We’ve all been there. You finally decided to take that first vacation out of your country, or maybe you have just recently quit your job and are planning a backpacking trip of a lifetime to your most sought after destinations…
But buried beneath all the excitement, you may feel nervous and anxious when you picture yourself in situations that are extremely foreign to you.
No need to worry. I’ve come up with my 25 most important tips that are super handy to know before hopping on that plane. Some tips are common sense. Most of them I really wish I had known before I set out on my first trip abroad. I hope they help!
1. Inform your bank of your travel plans.
The last thing you want is to have your bank account frozen with no way to access your money. Before you head overseas, make sure you contact your bank, and any credit card companies that you use. It is very common for banks to freeze accounts if they notice irregular transactions happening across the world without being notified. Don’t worry, they’ve got our backs.
2. Apply for a Traveller Money Card.
A great idea to save a substantial amount of money – especially if you are planning on travelling for a couple months or more, is to sign up for a Travel Money Card. My current bank (Commonwealth Bank) in Australia offers a free Travel Card, which saves you expensive International ATM fees. On other cards in the past, I have been charged the usual ATM fees of around $3AUD, plus an International ATM fee of $12AUD. If you are like me and withdraw the maximum amount approximately once a week, this card could potentially save you around $50/month. $50 can go a long way in certain countries. Get the card.
3. Don’t carry too much money around with you.
Not only is it dangerous to carry heaps of money around with you for the sake of getting robbed, it is just plain unnecessary. If it would work out to be cheaper to carry all of your money and then exchange it for the local currency, then thats one thing. But foreign currency exchange business are a big rip off. You not only pay a fee to use them (around $7AUD) but the rate which they give you is generally far worse than what the ATM would give.
Trust me, your max withdraw at the ATM with a Travel Money Card (around $250-$300AUD) is the way to go.
4. Get your vaccines!
Before you head out on your adventures, you should be up to date on the mandatory shots such as Measles, Hep A, Tetanus, Polio. Get your boosters if needed. While at your travel physician, you should inform him/her on the countries you are planning on visiting. He/She will give you the breakdown of the advised immunizations you will need.
Some of the important immunizations you will need for around the world are: Yellow Fever for Africa or South America. Typhoid Fever for any developing country. Japanese Encephalitis for most of Asia.
For protection against Malaria in wet tropical areas, determine the length of time you will be staying in the high risk areas, and talk to your travel physician about what kind of pills you would like.
I chose not to get the Rabies Vaccine when I was still in Canada due to the cost of around $700CAD. Long story short, I ended up getting scratched by a monkey which broke skin, so I was forced to get my vaccinations while I was in Thailand. For the same medicine, I paid around $250CAD for the 5 shots while in Thailand. Big savings.
The only positive about getting the shot before hand is that the immunoglobulin (1st shot) is already in your system, which would give you an extra 24 hours or so to begin your treatment. If you do get bit or scratched by a possibly rabies infected animal, seek the nearest hospital immediately and you’l be A-Okay.
5. Have a stash of basic medicine.
Other medicine available to purchase while you are still at your travel physician are:
- Anti-diarrhea pills (trust me, you will need them)
- High-altitude sickness pills (for high altitude trekking or mountaineering)
- Gravol (for rough plane or boat trips)
- Tylenol/Advil/Ibuprofen (for the mornings after nights out)
- Pepto-Bismol Chewable Tablets (Sing the ads in your head)
6. Do not over pack!
This is one of the biggest rookie mistakes out there. I have met countless travellers that regret filling their 70L backpacks right to the brim, full of things that they are not willing to part with. I backpacked for 5 months with only a 45L backpack and a 20L daypack. Even though at times I wish I had a 55L backpack to make fitting everything in a bit easier, I’m glad I had such a small one. It really kept me from spending money on pointless stuff that I would throw out sooner rather than later. Travelling is more about the good times had and experiences shared with awesome people, than pointless silly things purchased.
7. Bring proper footwear.
This is one tip that i wish I knew the importance of before i left home. I brought with me Birkenstock Sandals for everyday walking, cheap thongs for dirty hostel showers, and a pair of hiking shoes. As much as I love my birkies, I really wish I left them behind and brought a comfy pair of runners. If you are really planning on experiencing each country to the fullest, heaps of walking is a necessity. You’l be glad you brought those comfy Nikes after a long day of walkin 10+Km’s.
8. Be realistic with your plans.
Another mistake heaps of beginner travellers make, is trying to fit in too much in their schedule on too short of a time frame. On several occasions, i met people on “vacation tours” who paid a hefty amount of money to have an agency plan out every day and every aspect of their trip. For example, One group was travelling for 2 weeks, and were visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand! In 2 Weeks!! Granted, I know not everyone can just pack up their life and leave their jobs for a big backpacking trip, but I couldn’t imagine a more stressful vacation! Being on the move everyday is not fun, trust me, I’ve tried it. It gets exhausting, and its easy to get burnt out really fast.
If time permits, I feel that you need at least 2 -4 weeks in each country to really get a good understanding of the culture and to get to see all of the amazing sights each country has to offer.
