On the 17th July 2011, a very timid version of myself stepped onto a plane with a one-way ticket in hand. I hadn’t travelled alone before, and never for more than two weeks at a time. Travel was brand new and I had no idea what I was doing.
I made a lot of mistakes over the past eight years.
I’ve been scammed in Russia, China, Laos, the Maldives, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka.
I managed to lose half the things I was originally travelling with.
I’ve got lost more times than I can count. Homesick, too.
I fell down the largest sand dune in Africa.
Caught cholera in Borneo.
Had a rabies scare in India.
Got caught up in a tsunami in Thailand.
Was stranded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But I’ve learned a ton from my experiences, too. To celebrate a full decade since I stumbled my way out of the U.K. and began a life of full-time travel, I’ve compiled an enormous list of my biggest and best travel tips. These are all things that I wish someone had told me before I started traveling, so I hope you’ll find them useful, inspiring, educational, and entertaining.
Brace yourselves, because this is a long one! It’s time to start learning from my mistakes :-)
1. Eat the local food
One of my biggest regrets from the first year of my travels was that I wasn’t brave enough to try any of the local food. I was raised a picky eater and that, combined with debilitating anxiety and an eating disorder, led to me believing that I would either hate or be allergic to anything I hadn’t tried before.
I was so, so wrong.
Food is now my absolute favourite way to get to know a place better.
I love trying new things, and I’ve found a thousand amazing dishes that I never would have discovered if I’d continue to eat from supermarkets around the world. Trying new food isn’t scary, and you’ll build your confidence up as you fall in love with more and more things.
Try everything, even if you have no idea what it is. I promise you won’t regret it. Or fall straight into anaphylactic shock.
2. Plan as little as possible
One of the first lessons I learned on the road was that your plans will nearly always change. You’ll arrive in a place and hate it and want to leave immediately, or you’ll fall in love with a destination and want to spend longer there. You’ll make friends with a group of awesome people and want to change your plans so you can travel with them for longer, or you’ll find out about an amazing-sounding town that’s nearby and want to head there instead.
Sure, you should have a rough plan for your trip, but don’t book everything in advance or you’ll likely feel too restricted and end up regretting it.
Book a one-way ticket and your first few nights of accommodation — you’ll figure the rest out along the way. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re in a tourist destination there’ll always be someone who’s willing to take your money by giving you a place to stay.
3. Travel insurance is everything
If you do only one thing before you leave, make it getting travel insurance. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of travellers injuring themselves in remote places and ending up in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Don’t think that it won’t happen to you, because you know those travellers thought that, too.
I’ve use World Nomads for my travel insurance provider for six years and recommend them to everyone I know. They were fantastic to deal with when making a claim.
4. Carry around spare passport photos
People laughed at me when I said that I was carrying around a dozen spare passport photos, but they’ve been incredibly useful and saved me a ton of time and hassle.
Who wants to wander the streets of some rural town in Cambodia searching for someone who can take your photo? Friends of mine had to do this!
I’ve used them to apply for visas around the world, to get a new passport when mine expired while I was on the other side of the planet, and I even needed one to buy a local SIM card in Nepal! Having spares in my backpack meant that I didn’t have to waste a day researching and then wandering around a city to try to find someone who could take a passport-sized photo of me.
5. Keep everything important in your daypack
I’m fortunate to have never had to deal with lost luggage, but I did have my backpack ripped open on a flight and I was grateful to have not had anything valuable in it at the time. I’ve also been on dodgy buses in Southeast Asia where we’ve arrived at our destination and people have had items stolen by someone hiding out in the luggage hold while we were transit.
If there’s anything I’d be upset to lose, I keep it in my daypack, which is always by my side on travel days. For me, that’s my passport, laptop, camera, external hard drive, a debit card, and some spare cash. As long as I have all of these, I can survive indefinitely.
6. Wear sunscreen every day
When you travel, you’re in the sun more than most people thanks to months of island-hopping and beach time, as well as entire days spent outside exploring. Wear sunscreen every single day, regardless of the weather and temperature, because you really don’t want your trip of a lifetime to result in skin cancer or a body that’s blanketed in leathery wrinkles.
I wear sunscreen on my face and chest every day, even in the middle of winter.
7. Take more photos of yourself
There have been so many times when I’ve been too shy to ask someone to take my photo in a place and I’ve almost always regretted it. After eight years of travel, I probably only have around 200 photos of me around the world. Photos of the beautiful places you visit are great and all, but when you get home, they’re not all that different to the ones everyone else has taken there, too. Photos with you in them are special and they’ll mean a lot more to you when you look back at them.
