After visiting 80+ countries since 2012, I’ve picked up lots of valuable knowledge and skills to make traveling safer and more efficient.
My top 25 travels tips are listed below, in order, with #1 being my best travel tip and #25 being more general advice.
Alright, let’s get at it!
1. Use Google Maps to Navigate Cities
I cannot tell you how many hours of time and stress this has saved me over the years. Did you know that Google Maps works offline, even when your phone is on Airplane mode?
All you have to do is make sure to load a city in Google Maps BEFORE getting off the plane (or leaving your hotel) — and the little blue GPS dot will follow you around as you wander the city.
This is especailly helpful when you’re in a foreign taxi, so you can make sure to see exactly where the driver is taking you.
2. Use TEP to get internet access
TEP is the best way to get online in 100+ countries!
Everyone always asks me how I get my computer and phone to work abroad. I used to buy local SIM cards (from a local Phone provider) every time I hopped borders, which was a nightmare! Now, whenever I’m not in a public wifi zone (like in a cafe or hotel), I turn on my TEP portable hotspot device. TEP gives me internet access in 100+ countries, and it works by using local sims to guarantee the fastest internet speeds. They even just launched a 4G model, which gives you even faster speeds!
3. For Booking Flights, Use Google Flights & Kayak
It seems like there are so many flight search engines these days, that it’s frustrating to find which ones are best.
I can tell you from first-hand experience (booking 400+ flights) that Google Flights & Kayak are the most reliable and cheapest search engines out there. Google Flights makes is easy to compare flight prices across various dates in a month, and Kayak simply has every airline in it’s database that you can imagine. I never book a flight without searching both of them.
More tips when buying flights:
– Delete your browser’s cookies before buying an airline ticket, because the prices usually go up when you visit multiple travel sites.
– Wait until midnight to book your flight beacuse there will be more of an inventory and better rates beacuse many seats are put on a 24 hour hold.
– Book flights in an “Incognito Window” of Google Chrome, so there are no cookies
4. For Accommodations, Use Air Bnb & Booking.com
Air Bnb is best when you are traveling with another person, or a group of people, otherwise it can be a bit expensive. I’ve stayed at more than 30 Air Bnbs around the world, and I’ve never had a bad experience. It’s great to stay in a local apartment beacuse it gives me a sense of “home” and makes me feel like a local!
Booking.com is my go-to place for booking hotels, as it has hundreds of thousands of properties worldwide. I prefer them to the others beacuse the prices are slightly cheaper than the rest, and you don’t always need to give your credit card (you can pay when you arrive!)
5. Use Uber Whenever Possible
Uber came in handy a LOT during my South America trip. As I write this, Uber is active in 76 countries, and I highly recommend using it whenever you can.
The 2 main reasons why you should use Uber is because it’s cheaper and safer than standard taxis. Inside of the app, you have all the information of the driver and you are protected by the company should anything go wrong.
6. Always Use ATM’s to Pull Out Local Currency
When dealing with getting local currency, it’s best to pull out of an ATM with your debit card at the airport.
The reason being that ATMs always have the most up-to-date exchange rate, and they cannot rip you off. Most banks do charge a fee for international ATM withdraws, but I switched over to Schwab Bank because they reimburse me for all foreign ATM fees. If you aren’t from the U.S. (Schwab is only accessible for Americans), then do a quick Google Search for banks in your country that waive foreign ATM fees.
Try to avoid “Money Exchange” desks if possible, beacuse they always take a commission (even if it says “no fee”). Obviously, if there are no ATMs around or you lost your debit card, then exchanging cash at an exchange desk is your only option.
Also, you should always find out what the exchange rate is before you land in a given country, so you can figure out how much cash to take out (assuming there is no wifi in the airport).
7. Learn Languages with Duolingo & Youtube Vids
Before I visit any country, I try to at least learn the top 10 words/phrases that I can use to communicate. My favorite app for learning languages is Duolingo – it works like Rosetta Stone with those games & quizzes, but it’s completely free!
