Two weeks ago we asked our readers what most important travel advice they would like to share to their fellow travelers. Things that make their travel more enjoyable, more meaningful, and more memorable. I was very pleased with the great responses I received. Some of the most popular advice were things that most long-term travelers would probably agree on: pack light, and travel slow. Then there were lots other great tips that I hadn’t heard before, or at least hadn’t really focused on. In putting this list together I’ve learned a lot, and I hope it gives you some fresh perspectives too.
On to the responses!
Nora from The Professional Hobo:
Push yourself! By pushing herself, Nora enjoyed an interesting conversation with this fascinating artist, Toro Bravo, in Spain. Â© The professional Hobo
- Travel slowly. Not everybody can do this, but I find that I get a much more “authentic” cultural experience by staying in one place for a while and not trying to see everything. Yes, sometimes I miss out on something good, but I end up much less fatigued (which is important as a full-time traveler), and I get a chance to meet, live, eat, shop, and enjoy life with (and like) the locals.
- Push yourself. If you’re scared or nervous about something, or get a sudden bout of shyness, it probably means it’s worth doing. I felt an uncharacteristic bout of travel-induced shyness in Australia, and again in Spain, but they both ended up being incredibly rewarding experiences once I pushed beyond that comfort zone.
- If somebody offers up their home, say yes. I regularly hear people say “if you’re ever in my town, come stay with me”! But again because of travel-induced shyness or not wanting to put anybody out, we often decline or simply lose touch. Instead, I say “watch out what you offer, because I’ll take you up on it”! If they reiterate the offer, then I cordially arrive, suitcases in hand. Informal couch-surfing stays like these have been among my most valued travel experiences.
Shannon from A Little Adrift:
- Eat the street food! Street food is an amazing way to not only eat cheap, but also eat with the locals and more closely experience the culture. As long as the food is piping hot you should be fairly safe. The flavors are amazing and you can often find quick eats and local snacks that are never offered in the touristed restaurants.
- Pack light. Whether your using a backpack or even a pulley suitcase you need to keep it light. There will be times that you are hiking uphill to a hostel with your pack, or hoisting your pull suitcase onto trains and into overhead bins…make sure you can do that yourself quickly and easily – if not, you’re packing too much weight!
- Go slowly. You see more, you meet more people and build more unique experiences if you are staying a few days beyond just traditional sites. Slow travel also fights travel fatigue and burnout, is cheaper and is much more sustainable over the long haul.
Jenna from This Is My Happiness :
- Donâ€™t skimp on things you enjoy. When I was younger and traveled on a tight budget, I had to skip meals and eat pizza for lunch a lot.Â I missed out on things I wanted to do because I didn’t think I had money.Â I kept this habit later even when I could have splurged a little.Â Now I wish I had spent a little more money enjoying myself more– eating good local food, going out at night, staying in nicer places, etc.
- Plan your route well so you donâ€™t backtrack. I used to choose the cheapest round-trip ticket and would travel all over Europe going from one place to another without consideration for how far away the places were.Â Now I have learned to fly open-jaws into one city and out of another, plan train routes according to what is nearby and on the way, and use multi-city tickets to get an extra stop in.
- Get to know the people. This is pretty obvious, but the countries I enjoyed the most are the ones where I got to know the people.Â It makes the place more personal and allows you to learn more about others and yourself.
- I would have to add one more– travel as much as you can before you have children! You can still travel with them, but it’s much easier without!
Cris & Felipe from No Place Like Here:
- Smile! Smile! Smile! You’ll be surprised of how much you can achieve with a simple smile. Laughing is good too, specially at yourself.
- Travel slow. In long or short term travelling, slow is the way to go. There’s no point of trying to accommodate 10 cities in 2 weeks and don’t be able to remember which is which when you finish the trip. It’s better spending more time, quality time, in less places.
- Pack light. That backpack that doesn’t seem so heavy while you’re trying it at home will double its weight after walking a few km with it on your back. Also, you don’t need that much stuff. What you really cannot leave behind is your passport and your credit card. Having these, everything else is manageable.
Dave from Dave’s Photo & Travelblogue:
- Be social, even if you’re not normally outgoing (I’m not). Some of my best times on the trip were due to meeting people randomly in hostels or on airplanes, or in one case, taking tour advice from a friendly B&B owner.
- Just do it! If you’re not sure about this or that activity, but it won’t break the bank, try it anyway. Not every one of these adventures will work out the way you hoped, but a lot of them will – and you’ll have many unforgettable memories as a result.
- Take LOTS of pictures. Digital photos are super cheap. You can always delete a bad photo later, but you can never go back in time and take the shots you missed.
