Last Updated: 6/9/23 | June 9th, 2023
Most people aren’t born savvy travelers. It’s something that only comes with on-the-road experience. Travel savviness is a process born of missed buses, foolish behavior, cultural unawareness, and countless tiny errors. Then, one day, you begin to seamlessly move through airports and integrate yourself into new cultures like a fish to water.
In the beginning, you just make a lot of travel mistakes.
But I want to help speed up the process and help you avoid my mistakes (and I often make a lot of them), so I put together this giant list of my best travel tips that cover everything under the sun to help you reach your full travel ninja potential.
I’ve learned these tips over the last sixteen years being a nomad.
These tips for traveling will have you saving money, sleeping better, getting off the beaten path more, meeting locals, and just being a better traveler.
So, without further ado, here are the best 61 travel tips in the world:
1. Always pack a towel.
It’s the key to successful galactic hitchhiking – and plain common sense. You never know when you will need it, whether it’s at the beach, on a picnic, or just to dry off after a shower. While many hostels offer towels, you never know if they will or not, and carrying a small towel won’t add that much weight to your bag.
Make sure it’s a lightweight, quick-drying towel since regular towels are too bulky and heavy (and they take a long time to dry). Dry Fox travel towels are my favorite (use the code “nomadicmatt” for 15% off your purchase)!
2. Use a small backpack/suitcase.
By purchasing a small backpack (I like something around 35/45 liters), you will be forced to pack light and avoid carrying too much stuff. Humans have a natural tendency to want to fill space. Even if you pack light initially but have lots of extra room in your bag, you’ll end up going “well, I guess I can take more” and fill that space. You’ll regret it later as you’ll be carrying around a bunch of stuff you don’t need as well as more weight on your shoulders.
My favorite bag is the Flash Pack from REI. Other companies offering high-quality bags are Osprey, Nomatic, and MEC (for Canadians).
This article has more tips on finding the best travel backpack for your needs.
The same rule applies to suitcases. Don’t take a huge suitcase because they are a pain in the butt to lug around, especially if you’re traveling long term (short term, not so much). I like Level 8 suitcases. They are durable, quite spacious, nicely designed, and well-priced (luggage can be pretty damn expensive). Plus, they have a TSA lock built into the zipper. You can click here to learn more and buy one.
I also recommend packing cubes, which are essential if you’re going to be living out of a backpack for a few weeks (or months), or you just want to keep your suitcase better organized. They come in a variety of sizes, allowing you to store items big and small. They’re great for making it easy to find everything in your backpack or suitcase.
3. Pack light.
Write down a list of essentials, cut it in half, and then only pack that! Plus, since you bought a small backpack like I said above, you won’t have much room for extra stuff anyways! Take half the clothes you think you will need…you won’t need as much as you think. It’s OK to wear the same t-shirt a few days in a row.
I love Unbound Merino, as their travel clothing can be worn daily for weeks without getting smelly. They are super light and they look sylish too. I really love the material, they’re comfortable, they hardly ever need a wash, and they last forever!
4. But take extra socks.
You’ll lose a bunch to laundry gremlins, wear and tear, and hiking so packing extra will come in handy. Take a few more than you need. Trust me on this. Nothing beats a fresh pair of socks!
5. Stay in hostels.
They are cheap, organize events, you’ll meet a lot of people, and they are just tons of fun! Plus, hostel bars sell cheap beer. Hostelworld is the best hostel-accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and highest availability. I use it for all my hostel bookings.
Here’s a list of all my best hostels around the world. If you’re planning on backpacking Europe, it’s worth getting HostelPass, a card that gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money, and they’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and so I’m glad it finally exists. Use code NOMADICMATT for 25% off.
6. Take an extra bank card and credit card with you
Disasters happen and things get stolen or hacked. I once had a card duplicated and a freeze put on it. I couldn’t use it for the rest of my trip. I was very happy I had a backup. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere new without access to your funds. This happened to a friend once and they had to borrow money for me for weeks while they waited for their new card to arrive.
Here are some helpful articles on banking:
- How to Avoid Banking Fees While Traveling
- 22 Ways to Cut Your Expenses and Have Money for Travel
- How to Pick the Best Travel Credit Card
7. Make sure to use no-fee bank cards.
Don’t give banks your hard-earned money. Keep that for yourself and spend it on your travels. Get a credit card and debit card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee or an ATM fee. Over the course of a long trip, the few dollars they take every time will really add up!