Or maybe I’m just a narcissistic millennial.
8. Learn a few words of the language in every country you visit
You’ll gain more respect from the locals if you can at least say hello, please, sorry, and thank you. On that note, remember: if you don’t speak the language, it’s your problem, not theirs. And please don’t start speaking louder to make yourself understood. Try miming instead, or using a translation app on your phone.
9. Bring ear plugs and a sleep mask
Travel isn’t conducive for sleep, whether it’s snorers in dorm rooms, early risers rustling plastic bags, or drunk backpackers stumbling around in the middle of the night. Even if you don’t stay in hostels, you’ll still have to deal with street noise from outside, loud bars nearby, and uncomfortable overnight journeys. Pack some ear plugs and a sleep mask in your bag to help improve your sleep. I’ve been using Sleep Phones to block out light and listen to podcasts and I love them.
10. Space saver bags will help you fit more in your backpack
I’d always been all about the packing cubes, until I discovered vacuum-sealed versions of them! You throw your clothes in, seal the bag, then roll it up to push out all the air. I can literally fit twice as many clothes in my backpack when I use these! Even if you don’t want to carry more things in your bag, it frees up so much space that if you need to pack in a hurry, you can just chuck everything in.
11. Bring several debit and credit cards with you
Sometimes your bank will block your card, sometimes your card won’t work in an ATM, and sometimes you could even lose it or have it stolen. Bring at least three debit/credit cards with you that are all linked to different accounts (with money in them!) Keep one in your backpack, one in your daypack, and one on your person.
It’s being a little paranoid, sure, but you’ll be glad you did it if you happen to misplace your card.
12. And a stash of emergency cash
I carry a spare 300 USD that’s split up in various places in my backpack, daypack, and occasionally, my shoe when I’m nervous I’ll be robbed. It means that in a worse-case scenario, I can pay for some food, a dorm bed, and a Skype call to my family to get an emergency wire transfer until I can get back on my feet again. I went with U.S. dollars because it’s the most widely accepted currency around the world and easy to change.
13. Don’t be put off a destination if you can’t find much information about it
When I decided to see if it was possible to visit the Maldives on a budget back in 2014, information was so sparse that I couldn’t even find a photo of the islands I’d decided to visit. Well, that trip was one of my highlights of the past eight years and I’m so glad I went, despite not being able to find any information online. And the advantage to that lack of information was getting to be the only tourist on an entire island — I had the whole beach to myself!
If you know it’s safe to travel somewhere, but can’t find out much else, go for it. It’s probably far easier to get there than you think. And if not, it makes for a good story.
14. Expect everything to go wrong
I’m definitely testament to that! But expecting everything to go perfectly on your trip is only setting yourself up to fail. Nobody goes travelling and comes back without any stories of mishaps. No matter how prepared you are, at some point you’re going to get lost, get scammed, miss your bus, get food poisoning, injure yourself… the list is endless! Expect it to happen, and don’t beat yourself up when it does. In a month’s time, you’ll find it funny rather than frustrating.
15. And don’t lose your temper when it does
It achieves absolutely nothing and makes you look like an asshole. Instead, calm down, put a smile on your face, think of how this will make a great story one day, and rationally figure out an alternative plan.
This too shall pass.
16. Write down the address of your accommodation before you arrive
What happens if you arrive in a city, go to grab your email confirmation for your accommodation, and your phone and laptop are out of battery? I always make sure I have a hard copy of my guesthouse name and their address, as well as directions if I won’t be taking a taxi. Once I arrive, I’ll grab one of the hotel’s business cards, so I’ll always know where I’m staying, and can show it to locals to ask for help with finding my way back.
17. If you live in jeans normally, travel with them, too
So many people will tell you not to travel with jeans, but if you wear jeans all the time at home, you’ll want to wear them while travelling, too. I didn’t start travelling with jeans until my second year of travel, and man, I missed them so much! They’re not *that* bulky so you really don’t need to worry about the extra space and weight. And in many cities in Europe, you’ll want to wear jeans to fit in with the locals — you don’t want to look like a grubby backpacker in Paris!
18. Back up everything in multiple places
Imagine how you’d feel if you lost every single photo from your trip. You really don’t want that to happen, so back everything up, in multiple places. My tech journalist boyfriend always reminds me that anything that’s stored in one place is something you don’t mind losing.
