I was going through my usual morning routine today which includes checking my curated news feed of articles relating to everything from travel to drones, to the upcoming Pixel 4 cell phone when one article in particular caught my eye. The headline was something like “10 flight attendants give you 10 travel tips” or something like that, regardless – the article was rubbish. The tips were recycled from any number of other “travel” blogs and honestly would set anyone reading up for failure. Ok, perhaps that’s too harsh – it would certainly not set them up for success. Better?
So, I decided that I would make my own travel tip blog post here and try and shed some light on my tips and tricks for travel. Spoiler: if you’re an avid traveller like I am than you’ve probably already figured a lot of these out.
Travel Tip #1: Pack Smarter
The article I mentioned above actually quoted one flight attendant as saying “you can never have too much, anything can happen when you’re traveling and it is best to be prepared for anything.”
Thanks Peggy, but no. ✋
Although this mystery agent of checked luggage fees did get the part about anything being possible while traveling correct, I can assure you I’m not packing my parka and snowshoes or a chainsaw for a desert safari through the Emirates. Anything CAN happen, I just doubt the ice age coming back overnight is actually a real possibility. Instead of having too much stuff you should pack the RIGHT stuff. This is a bit of a task, you’ve got to do research, and some thoughtful consideration of what you’re doing where it is you’re going. If you’re headed to a beach resort for a week and your plan is
- Get there
- Get tan
- Sleep & eat
- Go home
then you won’t need much more than your swimsuit. I’d suggest a nice set of clothes for a possible fancy dinner, and maybe a shirt for some reason or another. Bring requisite chargers for devices, sunscreen/tanning oil, and a camera. Now – if you’re going on a 3 week self-contained hike through the jungles of Costa Rica then your list will be more extensive. Know where you are going and what you are doing and pack for that. Then take 25% of what you packed out of your bag – people always overpack. Take less, you’ll be fine and you’ll love going lightly.
Just make sure you pack a camera.
Travel Tip #2: Have Physical Money
There are still some countries that will charge you a fee at the airport to leave. There are any number of situations that could come up that could warrant an emergency expense in cash, where an ATM might not be available (anyone spot the Wells Fargo in the Gobi Desert? Yeah didn’t think so). This comes down to some research and comfort level on your part. A few years ago I made my first trip to Guyana for work and didn’t think ahead on this – when I got to the airport I found myself slack jawed and empty pocketed trying to pay an exit fee. 💸
Fortunately the driver for the company I was contracting for was still there and loaned me the money needed to get through the checkpoint. I made sure he was paid back by the home office, but still – it sucked. Guyana has since changed their practices and now airlines collect the airport/exit fee in the ticket price for you.
How much money? Not so much as to make yourself a target, and not so little that you can’t pay the exit fee, or pharmacy tab. Whatever. The point is to figure out how much you can afford to take out of your bank and carry as cash, the second thing to do is to figure out how much you might need, and then find a happy place there. This is not tip money, this is not buying drinks money, this is not paying my hotel bill money – THIS IS EMERGENCY MONEY JUST IN CASE. If you don’t need it – don’t touch it.
Don’t be dumb. Don’t let people know how much cash you have, don’t flash fat wads or stacks or whatever. The LESS money people think you have the better. You are already a target for crime in many impoverished nations because your (our) reputation precedes us. They know it costs money to fly there, stay in the hotels, eat, play, etc. Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket or you’ll never see it again. Just, be smart, have money.
Travel Tip #3: Power Management
I’m an American, we run things on 110 over here. I know that the rest of the world doesn’t do that – at least not everywhere. That, and there is any number of curious combinations of outlet configurations. 20 years ago that didn’t really matter, however that has changed. Today we travel with all sorts of digital gizmos and gadgets from cell phones to laptops and cameras to ereaders and whatever else you can cram in your bag (See tip #1).
This tip is about managing power, moreso about managing to access power without cooking your devices. I’ll break it down into an easy four part layout for you.
First, you want to make sure that you have a charging cable or hub or adapter for each piece of technology you are going to want to charge. That means if you have a phone, have the phones charger. If you have a camera, have the camera charger. Don’t plan on splitting time between both devices on the one charger. If it needs juice, bring its own dedicated charger/cable.
