Travel tips: 10 things I’ve learned in a lifetime of travel

14

They say experience is the ability to recognize a mistake the second time you make it. But I like think that if you do something often enough — like travelling, in my case — you learn a few things that help you avoid the most common mistakes. Travel tips, you might call them.

I’ve travelled to 50 countries over the past 25 years, and along the way I’ve made a lot of the mistakes most travellers make. So in order to save others from the same missteps and help them have more enjoyable trips, I figured it’s time to share a few of the things I’ve learned.

Here are 10 travel tips I’ve acquired as I’ve made my way around the globe. Hopefully, they’ll help you travel a bit smarter the next time you take a trip.

Pack something warm

One of the great lessons I’ve learned from travelling in the tropics is that even in hot places, it gets cold. If you’re at the beach, chilly winds can sweep in off the ocean, and if you take the day trip toStorm at the beach the mountains, it can go from t-shirt weather to freezing cold in 15 minutes. I once decided to visit the cloud forest near steamy Granada, Nicaragua, and spent a whole morning shivering in the mist. So bring some warm clothes along on your trip, no matter what the forecast says.

Strike when the iron’s hot

When you see a great travel deal, first check it out for things like 12-hour layovers — then grab it quick. If a deal really is exceptional, it probably won’t be there if you come back the next day. A while back, I found a great deal on a flight to Ireland, one of my bucket list destinations. I took an hour to contemplate before booking it — big mistake. The deal was long gone. (More tips on booking great deals in this post.)

Know what to see

Do your homework on the place you’re visiting before you go. I still recommend getting a guidebook, for several reasons you can read here. But there are also travel blogs out there filled with great information, and cities and attractions have their own websites. If all that’s too much trouble, take a city tour when you get to town so you know what there is to see. Being spontaneous is great, but if you don’t know anything about your destination, you can do what I did long ago and leave Barcelona without ever seeing the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s famously wonky cathedral.

Don’t dine in a crowd

Avoid restaurants that have a large group dining in them. Big groups tend to get LOUD once they’ve had a couple of drinks — and they tend to suck up all the service, so you may end up waiting an hour before you get any food. I once ate a whole basket of nachos while trying to catch the waiter’s eye, and regretted it all night long.

Beware the friendly stranger

While most travellers have stories of great encounters with local people, the sad truth is that in most heavily touristed places, the locals really don’t want to know you unless they’re trying to sell Pickpocket photoyou something. So if a local is uncommonly friendly, or wants to be around you for no good reason, it’s best to have your guard up. He may just be a nice guy, but he may also be a con man or a pickpocket. Sometimes he can get you even if you’re wary, as I found out on a bus in Ecuador.

Don’t always travel first class

Notwithstanding what I just said about friendly strangers, you do want to meet the local people, and if you travel first class all the time, you won’t. Instead, you’ll meet other first-class passengers in the hotels and bus tours where you spend most of your time. Travelling a little cheaper makes you venture out on your own, and that’s where you meet people and have experiences. If you’re really nervous, hire a local guide — he can show you the sights the first-class tours miss, and give you a real insight into the local culture.

 Watch your money — but not too closely

Travelling is expensive, so it pays to watch your money while you’re on a big trip. But don’t watch it too closely: if you bypass a great experience because it costs a couple of dollars more than you want to spend, you can regret it for years to come. I’ve done it myself, and wondered later what was so important about that $10 I saved. You’ve spent a lot of money to get to your destination, and you may never return — you may as well experience it while you’re there.

Learn the local currency

Speaking of money, it can literally pay dividends to spend a few minutes learning the currency of a new country as soon as you get there: how many kroner or pesos or zlotys are there in a dollar or a pound? Figure out a little formula for converting it quickly, or find an app to use on your cellphone. If you do that early on, there’s less chance you’ll give someone $10 when you meant to give them $1, as happened to me in Indonesia. Figuring out the bills and coins is important, too: some look alike, and you can easily mistake one for the other if you’re in a hurry.

Don’t trust the bus

Always check out the bus before committing to a day-long ride. While some buses in Third World countries are comfy like the one pictured here, some aren’t built for First World bodies. You could endPeople on a bus up with your knees tucked under your chin, as I did once upon a time in India. When the bus made its first stop, I got off, grabbed my bag and went back to town to wait for the tourist bus.

Relax and have fun

Finally, remember that travel is all about enjoying yourself, so don’t spend the whole time worrying about flight schedules and hotel reservations and where to have dinner. Things go wrong on the best of trips, so if you end up going somewhere other than where you planned that day, relax and enjoy the experience. And if a great opportunity pops up, take it — these are the things that make great stories. Above all, remember that a bad day travelling is still better than a good day at work.

So, those are my 10 travel tips. You may disagree with one or the other, but I’ll wager at least one of them will save you from a bad experience, or help you have a great one. And if you have your own tips that aren’t mentioned here, leave a comment and share them so we can all travel a little smarter.

Share.

About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

14 Comments

  1. Excellent advice, Paul. One of my added tips — don’t just pack your prescription meds; also take along any personal favourite over-the-counter drugs, like pills for a cold or sore throat. Trying to find a substitute in a foreign country in a foreign language can be a real hassle, if you do catch a cold or similar minor illness.
    Loren recently posted…Strip the Willow, Daglan-styleMy Profile

  2. Hi, great tips!

    We are first time travellers and we have started in South East Asia, your first tip about bringing a jacket made me laugh because even though the weather is crazy hot in the day it can get chilly of a night.

    I would love it if you could have a look at our website, remember we are new bloggers but id like to know what you think.
    Thanks 🙂
    Jade and Michael recently posted…Backpacking in Koh Samed [Video]My Profile

    • Thanks for commenting, guys. In fact, it turned cold here in Flores, Guatemala last night and I was happy to have warm weather clothes along. I like your header and your layout. Some of the paragraphs get a bit long, though. Best to keep them to a couple of sentences since people read them on tiny screens.

  3. Your ‘Know What To See’ was bang on. We are in Japan now for a third time, but this time we didn’t take the time to plan ahead. Bad mistake. Got to Kyoto and all the hotels were booked up, missed some good shows, etc.

    • Thanks, Janet. Sorry to hear about your disappointment. That can happen when there’s a big event happening in a place and hordes of tourists rush in — it always pays to check. But the worst disappointment is when there’s something really worth seeing and you leave town completely unaware it even exists.

  4. i think this is the most sensible of all posts I have seen on this topic. I don’t take something warm though, being a light luggage fanatic. If needed I go to a charity shop and buy it there. Then leave it behind when I move on. Also disagree with one of the comments…in Asia at least pretty much any medication can be bought over the counter. Check you are at a reputable pharmacy though, eg one the expats use. I haven’t found language a problem.

    • Thanks for commenting, Gillian. Buying extra clothes on the road is a real option, and one many of us don’t think of. I also like the idea of leaving the clothing behind. My only hesitation is that in tropical countries, you may have a hard time finding warm clothing you really want to wear.

      As for the medications, I was thinking mostly about the Western world. But it’s true, you can buy a lot of medicines over the counter in Asia, and even in parts of Latin America. As you say, be careful where you buy them — I’m always a bit wary of Asian counterfeits.

  5. I definitely create a travel budget and try to save to make it happen by rotating between big trips and smaller trips. Plus I maximize those credit card points!

Leave A Reply

CommentLuv badge