I keep copies of my photos on my laptop, back all of my photos up to an external hard drive, and use Crashplan to backup the entire contents of my laptop to the cloud. I highly recommend using the latter!
19. Visit the touristy stuff in a city
The main tourist attractions are popular for a reason. While getting off the beaten track can be fun, the things you’ll see are rarely as impressive as the popular sights. Don’t be a travel snob — hit up the famous stops as well as the lesser-visited stuff. Going to random places normally just shows you that they aren’t well known for a reason.
I’m thinking about my 10-day road trip around the Mekong Delta as I write this — we went to some obscure places where locals looked at me as though they hadn’t seen a white person before, and while that was pretty cool, there was also a reason why tourists hadn’t ventured to this tiny village before: there was nothing to do there.
20. Have a routine when checking out of a place
Checking out is when you’re most likely to lose something. Whenever I check out of a place, I check the bathroom, I check under the beds, I check the desks, and then I make sure I have my passport, laptop, camera, money, phone, and external hard drive. I’ll be fine if I leave anything else behind. Having a routine that you go through every single time will help you keep track of everything. I learned my lesson with this one when I left my passport behind in a guesthouse in Bagan, then left it in an apartment in London two months later.
21. Let your bank know you’ll be travelling
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that my bank blocked my card something like 30 times in the first three years of my trip. Practically every time I arrived in a new country, I had to call them up to get it unblocked.
And then I discovered that I could fill in my travel plans in my online banking. They’ve rarely blocked my card since.
22. If you’re not sure if you should bring it, don’t
The lighter your backpack, the better. If in doubt, leave it behind. Trust me, you can buy pretty much anything you could possibly need in most places around the world. You’ll soon learn that all you need when you travel is a change of clothes, some money, and a passport. Everything else is adding to your comfort.
23. Don’t be shamed into not buying souvenirs
So many travellers preach that it’s all about experiences not possessions, but you know what? Sometimes possessions can offer beautiful reminders of the experiences you’ve had. I only started buying souvenirs from every country I visited in the last year, and I wish I’d been doing so from the start of my trip. And if you’re worried about space in your backpack, just mail them off to a friend or family once you’ve bought them and your pack will be none the heavier. My friend Jaime collects magnets from every place he visits and I’m so jealous of his collection!
24. The smaller the menu, the better the restaurant
That’s why street food is so delicious! While you’re travelling, look for places that only do a handful of dishes rather than offering 500 options. There’s a better chance of stumbling upon an amazing dish when someone only makes that one single thing all day everyday!
25. Travel in shoulder season to save money and avoid the crowds
Shoulder season is my favourite time to travel. The weather is usually mildest, everything is more affordable than in high season, and there are fewer people visiting, too.
26. Use a VPN
You need a VPN for a number of reasons when travelling, whether it’s using it to access your favourite TV shows from back home or bypassing social media blocks in countries like China.
One of the benefits to having a boyfriend who works in travel technology is always knowing I’ve opted for the best service when it comes to keeping my data safe.
VyperVPN is the VPN we’ve been using for the last couple of years and they’re easily the best option for travellers — they’re super-fast, so won’t slow down your internet speeds, are one of the few companies to be actively and consistently working around internet blocks by other countries. After using and discarding a dozen VPN services over the past six years, VyperVPN is the only one that’s stuck around.
27. Solid Toiletries are the Best
Especially if you want to travel carry-on only. I use a bar of soap instead of shower gel, solid shampoo and conditioner instead of the liquid equivalents, and have even used solid sunscreen and solid insect repellent! LUSH is the best for solid shampoo and conditioner, so make sure you pay them a visit before you leave!
My solid shampoo and conditioner bars are small, lightweight and last me around three months at a time, so they’re great for travellers! Oh, and grab a tin for them as well, so they don’t slime up your toiletries bag.
28. Leaving your comfort zone is the best thing you can do for yourself
I cite leaving my comfort zone as the number one way in which travel has helped me. It was leaving my comfort zone that gave me confidence in my abilities as a traveller. It helped me to overcome my anxiety disorder by showing me the things I was panicking about rarely happened — and if they did, they were never as bad as they thought they would be. And it introduced me to new experiences — most of which I unexpectedly loved!
29. You need a travel towel
I love travel towels so much that I even use mine when I have actual bath towels as an option! Travel towels are quick-drying, incredibly lightweight, and fold up so small! I never travel without mine.