8. Don’t fly direct.
When booking flights, sometimes it is cheaper to fly in to airports close to your final destination, and then take a train, bus, or budget airline to where you need to go.
To use this method, find out how much it is to go directly to your destination. Then, look at prices to nearby airports. If the difference is more than $150 USD, I look to see how much it is to get from the second airport to my primary destination.
My favorite flight search engine is Skyscanner. This is my go-to website for finding cheap flights. It searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss.
9. Travel by yourself at least once.
You’ll learn a lot about yourself and how to become independent. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Traveling solo taught me how to fend for myself, talk to people, and handle unfamiliar situations with ease. It’s made me comfortable with myself, helped me learn about what I’m capable of, and allowed me to be super selfish and do whatever I want! It can take some getting used to if you’ve never done it before but do it at least once. Make yourself uncomfortable and surprise yourself. You’ll learn valuable life skills when you push yourself!
Here are some helpful articles on solo travel:
- Why I Travel Alone
- The Joy of Solo Travel
- Travel: The Ultimate Personal Development Tool
- How to Overcome Being Alone
- Reading People: One Skill Travel Has Taught Me
10. Always visit the local tourism information center.
This is probably one of the most underused travel tips in the world. Tourism information centers know about everything going on in town. They can point you to free activities, special events happening during your stay, and everything in between. They even offer discounts on attractions and transportation. It is their job to help you experience the destination better. It’s amazing how many travelers skip this when they are visiting somewhere but, as a savvy traveler, you know to use this resource!
11. Take free walking tours.
Besides being free, these tours will give you a good orientation and background of the city you are visiting. I love, love, love taking walking tours when I travel. You pass the time, you get to pepper the guide with questions, and you get to learn so much about where you are. Here are some of my favorite walking tour companies around the world:
- The Best Walking Tours in New York City
- The Best Walking Tours in London
- The Best Walking Tours in Paris
- The Best Walking Tours in Berlin
- The Best Walking Tours in Amsterdam
And while free walking tours are great, sometimes it’s worth it to take a paid walking tour if you’d like to dig deeper into a particular aspect of the destination. Walks is one of my favorite paid walking tour companies, offering in-depth history and cultural tours in cities around the world (especially Europe). Its small-group tours also tend to offer exclusive behind-the-scenes access you can’t get elsewhere.
For fellow foodies, Devour Food Tours has all kinds of amazing food tours around Europe.
12. Don’t be afraid to use a map.
Looking like a tourist isn’t as bad as getting really lost and ending up in the wrong neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to use a map or ask for directions and look like a tourist. After all, you are one!
13. But don’t be afraid to get purposefully lost.
Wandering aimlessly through a new city is a good way to get to know it, get off the beaten path, and away from the tourists. You might be surprised by the hidden gems you find. I like to wander around and try to find my way without using Google Maps. Travel is the art of discovery and you never know what cool little spot you’ll come across.
14. Ask hostel staff for information — even when you aren’t staying there.
Hostel staff deal with budget travelers all day, every day. They know exactly where to go for cheap meals and attractions. They also tend to be locals so they know the city very well. Ask them for all sorts of information. Even if you aren’t staying in one, just pop in and ask for help. They’ll usually give it.
15. Sign up for flight deals.
When it comes to travel, your flight(s) will likely be your biggest expense. Save money by signing up for flight deal websites. You’ll get epic flight deals straight to your inbox, saving you time and money. Also be sure to sign up for airline newsletters, since that is where they will announce their sales first. The best websites for finding travel deals are:
- Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) – The BEST for upcoming US flight deals.
- The Flight Deal – Great for global flight deals.
- Holiday Pirates – The best for European flight deals.
- Secret Flying – A great site for flight deals from around the world.
16. Don’t buy a money belt — they’re stupid.
Thieves know they exist and being seen with one basically shouts, “Look at me, I’m a tourist with money! Rip me off!” The more you can blend in and act like a local, the easier it will be to get deals and avoid touts. If you’re worried about pickpockets, keep a better eye on your stuff!
17. When you go out, take only what you need.
Limit the amount of cash and bank cards you carry with you when you go out, so if something does happen, you can easily recover. Never take more than one credit card or ATM card with you. My rule for cash is to limit what I carry to $50 USD.