I also learn a lot of common words & phrases by watching Youtube Videos. You will be surprised by how much you can learn in a short period of time. If you want to get more serious, the watch movies online in the language you are trying to learn, with English subtitles.
8. The Best Travel Backpack is the Osprey Porter 46L
I’ve gone through 4 different backpacks over the last 4 years, and I have finally found the perfect one for me! It’s the Osprey Porter Travel Backpack Bag, Black, 46-Liter
It’s durable, has many pockets, and it’s the perfect size so you can always carry it on the plane with you. I’ve never had to pay to check my Osprey bag in more than 200 flights!
9. Get a Travel Rewards Card
This is helpful when making big purchases, beacuse you can easily rack up points and redeem them for flights and hotels. I use the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card, but I’ve heard that the Chase Sapphire Card and Capital One Venture Rewards Cards are also great.
If you spend a lot of money on flights, or any other big purchases, then a travel rewards card is a great way to save money and get free flights.
10. Find Free Wifi in Hotels, McDonald’s & Coffee Shops
I spend 5-6 hours a day on my computer working, which means that I am in constant need of good wifi. In today’s world, you can find free wifi in pretty much every hotel, coffee shop & McDonald’s (among many other places).
Another tip: for certain hotels and airports that charge for their wifi, just add “?.jpg” at the end of any URL to bypass the expensive fee and use the internet for free.
11. Teach English is the Best Way to Live & Work Abroad
I know there are many jobs that you can find abroad, such as working in a hotel or on a cruise ship, but I strongly believe that Teaching English offers the best overall experience. Immediately after I graduated college, I moved to South Korea to teach English for 18 months, and I loved every minute of my experience.
I made about $25K per year, including free housing and 4 weeks paid vacation.
In order to qualify to teach english (in most countries), you need to hold a passport from an English speaking country, have any bachelors degree from a University, and obtain your TEFL certification that proves your fluency in English.
12. Tripit is the Best Travel Planning App
Tripit is an all-in-one phone application, that organizes your travel plans in one convenient place. Whenever you book a flight or hotel, the booking information will automatically transfer to Tripit. They even send you real-time alerts if your plane is changing gates or departing late.
Tripit is really the best travel app on the market, and it’s the only app I use and trust. I cannot tell you how many hours of time and stress that Tripit has saved me over the last year. Whenever I have an upcoming flight, I no longer have to dig through emails to find the confirmations – all I have to do is open Tripit and 2 seconds later, I find out all the info that I need.
13. Carry Backup Chargers & Medicines
Be prepared in case your phone charger or headphones stop working. I carry a ziplock bag with extra chargers, batteries, and any other electronic equipment that I need.
For medicines, you definitely want to avoid seeing foreign doctors, so carry as much with you as possible. I have medicines to protect me from a fever, cold, sore throat, diarrhea, allergies, cuts, etc. You can fit it all in my small dopp kit.
14. Use First Row Sports to Stream Any Live Sports Game Online
First Row Sports is a life saver for myself, and any traveler who is a huge sports fan! The website is technically illegal, and therefore a bit sketchy, but I’ve been using it since 2012 and never had any issues. I am actually using it right now to watch to the Cubs game as I type this (I’m a professional multi-tasker)!
You can literally stream LIVE any sporting event that’s happening around world — baseball, hockey, water polo, football, archery, you name it!
The website URL frequently changes, so you just have to do a Google Search for “First Row Sports” and you will find the most up-to-date link.
15. Travel with 1 Big and 1 Small Backpack
I always travel with 2 backpacks, a big one and a small one. That’s it.
In my big bag (Osprey Porter 46L) – 95% of it is clothes, toiletries and backup chargers. The other 5% is a small bag with cash and extra credit cards.
In my small bag – I pack everything important that I own. Computer, passport, chargers, headphones, external hardrive, gopro, sunglasses, etc.
