If you have followed me up until this point we have gone on an adventure to see the land where the Queen reigns, heard the bellows of Scottish bagpipes, fallen in love with the folklore and landscape of Ireland, and learned how to take a risk and enjoy the Grecian sun and its people. Before we head fast on our next adventure, it is here I diverge to offer some tips and tricks in order to be successful in your future travels. They are not generalized to any country per say, but rather I hope that by following these tips your adventures will be as fulfilling as possible. Without further ado, let’s begin.
- Buy tickets to well known attractions ahead of time
During my travels, I will be perfectly honest in that I never follow my own advice and buy most of my tickets while I am already in the country. As a result, I have waited in incredibly long lines to see things and have also missed out on some attractions due to my lack of planning. While some things you may benefit in buying when you arrive as the costs may be cheaper in person, do your research beforehand as some places may only sell a limited amount of tickets per day for an attraction. Things such as all day boat tours should be purchased beforehand as failure to do so may result in not getting to see that island you were looking forward to. Major attractions in big cities such as the London Eye (London), The Tower of Belem (Portugal), Park Guell (Barcelona) and Alhambra Palace (Granada) are just a few places in which buying tickets beforehand will prevent disappointing long lines or missing out on the attraction all together. Furthermore, look into special tourist cards in each city which in the long run can save you up to 50% on popular attractions in the city as well as restaurants and shopping outlets.
- Start planning your trip well in advance, but allow for flexibility and change
During my travels, I have learned the value of planning in advance and the difference it can have on your overall budget. My advice to you is that if you want to allow flexibility with flights and dates, then at least get your initial flight booked to the first destination. Most of the time when travelling, especially if it’s to a different continent it will benefit you to buy a one-way ticket in advance to reduce costs. If you are flying to Europe from North America, your most expensive flight will be to get to Europe. Once there, flights between countries are very affordable and can be planned after the fact.
- Pack light and be aware if the plane offers food or charges baggage fees
During my first few trips, when I say I over packed, I am not kidding around. From bringing 10 pairs of shoes to London (ask me how many I actually wore), to bringing a carry-on, backpack, and suitcase to Greece, I was the Queen of over packing. I have found that travel apps are very helpful in keeping your packing realistic. For those backpacking in Southeast Asia, there are many places that offer to wash your clothes at a much more affordable rate than the hotel you may be staying at. Look for signs when walking down the street. When I was in Chiang Mai in Thailand, Wash Drop (see hyperlink) was a great resource in that they would come directly to your hotel, pick up the clothes and deliver it back to your hotel. I also urge you to travel light, as while travelling within continents is cheap, many cheap airlines have a drawback, baggage fees. A flight that may cost you 50 Euros, may end up costing 75 Euros due to those pesky baggage fees. So do your research. In some instances, baggage fees will cost less if you pay for them prior to flying rather than when you arrive at the airport.
- Take public transit or walk and experience the city like a local
Not only will this save you an incredible amount of money in taxis but by taking public transit you are immersing yourself albeit for a short time in the daily life of locals. Although the transit system in places such as London can seem intimidating, their transit system is superb in that it offers riders multiple routes to reach the same destination. Do your research beforehand to find out what kind of transit passes are available. If you are travelling to London, pick up an oyster card and load it up as buying single tickets for transport becomes far more expensive than tapping your card. If you know ahead of time you are travelling to London, visitor oyster card are available to be ordered and shipped to you before you travel. Trust me when I tell you, taking a taxi from the airport to your accommodations in London will destroy your budget on day one and even the cabbies can attest to this. Travelling should be about experiencing new cultures and lands, and not simply about having bragging rights about having visited famous monuments and attractions. If you are travelling between cities or countries that are close by to one another, opt for travelling via coach bus or train. Not only will you avoid those pesky baggage fees I mentioned, but the ride will be an adventure in itself with beautiful scenic backdrops taking you to your next destination. I am a firm believer in appreciating the journeys in life rather than being focused on the destination.