18. Always carry a lock.
Carry a small combination lock with you when you travel. They come in handy, especially when you stay in dorms. Most hostels use lockers, so budget travelers need to provide their own travel lock to keep stuff secured. While you can usually rent or buy them at hostels, it’s much cheaper just to buy one before you go. (Just don’t use one with keys because if you lose the keys, you’re screwed!)
19. Make extra copies of your passport and important documents.
Don’t forget to e-mail a copy to yourself too. You never know when you might need to have some sort of documentation with you and might not want to carry your original. Additionally, if your passport gets stolen having a copy will come in handy for your police report.
20. Learn basic phrases in the native language of your destination.
The locals will appreciate it and it will make your interactions easier. You don’t need to master the language but learning a few things like “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you!”, “Where’s the bathroom?” will go a long way to endearing yourself with the locals. They’ll like that you tried.
21. Read a history book!
You can’t understand a place’s present if you don’t know anything about its past. Read up on the destinations you are visiting. It will give you a deeper understanding of the place you’re visiting. With a Kindle, you can pack thousands of books into a single device, so you’ll always have something to read, whether you’re in transit or just lying on the beach.
Here are some posts that highlight my favorite reads:
- 13 Travel Books That Will Give You Serious Wanderlust
- The Best Travel Books
- 12 Books to Take You Around the World
22. Don’t be ashamed to walk into a Starbucks or McDonald’s.
Sometimes familiarity is comforting and both places have free wifi and public restrooms you can use. (Just don’t eat the food at McDonald’s! That shit is gross and unhealthy for you! You can get it back home!). Libraries and most modern coffee shops also have free Wi-Fi too.
23. Always get behind business travelers when in security lines.
They move fast since they are usually in a rush and travel light. They know the drill. Line up behind them as much as possible. You’ll speed through the line!
24. Never get behind families in airport security.
They take forever. It’s not their fault. They just have a lot of stuff because of the kids. Try to avoid getting in lines with lots of kids. It’s going to take a while.
25. When you check in to the hotel, don’t be afraid to ask for an upgrade.
They have a lot of flexibility when it comes to assigning upgrades at check-in. It never hurts to ask. Often times they can accommodate you if the hotel isn’t full. Just be super nice!
Note: If you stay in hotels frequently (or want to), it might be worth it to get a hotel credit card. You can earn points on your everyday spending at home and convert those points into free stays. The best cards come with status, making upgrades more likely too!
26. Write down your experiences.
Even in this hyper-technological age, I think everyone needs to write more during their travels so they have something to look back on. I never leave home without a journal. Not only do I use them for work (I’m constantly taking notes and writing down ideas) but I also use them to keep track of my travels.
Simple travel journals work great for journaling during your trip as well as for writing down logistical information like directions, contact information, and language tips.
If you want a travel journal that isn’t just blank pages but rather has space for itinerary planning, places to jot notes in the local language, inspirational quotes, and more, grab our new travel journal. It was designed specifically with travelers in mind, so you can take notes as well as write down stories and reflections during your travels.
27. Lunchtime is the best time to visit historical sites.
Be a contrarian. You’ll have fewer crowds getting in your way as big tour buses, groups, and most travelers head to lunch. It’s always best to visit an attraction super early, late, or when people eat. You’ll have even the most popular places to yourself!
28. Never eat in a touristy area or near a tourist attraction.
As a general rule, I walk five blocks in either direction before I find a place to eat. The closer you are to tourist attractions the more you are going to pay and the worse the food (and service). Use websites like Yelp, Google Maps, or Open Rice to find some delicious and popular restaurants around you.
Additionally, never eat anywhere the menu is in like 6 languages! That means the restaurant is just for tourists!
29. Locals don’t eat out every night and neither should you.
Go grocery shopping. You can learn a lot about locals’ diets by seeing the type of food they buy. Plus, it will save you a lot of money. You won’t regret it. Cook your food, save money, and surprise yourself!
30. Eat at expensive restaurants during lunch.
Most expensive restaurants offer lunch specials featuring the same food they would serve for dinner but for a fraction of the cost! That’s the best time to eat out when you travel.
31. Pack a headlamp.
This is a handy tool for both backpackers and anyone looking to do any hiking or camping. If you’re going to be staying in a hostel, having a headlamp is helpful when you need to check in or out but don’t want to disturb your fellow travelers by turning on the lights. They’re also helpful in emergencies.
32. Carry a basic first-aid kit.
Accidents happen, so be prepared. I always take band-aids, antibacterial cream, and ointments for minor cuts and scrapes. You never know when you’re going to need it and you can’t always get it when you travel.
