On the eve of our latest trip, I thought it would be timely to share some of the little travel tips and trip advice we’ve accumulated over our years of wandering. Some are very practical, some more personal preference, some simply weird stuff that’s lodged itself in my head over the years (presumably taking up space that could be put to better use).
So, within a couple of days, we’ll be flying to Barcelona, then hiking in the Pyrenees, checking out more Greeks Islands, stopping in for a nostalgic week in Istanbul, finally taking a run at Japan in all its bizarre splendour, then capping things off with some very cool hotels in Vietnam. Which means there will be plenty of specific travel info to write about soon enough.
For now, though, here are the travel tips that pop up when we ask ourselves the question:
What have we learned in 25 years of travel?
Planning Travel Tips
I’ve often rambled on about the importance of planning ahead before setting off on a big trip. I’ll trade spontaneity for a smooth travel day every single time.
Book Hotels and Rental Cars in Advance
At the risk of repeating this travel tip for the hundredth time, booking hotels with free cancellation well in advance means you get to choose from the best options while still holding all the cards. Then, if you’re not 100% sold on your picks, do another search right before the free cancellation runs out – maybe you’ll find a last-minute deal, a new place priced low to guarantee good reviews or an opening at that famous hostel/sex club that was fully booked the first time around.
Same idea with rental cars, except that they are usually just a lot cheaper the further ahead you book. So lock something in, then maybe look into it again later.
Use a Local SIM Card
Having data while you travel makes life a lot easier, makes your phone a lot more useful and helps you seem much more knowledgeable when it comes to time to figure out what other show you know that random actor from.
You can either buy a local SIM card on arrival (either right in the airport or in a convenience store) or activate an eSIM on your phone from the comfort of your home.
Learn to Drive a Stick Shift
If you’re mainly going to be taking trains and buses this probably won’t be an issue (we’ve rarely been asked to take the wheel while the driver fights off a suave super-villain) but if you want to rent a car, many countries only offer manual transmission, or charge a lot more for an automatic.
Be Able to Eat Anything
If there are any foods you don’t like, or any particular tastes that really turn your stomach, don’t be that way. Simply choose to eat anything, at any time, gag reflex be damned. It would make travelling a lot easier, I bet.
Be Able to Sleep Through Anything
Along those same lines, instead of insisting on quiet, dark and comfortable conditions for sleeping, you should just be one of those people who can sleep through anything, like nurses or drunks at a Rider game.
Once you’ve used the power of positive thinking to force your body to completely ignore hot, stuffy rooms, loud snoring, insanely intrusive hall lights and body odour strangely reminiscent of deli meat, you’ll have no problem having a terrific night’s sleep, then can get up at the crack of dawn and spend half an hour loudly crinkling plastic bags while shining your headlamp wildly around the dorm room. Congrats, you’re that guy now!
Mark Up Your Google Maps
In case you don’t already know, you can save and label things on Google Maps. Then, when you open your map later, you’ll see all the stuff you saved and can track them down one at a time (physically, of course), nod approvingly (“niiice”), take a photo or two (one horizontal, one vertical) and continue on to the next. Travel for list lovers.
Always Carry Some Local Cash
Yes, in many parts of the world you can use a credit or debit card for basically everything. But what if you want to tip the guy who just helped you out of a mazey Moroccan medina? Or are hoping to buy 7 to 9 expensive beers in remote mountain hut where there’s no cell signal? Or aren’t strong enough to roll your VISA into a snorting tube? Sometimes cash is king.
Read Some Really Good Lists of Travel Tips
I’ve heard they can be very helpful.
Packing Travel Tips
Sure, we could go into laborious detail about every special sock, efficient travel adapter and high-performance pair of slightly-too-tight underwear. In fact, we have, in our Long-Term Travel Packing List.
But narrowing it down to the most important/interesting parts, we’re left with this list:
No matter where you’re going, when, or for how long, try to pack less stuff than you want to. This is a very common travel tip but for good reason. Packing light makes your life easier in every way. Well, maybe not in the way that you have run out of clean clothes, don’t know where the nearest laundry is and have started to adopt a mildly unpleasant aroma, but in every way besides those.
AirTags are the Shit
In the same way hotel reviews completely turned the tables in the accommodation industry (who’s in charge now, bitches?), Air Tags are freaking out the airlines and forcing at least a small modicum of accountability. Ok, maybe not that.
But if you use them, even if your luggage is three cities away in the wrong direction hidden behind a tall pile of “oversized” stuff, collecting dust and of no interest to anyone working in the vicinity, well, at least you’ll know it’s time to abandon all hope. Peace of mind – priceless.
Carry a Travel Pillow/Case
I hate flat pillows and, unfortunately, they seem to be overwhelmingly the most popular choice among “lower mid-range” hotels around the world. So it helps to add a little height so I can sleep on my side without dislocating my shoulder.