30. But you definitely don’t need a money belt
Money belts are dumb. They’re uncomfortable to wear under your clothes, every time you need to pay for something, it looks like you’re rummaging around in your underwear, and thieves are well aware of their existence. When someone robbed a friend of mine in Brazil, the first thing they did was lift up their top to check for a money belt. Just do whatever you normally do with money at home: put it in your pocket or your purse/wallet.
31. Go for several test walks with your packed backpack
It’ll likely be much heavier than you think. When I first went for a walk with mine, I went straight home and took out a third of the things I had in it. This will really help you narrow down what are essentials and what you don’t need. I even have a rule when I travel that I try to throw out three things from my backpack every time I travel to a new destination. It sounds like a lot, but I include things like the paracetamol tablets I haven’t taken in nine months or my spare pair of tweezers or the pile of receipts I’ve been lugging around.
32. Give family and/or friends copies of your itinerary
From a safety perspective, it’s good to have several people back home who know where you’ll be. I forward any flight or accommodation confirmations to my family and Skype with them several times a week to let them know what I’m up to. That way, if ever I disappear for a few days, my family will know immediately and will be able to know where I was staying at that time. It takes just a few minutes but really improves your safety.
33. Don’t change your currency at the airport
That’s where you’ll get the worst exchange rates.
34. If there’s no internet, embrace it
Play a card game with someone in the hostel common room, read a book, lie on the beach, go for a walk, talk to a stranger, think about life. Some of my favourite travel memories are from times when I didn’t have an internet connection to suck me out of the moment.
35. Wear flip-flops in the hostel showers
Imagine several dozen people standing in a shower every single day — keep your feet protected from nasty stuff and wear your flip-flops every time you shower.
36. Always, always pack your things the night before your early morning flight
The people I hate most when I travel are those who set their alarm for 4 a.m. and then proceed to spend the next hour packing their bags and rustling what sounds like forty thousand plastic bags. Don’t do this! Pack your bag the night before, so you can slip out without disturbing anyone’s sleep.
37. If an item of clothing can’t survive being worn for five days in a row then being washed in a sink/crappy laundry room, leave it behind
Space will be tight in your backpack, so you’ll want everything to be essential. If your clothes require ironing or will get destroyed easily, don’t pack them. I brought a fancy dress around the world with me and not only did I never wear it (because I was a backpacker and nobody was wearing stuff like that) but I felt guilty about throwing it out, so carried it around with me for an entire year! Don’t do this — bring clothes you don’t care about and replace them for cheap on the road.
38. Start saving early and bring more money than you think you’ll need
It’s good to have a budget to stick to, but most people tend to go over. Start saving as soon as possible (like, now) and aim to bring more money than you think you’ll need. The more money you have, the more you’ll be able to treat yourself to nicer accommodation, splurge on fun tours, and not spend your entire trip worrying that you’ll run out of cash.
39. Get your phone unlocked before you leave
With an unlocked phone, you’ll be able to buy local SIM cards and access cheap data as you travel. Cheap data means getting to use Google Maps when you’re lost, being able to Snapchat your way around a city, and being easily contactable by your new friends.
40. Don’t be afraid to splurge
It’s necessary every now and then. If you’re feeling exhausted, check yourself into a nice hotel for a few nights. If it’s a special occasion, splash out on a fancy meal. These splurges will mean so much more after months of hanging out in cheap hostels.
41. Open your mind and hold the judgments
If you don’t like a country’s customs, remain open minded, rather than immediately jumping to conclusions that you’re right and it’s wrong. Ask questions, research more, and listen to other peoples’ point of view. And don’t let your bad experiences taint an entire country — if you had a crap time somewhere, it doesn’t mean that the country sucks or it’s not safe. Maybe it was just bad luck.
Don’t judge other travellers, either. Don’t judge people for visiting the most touristy cities in the world, don’t judge them for travelling with a backpack or a suitcase, don’t judge them for being a budget or luxury traveller, don’t judge them for carrying a selfie stick, just accept that everyone’s different, travels for different reasons, and likes different things.
I once met a girl in a hostel in Washington DC who told me that her parents were funding her trip. There I was thinking she was a spoilt brat, until she told me that she was slowly losing her sight and would be blind within a couple of years. Her parents were paying for her to travel the world while she was still able to see it.
42. Invest in a good camera
Your photos will be some of your best memories, so invest in a good camera. And, of course, take the time to understand how it works before you leave.
