With every new trip, I learn something new about traveling. Not even a decade worth of constant traveling can prepare you 100% and frankly, that uncertainty and opportunity to discover new things about the world and yourself is one of the best things about travel. My copious adventures around the globe have taught me a few tips and tricks of the travel trade, so to celebrate 75 weeks of writing on The Cultureur, I bring you my 75 favorite travel tips and lessons learned from the last decade of my travels. They’re my personal tried and tested tips, and some are location-specific while others are more general. Let’s get started…
Have any other little nuggets of wisdom? Feel free to add yours in the comments below.
1) Inform your credit card company that you’re traveling, especially if you’re going overseas, so you don’t experience any embarrassing blocks on your account.
2) On that note, don’t just rely on only one source of money. Keep some cash, have at least 2 different cards, etc. especially if you have AMEX, as not all places take it abroad.
3) Never place any valuable items (things you can’t part from emotionally or physically) in your checked-in bag. Either don’t take it or put it in your handbag. The same goes for things that can’t be easily replaced such as your medications.
4) Keep an extra pair of clothes and underwear in your handbag in case something happens to your luggage or you spill on the plane. All bets are off when there’s turbulence.
5) Always ask if any upgrades are available when you check-in at your hotel. Rooms with a view, suites, late checkout, complimentary services…just ask. The same goes with your airline.
6) If you don’t have an iron on hand, the second best way to remove wrinkles quickly from your clothes is your beloved hair dryer. Stretch the garment, apply the heat, and voilá.
7) Always, always check the visa restrictions RIGHT BEFORE you leave. Even if you checked it 1 month ago, it very well could have changed in the past 30 days. Trust me, been there, done that.
8) Spritz your favorite perfume in your suitcase so your stuff arrives at your destination smelling lovely.
9) If traveling to London, arrange for a private pre-booked taxi, instead of getting a black cab at the airport.
10) The best way to pack for a long trip with minimal space is to stick to a neutral palette and add color by way of accessories, jewelry, etc.
11) Keep a travel packing list ready on your computer, even if you think you’re a packing ninja.
12) Don’t forget to take notes. You will NOT remember all the little details when you get home, no matter how much you think you will. What was the name of that rare animal species that we saw on the safari?
13) If you don’t like to wear something at home, don’t expect to start wearing it when you travel.
14) If you have a lot of walking ahead of you, don’t pack brand-new flats that you haven’t broken into. Your feet will curse you. On that same note, always have at least one pair of tried and tested comfortable walking shoes with you.
15) Always have a basic first-aid kit on hand – pain/fever reducers, anti-histamines, decongestant, antacids, Imodium, bandages, alcohol wipes, etc. In many cases, this could SAVE your life. No joke.
16) Altitude sickness is real. If you’re going to a high-altitude destination, allow your body to acclimate before exploring. Consult your physician for medications such as acetazolamide.
17) If planning to travel extensively in Germany by train, invest in a BahnCard for discounted fares.
18) Become best friends with dry shampoo. A volumizer, a blowout prolonger…it’s a curly-haired girl’s holy grail, especially on those days you’re feeling lazy and rushed, but still need to look presentable.
19) Japanese restaurants that have Thai and Chinese dishes on the menu as well: steer clear. It’s more than likely that the Japanese food (at least the sushi) is going to suck.
20) Buy your on-board WiFi services from Gogo before your flight. You get much better value than buying it on the plane.
21) Get your Global Entry pass to bypass the security checks. No more taking off your shoes, taking out your laptops, etc.
22) Asking the museum staff for tips on what to see and what to miss could save you A LOT of time.
23) Always have dryer sheets on hand — perfect remedy for static on clothes and hair.
24) Get a global plan from your phone carrier before you go. Or if you’re going for a longer time, get a local SIM card.
25) Before you visit a destination, look at a variety of pictures from there, to get inspiration and to make sure you don’t miss any great angles.
26) Invest in fantastic luggage with wheels. A spinner, to be more precise.
27) Try to integrate yourself into the local society as much as possible, even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new local customs.
28) Keep your travel receipts, boarding passes, and other documentation until the transactions have been cleared on your bank/mileage statement.
29) No matter where you are, carry some local and home currency with you.
30) Use household items like straws and buttons to organize jewelry in your luggage.
31) Carry extra passport photos with you to facilitate bureaucratic paperwork.
32) Knees and shoulders should be covered when you’re visiting St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. They can and WILL refuse entry.
33) Don’t step on a plane completely drunk or hungover. Your stomach will HATE you.
34) It’s sometimes wise to keep your mouth shut when you’re caught up with officials in a new country in a language that you don’t understand/speak. Whether you admit it or not (still struggle with this), they do have the power to make your life a lot more difficult than it needs to be. At least temporarily.
35) Carry extra plastic bags, either for yourself or for the person next to you who forgot his/hers. We’ve all been there.
36) Look into a travel-friendly credit card that offers mileage/points and use it for everything. You’ll rack up the miles faster than you know.
