Traveling is a learning process and if you are a frequent traveler you learn little “hacks” that can make life so much easier. This list is ever evolving, changeable based on length of travel, location and circumstances, and it is also full of opinion and personal prejudice. These are things that work for me, a baby boomer (older traveler) that prefers to keep things flexible, and sometimes just fly by the seat of my pants. It is by no means totally inclusive and I am certain it will be in need of revision just about the time I hit publish. Of course you will have other needs and have your own “secrets” that work well in your travels too.
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- I know a lot of people, especially older travelers, don’t like to carry a phone while traveling, but an UNLOCKED smart phone with the right apps for travel makes life so much easier. Of course I use my iPhone to access maps, as a camera and a translator, but it can do so much more. Use your phone to take a photo of your room number in case you forget (it happens when you travel a lot) or the street signs at intersections near your hotel to show to unfamiliar cab drivers. Use it for taking notes and make screenshots of sights and restaurants you want to remember. Take pictures of business cards of people you meet and miscellaneous receipts instead of holding onto the paper. Take pictures of your boarding passes to remind you of frequent flier credits you have earned.
- Don’t forget to bring all your chargers and other things you need to power the electronics you bring. There is nothing more frustrating than forgetting the battery charger for your camera and having to carry around a “brick” for the rest of your trip. I wrote a separate post about how I handle my electronics while traveling and it works great for me.
- Get business card made for yourself. This can be something as simple or complicated as you want. Even something with just your name and email address on it is good to have to give away. I can never remember names the first time I meet someone, but I can’t tell you how many friends I have made and while traveling and kept in touch with because we remember each other through exchanged cards.
- Get a copy of a local map and a business card from your hotel. These often come in handy to show to cab drivers or if for whatever reason you need to get in touch with the hotel while away. I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me.
- Do laundry every time it is convenient. Wash things out in the sink and hang them to dry or many cities have inexpensive laundry services on the streets; take advantage of them. No one likes carrying around dirty laundry and if you keep things clean you don’t need to take as many clothes.
- Unpack when you are staying in a place for more than one night. This not only makes you feel better; it reminds you of all the things you don’t need to bring next time. It just feels good not to have to be rummaging around in a bag when you are getting ready to go someplace. It is also nice to have easy access to your things when you get back, tired from a day out, not having to hunt for something.
- Most of the time when you are traveling alone, public transportation is cheaper. But, if there are two or more of you traveling together, cabs or other forms of private transport can be cheaper, not to mention easier. Keep in mind though, sometimes riding public transportation can be an adventure in and of itself. Personally, I like to mix it up. I will often take public transportation out exploring, then get an easy cab ride back to my hotel.
- Tours are a waste. Tours are great! It isn’t that cut and dried. Some tours pack you on a bus or minivan and just drive you from tourist place to souvenir shop and back again. Others allow for some flexibility and adjustment depending on what you, or the group, wants. Sometimes you can arrange a tour with a car and driver for less than the cost of just renting a car yourself. Other tours take you to crappy tourist restaurants with boring food and fake entertainment. Others make sure you have authentic food and, meet “real” people and have genuine experiences. I guess what I am saying is, don’t always take tours and don’t always write them off. Base your decision on your circumstances. This is worth doing your homework over.
- I love Tripadvisor. I hate Tripadvisor. Tripadvisor with all of its logins and popup and obnoxious ads is really frustrating to use. You only get reviews of popular and tourist type restaurants and hotels and many of the reviews are obviously overly biased – positively or negatively – in one way or another. Having said all that, it can also help you find some great (if not usually unique) restaurants, give reviews of some attractions and steer you away from some dodgy hotels. I guess what I am saying is, use it if you must, but use it sparingly. Remember caveat emptor.
- Split and keep critical items – medications, copies of important documents, money – in at least two different places. If you are traveling with someone put some in their bag and take some of theirs. If you lose a bag, what could have been an emergency is now just an inconvenience.
- Take a backup credit card and take ATM cards from two completely separate banks. Preferably one that uses Visa and one that uses Mastercard. It does sometimes make a difference. Also, with two ATM cards, you can double the amount per day you can get out of ATM machines.
- Before you leave home, take pictures, or make scans, of critical items and keep them in online storage such as Dropbox, iCloud, One Drive or Evernote. You should have copies of your prescriptions, passports, visas, credit cards, licenses, insurance policies, etc., etc., uploaded to an online service, just in case you need them in an emergency. To be honest, since I have my smart phone with me most of the time, I rarely carry paper copies of any of this stuff anymore and I don’t have to worry about packing it. It is all at the ready
- Get a travel credit card, take advantage of the bonuses and learn the benefits. Almost all cards will offer signing bonuses and these can add up to free travel or real savings in other areas. Many offer double warranties, theft protection, price protection, free insurance or concierge services. Look at the benefits and read the fine print so there are no surprises. I recently applied for three different cards, got the bonuses and there was no noticeable impact on my credit rating. One gave me enough bonus miles to where I now have enough for a “free” ticket practically anywhere in the world! With another I was able to use credits to pay off almost $400 in travel expenses.
- Talk to the staff at your hotel. Ask them about their favorite places to see and especially where they like to eat. Ask them if they know of any small festivals or street fairs coming up. Talk to them about their lives and what they like to do when they are not working. Doing this will often get you a more authentic experience and it may even land you an invitation to something you never would have been able to do otherwise.
- There are several items I try to remember to bring on trips that just make life easier. Don’t ask, just trust me — clothes pins, alligator clips, a length of clothesline, duct tape wrapped around a pencil, a tiny sewing kit, tiny combination lock, Swiss Army Knife (if checking bags only), safety pins, baby wipes, sun screen, antiseptic cream, band aids, pillow case, carabineer. All of this, and the things I forgot to mention, fits in a tiny zippered pouch that I keep in my carry on. Again, don’t forget to check the Swiss Army Knife; I can’t tell you how many of these I have lost at security checkpoint because I forgot and tried to carry them on.