43. Have a health checkup before you leave
Visit your doctor and dentist for a checkup before you leave. The last thing you want to happen is for you to set off and discover two weeks later that you need to get a filling in India. Not that I’m speaking from experience here…
44. Visit fewer countries so you can work in rest days
So many people email me for advice on their itineraries and I nearly always go back to them recommending that they visit half the number of places. You’ll enjoy your trip more if you work in rest days, and you’ll get a better taste for a place if you spend more time in it. Don’t plan a trip that has you jumping from capital city to capital city every few days. And take account of travel time! Don’t be like two nights in Bangok, two nights in Phuket, two nights in Koh Phi Phi, when it’ll take a day to travel between them all, leaving you with one day to actually see those places. Oh, and you’ll likely be jetlagged, too, so you’ll want to take that into account too.
45. And slow down when you’re in them
If you only have three days in a place, it can be tempting to rush around like a madman to try and see absolutely everything, but that’s just a recipe for a nervous breakdown. Slow down, go to a coffee shop and people watch, wander down alleyways, and chat to locals. Sometimes the best way to get to know a place is through sitting and observing.
46. Keep a journal
I pride myself on my memory, and yet, I can’t believe how much I’ve forgotten from my travels.
You think you won’t forget anything, but you will. You won’t remember the name of that lovely girl from Oslo you hung out with for a day in Marrakech, you won’t remember the name of the hostel you loved in Beijing, you won’t remember the conversation you had with that dude in a pub in Sydney. You won’t remember how it felt to see Angkor Wat for the first time. You can look back over photos, but they only tell a small part of the story.
Keep a journal in order to remember those small details because you’ll treasure them in a few years. I particularly love being able to look back and see how I felt at a specific time. In my mind, I always look back with rose-tinted glasses and think I was happy and joyful all the time, so it’s valuable to have a reminder of the challenges I faced on the road, and how I was able to overcome them.
47. Eat healthier every now and then
Here’s a confession: I gained around 20 pounds over my first few years of travel, mostly thanks to eating out for every single meal. And I’m only 5’1” — 20 lbs is a lot for such a small-framed human!
While it can be tempting to treat yourself to junk food, and Pringles and Oreos will fuel your every travel day, resolve to have at least a few days every now and then when you go for the healthier option.
Whole foods, plenty of vegetables, tons of water, as little sugar as possible, and an alcohol detox.
Your body and mind will thank you for it. I discovered that my bad travel diet was actually resulting in panic attacks! Five years into my travels, I began to suffer from a reoccurrence of anxiety and I couldn’t figure out why. Once I removed sugary foods, alcohol, and dairy from my diet, I found myself in a fantastic place, mentally. I couldn’t believe how much my diet had impacted my mental health. And travel? It makes it pretty tough to eat healthily.
48. Wear your normal clothes
You know those ugly travel-specific clothes? They’re shapeless and made of quick-drying, breathable material, and covered in zips and pockets. Well, I guess they’re great for travel, but you’ll also hate them. You’ll hate every photo of you wearing them. You’ll stand out immediately as a tourist in any place you visit. Instead, just bring the same clothes you’d wear back home. You’ll feel comfortable, you won’t stand out, and you’ll actually like the way you look.
49. Get lost on purpose
Sometimes getting lost is the best way to make awesome discoveries about a place. Sometimes it just plain sucks, that’s true — but you’ll usually end up with a great story to tell, if that’s the case. If you’ve got a spare day in a place and don’t know what to do, start by picking a random direction and following it.
50. One-way tickets are better than round-the-world
I’m all about travelling on one-way tickets, because they give you the freedom to be spontaneous, change your mind, and extend your trip, if needed. My original itinerary had me heading to Australia after six months, but I ended up going to Thailand instead and stayed for seven months! You can’t get that kind of freedom on a round-the-world ticket. Plus, with so many budget airlines around, one-way tickets are nowhere near as expensive as you think.
51. Get up early
You see that photo of me on the beach? Half an hour after it was taken, there were a hundred people there. Tulum is a major tourist destination and as soon as the entrance gates to the Mayan ruins open, the beach is flooded with people.
By arriving half an hour before opening time, I managed to get in before everybody else. And so, I got to explore ruins of Tulum on my own and without the crowds, simply by being there when it opened. Arrive early for everything and you’ll get to experience major attractions at their least busiest. Plus, sunrises are pretty.
