Every industry has their own “best practices” — proven rules and standards that guide the industry. Travel is no different. There are many rules to live by that help us navigate the unknown world with fewer costly mistakes and help quicken the pace in which we melt into the local culture. They make travel easier, better, and less stressful.
I have my own rules.
Below are my 27 golden rules for travel. If you follow them, you’ll be a master traveler, able to travel the world with swashbuckling zeal and expert ninja-like knowledge…all without breaking the bank so you can keep cutting a path forward through the world for longer:
Get a no-fee ATM card – Why give your money to the banks? Get an ATM card that doesn’t charge any fees and use that extra money for more traveling. Over the long term those $2-5 charges really add up. I use Charles Schwab as my bank but you can also find many others that offer no-fee accounts — or use a one that is part of the Global ATM alliance, and pay no fees within that network. There is never a reason to pay a bank fee.
Be adventurous – You only live once. You’re going to get chances to do wild things you’ve never dreamed of doing when you travel. Don’t hold back. Count to 3, say “screw it”, and take the leap. You didn’t come this far for nothing. Say yes when someone asks you to go rock climbing, salsa dancing, spelunking, or try the world’s hottest pepper despite not liking spicy food.
Get a rewards credit card – Why pay for travel when you can get it for free? Use a travel rewards credit card to earn points and miles that can be redeemed for free travel. Additionally, sign up for a no-fee card like Capital One’s No Hassle Card, Chase Ink, or United’s MileagePlus to avoid overseas transaction fees. Through travel hacking and using these cards, I’ve gained hundreds of thousands of miles every year – that’s enough for even a family of four!
Always carry a back up – Always carry a back up bank and credit card in case one is lost, stolen, or hacked. That way while you are fixing the issue, you still have access to your money. Instead of the problem crippling your trip, it merely is an annoyance.
Travel alone – Travel alone at least once. It will teach you to be self-sufficient, encourage independence, allow you to get to know yourself, and make you more outgoing by forcing you to talk to strangers. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to find yourself on the road.
Join a frequent flier program – Get rewarded for all of those flights you’ll be taking by joining a frequent flier program. Then you’ll earn miles, perks for flying, and free flights. Don’t miss out. Miles are like money – and you wouldn’t waste money, would you?
Learn basic phrases – Locals don’t expect you to be an expert, but learning a few basic phrases in the local language will go a long way to endearing you in their hearts and making them go the extra mile for you. It will bring a smile to their face that you tried and might even lead to some friendships and invitations out to events. “Hello”, “how are you”, and “thank you” go a long, long way no matter where you are in the world.
Stay in hostels – Get to know other travelers and experience the communal spirit of traveling by staying in hostels a few times. They aren’t all the dirty party places you see in movies. Most hostels are very clean, offer breakfast, have wi-fi, organize events, have comfy beds, and know the local area very well. They also aren’t just for young backpackers; you’ll find people of all ages (and even some families) staying there. Try them out. You may like it.
Use tourist boards – Local tourist offices are a wealth of knowledge. When you get to a new destination, visit the tourist office and ask the staff an insane number of questions about the place. They know exactly where to do what and when. Visiting one is often one of the first things I do in a new city.
Couchsurf – Get a free place to stay and get to know locals with a hospitality network. Using these networks allows you to stay with a local for FREE and get the inside scoop on an area. I’ve met some amazing people through hospitality networks who have shown me a side of life I never would have known otherwise.
Try new foods – Culture is often best experienced through food. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and experiment. You might actually like it (those fried caterpillars in Zambia were delicious!).
Be flexible with your plans – Travel is a series of happy accidents with way leading to way. Don’t skip going to that random city with the friends you just met because your itinerary says something different. You’ll regret it. Go with the flow and be open to new things — that’s when the magic happens.
Pack light – Take it from a former (and sometimes current) overpacker: you never need half the stuff you take. Put all you need in a pile and then remove half of it. The lighter you travel, the easier you travel.
Take extra money – Something always happens. I never thought I would fly last minute to go to Fiji, need to replace my camera in Italy, or buy an extra iPhone cable in Australia. Always take extra money just in case. You may not need it but you don’t want to be without a little extra when something bad happens.
Say yes a lot – Don’t limit yourself. Say yes to new experiences. Adventure and exploring the unknown are what travel is all about.
Get lost – Meander through a new city without a map. Get lost — because in the end, you aren’t really getting lost, you’re just discovering new experiences. So put down the map and wander. Eventually, you’ll find your way.
Call home – Your parents miss you. Don’t forget to call and say hello.
Get a phone – It will be easier to stay in touch with friends (and call home), meet up with other travelers, and contact hostels with a phone. SIM cards and pre-paid phones are cheap, so there’s no excuse not to stay connected.
Travel slow – This isn’t a race or a competition. I know you want to get a lot in with your limited time, but you see a lot more when you see a lot less. Travel slow and experience each place. Don’t race from train station to station; that will set you up for a stressful, unenjoyable time. With travel, less is more.
Live somewhere once – Stop at least once. Get to know a place. Learn the language. Make local friends. Explore. Become the local. Living in a foreign place gives you a different perspective on life and a real sense of what it’s like to be an outsider.
Avoid taxis – They just cost a lot. Don’t use them unless you don’t have any other option.
Bring a water bottle – Not only are all those plastic water bottles bad for the environment, but the cost of each one adds up over time. A water bottle here, a water bottle there and you’ve spent $50 this month on water. Get a metal bottle and drink the tap water.
Buy travel insurance – You never know what could happen on the road. Get travel insurance so that if something happens to you or you break your camera, you’re covered. It’s only a few dollars a day. Don’t be an idiot.
Bring basic first-aid – Cuts and scraps happen and you can get what you need anywhere in the world, but it’s still good to carry bandages, antibacterial cream, and some hydrocortisone cream just in case. Also carry duct tape — you’ll never know when it’ll come in handy.
Get off the beaten path – London, Paris, and the temples of Kyoto are all amazing for a reason, but get off the beaten path, go away from the crowds, and explore on your own. Find something new, stick out, meet the locals, and discover. The road less traveled is usually a good one.
Take photos of your friends – Years from now, you’ll want to look back at your younger self and see all the people who changed your life. Nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. Make sure you take photos of your friends. You’ll want them later.
And finally, the most important tip of them all….
Ignore all my tips and do whatever you want – It’s your trip. Go where you want, when you want, and for how long you want. Don’t worry about this or that. Make mistakes. Learn. Make more mistakes. Have fun and become a better traveler. At the end of the day, you won’t look back and think “if only I had more miles” but instead “Damn, that was a lot of fun.”
So get out there and have some fun.
You deserve it.