33. Don’t believe the cheap flight myths.
Don’t drive yourself too crazy trying to get the absolute cheapest fare. There are a lot of myths online about how to find cheap flights, but there is no magic bullet or one secret ninja trick. It’s not cheaper to book on a particular day of the week, or if you search in an incognito window.
Spending five hours to try to save $10 will cause you a lot of stress. Once you find a flight deal that you’re happy with, book right away, as airfares change by the minute. Remember, you usually have a 24-hour window to cancel in case you need to.
Here are some article on how to save money on flights:
- 5 Steps to Booking a Cheap Flight Online
- How to Always Find a Cheap Flight
- Where I Find the Best Travel Deals
34. Use Meetup, the sharing economy, and hospitality websites to meet locals.
These websites will help you get an insider’s perspective on your destination by connecting you with locals in the places you visit. The sharing economy has changed the way people travel allowing you to meet locals, get off the tourist travel, and save mega money! It’s a triple win – and I use these resources all the time when I travel.
35. Be open to strangers.
Not everyone bites. Say hi to people on the road. Turn strangers into friends. Remember they are just like you! They want to live a happy, full life and have hopes and dreams too! You never know. You just might make some lifelong friends.
36. But keep your guard up.
Some people do bite, so keep a healthy level of suspicion. You don’t want to fall for any travel scams or get yourself into uncomfortable situations. Be open but cautious. Here is a list of travel scams to avoid.
37. Try new food.
Don’t ask what it is. Just put it in your mouth and see if you like it. If you put your guard up, you might miss out on some unusual and delicious local cuisine. Here are some articles on how to eat delicious — and cheap — food around the world:
- My Favorite Restaurants in Europe
- The Best Places to Eat in NYC
- How to Eat Cheap Around the World
- 30+ Places to Eat in Tokyo
- How to Eat Around the World on a Vegan Diet
38. Avoid taxis.
They are always a budget buster. Never, ever take a taxi unless you absolutely have too!
39. Take a reusable water bottle through airport security and fill it up at your gate.
Single-use plastics are common in a lot of countries around the world. They’re also polluting our oceans and destroying the environment. Drink from the tap when you can — you’ll save money and help the environment. If you’re going somewhere where you can’t drink the water, be sure to get a water bottle with a filter. I love Lifestraw.
40. Get city attraction cards.
If you are going to visit a lot of museums and other attractions in a short period of time, a city pass is going to save you money on admission (plus most provide free public transportation too!).
41. Take pictures of your luggage and clothes.
If your bag gets lost, this will help identify it more easily and speed up the process of having your travel insurance reimburse you.
42. Carry emergency cash.
Because emergencies happen, like that time in Romania when I couldn’t find an ATM and needed money for the bus to the hostel. I usually try to keep around $200 USD in emergency cash in case something happens!
43. Get good shoes.
You walk a lot when you travel. Don’t beat up your feet. Love them as much as they love you, and they’ll take you to amazing places.
My favorite shoes for traveling are Suavs shoes, which are versatile and durable. They’re comfortable and great for exploring a new city all day, but also look nice enough that you can dress them up if you want to at night.
44. Get vaccinated.
Because falling prey to an illness in a foreign country is not fun — and many countries require you to get vaccinated in order to visit them. So regardless of your opinion on the subject, you just might have to.
45. Learn to haggle.
Haggling is a fun, playful way of not getting charged the foreigner price. It’s the art of negotiating and one that will help you throughout all of life, not just at the market.
46. Use points and miles for free travel.
You can go a lot further in the world when you don’t have to pay for it. Learn the art of travel hacking and collect points and miles through your everyday spending so you can get free flights, accommodation, train tickets, and other forms of travel. It’s what all expert travelers due to lower their travel costs and something you should do too!
Here are some articles to help you get started with travel hacking:
- Travel Hacking 101: A Beginner’s Guide
- How I Earn 1 Million Frequent Flier Miles Every Year
- The Best Travel Credit Cards
- The Ultimate Guide to Picking the Best Travel Credit Card
47. Take a jacket.
Nights get chilly.
48. Eat street food!
If you skip the street food, you miss out on culture. Don’t be scared. If you’re nervous, look for places where kids are eating. If it’s safe for them, it’s safe for you.
