Planning on going vacation soon? Here’s list of advice I wish somebody had given me when I first started traveling. Many of these things I learned through experience. Sometimes it was funny, other times I was grateful I escaped unharmed with nothing missing. This list will be updated as ideas pop up.
Travel Advice On Money
- Notify your bank and credit cards of your travel plans at least a month before leaving. Notify them again 2 days before you leave. This should stop the fraud departments from freezing your cards by mistake. You’ll still want to have back up sources of funds just in case of emergencies or snafus. Have at least 1 debit card, 1 credit card, and enough cash for at least 2 days of expenses.
- Do not exchange your currency at the airport or at the bank. Most banks outside of major urban financial centers have horrible exchange rates. Wait until you arrive at your destination and use your ATM card. The fees will end up less than the rate charged by most currency exchangers.
- Speaking of ATM/debit cards, set up a separate account just for withdrawing money overseas. Transfer only as much money as you will need to this account. Also turn off overdraft protection or any other “service” your bank provides that automatically transfers funds from your other accounts to cover negative balances. This way even if your debit card gets skimmed you won’t lose all your money. Do this 1-2 months before you leave as it takes at least 1 week for new bank accounts and debit cards to get set up.
- Alternatively use your credit card for cash advances at the ATM. Then pay off the entire cash advance balance the same day to avoid interest charges. Only do this if you can be responsible and stay on top of things while having fun! Interest accumulates on cash advances the day you take the money out. Using your credit card will limit losses if you lose your card or if your card gets skimmed.
- Know if your destination requires declarations of cash. Some countries in Europe, the US, and Australia treat large amounts of cash (excess of $10000) as suspicious and signs of money laundering or drug dealing. Undeclared cash may be seized by law enforcement if you are stopped for any reason even if the money is legally yours. In other countries such as China, Hong Kong, and Japan, carrying large amounts of cash is perfectly normal.
- Keep a decoy wallet filled with old receipts, frequent shopper cards, etc. Keep some real money inside ($20ish). Hand this wallet over to muggers if you get assaulted. This will also be the first thing pickpockets grab, leaving your real wallet safe.
Advice On Hotels And Accommodation
- After you check-in, do a quick sweep of the room. Besides dumping your bags on the floor and kicking off your shoes, check everything in your room as soon as you get your keys. Make sure everything works and report any damages immediately. You’ll avoid being charged for damage charges if you report any problems right away. Also make sure the room is clean. Request another room if it’s filthy.
- Before you check-out, be sure to document everything with your camera/phone and gather evidence in case the hotel tries to charge your card for damages after you’ve left. This way you’ll also have plenty of evidence for an online review. Problems with hotels tend to magically disappear once you let them know you’re going to write about them online.
- On that note, do write review your experience and add plenty of pictures. Share your experience on your blog or on popular travel sites like tripadvisor. Other travelers need your honest hotel reviews to balance out all the “hired” reviews from hotel employees. Hotel managers do read these reviews and respond. If you write a positive review you might even get a discount or free nights for your next stay. On the other hand, a very detailed negative review with lots of picture evidence motivates hotels to solve many disputes.
- Those super plush and comfy blankets and duvets at higher end hotels are filled with goose down comforters. Even though it costs hundreds a night to stay in a hotel with super comfy down comforters, you can get the same experience at home for less than $200. Check out these reviews of the best goose down comforters that all the top hotels use in their bedding.
Travel Advice On Exploring A Foreign Land
- Do explore your new environment and travel off the beaten path. Be smart about it and do your research first. What seems like a nice shortcut from point A to point B might really be a “no go zone” full of crackheads and gangs. Check out your destination on wikitravel.org for areas to avoid and scams to watch out for.
- This is common sense, but still needs to be said. Stay out of dark empty alleyways and side streets. Travel on well lighted streets with lots of people. No matter how street smart you are in your home city, you are a guest in an unfamiliar land while you’re traveling. What works at home doesn’t always apply in another country.
- Avoid drugs. Try really hard. What may be a misdemeanor at home can be a death sentence in other countries. Specifically do not do drugs in Malaysia and Indonesia. Double check your bags and clothes to make sure nobody slipped anything in before crossing customs.