37) While abroad, if you need more visa pages in your passport, make an appointment at your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate (U.S. Citizens) for a refill book.
38) Contact local bloggers in the destination you’re visiting for the local scoop, personal recommendations, and tourist traps to watch out for.
39) Back up your photos, website, documents, all of it. PERIOD.
40) If you’re a Louvre Museum aficionado, admission is free on Friday evenings, the first Sunday of each month, and July 14th.
41) Know the difference between government-issued travel warnings and travel alerts.
42) Keep track of all your frequent flier accounts using programs such as AwardWallet and TripIt.
43) Treat your hotel concierge as the ultimate insider. You want to know what they know.
44) Border control officers and sarcasm do not go well together.
45) Make sure you know the voltage of your destination. I’ve blown a fuse or two in the past, so now all you’ll find in my arsenal are dual voltage gadgets.
46) Do your own research instead of letting a guidebook dictate what are the best things to see, do, and eat.
47) Don’t wear a full face of makeup on long-haul flights. You will, I repeat, you will end up with a blemish or two by the time you land. On that note, always keep lip balm handy and apply and re-apply generously throughout the flight.
48) Have a small snack bag handy at all times.
49) Load up on H2O and limit the champagne and salt intake while up in the air. You’ll thank yourself when you step off the plane.
50) If you’re unsure if you will use your bulky DSLR, DON’T take it.
51) Digitize your wallet and passport. Take photos/scan copies of your credit cards, visas, IDs, passport, etc. and have them on your phone and/or in your email.
52) Rent a car in Southern California and drive up and down Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) 1. It truly is a breathtaking drive along all the coastal cities.
53) If you’re confronted with child beggars on the streets abroad, DON’T give them money. As someone who has worked extensively at NGOs, it does far more harm than good. Sounds counter-intuitive, but offer them a meal instead.
54) Paris has some of the most amazing museums in the world, and it extends far beyond the Louvre and D’Orsay. Take some time to explore lesser-known gems and create your own Paris – one that goes beyond guidebooks and resonates within your soul.
55) Do yourself a favor and visit Washington D.C. during fall or spring and spare yourself the winter and summer months.
56) If you travel often, have a carry-on ready at all times with toiletries and essentials, so you can grab and go.
57) Use brightly colored luggage tags to stand out on the baggage claim carousel.
58) Multi-tasking products really are your best friend when traveling. Face cleanser that doubles as a makeup remover or Argan oil that can be used on the skin, face, and hair…get on that.
59) Don’t bother taking loofahs, body wash, toothbrushes, etc. You can get it on the airplane and/or in the hotel. It takes up unnecessary space and weight. The only toiletry I end up taking is packets of my shampoo/conditioner because I’m rarely on board with the hair care in hotels.
60) Set up alerts to track airfare and hotel prices. If you have a destination in mind and are flexible with your dates, be sure to sign up for alerts through websites such as www.kayak.com and www.airfarewatchdog.com.
61) Don’t visit Chicago without indulging in its fine coffee culture and appreciating its diverse architectural styles.
62) One of the best places to soak up local culture and sample local flavors is the supermarket and/or outdoor markets. And not to mention, it’s THE perfect place to people watch.
63) Know where your country’s nearest Embassy/Consulate is. At the very least, have the number on hand. While you’re at it, keep your airline’s number on hand too.
64) Knowing the basic history of a destination can elevate your experience in more ways than you can imagine. It helps to put everything in perspective.
65) Always have a pashmina on hand on the plane – serves as a blanket, a chic accessory, and so much more.
66) Try to learn a few useful phrases in the local language – no matter how ridiculous you sound, the locals truly appreciate that you’re trying and have reverence for their language and culture.
67) If all else fails, resort to charades – foolproof.
68) When in L.A., do as the Angelenos do – plan your day around traffic. It’s a horrendous beast so make sure you know what you’re up against.
69) Don’t skimp on your vaccinations and shots before traveling. Not a smart move.
70) If you have a connecting flight: 1) Look up the airport beforehand so you know where you have to go and how much time it will approximately take; and 2) Give yourself enough time between flights in case you do have to go from one side of the airport to the other. Or if you’re dealing with a beast of an airport like Chicago O’Hare, just brace yourself for the high likelihood of a delay. Better yet, try to avoid that airport if you can.
71) Be a generous tipper (hotel staff, restaurants, taxis, etc.), especially if they’ve gone out of their way to help you. Travel karma is real.
72) Toilet paper is not commonplace in many corners of the world. Be prepared.
73) Cooking classes with locals is one of the best ways to get to know a destination’s culture, language, and food.
74) Understand that perfectly normal and benign gestures at home could be considered offensive in another part of the world, and vice versa. Case in point: the middle finger and parts of Asia and the Middle East.
75) British English and American English might as well be two separate languages. Mind the gap.
Need reasons to travel? Read on to see not 1, not 2, but 100 reasons to travel.
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Ready to start a travel blog? Try these 12 DOs and DON’Ts of Blogging.