49. Get travel insurance.
Travel insurance is the most important thing to get that you never want to use. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to be out thousands of dollars in bills. Travel insurance will be there if you get robbed, flights get canceled, you get sick or injured, or have to be sent home. It’s comprehensive and, for just a few dollars a day, one of the best investments you can get for a trip.
You may think you’re superman/woman but so did my friend who broke her arm, didn’t have insurance, and had to pay thousands out of pocket. Insurance was there when I had to replace my camera and when I popped an eardrum scuba diving! Get it! Here are some tips on how to find the best travel insurance.
My favorite companies are:
- SafetyWing – A budget-friendly choice for travelers who need basic coverage. They are affordable, have great customer service, and make it easy to make a claim. If you’re on a tight budget, go with SafetyWing!
- Insure My Trip – The best insurance for those over 70 years old.
- Medjet – This is a membership program that provides emergency evacuation coverage should you get into a dire situation while traveling and be hospitalized. Medjet is meant to supplement your regular travel insurance.
50. Be patient.
Things will work out in the end. No need to rush. You’ll get to where you are going in due time. Travel is about the journey, not the destination.
51. Be respectful.
Locals are willing to help you out, but there’s probably a language barrier, so keep your cool when something doesn’t go your way. If you don’t, you’ll end up just looking like an asshole tourist.
52. Don’t over plan your trip.
Let your days unfold naturally. Schedule two or three things and let the day fill in the rest on its own. It’s less stressful, and letting the day just take you is one of the best ways to travel. Here’s my advice on how not to over plan your travels!
See Be patient.
54. Be frugal — but not cheap.
Don’t be pennywise but pound-foolish. Look for deals and don’t waste money, but don’t miss out on great experiences or walk 10 miles to save a couple of dollars. Time is money. Spend them both wisely.
55. Take earplugs.
Anyone who has ever stayed in a hostel knows that earplugs are a necessity. Snorers are everywhere and you need your sleep.
But even if you’re not going to be in a hostel, they’re still helpful for sleeping well if your accommodation is located on a busy street, or for sleeping in buses, overnight trains, and other types of transportation. A good night’s sleep is priceless — be prepared!
These earplugs are reusable and work much better than the cheap foam ones, blocking out any distracting noises.
56. Always carry a power bank.
Batteries die. Your good mood shouldn’t.
We all travel with numerous electronic devices like phones and tablets, but it can be hard to keep them all charged. An external battery solves that problem.
57. Remember that you’re not alone even if you’re traveling solo.
Traveling alone never means you’re really alone. Wherever you go, there is a network of travelers who will be your friends, give you advice or tips, and help you out. They will guide you, point you in the right direction, and be your mentors. You aren’t out there on your own. You’ll make lots of friends and tons of memories.
If you’re not sure about traveling on your own for the first time, you can always join a group tour, such as those we offer at The Nomadic Network. I’ve designed all the itineraries myself to ensure they cover the highlights, get you off the tourist trail, and connect you with friends and locals.
58. Take photos of and with people.
When you do make those new friends on the road, take photos. Lots of photos. Years from now, you’ll want to look back on those nights you can’t remember and the people who made them memorable.
59. Pre-book your tickets to attractions, activities, and excursions online.
If you’re planning to do any activities or excursions on your trip, book them online. Companies usually offer a discounted price when compared to buying in person. Not only that but you’ll be able to pay with a credit card, giving you some extra protection as well as more travel points!
Many major attractions also allow you to reserve your spot and skip the line. Always look online to see if this is an option. This will you to avoid wasting time in multi-hour lines and go right in. I’ve seen people wait hours for the Paris Catacombs, Louvre, London Churchill War Rooms, churches, temples, historic fortresses, and more. Pre-book the day before, skip the line, get to see more during your day!
Get Your Guide is my favorite place to book activities in advance. It’s a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions, with tons of options in cities all around the world, including skip-the-line attraction tickets, cooking classes, walking tours, and more!
60. Avoid TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor is fine when you need opening hours or an address, but when it comes to reviews I ignore it completely. People always leave a negative review when something bad happens but rarely leave a positive review when something good happens so the reviews tend to be skewed.
On top of that, it’s very easy to create fake reviews and make a place seem better than it is. Many hotels and restaurants hire firms to artificially inflate their reviews on the platform. Additionally, TripAdvisor has been known to take down reviews that are overly negative as well as reviews on sexual assault. Use TripAdvisor with caution. Or better yet, don’t use it at all.
61. Finally, wear sunscreen.
For as the Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” goes:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists
Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
Than my own meandering experience.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.