My reasoning for carrying all my important stuff in my small bag is because it ALWAYS stays in my possession. If I were to get robbed or mugged, I will throw my big bag at the taxi driver and run away with my small bag.
Also, don’t forget to bring little combination locks for your bag for extra protection!
16. Always Carry At Least $500 USD With you in Cash
It’s a good idea to stash USD in several different parts of your bags, just in case your wallet gets lost or stolen. Remember that U.S. Cash is the King of currencies, as it is recognized in pretty much every country on earth. If your ATM debit card isn’t working, then you have cash to exchange in the meantime. It’s also a good idea to have USD for any bribes that you may come across.
Also, make sure the bills are crisp with no rips or marks on them… Most countries won’t accept bills that aren’t perfect.
17. Smile & Say Hello
This sounds stupid and obvious, but I’ve made a lot of friends over the years by just smiling at someone. It also makes me feel more comfortable when the locals have a good impression of me.
Even though 99% of the people I’ve met abroad are kind and welcoming, you never know what kind of situation you will get in. The more positivity you spread to the people, the better chances you will be safe.
18. Travel with Cheap, Plain Clothes & Accessories
I do most of my shopping at Target and Old Navy. I never wear shirts more expensive than $10 and mostly wear solid color, plain clothing. Why? Because there’s a good chance that you may lose or damage your clothes abroad, and also, wearing “University of Wisconsin” shirts makes you stand out like a sore thumb and draws unnecessary attention to you. Save your expensive and flashy clothes for when you are home, and safe.
I bought my watch at Wal Mart for $5, and I found sunglasses at a street market in Bolivia for $1.75, and they both work perfectly fine when I’m on the road.
19. Don’t be Too Cheap
I was guilty of this when I first started backpacking, and almost everyone is at some point. Yes, I know you are traveling on a budget (who isn’t?), but most of the time, it’s worth it to spend an extra $10 for a nicer hotel room or $5 more for better view.
Also, it’s worth it to take a one-hour flight for $100 than take a 15 hour bus for $30. Trust me, it’s called the time value of money. Yes, you spent an extra $70, but you are also gaining a full day of travel because it’s faster and you won’t feel exhausted the next day.
20. Use World Nomads for Travel Insurance
It’s essential to have travel insurance whenever you leave your country’s borders. I’ve been using World Nomads for a few years, and they have been really helpful for me. I was reimbursed $350 for my hospital bills when I was sick in Bali, and I was also reimbursed $800 for my cancelled flight to Kathmandu when the earthquake hit.
World Nomads is the way to go!
21. For Best Food, Find Crowded Hole-in-the-Wall Places
Never walk into an empty restaurant, beacuse 9 times out of 10, there is a better restaurant nearby. If you are seeking the best local food, walk around the popular streets/areas and find a dive place with a bunch of locals feasting inside.
Or better yet, find a local and ask them where is the best place to eat!
22. Wake up Early
Morning time is my favorite time to explore a city. I like to get up before the people start driving to work.
You will get a much different perspective by watching the city develop throughout the day, and it’s also less crowded meaning you can get shit done!
Also, if you are an outdoor sports lover like myself, then waking up early is the best time to do on a hike, play golf, or go on a run. It’s more peaceful!
23. Always Travel with Copies of Important Documents
These may come in handy, especially if you are getting a “visa on arrival” or are planning to apply for visas abroad. I carry a small, zip lock bag with the following documents:
– 2X2 passport photos
– passport copies (biometric page)
– copies of my credit & debit cards
24. Wear a Money Belt when Necessary
Money Belts looks like standard belts, but they have a secret zipper inside where you can stash some extra cash in case of emergency. This comes in handy more when traveling in more dangerous, off-the-beaten path countries. You can buy one on Amazon for $8.
25. Always be Having Fun
Plain and simple: if you’re not having fun, then you’re doing something wrong!
Always tired? Then go to bed earlier. Not enjoying the culture? Then go to a different country. Not happy with the food? Eat something else.
Try switching things up to make yourself happier.