Also, try not to hype up your trip so much. Theres not much worse than constantly imagining what a certain place is going to be like, only to be disappointed for whatever reasons.
9. Unlock your phone.
This one may not be for everyone. I have had the pleasure of meeting many travellers abroad, who are big advocates of possessing no technology while they travel. I can totally respect that, and in a way envy them, but I enjoy the feeling of being in control of my situations way too much, to not have Data while in foreign countries. The only way to make that happen is to obtain SIM cards in each country. You must have an unlocked phone for this to work.
Data really comes in handy when you find yourself in a place that doesn’t have wifi, and you are in need of directions to a cool spot, or restaurant, or new hostel.
Do yourself a favour and pay the $10 for data. You can thank me later.
10. Download convenient travel apps.
There are plenty of great travel apps out there which can help you get the most out of your travels. Some of the best ones that I wouldn’t travel without are:
- Accommodations: Agoda, Booking.com, Hostel World, Air BnB
- Restaurants, Activities, Forums, Tours: Trip Advisor ,
- Cheap Flights: Skyscanner, Google Flights, Hopper,
- Cheap Transportation: Über
- Language: Duolingo, Google Translate, Learn & Play, Babble
- Currency Converter: XE Currency
- Free Messaging/Calls: WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Tinder (hahaha)
- Entertainment: Podcasts (Joe Rogan Experience), Apple Music
- Meditation: Calm, Headspace
- Picture Editing: Instagram, Snapseed, Fotor, Camera+, WordSwag
- Fitness: Nike+ Running, Yoga Studio, MyFitnessPal, Jefit (love it)
11. Break down your large bills!
Generally speaking, currencies in developing countries’ are worth quite a bit less than the western world, resulting in what seems like insanely high denominations.
If you plan on eating at small street vendors and local restaurants – which I hope you do, you are going to need smaller bills. Most small businesses rarely hold large amounts of small bills to give back in exchange for a large note. This could come in the way between you and that delicious local delicacy on the side of the road that you’ve been dying to try!
* Do not accept torn or damaged notes, for when the time comes to spend it, chances are that the vendor will not accept it.
Remember – Cash is King.
12. Stash extra cash.
In the unlikely event of losing your wallet, or having it stolen, it is a good idea to cover your ass with around a hundred dollars of stashed US Dollars. Also, on more than a few occasions I have been on an Island with only one ATM which of course has run out of money. Good thing you stashed some cash right!
I like to split it up between a couple different places. Under the soles in your spare shoes, in a spare pair of socks, or in a secret compartment in your backpack are solid spots.
13. Take Public Transportation whenever Possible.
A quick way to blow through your hard earned saved money is to take taxis and private cars to get around. Sure you might get to where you want to go faster, but you definitely won’t get the same authentic experience, and you will spend an exorbitant amount of money in the process.
Do a bit of research before you arrive in each city, to see what your best options are for public transportation. Public buses, albeit sometimes dirty and crowded, are by far the cheapest options. Metros and public trains are also great value and usually travel to and from airports.
Some of the coolest and most memorable experiences I’ve made on my travels stemmed from getting lost on public buses!
14. Avoid consuming too much alcohol.
Not only will drinking yourself into a stupor multiple times a week make you fat, unhealthy and probably lazy due to being hungover, it is known to be one of, if not THE biggest budget blower out there. Sure beers may only set you back 2 or 3 dollars, but multiply 4 or 5 a day by 5 days a week (which is sadly easy to do while travelling) and you’ve just spent the equivalent of a rad tour or up to 5 nights in a hostel!
15. Positive body language.
Do your best to stay positive even when in unfamiliar territory. Some locals can be shy at first, but but with your head held high, wear a big smile, keep good eye contact, say a “hello” in their native tongue, they will soon open up to you and quite possibly approach you and start a memorable conversation.
Make an effort to converse with some locals. You could hear an amazing story, learn some interesting history about the area, or be directed to hidden gems to explore that you otherwise wouldn’t hear about.
16. Learn some local language.
Nothing lights up the face of a local quite like dropping a “hello, how are you”, “it was nice to meet you” or “have a nice day” in their native language. Even the most seemingly unfriendly people will open right up to you and will seem like your new best friend. I made it a point to learn basic sayings in every country I visited and I’m glad I did. You should too!
Download Duolingo, Bable, or Learn&Play to quickly learn handy words and phrases.
17. Carry a scarf/bandana.
I can’t tell you how many times a scarf, or sarong has come in handy. They really have so many uses. You can use it as a blanket for chilly airplanes, buses or climates, a dust shield while on motorbikes, a sun protector, an eye mask, a beach blanket and so much more. Definitely worth the small amount of space it takes up.
18. Learn how to haggle.
Learning how to haggle and barter is a very important skill to learn while overseas. At first you may feel uncomfortable with it (I know I did), but with some advice and practise you will soon become a pro.
The most important thing when it comes to getting a fair price is to be prepared to walk away! Never show too much interest in what you are looking to buy.