- Learn the art of haggling/bartering
Depending on the city you are visiting, you may encounter places or situations where you have the ability to haggle for better prices. When visiting markets, do not accept the sales price you are being initially told but rather barter for a fairer deal. Often vendors are expecting you to barter with them, and will inflate their initial asking price for this reason. If you are buying multiple items, your ability to haggle tends to increase as the goal of the vendor is to sell as much as possible. Please note, that haggling in not limited to material goods, but can also be used on modes of transportation. My advice: do your research on the region you visiting and check out other travel blogs for region specific advice on how to successful plan your trip.
- Exchange most of your money when you are abroad
Besides exchanging enough money to last you two days in a country, do yourself a favour and exchange your money once you arrive at the destination. Airports and banks are the biggest culprit at giving you a terrible deal when it comes to exchanging money. Once you arrive in the visiting country, find a currency conversion exchange store which will often provide better rates than banks or airports. In places like Thailand, currency exchange stores line the streets and if you look around you can often find the best rate simply by walking a few blocks.
- Make copies of your passport and other important documentation
We all like to believe that our things will never get stolen and that it will be somebody else, less responsible and less careful. The truth is, you never know what is going to happen and the best way is to prepare yourself in the event that such an unfortunate event occurs. So how does one do this? Simple. For starters, make copies of your passport and stash various copies in different areas and carry a copy with you. Make sure that someone back home has access to a copy in the event of your belongings being stolen. In the event that your belongings are stolen, while you may not have the originals you have copies proving your identity to help assist in getting you back home. While some places require that original documentation if you are a visitor, many other cities will accept a photocopy of your documents when performing transactions such as currency exchanges. As a result, your original documentations can remain in a safe place back at your accommodations. Furthermore, make sure to separate your money and not stash it all in one place. In the event you are robbed, you will be thankful you didn’t carry all your money in one place.
- Stay hydrated, well rested, and schedule in times to eat
Trust me, I get it. You want to see everything there is to see in the shortest amount of time but you need to also allow yourself to rest and nourish your body. Afterall, while vacations are meant to be enjoyable they are also meant to be a break from life and a time to relax. By not looking after yourself because you want to see so much, you run the risk of getting sick and having your trip cut short nonetheless. Far too often have I disregarded the important of staying hydrated and well fed, and have fallen ill during my vacations and so I ask you to heed my advice. If you are determined to see as much as possible, make sure to carry snacks with you on the go and always carry water with you whenever you are heading out. Furthermore, ensure that you have snacks in your accommodations in the event that you become hungry throughout the night. Markets and street food are often the cheapest places to get food. If you are eating street food, be wary and ensure it is a busy stall as this will ensure that food is fresh. If you are looking for snacks, check out supermarkets for the best prices on snacks and water.
- Learn some basic phrases in the local language
Now if you are an English speaker visiting another English speaking country, needless to say this doesn’t apply to you. However, if you are visiting a country where the language is not English than do yourself a favour and practice some basic phrases in the local language and at the very least learn how to say hello/goodbye, yes/no, sorry/excuse me, and thank you. While you may not be able to have a full conversation, the ability to say these simple words goes a long way. It shows you respect the culture and want to embrace it. Yes it may be harder and you may not get the pronunciation perfectly, but if the locals attempt to make an effort to speak to you in English to make you feel more comfortable the least you can do is learn how to express your gratitude in their language.
- Respect the culture and its people
In addition to my previous point, this is the most important. People are often quick to judge that which they don’t understand and what does not correlate with their own understanding of the world. During my travels, I have visited countries with both very liberal values and others with more conservative values. I have visited countries in which the eating customs, social etiquette, and spiritual beliefs are very different from my own. In doing so, I learned the importance of immersing oneself in a culture to show respect for it. This can be done through learning a few words in a foreign language, following eating customs and eating local cuisine, adopting their social etiquette, and modifying your behaviour and dress to the place you are visiting. Remember to enjoy your time and respect the country as if you were visiting a stranger’s home for the first time. Talk to the locals and learn about the place you are visiting. Good luck and happy travels!