52. The best activities aren’t necessarily traditional tourist ones
Some of my biggest highlights are things that sound so normal: it was drinking and singing with newfound friends in the Philippines, hiking alone in the mountains surrounding Taipei, trying to guess what everything was at a wet market in Saigon, dropping my travel plans to fly home and surprise my mum for her birthday, and spending six weeks in Madrid because that’s where my friends were spending the summer.
53. Scan your important documents and email them to yourself
Scan a copy of your passport, any visas, and any debit/credit cards you’re traveling with. Password protect the documents, and email a copy of them to yourself and to a family member . If everything you own gets stolen, you can access them safely from your email account, take your copies to your embassy as proof that you’re who you say you are. Plus, you’ll be able to buy flights home and pay for accommodation with your debit cards to keep travelling/go home in an emergency.
54. Try travelling alone
I believe that everyone should try solo travel at least once. It builds your confidence, shows you what you’re capable of, improves your social skills, gives you time and space to think, and helps you learn more about what you like and need in life.
55. Use Skyscanner to find cheap flights
I book all of my flights through Skyscanner, because it consistently finds cheapest deals. The key here is to keep things flexible: I look at flights to an entire country (or search for “everywhere” if I’m not sure where to head next) and look at prices over a whole month. I don’t collect points and miles, but I still rarely spend more than $500 on a long-haul flight.
56. Go to the places that interest you most
I’m often emailed by people who are taking a year off to follow the typical backpacking trail: A bit of Western Europe, a lot of Southeast Asia, and a stint in Australia and New Zealand. And yet, they don’t know anything about the places and are asking me what you can even do in Laos.
Don’t follow the beaten path that every traveller takes, just because you feel like you should. What interests you? What do you want to see and learn about? One of the first stops on my trip was Chernobyl — not exactly a popular tourist destination. I didn’t know anybody who had been there, but it sounded fascinating to me. This is your trip: go where excites you, not where you feel you should go.
57. Practice your miming
Traveling in places where you don’t speak the language is surprisingly easy, but get ready to mime a lot. You can mime eating to ask someone if they’re serving food, mime sleeping to ask someone if there are any beds available in the hostel, and I even mimed that I needed to go to a train station by saying, “choo choo!” and drawing a picture of a train in my notepad for a taxi driver in Taiwan!
58. Google Translate’s camera is so incredibly helpful
Download the Google Translate app before you leave and use the camera feature for translating menus, signs, posters, and anything else you need to read. You simply press the camera icon, aim your phone at the text, and it translates it all in real-time for you. This was so unbelievably helpful for menus in Taiwan, where I had no idea what anything was.
59. Travel with a toilet roll
Grab half a roll, squash it up, and keep it in a sandwich bag in your daypack. Long bus journeys in developing countries often stop at squat toilets where there’ll be no toilet paper. At which point, you’ll be unbelievably grateful you have some of your own.
60. And a supply of Imodium
If you’re suffering from food poisoning, it’s best to let it run its course rather than clogging yourself up with Imodium, but there are some situations where it just isn’t possible to do so. I’m talking flights, long bus journeys, booked tours, and anything that requires you to leave the bathroom. A large supply of Imodium is something I always have in my backpack for these emergencies.
61. Use HERE Maps for offline navigation
Don’t have data? You can download entire country maps through HERE Maps and get walking directions for anywhere you need to go. I’ve found it works better than caching Google Maps.
62. Visit the local markets
Local markets are my favourite way to get to know a place better. I love checking out the strange foods, seeing how the locals shop, and discovering what’s popular in a particular country. Night markets in Asia are especially fun!
63. Don’t forget about your friends back home
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of your travels and forget about the friends you have back home. It happened to me and took a lot of work to repair my friendships. Let people know you’re thinking of them: arrange Skype dates, send postcards, chat on Facebook, and buy them gifts from the places you visit.
64. Say yes to random invitations
I’ve never regretted saying yes to an unexpected invitation, because it’s always led to something fun happening! Make the most of your travel experience by saying yes to more things than you would at home — you’ll discover new things about yourself, meet new people, and build wonderful memories!
65. Be polite and smile often
You’ll be more approachable, you’ll find it easier to make travel friends, and the locals will warm to you. Being rude and looking grumpy will bring nothing good your way.
66. Travel slow to save money
The slower you travel, the more money you’ll save. You can negotiate long-term stays at your accommodation to save money, you won’t have any transportation costs, and if you have a kitchen, you can buy food from the supermarket and cook.
