My Top 10
Insider Travel Tips
There are so many different aspects that go into planning a trip, but the truth of the matter is that once you're there, life happens, and things become unpredictable. Still, I believe that these are the best thoughts to keep in mind when traveling to make your experience fun, authentic and unforgettable.
1. Listen to fellow travelers
Travelers are 100% more reliable than the internet. They’re pretty much walking TripAdvisor reviews! Almost every fun thing I can point to that I’ve done during my travels has come from another backpackers experience. Diving in Thailand, rock climbing in Vietnam, & sandboarding in Peru are all perfect examples of opportunities I’d have missed if I stuck strictly to my itinerary. Don’t let once in a lifetime experiences pass you by because you haven’t heard of them online. Chat up people at your hostels and swap recommendations. You won’t regret it.
2. Eat at places that are busy
Obviously there’s no perfect formula to avoiding food poisoning while you’re away, but I swear by this rule. Whether it’s street food or a restaurant, make sure that where you eat isn’t empty, because there’s really nothing worse than vomiting in a hostel or on a bus. Busy and bustling places are often a sign that the food is safe enough to attract a crowd. And diarrhea aside, the locals just know where the best food is, so follow the crowds and your butt will thank you.
3. Be street smart & courteous
This is important, as we’ve all heard of travel stories that go awry. Don’t be a horror story. Don’t go out alone at night. Don’t flash or flaunt your cash in public. Respect the cultural norms of the region you’re in. Remember, you are a guest in someone else's country. If you walk around acting like you own the place, locals will notice and will take advantage. Be polite and be alert, and you will be totally fine.
4. Embrace Adventure over luxury
Backpacking is scrappy, no-frills and budget work - and it's awesome. Backpackers travel the world on a shoestring budget not for luxury or comfort, but for adventure and sightseeing. Rather than eating at upscale restaurants, you’ll likely be eating at street vendors and mom and pop shops. Rather than having your own hotel room, you’ll probably be sharing one with 7 others, some of whom may smell. Embrace the adventure of it all, and you’ll free up your mind to really enjoy a completely unique type of trip.
5. Always carry some spare cash
When you’re in a foreign land where your credit card is your only lifeline, getting it stolen or lost is catastrophic. Without money, you can’t get anything - not even a cab back to your hostel. Always keep a small but useful amount of local currency on your person whenever you go out, and make sure it’s in a place other than your wallet. That way, if your stuff gets lost or stolen, you always have a back up, even if it’s just enough to get you back to the safety of your hostel.
6. Have patience with hostels
As much as I love hostels- and i do love hostels- there’s no doubt you’re going to have to sacrifice some privacy and comfort when you’re there. People will be in and out all day, and sometimes, all night. Remember that this is something you have to do to make your trip affordable, and try accept that hostels will be imperfect solutions for accommodation. You will have the occasional dorm-room lovers and drunk party animals, but it’s all part of the backpacking experience, and hopefully, your dorm-mates will be courteous. Embrace hostels for what they are and you’ll really like them- I guarantee it.
7. Prep for long(er) bus rides
Bus rides are 9 times out of 10 longer than expected. I’ve been on bus rides that took up to 6 hours longer than advertised. Think ahead and bring snacks, water, podcasts, music and/or audiobooks to make the trip more bearable. Buses do make pit stops for the bathroom and for occasional meals, but you’ll want to be ready in case they don’t. Be sure to download your music/podcasts when you have WiFi so that you have plenty of entertainment during the trip, and do not assume your bus will have a bathroom. Also, I always keep my daypack with my essentials (passport, phone, wallet) on my person, while my backpack is in storage underneath. People will constantly be boarding and leaving the bus, so you’ll want to make sure no one messes with your things. And, just for the record, when bus companies say they have "VIP" buses, it means nothing.
8. Don't be afraid to chat up locals
I’ve unfortunately noticed this in myself, and especially in some other travelers I’ve met. People are often too timid or scared to approach locals and ask questions. More often than not, they’ll be perfectly happy to help and may even ask you about yourself. Don’t fall into the notion that locals are all out to get you or take advantage; many, if not most, are eager to chat with you and will be happy to swap stories about your home countries.
9. Use your time as your guide
As much as I like keeping my trips open ended, I don’t always have the time to. When I am on a tight itinerary, I always make sure to use my time as my primary decision maker. If you’re on a short trip, for example, and you have the option to take an expensive but quick flight rather than a long but cheap bus, take the flight. If you’re on a long trip, and have time to spend, go for the cheaper option. At the end of the day, this is your vacation and time is the only non-renewable resource you have. You want to get the most out of the country in the amount of time allotted, so use your money wisely, but not at the expense of your experience.
If you need help timing out your trip, check out my tips in my in-depth Step-by-Step Planning guide.
10. Please, please, please be open minded
I’m a very risk averse person. When I’m home, I’m pretty regimented and predictable. But when I travel, I often say that I’m a “travel” version of myself. I do my best to say yes to situations and opportunities that I’d otherwise avoid, and I generally try to be my most adventurous self. Obviously, this can mean totally different things for different people, but as a general rule of thumb, I’d say that if an opportunity makes you only slightly uncomfortable, it’s worth trying. Eat street food, learn the language, try scuba diving, go camping. Do at least one thing that you’d never do at home, because backpacking is, in itself, an adventurous, unpredictable, and bold venture, and you definitely want to be a part of it.