Advices and travel-hacks from 4 years of travelling

After some time travelling, I have learned a few things that I want to share with you to make your trips easier.


I’ve always thought that there’s no point in learning something if you are not going to share it with other people; so that’s what I want to do now by giving you some advices and tricks that (hopefully) will make your trips a bit easier, with fewer mistakes and problems.

By the way, some of them may be a bit personal: in the end, each person has their own way of doing things, and each traveller owns a different style (and budget) —but with a bit of luck, these tips will apply to your situation as well. So, let’s go!


Purchasing tickets

There’s no single “magic recipe” that applies to everything in the same way, but at least I’ll give you some precautions that could help you save money during the hard process of booking a ticket.

Photo by Rathish Gandhi on Unsplash
  • Check more than only one flight search engine. The ones that I use more frequently are Google Flights, Skyscanner and Kayak (although there are lots more) that sometimes show varying results between them. Be careful with those booking websites that add “hidden” extra fees without you even noticing it.
  • Cheapest flights normally leave very early in the morning (I guess because nobody likes to get up early); but sometimes at that time of the day, in some places, could be hard to find public transport to go to the airport. Then, if you add what you’d pay for a taxi, that initial ticket price will start looking less convenient.
  • If you are booking connecting flights (for example, arriving to one place and leaving from there a few hours later) it’s advisable to book all legs at the same time, and with the same company. In that case, if the first flight is delayed and you lose the second, the airline will be responsible to put you in another flight at no charge.
  • When comparing and choosing options to travel by land, don’t forget about BlaBlaCar. Basically, it’s a ride-sharing service where you travel with other people in the same car, and prices are sometimes cheaper than buses.

Getting around

The best way to get to know a place is to get lost, but sometimes you feel so tired that you desperately want to arrive to your destination without losing any time.

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  • Google Maps has an offline maps feature that I find pretty useful to navigate maps without connection. Just download the map before leaving home, and make sure of also using the labelling features to mark your destinations. Another option with a similar approach is Maps.me.
  • For those moments when technology fails, keep a copy on paper of your accommodation details (e.g. address, phone number). And even better if you draw a very schematic map of the streets surrounding your destination.
  • Asking is the easiest way to find a place. So don’t be shy: it’ll take you less time than wandering around checking the maps on your phone.

Accommodation

After flights, this is one of the things that takes more time: you have to read reviews, compare prices and be careful with the location when booking.

Photo by Bill Anastas on Unsplash
  • In general, don’t book more than 3 nights in a row in the same place: imagine if you arrive to the place, and there’s something that you really dislike, that you weren’t aware of. Besides, after those first nights (if you want to stay longer) you can negotiate a better price directly with the manager.
  • Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest options. Compare prices to see how much is the difference between different kinds of accommodation, such as shared or private rooms, and hotels. I normally use Booking.com or Hostelword for hostels, and Airbnb for private rooms.
  • There’s also Couchsurfing to sleep for free. In my case, I’m working as freelance designer while I travel, so I don’t use it as I prefer to keep some independence from the person hosting me to focus in my work.
  • Reading other people’s reviews is part of my routine before booking a place. There you’ll see which are the most common things people is complaining about (e.g. street noises, cleanliness, rude staff or bad Internet connection) and then, you can decide how that may affect your experience, and how important is it for you.
  • Places near train and bus stations are normally not the best; many times areas around them are a bit sketchy. In my case, I only book close to stations for convenience, and in situations where I’ll only spend 1 or 2 nights before leaving again.
  • If you think that place far from the city center will save you a few bucks, think twice: if you add the cost of transport to the touristic spots, you might end up paying the same than a more well-located accommodation, but with the inconvenience of having to take the transport every day.

Finances

Keeping your expenses up to date will avoid you that fear of checking your bank account statement during your trips.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash
  • Always travel with more than one debit/credit card, and even better if those are different from each other, like Visa and Mastercard —also store them separately. You’ll thank me later if it happens that you lose one of them, or if the ATM doesn’t give it back to you.
  • When withdrawing money, and the ATM asks you if you want to use their exchange rate, just say “No” (often labelled as “Decline”). The same thing applies when you make a payment at a store: always choose the local currency and not the one from your home account.
  • It could be more convenient to use a prepaid card special for travellers that may charge you fewer fees while abroad. Check your bank account’s fine print to see what’s more convenient, and compare it to what other companies such as Revolut, Monzo or N26 are offering (there are plenty more of them).
  • If you are going to exchange money in airports and stations, go ahead but only do it with the minimum indispensable amount that you’ll need for the day (rates are usually higher in those places). Later on, with more time, you can walk and compare rates in other places in the city center.
  • Set a daily budget and write down every expense. In my case, I use some 30€/day (that will cover transport, accommodation, food and… drinks). This is usually enough, but of course it will change on a country basis, as some of them are much more expensive than others.

While you are on the transport

A lot of time is spent onboard planes and buses, so you’d better get used to it and prepare yourself to embrace it as an important part of your traveller’s life.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  • Always keep at hand your passport, a pen (to fill in immigration forms) and your phone’s charger (normally many buses and planes have a slot where you can connect your USB cable).
  • Download music and movies to play offline on your phone, for those long trips when you won’t have Wi-Fi. Both Spotify and Netflix have features that will allow you to save content to reproduce without an Internet connection.
  • They say (I haven’t tried yet) that giving a flight attendant a candy bar when boarding the plane will help you receive a (slightly, perhaps) better treatment during your flight.

Packing

Your backpack will go with you everywhere, so it’s better to optimise it to carry just exactly what you need, and nothing else.

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash
  • Rolling your clothes to store it will help you save some space in your backpack. Also, even though there’s no scientific proof of this, it may result in fewer wrinkles.
  • Storing things always in the same order will help you keep a mental count of your things, and to note if there’s anything missing (for example, you can put shirts always together and occupying the same place in your luggage).
  • Keep a list on your head of your most important items, so you can go through it before leaving, and you won’t leave behind anything from it. In my case those items are: passport, wallet and phone with its charger.

Other, random stuff

Some general advices.

Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash
  • Use a backup system on the cloud for your digital memories, such as Google Photos or Dropbox; that will be a relief in case you lose your phone.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode to charge it faster, or for the battery charge to take more time to end.
  • Use a paper clip on your passport’s cover, to attach the paper form that they will give you when entering a country, and that you’ll have to give back when leaving. This is very practical: in case you lose this piece of paper you are risking yourself to pay a fine.

If you want more tricks and advices, check this page again in the future, it’ll probably be updated to include more of them. In the meantime, you can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.


Disclaimer: Some of the links provided are referrals that may give me a tiny benefit. In any case, I have mentioned those products because I find them useful and would recommend them nevertheless.

Nomadic Designers

Stories, guides and resources from designers travelling around the world.

Javier ‘Simón’ Cuello

Written by

Designer, writer and traveler. @millonestarde

Nomadic Designers

Stories, guides and resources from designers travelling around the world.

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