Jennifer from Live Richly:
- Ask a local. Guidebooks are great, but they soon get out of date. Locals know what is the best bet right now, and they can steer you to places that never make the books. Through locals, I’ve found out about hotels, parks, restaurants, and even a vampire tour in New Orleans!
- Don’t overschedule. This is a mistake I’ve made many times. I used to plan too many tours or events so I’d rush through them, not enjoying them like I should. Now I give myself extra down time and don’t cram my schedule with too many “must see” attractions. I also give myself permission to skip things if I’m not in the mood. Some of my favorite activities were spontaneous, like watching people feed the stray cats in the JardÃn Botanico in Buenos Aires.
- Learn some foreign phases. No one expects you to be fluent before traveling, but it’s only polite to try to communicate in the local language. They may well reply in your native tongue, but people appreciate the effort. I had one woman in PanamÃ¡ (nearly fluent in English) tell me she was irritated by tourists who said “Good morning,” as she felt they should at least learn to say “Buenos dÃas.”
Anil from foXnoMad:
- Whether you plan a lot or a little, get your basics down. Plan for a ride from the airport, bus station, or other arrival point to the place you’re staying and make sure both are booked in advance. This will help reduce stress, your chance of getting ripped off, or worse, being stuck without knowing how or where to go.
- Go out, explore, and push you limits. Eat at the restaurants filled with locals, where you might not be able to order perfectly, and do some local grocery shopping. Of course if you pick up a few words of the local slang or language beforehand, this will enhance the unpredictable experiences you’ve set yourself up to have.
- Traveling isn’t that hard. Things might not run perfectly or completely smooth and that’s OK. Plan for what you can, learn from what you didn’t, and appreciate everything in between.
Simon and Erin from Never Ending Voyage:
- Travel light! Everyone says it but we rarely meet any backpackers who follow this advice. We have managed perfectly well with small carry-on size backpacks and it’s great not having to wait for checked in luggage and being able to bring our bags on South American buses. Compression bags help to fit clothes in.
- Don’t leave a place until you are ready. So many people (including us on our first trip) leave a place they love because they have a plan set out and more places they want to visit. The problem is that often the places you visit next aren’t as good as you expected and you’ll regret not spending longer at the place you loved.
- Couchsurf! We have only discovered this recently and I don’t know why we didn’t try it before (fear probably). Not only is it a great way to save money but you get to meet local people, make new friends and tap into their local knowledge. Our last couchsurfing experience led to us finding a beautiful apartment to rent as well as a housesitting opportunity.
Erica and Shaun from Over Yonderlust:
- Never set your itinerary in stone. Places will always close early, be under construction, an accident will block the roadway, someone will jump in front of a bullet train (yes, it happened to us) – so keeping your plans flexible will always make for a more enjoyable trip.
- Listen to the locals. Shaun and I ended up and some pretty awesome bars abroad that we would have missed had we not asked around. Whether ending up at secret shows or playing drinking card games with salarymen in Japan, it will almost always end up as a delightful evening.
- If going abroad in a country where the language is new, learn some key phrases. Not only does this show respect, but people are more willing to help you out (body language is almost universal).
Ashley from No Onion Extra Pickles:
- Don’t Check Your Bags. I once had the luxury of being driven from one plane to another on the backroads of Heathrow, and saw horrible things.Â I’m pretty sure every truck carrying luggage dropped a piece at every turn.Â Needless to say, not all of our luggage made it home on time, and since then, I rarely check bags.Â This experience was a lifechanger, as I now enjoy packing as little as possible, and now only bring a school sized backpack with me on all my trips.
Left: Ashley with her small luggage. Right: Buying food (Centre) at the local grocery store in Rome. Â© No Onion Extra Pickles
- Shop at the Local Grocery Stores. It’s cheap, convenient and an experience.Â Besides stocking up on bottle water – I buy the giant jugs, then just refill the same one or two little bottle to take with me – I like to endulge on local candies, pastries, fruits, cured meats and basically anything delicious.Â Plus, it gives you a nice little tidbit of local life.
- Always Have Extra Cash. Having no cash and discovering the ATM won’t accept your card is awful – luckily this had only happened to me twice, but boths times my heart sank…until I remember that extra cash stuffed in the bottom of my bag somewhere.Â I carry just enough, and try to remember not to hide it in the same spot all the time.
Teresa and Mike from Art of Backpacking:
- Do it now; there is never a best time. In a perfect world, it would be so easy to wait till you’re finished with studies, saved a lot of money and could travel without a care in the world. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If you feel like you need this travel break, or your travel bug is itching; do it now! It might be difficult when you’re worried about your cell phone contract you can’t cancel quite yet. Or, maybe you aren’t quite ready for Graduate School. When the urge to travel strikes, go with the flow and don’t look back. You could be missing out or delaying one of the best experiences of your life.