67. Try turning up without having anything booked
This is the best way to build your travel confidence and is especially easy in Southeast Asia. There are many benefits to it, too: you’ll get to discover cool places that aren’t listed online or in the guidebooks, you’ll be able to look at the rooms before you commit to staying, you can negotiate on price, and you’re not tied to a specific schedule where you need to be somewhere because you’ve booked your accommodation already.
68. Make the most of your layovers
I love getting to explore a new place during a layover, and will almost always extend my travel day so that I can spend three or four days in a new city. Some of my layover highlights from the past five years include 48 hours exploring the Golden Circle in Iceland, spending a few days getting lost in Muscat, and when I spent 24 hours in Abu Dhabi just so I could take photos of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.
69. Drink more water
You’re probably not drinking enough, especially if you’re traveling through hot, humid countries. If you can drink the tap water, make the most of it and get your two litres of water a day. If not, help the environment by bringing a Steripen along, rather than buying dozens of plastic bottles of water — a Steripen kills more than 99.9% of harmful microorganisms, including giardia, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, making tap water safe to drink.
70. Pack a Vapur water bottle
Vapur water bottles collapse down so they take up barely any room in your bag, making them perfect for travel.
71. Don’t put anything in your back pockets
You’re basically asking to be pickpocketed.
72. McDonald’s and Starbucks nearly always have Wi-Fi
If you need to check emails, get directions, or do anything online, you’ll find a McDonald’s or Starbucks in practically every city around the world. They’re almost guaranteed to have free usable internet.
73. Use a pill bottle instead of blister packs
When I first set out, I had six months’ worth of anti-malarials that took up a ridiculous amount of space in their blister packs. I popped the pills out into a bottle and stuck my prescription onto the outside. It freed up so much room in my bag! Pro tip: stuff some cotton wool into the top so you don’t rattle while you walk.
74. Mark your luggage so it stands out
You don’t want to accidentally take someone else’s luggage or have someone run off with yours at the baggage reclaim. Stick some stickers on it, put some duct tap along one side, tie some ribbons to the handle — make sure it stands out from a sea of similar backpacks!
75. A power strip will making charging easy
It’s still common to turn up to a dorm room and find you only have a couple of power sockets to share between eight laptop-toting backpackers. Bring a power strip to ensure you can charge what you need to, while allowing everyone else to charge their tech, too.
76. A dry bag is more useful than you think
Dry bags are amazing for keeping your valuables safe on boat trips and for protecting any electronics you have in your daypack when it starts to rain. I even take mine to the beach when I’m travelling solo so that I can take my stuff in the ocean with me and not have to worry someone’s going to steal everything.
77. Be skeptical of TripAdvisor reviews
If you’re looking at reviews on TripAdvisor and every five star review is from someone who has only ever left one review, they’re probably fake. Take TripAdvisor reviews with a grain of salt and look at the person who’s leaving the review before you trust them.
78. It’s worth paying to get your laundry done
Washing your clothes in the sink is time-consuming, a pain in the ass, and never very effective. Just pay to have your laundry done instead — it’s worth it.
79. Read up about local customs before you go
You don’t want to offend anyone while you travel, so make sure you’re aware of any offensive gestures or behaviour before you arrive. As an example, in Thailand, women shouldn’t touch monks or hand them anything, you shouldn’t touch the local’s heads, say anything bad about the royal family, use your right hand for passing people things and paying, or point your feet at someone… Do your research!
80. Trust people
Some people will want to take advantage of you, but the vast majority of people you meet when you travel are good, decent, and will want to help you. Don’t let bad experiences prevent you from trusting anyone again. As long as you have your wits about you, expect that tuk-tuk drivers or anyone who comes up to you with amazing English and wants to be your best friend for no reason at all is out to scam you, and be most wary of the people in the most touristy places, you’ll be all good.
81. Colour coordinate your outfits
You won’t be able to bring many items of clothing with you, so maximise the amount of outfits you can wear by checking everything goes with everything else.
82. Check your passport’s expiration date
You won’t be able to travel if you have less than six months’ validity on your passport! Friends of mine have been turned around at the airport because they didn’t realise their passport was expiring soon.
83. Charge your devices whenever you have the chance
Whenever you see a spare power socket, charge your tech. You’ll wish you’d taken the opportunity to when you eventually run out of battery. And you’ll always run out of battery
84. Pack a portable battery for your phone
On that note, picking up a tiny, lightweight charger for your phone is a good idea. You can even get ones that fit in your wallet.