Some people like the little inflatable pillows. I don’t. So I carry a small pillowcase that can be stuffed with a jacket, sweatshirt, dirty underwear, old tissues, etc. as needed. Needs must and all that.
Carry a Smart Phone Instead of a Flashlight
Sure, you never know when you’ll find yourself in an inconveniently dark moment needing to shed some light on the situation. Just the job for a flashlight, right? Well, wouldn’t you know it, turns out these new-fangled smart phones have lights built right in. So it’s kind of a handy way to kill two birds with one stone.
Wait, what’s that? Sorry, I’m being told that the actually number is 250 birds with one marvelous stone. Apparently these “phones” do some other stuff, too. Guess you should add one to your list.
Always Bring a Power Bank
In the same way every video game boss has a fatal flaw, smart phones are practically useless when the battery is dead. Yes, they can still be used to measure things in a very general manner or be thrown in anger at a fleeing pickpocket, but for most things you’ll want to be able to charge them under any circumstance.
Funny T-Shirts Can be a Double-Edged Sword
Sure, it is fun to display your edgy wit on your chest for the whole world to see (and presumably admire) but beware of setting the bar too high. Attempting to follow up that kind of cleverness with in-person banter can be exhausting and, I’ve been told, quite a letdown.
Carry a Universal Sink Plug
You simply never know when you’ll need to dip something in a sink full of questionable water.
Wearing White is Stupid
When you’re limiting yourself to 4-5 shirts on a 3-month trip, tempting fate and splattery pasta by choosing even one white shirt is folly (at best) or arrogance (most of the time). He says, as a white t-shirt sits proudly atop his pile of trip clothes… to be continued.
Don’t Underestimate Jet Lag
It’s not as simple as – “just power through and sleep at the normal time”. Much like golf or getting your in-laws to like you, trying harder is rarely the answer. In general, we find that with any kind of significant time change it takes a few days just to feel semi-normal. So now we always try to plan a few leisurely days starting out after any big time zone shift, knowing we just aren’t going to be our usual bubbly, positive, enthusiastic selves for awhile.
And as far as completely kicking jet lag, it takes a full day per hour of time change before we get ourselves back onto a completely normal schedule of sleeping, eating and, ahem, bathroom stuff.
Be Flexible About Your Flight Dates
You never quite know when or why flight prices will improve so it’s good to be flexible. For example:
Do: Find Good Flight Deals on New Year’s Day
There are some great bargains to be had on all the main holidays – New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Easter Friday, International Frugality Day.
Don’t: Book a Super-Early Flight on New Year’s Day, then Host a Party at Your House
Just trust me.
Pre-Order Special Airplane Meals
We actually haven’t tested this one out yet but have high hopes that we’ve stumbled across a true travel hack. On our flight home from Vietnam, we are looking forward to our first official Kosher meals and, theoretically, getting our meals before the general rabble of economy class (so we can then get to sleep even sooner). And, hey, if we end up feeling just that much more spiritual afterward, that’s just a bonus.
Don’t Get Cocky at the Airport
Hundreds of flights in, there is still something that surprises us in every airport. From minor differences (shoes on or off through security, water fountains or overpriced bottles, independent or chaperoned kiosk work) to major surprises (completely shutting down for global pandemics), it’s like all the airports of the world got together and decided to always keep us on our toes.
Whatever you think you know, always keep an eye on what’s going on with the people in front of you.
Expect Problems When You Travel
From flight delays to traffic issues to taking a train to the countryside instead of downtown Amsterdam, hitting the road completely flips your daily expectations from “should be fine” to “what mysterious mistake will we make today”?
Usually the answer is just “I actually thought I might like the special house BBQ sauce this time”, but not always.
As a Couple, Don’t Book Window and Aisle Seats and Leave the Middle Seat Empty Hoping No One Will Take It
You have to really dig into the fine print to learn this, but this is actually the number one reason people get sent to hell. Second is driving slowly in the left lane.
The Plane is Not the Place to “Challenge Yourself in Old Age”
While an admirable goal in most aspects of life, defying Father Time at age 80 by attempting to clean-and-jerk a 30-pound carryon into the overhead bin without causing disaster for all around you is, well, stressful for the rest of us.
Save Your Best Jokes for the Bathroom Line
Waiting in a crowded jumble for plane bathrooms – crotch AND ass in close contact with many other passengers, both seated and standing – is a great place to try out new material. Everyone involved is already awkward, uncomfortable and simply dying for something to distract them from whatever that is touching their thigh. My “human Tetris” joke went over huge.
Don’t Clap When the Plane Lands
It’s okay to be happy to be alive, especially if flying freaks you out. But landing the plane without killing us all is literally the least the airline can do for us. Don’t let them get too full of themselves.
Question: Do We Really Still Need a No Smoking Light Above the Seat
It seems that by now everyone should probably know they can’t smoke on the plane. I mean, is there still some guy out there just staring at that light, desperately waiting for it to suddenly turn off so he can light up?