- If you’re from a western country and going to developing countries, chances are your digestive system will not adjust to local germs. Avoid tap water and raw foods. Drink beer if there’s no boiled water or tea.
- Learn some basic phrases in the local language: “please”, “excuse me”, “hello”, “thank you”, “I need help”, “sorry”, “goodbye”.
- Mark out the places you want to visit and the paths you’ll take on a map before you head out. Make sure you mark down your hotel and rendezvous points.
Travel Advice On Packing And Clothes
- Bring along some large Ziploc bags to store dirty clothes or to waterproof your clean clothes. Ziploc bags can also be used in a pinch to waterproof your phone or camera if you’ll be out in the rain or on a boat.
- Clothes that were dry when you packed them into your luggage will not always be dry when you land at your destination. Your suitcase will soak up water like a giant sponge in humid and rainy places like London, Singapore, Hong Kong or anywhere else in the tropics. Damp clothes will get moldy. Ziploc bags. Lots of Ziploc bags. You’ve been warned.
- You only need 3 pairs of underwear. One to set wear today. One set to wear tomorrow when you wash today’s undies. And a spare set.
- Oh, do your own laundry. Hotel laundry is a ripoff. This is easier if you’re renting an apartment or house with a washing machine. If this sounds like a chore, then see if there are laundromats near your hotel.
- Pack as few toiletries as possible. Shampoo, toothpaste, soap, combs, and razors can be found at grocery stores and pharmacies in every country. It’ll cost less to buy these things when you land than to pay the extra baggage fees. Lugging around heavy bags full of shampoo and toothpaste while you’re traveling by yourself is also a dumb idea.
- If you must bring your own toiletries, empty everything in pump tops into travel sized bottles with screw tops or flip tops. Pumps have a 100% chance of leaking or coming apart. Keep all your toiletries in Ziploc bags in case of leaks.
- On the day of your flight wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Do not wear a belt, watch, or jewelry either. Not if you mind losing them anyways. There’s a very good chance you’ll forget something after clearing security in the chaos of getting dressed, keeping your eye on all your belongings, and trying not to miss your flight.
- Travel with only a carry-on if possible. You’ll be ready to leave the airport as soon as you land. The last thing you need to worry about on vacation is lost luggage.
- Pack light and leave some spare room in your bags for souvenirs!
- Do pack a pair of light plastic flip flops (or buy a pair as soon as you land). Hotel carpets are filthy and you’re sure to contract warts someday trekking around barefoot.
- Anything of value that you care about should be kept in your carry-on or on your body. Bags that get packed in overhead storage, under the bus, in the cargo will be opened and searched either by thieves or customs officials.
- Keep a copy of your identification, passport, and other important documents separate from the originals.
- Keep a small packet of nuts or dried fruit in your purse. You never know if your flight will be delayed causing you to arrive in the middle of the night when all restaurants and grocery stores have already closed.
Travel Advice On Technology
- For the love of puppies do not pack anything resembling electronics in your checked luggage. There’s a greater than 50% chance that they won’t be there when you pick up your bags.
- Get a cheap unlocked phone and an international SIM card before you leave. Prepaid SIM cards are easy to buy in some countries (Hong Kong) but difficult/impossible to buy in other countries if you are not a citizen or resident with proof of ID. While you can make phone calls/facetime over wifi there are still times when a working phone away from the hotel will be useful.
- Charge everything the night before your flight. Make sure everything is 100% charged the day you leave. Have an extra battery for your laptop, phone, and camera. Always have an extra battery and memory card if you’ll be out taking pictures. It’s guaranteed that your batteries will run out of juice or your memory card will error out just as you get to the most photogenic spot at any attraction.
- Back up your photos every night to your laptop. Better yet send the files to dropbox. Your laptop and camera can be stolen at any moment and there goes all your vacation photos.
- Bring a power plug converter. Check all devices you plan on taking. If they don’t say something like “Input: 100-240V” then they probably won’t work in a lot of countries. Different countries have different power systems, double check the voltages for your destination before packing. Plugging in a 120V American device into a French power plug (even if you have a plug converter) will cause blow out fuses left and right. Everybody in the hotel will know you’re the American who blew the entire building’s power supply.
The Most Important Travel Tip:
Relax! Enjoy yourself, live in the moment, and try new things.