85. Protect your technology
I used to be disastrous with my tech, but now that I have cases for everything, I’m doing much better. It’s worth getting a shell for your laptop, a keyboard cover for accidental spills, a sturdy case for your Kindle, and a waterproof case for your phone. Replacing tech is expensive and spending a day trying to figure out which island you need to fly to in the Philippines in order to get your laptop repaired is frustrating.
86. Pack contraception
You don’t want the biggest souvenir from your trip to be an STD. Or a baby. Pack contraception, have safe sex, and be aware that you can buy birth control pills over the counter in a ton of countries.
87. Merino is king for cold climates
It’s tough to pack for a trip that’ll take you through warm and cold climates. If you’ll be doing just that, pick up some clothing made of Merino wool. It’ll be lightweight, keep you warm in cold temperatures, cold in hot temperatures, and won’t smell if you wear it for several days in a row.
88. Use an incognito window to book anything
I’ve personally experienced this! If you’re booking flights or accommodation, open an incognito browser window when it’s time to make your booking. I’ve seen prices gradually increase for flights as I kept checking them, only to watch them drop when I used an incognito window.
89. Find photogenic spots with Instagram
Follow local instagrammers in the places you’ll be visiting to find the best spots for taking photos. I also search through hashtags relating to the place I’m heading to to check out the popular photos and see where they were taken.
90. Take a class
Travel is the perfect opportunity to try something new. I loved taking a cooking class in Seoul, a surf lesson in Bali, and both a paddleboarding and fishing lesson in New Zealand. It’s a fun way to learn a new skill while pushing yourself out of your comfort zone!
91. Make a playlist for memories
One of my favourite things to do is create a Spotify playlist for the music I listened to most in each country I visited. Now all I have to do is listen to one and it takes me back to a specific place and time, along with all the emotions I was feeling then.
92. Embrace your nerves
Because they’ll never go away. Those nerves you get the night before leaving? I still experience them, five years on. Whenever I’m visiting a brand new place, I get nervous. Whenever I’m trying something new, I’m nervous. I even get nervous when I’m returning to a place I love! Embrace these travel nerves and accept them as normal — even experienced travellers get them!
93. Lose your inhibitions
The great thing about travel is that nobody knows who you are. If you do something really stupid and embarrassing in a hostel, you can just check out and move to a new place where nobody knows who you are or what your story is. It’s liberating and allows you to actually figure out who you want to be.
94. Take advantage of your youth
If you’re under 25, there are a whole heap of student discounts you can take advantage of. You can get cheaper flights through STA Travel, cheaper train passes through Eurail, free access to museums, and more. Take advantage of your age and check if student discounts are available before booking anything.
95. Practice packing before you leave
Have several trial packing runs before you head off to get the hang of fitting everything into your bag. It’ll help make finding things easier, because unpacking your entire backpack to find something every few days gets old fast.
96. Take into account jetlag and travel fatigue
Let’s say you’re flying straight to Bangkok, where you’ve given yourself three days to see the main attractions. You can plan it all out, but you’ll most likely end up jetlagged and sleeping away a chunk of that time in the city. When you’re planning how long to stay in a place, take jetlag into account, as well as general travel fatigue. Remember you won’t want to be outside exploring for 12 hours a day every single day.
97. Track your spending
It’s annoying and time-consuming, but you’ll be better off financially if you’re aware of how much money you’re getting through and how it compares to the amount you budgeted for. You can make adjustments if you’re spending too much or allow yourself a small treat if you’re doing better than planned.
98. Accept that you won’t be able to see everything
Nobody will. Even if you travelled every single day for the rest of your life, you’d never see it all. This is a hard lesson to learn, but it makes travel easier on your heart once you accept it.
99. Ask permission when taking photos
How would you feel if some random tourist turned up at your house or work and started taking photos of you? Ask for someone’s permission before you start taking photos of them — it’s the polite and respectful thing to do.
100. Don’t forget how lucky you are
If you can afford to travel, you’re luckier than an enormous chunk of the world’s population. Be grateful that you were born in a country that’s safe and stable. Be grateful you have a passport that allows you to easily travel. Be grateful that you have your health. Be grateful you were able to get a job; that you had the ability to save up enough money to travel. Yes, you worked goddamn hard to get to this point, but you’re still unbelievably privileged. Never forget it.