- Stay open minded. Just because you’ve never been sand boarding doesn’t mean you should feel intimidated to pass on a fun sport. After hearing about many backpackers riding the sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru, I knew I had to join the band wagon. Although I find myself sometimes unbalanced (And awful at snowboarding.) I couldn’t pass the opportunity.
It ended up being one of my favorite things I’ve done abroad. Take a chance and open your eyes to new experiences that might change your life. Don’t be scared to eat a bug in China, or to jump off a cliff in Mykonos, Greece. Also, stay open minded when it comes to other travelers. They are here to live a journey as well; so don’t be shy to make new friends you might see in the next city you travel to!
- Leave the guidebook at home. As much as we all love the fresh smell of a new Lonely Planet book, sometimes you gotta leave the book behind. Following the beaten path can be one used up road; so find your own! Good ole conversation with travelers is the best way to find out about things to do that might not be covered in the chapters of your guidebook.
The same goes for looking for hostels, travel companies or other travel related information. It’s okay to travel on a whim and go for the hostel that might not be in your guidebook. It might make for a great travel story later on.
Dina and Ryan from this blog:
When we tried to think of our top advice, we found that a lot of what we wanted to say had already been mentioned by our excellent contributors…so here are some other tips.
- Be flexible to get the best deal. Prices get lower the more flexible you are. If you plan out everything in advance, you won’t be able to take advantage of all the opportunities that present themselves. Unless it’s the peak of peak season, you don’t need to book more than a day or two of accommodation. If you like where you’re staying, great! It’s easy to negotiate a discount for a longer stay when you’re already in the hotel. And if someone offers you a couch to sleep on, you can always hop over to that. Same goes for flights, tours, anything really: if you’re flexible you’ll get better deals and enjoy more opportunities.
- Bring a laptop or netbook with you – it’s multifunctional. Useful for keep in touch with people back home. You can browse about where you are and where you’re going, so forget carrying guide books. If you’re worried about the weight – get a netbook, they only weigh a couple of pounds. Great to store data such as all of those photos and videos you take along the journey. Watching videos. And blogging
- Pay attention to local events. Unique and authentic experience that color your journey. Make a point of finding out what’s going on in the city you’re visiting, and go check it out. Some of our favourite experiences have been celebrating national holidays like Bastille Day in Paris, or Australia Day in Sydney, or the Pride Parade in Toulouse and Amsterdam, or even a mass naked bike ride in Madrid!
Earl from Wandering Earl:
- Focus more on the human interactions and less on the actual sights as connecting with people in foreign lands often provides the most rewarding moments.
- Respect the local cultures you encounter, even if you are unable to comprehend their practices, traditions or beliefs. We should try to avoid shutting off an opportunity to learn before we even observe how others live and trying to understand why they choose to live that way.
- Buy high-quality footwear! With all of the walking and hiking that most travelers do, this is essential to keeping our feet, legs, knees and back in healthy condition. For example, sturdy, well-designed sandals will make a significant difference in how we feel after a full day of roaming around a foreign city.
- Don’t bring your entire wardrobe! I’ve been traveling through three countries for the past four months with two pants, two shirts, two underwear, and one pair of shorts. That’s it! This gives me a total of six possible outfits! Seriously, anything you discover you absolutely need (for example if you decide to go trekking where it will be cold) you can purchase what you need at your destination.
- Pack light. For the past four months I’ve been traveling with a single 30L backpack. The smaller your bag is to begin with, the more likely you are to leave behind unnecessary stuff. If you start with a 60L backpack, you can be sure that you’ll find a way to fill the 60L backpack! Start small. Pack light. You’re not going to an alien planet where you have no idea what to expect.
- Trust in nomadic serendipity. Say hello to strangers. Smile! Be friendly. You’d be amazed how many friendly people are out there who genuinely want to get to know you better. If you’re staying in one place for awhile, frequent the same shops, restaurants, and cafes. Get to know the staff. Try to get a feel for what living in that neighborhood for years on end would be like.
Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out for Raam Dev’s new eBook: Small Ways to Make a Big Difference. Raam has spent the past 3 months traveling, whereÂ he witnessed the imbalance of wealth and abundance in different parts of the world.Â This experience has permanently changed how he sees the world, inspired him to search for ways to help. Over 40 bloggers, including us, Jenna, and Jennifer from this post, joined Raam in contributing to this eBook, sharing our ideas of what little things we can do in our daily life to make a difference in the world. I think it’s relevant to mention this eBook in this post, because there are a lot of ideas in the eBook that you can apply in your traveling, to help make the world a better place.
So, what about you? What traveling advice do you usually give to others? And what advice from above will you take from here?