Second, buy one of those super fancy, high-end, fuse equipped, universal travel adapters that has every outlet configuration built in. You just slide out the set you need for the country you’re in, and plug it in. They’re not cheap – the nice ones – but they are worth their weight in gold.
Third, pack a simple power strip. You plug your universal adapter into the wall, and your powerstrip into the adapter and then your devices go into the powerstrip. This also serves a second purpose too – introverts beware – this handy item in your carry-on bag will make you an airport hero. Just plug into one of the all-to-elusive airport outlets and you’ll suddenly find yourself with a half dozen new friends. Just remember that with great power(adapter) comes great responsibility.
Fourth, have an external battery pack. Something in the 30,000 MAh range or more. That will get you a handful of charges for your phone or camera while you’re between places and keep you ready to go no matter where you land.
Travel Tip #4: Have a plan
Even if you don’t follow it – have a plan. Really though you should stick to the plan. There’s all sorts of made-up nonsense about spontaneous trips and adventures out there in movies and television but if you just take off half-cocked into the great unknown you’re going to find that a lot of what you “want” to do isn’t going to line up with what you “can” do.
For example, say that you really wanted to follow in my footsteps and climb Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru but you were also going to do it impromptu with no planning. You’d show up at the entry gate and be turned away because they only allow so many climbers per day. See, no plan, no epic photo on the summit.
Planning your trip and creating an itinerary serves two purposes, first it makes sure that there isn’t dead space or disappointment where there shouldn’t be any and then second, it gets you familiar with the area and what is available to you in terms of resources, excursions, and so on.
If you still have that twinge of wanting to be “spontaneous” then my advice to you is to plan your spontaneity. You heard me. Plan yourself time to not have a plan, but don’t have your plan to be not having a plan. If that makes sense. I don’t plan every single day on my trips – I intentionally build schedules around doing the “must do’s” and then leave space for resting and being lazy poolside, or for “winging” it from time to time.
Travel is getting cheaper, and routes are going to more places – China is booming right now and their citizens are more empowered to go anywhere and everywhere. You will find crowds at every place that you see on instagram and thing looks cool. Pyramids in Egypt? Crowded. Machu Picchu? Crowded. The Eiffel Tower? Extremely crowded.
So I’ll leave you with a favorite saying on this: “If you fail to plan, you have planned to fail.”
Travel Tip #4.5: Have a CYA plan
This is not really its own standalone tip, but it didn’t really feel right to include it above. One of the other side perks of planning the details down to the…well…the detail is that you beceom familiar with things like crime rates, travel advisories, consulate and embassy locations, airports, taxi and car services, expat (noun: a person who lives outside their native country) groups, and so on. All of these become pieces in a CYA (Cover-your-ass) plan that, even if you don’t consciously create one, you will access and use if the proverbial sh*t hits the fan.
Travel Tip #5: Open your mind to a new land of exciting experiences
I couldn’t think of a better title for this one, it’s apt. So often I find myself befuddled by travelers I cross paths with who are upset that the country they are visiting isn’t more like their own home. Crazy right? Well its a lot more common than you think – people get enough money together to go to a far away land and find that its populated with people not like themselves who believe different things, eat differently, have different levels of sewer systems (that one is ok to complain about), and what do those travelers do? Complain about it!?
I’m telling you right now, the rest of the world is not like the world you are living in right now. Thank God for that. There is so much to see and do, experiences that you can’t even imagine are out there – waiting for you. Food that you’ve never come close to tasting, parties, beaches, libraries, natural wonders, archeological ruins, the list goes on!
When you are out in the world – leave your world behind you. Jump in with both feet, and resolve to experience as much outside of your bubble as possible. Eat the Cuy in Peru, the Balut in the Philippines, shwarma from a street vendor in Kuwait – do it all, and don’t let your current, limited, constrained, beliefs hold you back – the opportunity to expand your mind, and your life, and by extension your happiness is only limited by your willingness, or lack thereof, to immerse yourself.