Everyone needs goals in life. Some of mine are to live long enough to see the days we no longer have to tell people they can’t smoke on a plane, drink shampoo or have half of one of my cookies.
On the Ground Travel Tips
All right – you’ve planned, you’ve packed, you’ve survived the flight. You’re there, and the trip has officially begun! Now what?
Carla is the Same in English or Spanish
Lots of names have a new twist in Spanish, so get ready to swap out Paul, Mike and Bill for Pedro, Miguel and Guillermo. But not Carla, man, she’s still all Carla.
Get Your Stomach in Shape with Yogurt and Beer
Switching countries can be hard on your digestive system (i.e. farting and stuff). One of the things that helps the transition, though, is eating and drinking local versions of things full of local bacteria. Or yeast. Or street germs, maybe. Something like that. Anyway, we’ve been told local yogurt is great for this and that beer… sometimes… might… help, too. Seems worth a try.
Explore the Brown Parts of the Map
Looking blankly at your next destination on the map trying to figure out where all the cool stuff is? Look no further than the brown section – this is apparently map-speak for “old town”. You might also recognize it by the very small streets that never go in a straight line and the cluster of religious symbols. If all else fails, look for some of those dotted lines that mean “you CAN technically get through here but to call it a street would be insulting to real streets”.
A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush
We rarely find ourselves in the market for birds, especially new ones. But if we WERE, well, this seems like a pretty fair exchange rate, I’d say. I’d guess most birds are VERY tough to catch in the bushes.
Don’t Just Check Countries Off a List
Despite the fact that right in our bio we blatantly brag about how many countries we’ve been to, travel really is about more than just rushing through places to check them off a list (or, perhaps, fill them in on a colourful and interactive travel map).
As disappointing as it is to miss out on pumping up our overall numbers, though, we find it much more rewarding to both return to places we like over and over (Lake Atitlan, Mazatlan, the Rockies) or check out new regions of countries we love (Spain, Greece, Thailand, Nepal).
Unless you’re considering the U.S. – once you’ve been to Missoula you’ve basically seen all the important stuff.
Laugh at Everything
It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling to order the food you want, discovering the bus you’re on is heading the wrong way or reluctantly agreeing to be escorted to the ATM by an armed felon, a little bit of maniacal laughter really helps lighten the mood.
While only 2 of 10 doctors still believe that laughter is the best medicine, at least 6 out of 10 foreign waiters agree that laughter will keep them from spitting in your food.
Carry Tissues in Every Pocket
They don’t always come in handy but when they do, they REALLY come in handy. And if not, at least they all eventually get to live their dream of ending up as a shredded mess in the washing machine.
Easter is Religious, Apparently
No, really, hear me out. In many countries, Latin ones especially, Easter holidays are a BIG deal. And not the way it’s big in North America, when everyone gets to eat a gross amount of chocolate without being judged and parents get to mock their kids for being so terrible at finding eggs around the house.
I don’t understand all the details, I just know Jesus plays a pretty big part.
Don’t Try to Dress Like a Local
If you are travelling anywhere outside your own hemisphere, don’t even bother. You’re not a local, you don’t talk like a local, you don’t know anything about the place and no bamboo hat or colourful mumu is going to make you look like a local. Just a dipshit.
Sirens are the Bird Calls of the City
This occurred to me late one night in a thin-walled apartment in London and, at the time, seemed like a profoundly philosophical thought. In hindsight, I’m not sure it is.
Camping Usually Sucks
During our last backpacking trip, huddled freezing and bored in our tent, Laynni posed the question, “We could be anywhere in the world, doing anything, and THIS is what we chose?”
There can be a few special camping experiences when it all comes together for one glorious moment in time – gazing quietly upon a perfectly calm, reflective lake at sunrise when somehow the mosquitoes have slept in – but most of the time camping is more about being at the mercy of the weather, plus tired, dirty and uncomfortable.
Pro: Camping makes us really appreciate the comforts of home.
Con: You might get eaten by a bear.
Learn a Bit of the Language
Yes, knowing 10-20 words is not exactly going to turn you into a smooth foreign operator. However, learning a few fun or useful phrases and then actually trying to use them in public (poorly, presumably) is sure to bring a few smiles from the locals. Or soul-crushing laughter, in the case of me trying to speak Thai.
Don’t Eat Things with Mold on Them
Just in case.
Don’t Wink at People
This isn’t actually a travel recommendation, just a life-in-general recommendation. The only time winking might make sense is if you’re trying to convincingly portray a pedophile for Halloween. But you probably shouldn’t do that, either.
Travel Tips Summary
I have to admit, as great as these tips are, it is a bit disappointing to think this is all I’ve learned in 25 years of travel. I mean, yeah, there is some pretty solid advice in there (where else do you find great tips about eating bacteria?) but, man, 1.6 tips per year? Those are some pretty expensive lessons.
At least we got some cool photos, though.
Next up, Spain!
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