30 Tips for International Travel
Here are the lessons I’ve learned traveling on a budget to 20+ countries.
1. DON’T: Have only one source of money
Have multiple sources of money. This includes debit cards, credit cards, cash, and travelers checks. Something could easily go wrong with one of them, like your card gets lost or locked. If you are stuck in a foreign country by yourself without money, you are screwed. Also, don’t store them in the same place. If one of them gets stolen, you should still have other options. If all else fails, use Western Union. I learned this the hard way. I like to have all three: two debit cards stored separately, a credit card, and cash in dollars enough to last me two weeks.
2. DO: Research the visa
Some countries require no visa. Others require that you mail in a lot of documents, your passport, a return ticket, money, etc. This can take up to 6 weeks! If you can get a visa on arrival, research what it is and have that with you when you get there.
3. DO: Have a return ticket
Use flyonward.com if you intend to stay for a long time and do visa runs, or simply haven’t booked your return ticket yet. Many countries require this so that you don’t overstay illegally. At best you’ll have to book an expensive ticket on the fly, at worst you won’t be able to get in the country. Always have the ticket printed out or accessible offline.
4. DO: Double check your time zone before your trip
Not only for flights! But also bus, train, boat trips in which you are crossing a border or going to another city. You can easily google it or just ask a local. Don’t get stranded because you shifted an hour.
5. DO: Take picture of your documents
Of your passport, drivers license, insurance, everything. Email it to yourself and also have an offline copy. If your bag gets stolen and you can’t prove your identity to your embassy, you are screwed.
6. DO: Guard your bag at all times.
If you use a shoulder bag, keep it in front of you and make sure it is crossed over your shoulders. Keep the zipper away from an easy snatch. A small backpack should also be worn in front. There are many scams when people try to distract you and then someone else steals your stuff. In other places, motorcycles coming past the road can make a grab for your stuff. Make it a habit even when you’re not traveling. Losing your bag or getting your phone pick pocketed is devastating.
7. DO: Always have an offline version of your itinerary
Don’t rely on internet for it. Print it out or save it offline on your phone. China in particular is very strict about this.
8. DO: Bring a phone charger
Don’t me that person whose phone runs out of battery at the worst time. Keep your charger charged and have the cable attached to the charger.
9. DON’T: Bring more than 10 days worth of clothes with you
You really don’t need more. You can do laundry at most places you stay, or buy some soap and wash it yourself. You might want to buy some local clothes and you’ll need room to bring them back. I recommend good hiking shoes and flip flops, but you really only need those two shoes. Bring a light jacket and also have jeans or warm pants for cold trips even if the weather is super warm.
10. DON’T: Check in luggage
You can bring a carry on size bag and a personal item. The best ones are ones you can carry easily without requiring rolling. Checked luggage is more expensive, might get lost, and requires more time at the airport to check in and wait for the trolley to come around. Make sure all liquids are in containers of 100ml or less and have them in ziplock bags. Pack as light as you can. Just make sure you bring your essentials. You don’t even have to pack a towel if you’re okay with just drying yourself with dirty clothes.
11. DON’T: Wait until the last minute to put in travel notices
Put in the dates and countries for all your cards. Don’t wait until you’re already there. Your bank will likely lock your cards if you forget and then you have to go through the hassle of unlocking them. Also add places in which you have a layover if you want to buy something at the airport.
12. DO: Get a card that reduces international rates
They stack up fast. Chase Sapphire and other cards don’t have extra fees. You can also order foreign currency from your bank or get travelers checks for maximum value. These cards can take more than a month to verify and get delivered, so do it early before your travels! They also offer bonuses such as extra miles within a certain time frame when you receive them.
13. DO: Get a collapsible water bottle
Saves space. Super light. Refill and save money. Help the environment. Everyone wins. I use Vapur and it’s great.
14. DON’T: Stay at a hotel.
Stay at hostels, home stays, or couch surf. Hotels are boring. Unless you’re on your honeymoon and too busy to talk to anyone new (or talk at all), meeting new people is one of the best parts of traveling. Diversify if you can and experience life both with the comfort of a check in desk as well as through the eyes of a local.
15. DO: Use local transportation apps over taxi.
It’s best to do this with an international SIM if they call or text you. They tend to be cheaper, like Uber or Grab in Southeast Asia.
16. DO: Book your next destination at least 48 hours in advance
It might be booked out early, or times might not be what you expected. 48 hours gives you enough time to know if you want to extend your stay but provides insurance that you will get to where you want to go.
17. DO: Pack at night if you have an early departure
When you pack in the morning, you’re more likely to forget something, be suffering from a hangover, and wake up your roommates.
18. DO: Ask for your preferred seating at check in
I prefer window seats so that I can see the view, and it’s always worth it. Make a habit of this, either online or at the counter.
19. DO: Research vaccinations or health advisories before you go
Some places will actually requires vaccinations, others require you to take malaria pills, or are in danger of yellow fever. Don’t freak out, you’ll probably be fine, just make sure you’re up to date and your insurance covers it.
20. DO: Keep your phone on airplane mode
Or buy an international SIM, usually available at the airport. Just don’t lose your old one. Roaming charges are ridiculous.
21. DO: Ditch your laptop.
Use your phone, tablet, Kindle, anything is better unless it’s a long trip. You shouldn’t be spending time on your laptop anyways, and you can always entertain yourself through other ways.
22. DO: Download movies, songs, and books related to your travels
I always have a copy of Lonely Planet handy on my Kindle. I also download nonfiction and fiction about the country, and download a few films when I don’t feel like reading, and listen to podcasts or music when I don’t want to do any of the above. Context can make a bland visit amazing.
23. DO: Research and price check before you go
In developing countries, always book your day trips after you arrive. Your hostel will have better recommendations, offer pick up and drop off, and have much better prices. For developed countries, the opposite is usually true. When in doubt, call where you’re staying and ask for recommendations.
24. DO: Use an offline map
I use Google Maps to save all the airports and the hostels I’m staying at manually, and it keeps an offline record. Mapsme is an open source offline map as well. Google Maps and Google Translate also sometimes offer offline packages. You might not want to get a SIM, and even then you might run out of money or lose connectivity.
25. DON’T: Rely on a friend or someone else for your own due diligence
They might miss or make a mistake about something. Do your own research, have your own money, and double check your own time zones.
26. DO: Check the climate and tourist season
I made the mistake of going to Indonesia during the wet season because I incorrectly assumed that all of Southeast Asia is one season. Always double check so that you pack correctly and know what prices to expect.
27. DO: Check for local holidays or festivities
You may or may not want to go to a place because there’s something special going on. Tickets around Chinese New Year for example, are going to be really expensive in China, but might be worth going! Make sure you budget appropriately.
28. DO: Take calculated risks
Be safe! Make sure you share your itinerary with family or friends so they know where you are. Don’t go to sketchy places alone, and trust your instincts. When you make decisions, understand that you are taking a calculated risk, e.g. driving a motorbike in traffic for the first time can land you in the hospital, but most likely you’ll really enjoy feeling the wind in your hair.
29. DO: Research and avoid scams
They can be really sly, annoying, and even quite devastating. Lonely Planet always has a section on scams and dangers. Always go with a metered taxi or pay upfront, if you have to take a taxi at all. If someone on the street tells you a place is closed, double check yourself.
30. DO: Travel ethically and responsibly
Don’t go to animal attractions where they mistreat animals. Throw away our own trash. Support local and fair trade businesses.
But most of all, have an adventure. Go out of your comfort zone, and explore the world. Good luck!