Start by asking the price. The vendor will automatically give you a “tourist price” up to 5x what he is willing to take. Shake your head, say no or “too expensive” in their tongue (since you spent the time learning some phrases right!?). They are testing to see if you know how to bargain. Show them you do. Counter with a price generally half of what they first offered. If they don’t come down right away, that’s when you walk away. Don’t be too nice but don’t be rude. Chances are they will call you back to them and meet you at that price. If not, repeat the process over and over until you get them to accept the price you are happy with paying. If they don’t come down in price, keep walking and you will most likely find the same item down the road.
With that being said, there are places where you definitely should haggle such as touristy markets, and street vendors in larger towns or cities. Then there are places where I believe you shouldn’t try to bargain such as small village towns and poorer neighbourhoods. You can generally tell when people have very very little, where an extra dollar here or there will do much more good in their pocket rather than yours.
19. Don’t sleep in.
Try your best to wake up before sunrise. This might sound silly to some since you are on vacation and feel like you should be sleeping in everyday.
There are so many reason why waking up early is awesome. You can beat the crowds at most tourist attractions (with the exception of Angkor Wat). Most of the annoying street vendors, touts and scammers are still in bed so you can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. The weather tends to be not nearly as hot if you are in a country with a hot climate. Most importantly for me, the soft light from the sunrise is perfect for capturing the moment with gorgeous photos.
20. Buy Travel Insurance.
I can’t stress enough the importance of purchasing Travel Insurance before you leave for your trip. For around $50-60CAD per month, you can have the peace of mind that in case of an emergency, you will be covered. This might seem like an awful lot to some, but it really isn’t all that much. Especially if you are planning on riding scooters, or taking part in adventure sports such as surfing or mountain biking. One minor injury will most likely cost you more than 6 month of travel insurance.
Reluctantly, I made the rookie mistake on my recent trip to Bali to forgo the expense of travel insurance. Of course, because Murphy is a bitch, I had a small surfing accident which ended up with a trip to the clinic for 3 stiches, which set me back almost $300AUD. If only I was responsible and forked out the $60! SMH
Don’t make the same mistake!
21. Make time for reading books.
Throughout your travels, you will no doubt find yourself twiddling your thumbs looking for something to do. Maybe it’s raining. Maybe you walked 15km’s around town that day and you just feel like sitting down. Books are the perfect solution.
There are heaps of great travel related books out there. I really enjoyed reading books that were based in the county that I was in at the time. Just to name a few of my favourites:
- Thailand: Buddhism Plain And Simple by Steve Hagen, or The Beach by Alex Garland
- Cambodia: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (Soon to be Motion Picture)
- Vietnam: The Girl In The Picture by Denise Chong, or Fields Of Fire by James Webb
- India: Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (Personal Favourite)
Travelling is also the perfect time to spend time reading books that will encourage personal growth. Some great reads that I feel can truly inspire and motivate are:
- The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Don’t bother purchasing a few books at expensive gift shops in your home country. Every country that I have ever visited have many used bookstores with heaps of great books like the ones listed above. Expect to pay anywhere from $1 to $10 for used books.
22. Avoid shopping/eating in touristy locations.
Another massive budget blower, and common mistake that many rookie travellers make, and even myself for that matter, is to eat at restaurants, and shop in the touristy part of town.
I much prefer to spend my hard earned money at smaller vendors and restaurants. Not only are they substantially cheaper, but I feel like my money is going to people that are more in need of it.
Also, generally speaking, touristy restaurants try to cater to the masses by offering a clusterfuck of a menu, often mixing Asian, Italian, American, Mexican food on one menu. You will almost always get a cheaper, tastier, healthier and much more of a traditional meal at the more local style restaurants.
Who the hell would want to travel half way around the world to eat shitty versions of burgers and Spaghetti Bolognese anyways?
23. Don’t forget to exercise!
It is so easy to get caught up in the wonderful world of travelling, with all the beautiful sights to see, friendly people to meet, delicious food to eat, that we can easily forget about taking care of our body. Try your best to set aside some time a few times a week to get your sweat on. You don’t even need a gym, there are plenty of bodyweight exercises that you can do in your hotel room, or even better – right on the beach.
Check out my post on The 5 Best Fitness Accessories For Travel to give you some ideas!
24. Bring earplugs and eye mask!
If I was listing these tips of order of importance, this one would be right at the top. If you are planning a long backpacking trip, or even if you just have a long plane or bus ride ahead of you, make sure you have a couple sets of earplugs. They make for a MUCH more comfortable ride. Oh, and I haven’t even mention about noisy roommates in hostels that you are bound to have! Trust me, stack up on them!
25. Get out of your comfort zone.
There is no better time than while you are travelling to push yourself out of your comfort zone, by experiencing new and exciting things. Really work on becoming a sort of “Yes Man/Women”. I feel that people create the most amazing memories doing the things that originally scare them, or make them the most uncomfortable.
Obviously be smart about it and never put yourself into dangerous situations.
So go ahead, jump out of a plane, or off a bridge. Explore the magical world under the sea. Take a cooking class. Go on a hike. Learn to shred some pow down a mountain. Harness the power of the ocean on a surf board. Get lost on a bus.
Remember, collect moments, not things. And just say yes!