Travel Tips: Lessons Learned from Unexpected Adventures Abroad

Photographer: Brendan Belz

Truth be told, I have always secretly wanted to write a travel blog. In an alternate universe, I am a writer for ThePointsGuy who gets paid to travel and write about it. And what travel blog doesn’t have the quintessential travel tips post?

Coming off the high of a recent trip to Central America, I am taking the opportunity to fulfil my dream (at least partially) to write my own travel tips post. Please keep in mind my tips are indexed slighting toward travel in the emerging markets, as that is mostly where I have traveled.

Tip 1: Always Carry Some Cash in USD

I always have at least $200 in $20 bills with me. I have noticed more and more vendors prefer/demand USD. Especially in places with volatile local currencies, you can even get discounts for paying in USD. However, the real reason I keep USD with me is for emergencies. USD is universal. I have never been in a real travel emergency, knock on wood, but I have heard numerous stories where having a few hundred dollars in cash has made a huge difference. Whether it is an emergency hotel room, taxi or even robbery, it’s just a good idea to have some cash if you can afford to carry it.

Tip 2: Don’t trust the entertainment system

With Wifi on board and seat-back entertainment systems almost standard amenities on planes these days, it’s easy to assume you will have hours of entertainment at your fingertips for your next flight. However, entertainment systems crash and are sometimes nonexistent with smaller airlines. As a backup, I always keep a few movies downloaded on my phone or iPad. Netflix now enables offline downloading, which has made this so much easier! In addition, I have found that a hardcopy of the Economist is a great read, and the best content-to-volume ratio out there!

Tip 3: Long-haul Must Haves

There are a few items I never get on a long-haul flight without. They might seem obvious but, trust me, they were all added to my list after deeply regretting not having one of them in the past.

  • Large bottle of water (planes are dehydrating)
  • Change of clothes (in case checked luggage gets lost)
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste (amazing how much a simple brush can refresh you)
  • Noise-cancelling headphones (planes have so much ambient noise, I end up sleeping with them on)
  • Eyeshield (difference between me sleeping and not sleeping)
  • Light jacket/sweater (planes have notoriously unpredictable temperatures)

Tip 4: How Best to Switch Seats

Maybe you got a middle seat or maybe you’re seated next to a less than desirable travel companion. But wait, there is a great open seat a few rows away. When is the right time to pounce? My advice, keep your head on a swivel and have all your belongings in your hands. The minute you hear the door close or they announce the door has been closed, make your move. In some cases, I even loiter in the aisle next to the seat I want to get a head start. Travel is all about the small victories.

Tip 5: Stockpile Landing Cards

The reality is that your flight attendants may or may not hand out the required immigration cards before landing. Sometimes they run out and other times they just don’t have them at all. Immigration lines can be painstakingly slow in certain countries. The five minutes saved by having and filling out the card ahead of time as opposed to at the counter before immigration can be the difference between a 15-minute and a two-hour wait. Whenever possible, I grab 5–10 extra cards regardless of if I have a planned return trip to the country. Toward the end of my assignment in Africa, I had a folder of extra immigration and/or health cards for many countries.

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