-shoulder bag, leggings, running shoes that can also be used for hiking, a hanging wash kit.
- Things we hardly ever use: a rope for laundry, travel towels, sleeping bag liners.
- Always take more than one bank card with you and keep them in separate places, especially if you're travelling alone.
Where to stay
- The city centre isn't always the best place to stay. Staying in a more local neighbourhood, where people actually live, can be much more interesting and it's usually cheaper too.
- Airbnb apartments often have huge discounts if you book for a month or more. Sometimes it's even cheaper to stay for 4 weeks than 3!
- It can be worth emailing hotels and asking for a discount if you're travelling during low season. Not every hotel will do this, but we've gotten some good discounts this way (best discount so far – 50% off!).
- Even if you have nothing else planned, figure out how you're going to travel from the airport or bus/train station when you arrive in a new place. A bit of research makes it much less stressful and you're less likely to get overcharged by taxis if you look like you know what you're doing.
- Bring a jumper with you on travel days, the air conditioning on those buses and trains can get cold!
- Unpack straight away, no matter how late it is, and keep your room tidy. When you're in a new country, and everything is overwhelming, your apartment or hotel room can feel like your only haven.
Experiences vs sights
- The things I remember most about a trip are experiences rather than sights. Eat pizza in Naples, ride a motorbike in Vietnam, get a massage in Thailand. These experiences are well known for a reason – they're amazing. Do the things you're supposed to do in the places you're supposed to do them.
- To understand the food culture, go to markets and eat street food. Look for stalls with lots of locals, a high turnover of customers and freshly prepared dishes.
- Even if we only have a day or two in a city, I always try and leave some time for just wandering around or exploring a fun neighbourhood. Those are usually the best bits.
- You don't need to go everywhere. And it's ok if some experiences aren't for you.
- If you're travelling on an extended trip, you'll be spending a lot of time in the sun, so wear factor 50 sunscreen. Even if you don't burn or it doesn't feel that hot.
- As someone who's hand once swelled up like a baseball mitt after a bite, mosquitos are quite a big concern for me. The best thing I've found to relieve bites is tea tree oil. Apply it as soon as possible to reduce swelling and itching, and repply as necessary.
- One of our first destinations was Thailand, where fruit juices and smoothies are incredible. It was so tempting to get them with every meal (and we did for a while), but when you're eating out most of the time, things get pretty unhealthy. Drinking water instead is a really easy way to cut down on sugar.
- It's hard to fit in exercise when you don't really have a routine and it's something we always struggle with. The best way I've found to consistently exercise is Youtube videos that you can do in your room. My favourite is Yoga with Adriene.
Adjusting your mindset
- If you're someone who gets annoyed about small things (like me!), the frustrations of travelling – transport delays, slow internet, bad service, etc. – can start to wear you down. Ask yourself, What would happen if I ignored this? The answer is usually nothing.
- Smile and just say No thanks to touts. They can be annoying, but there's rarely a reason to be rude and you never know when that person will pop up again.
- When you're in another country you can't have everything the way you want it. Sometimes you can't have anything the way you want it! Instead of trying to control a situation, surrender yourself to the experience of being somewhere new and just go with it.
If you have any travel tips to share, I'd love to hear them!