Be realistic about what you actually will wear vs what you think you’ll wear. You don’t need 1/2 the gear you think you do to travel anywhere. We’ve all done it. It’s a right of passage for travelers to slowly become better at packing less. My first suitcase was filled to the brim and almost at its weight restriction. You can imagine how hard it was to lug cross country around Europe then having to pay to send stuff home. Lay out everything you need on the floor or bed and cut in half. Roll your clothes instead of folding, takes up way less room and less crinkles on your clothes. Fill dead space by rolling undies and socks and filling your shoes with them. Make sure you pack a spare pair of clothes in your carry on. So nice to have something fresh on hand after a long flight.
Patience Is Important
Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. Life is much too short to be angry & annoyed all the time. Did you miss your bus? No worries, there will be another one. ATMs out of money? Great! Take an unplanned road trip over to the next town and explore. Sometimes freak-outs happen regardless.
Wake Up Early
Rise at sunrise to have the best attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds. It’s also a magical time for photos due to soft diffused light, and usually easier to interact with locals.
Laugh At Yourself
You will definitely look like a fool many times when traveling to new places. Rather than get embarrassed, laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to screw up, and don’t take life so seriously.
Stash Extra Cash
Cash is king around the world. To cover your butt in an emergency, make sure to stash some in a few different places. I recommend at least a couple hundred dollars worth. If you lose your wallet, your card stops working, or the ATMs run out of money, you’ll be glad you did. Some of my favourite stash spots include socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, around the frame of a backpack, even sewn behind a patch on your bag.
Meet Local People
Make it a point to avoid other travelers from time to time and start conversations with local people. Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so it’s easier to communicate with them than you might think, especially when you combine hand gestures and body language. Learn from those who live in the country you’re visiting. People enrich your travels more than sights do.
Pack A Scarf
This simple piece of cotton cloth is one of my most useful travel accessories with many different practical applications. It’s great for sun or wind protection, entering religious areas, a makeshift towel, carrying stuff around, an eye mask, and much more. I can’t tell you how many times a scarf has come in handy around the world.
Observe Daily Life
If you really want to get a feel for the pulse of a place, I recommend spending a few hours sitting in a park or on a busy street corner by yourself just watching day to day life happen in front of you. Slow down your thoughts and pay close attention to the details around you. The smells, the colours, human interactions, and sounds. You’ll see stuff you never noticed before.
Take Lots Of Photos
You may only see these places & meet these people once in your lifetime. Remember them forever with plenty of photos. Don’t worry about looking like a “tourist”. Are you traveling to look cool? No one cares. Great photos are the ultimate souvenir. Just remember once you have your shot to get out from behind the lens and enjoy the view.
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Challenge yourself to try things. The more you do this, the more that anxiety will fade away. Not a hiker? Go on more hikes. Have trouble talking to strangers? Talk to everyone. Scared of weird food? Eat the weirdest thing you can find. The reason this works so well while traveling is because everything is already so different, what’s one more new/uncomfortable experience?
Back Everything Up
Keep both digital and physical copies of your passport, visas, driver’s license, birth certificate, insurance card, and important phone numbers ready to go in case of an emergency. Backup your files & photos on an external hard drive as well as online with software. Leave a copy with family here in Australia. This has saved me before.
Smile & Say Hello
Having trouble interacting with locals? Do people seem unfriendly? Maybe it’s your body language. One of my best travel tips is to make eye contact and smile as you walk by. If they smile back, say hello in the local language too. This is a fast way to make new friends. You can’t expect everyone to just walk around with a big stupid grin on their face. That’s your job. Usually all it takes is for you to initiate contact and they’ll open up.
Keep An Open Mind
Don’t judge the lifestyles of others if different from your own. Listen to opinions you don’t agree with. It’s arrogant to assume your views are correct and other people are wrong. Practice empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Embrace different possibilities, opportunities, people, suggestions and interests. Ask questions. You don’t have to agree, but you may be surprised what you’ll learn.
Pack Ear Plugs/Noise Cancelling Headphones
This should actually be #1 on the list. I love my noise cancelling headphones! Muffle the sounds of crying babies, drunk Australians, barking dogs, honking horns, and more. A traveler’s best friend.
Don’t Be Afraid
The world is not nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. Keep an eye out for sketchy situations but don’t let that be the focus of your whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll be ok. Most people are friendly, trustworthy, generous, and willing to help you out.
Get Lost On Purpose
If you want to see the parts of town where real people live & work, you need to go visit them. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Write down the name of your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking. Don’t worry too much about stumbling into dangerous neighbourhoods either, as locals will generally warn you before you get that far.
Eat Local Food
Think you already know what Mexican food tastes like? You’re probably wrong. Taste a bit of everything when you travel, especially if you don’t know what it is. Ask local people for recommendations. Eat street food from vendors with big lines out front. I’ve been very sick only twice in all my travels & it wasn’t from street food. Don’t be scared of the food.
Keep Good Notes
When I first started traveling the world 12 years ago, I didn’t keep a good journal, and now I’m regretting it. Information like the names of people I met, conversations I had, feelings about a new experience, or what a particular town smelt like. If you ever want to write about your travels, these details are handy. I started handwriting everything in a travel journal from Typo. If you’re App-savvy use an incredible note-taking app called Evernote. It’s so useful for all kinds of applications — from planning trips to journaling about them later.
Don’t Plan Too Much
The truth is I have no idea what you’ll enjoy or who you’ll meet along the way. I thought I’d rocket through Paris & New York in a week but I could have had 2 weeks in both. My advice is to pick a starting point, 1 or 2 must-do activities, then just let the universe determine the rest.
Listen To Podcasts
Podcasts are awesome. It’s like creating your own personal radio station and filling it with shows and music you always want to listen to. I never thought I’d actually look forward to a 8 hour bus ride. But with podcasts, it’s possible (well, as long as the seats are comfortable). Time will fly by as you listen to incredible storytelling, fun music, or interviews with experts.
Treat Your Body Well
Travel can throw your body out of whack. When you’re moving from place to place it’s difficult to maintain a workout routine, and many of us slack off. Or we don’t sleep enough. Or we eat too many cupcakes. Remember to be nice to your body. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy, use sunscreen, and exercise often.
Stay In Touch
Remember to call your family & friends from time to time. Maybe surprise them and go old-school by sending a postcard (it’s in the mail, Mum!). Travel isn’t lonely, far from it. You constantly meet other people. But many of those relationships are fleeting. So maintaining a strong connection with the people who know you best is important.
Finally… Travel More
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past 5 years in my job, it’s that many people love to tell me how lucky I am, while making excuses why they can’t travel. “It’s too expensive. They can’t get time off work.” When I suggest solutions to these “problems”, they still don’t take action. Why? Because they’re often hiding behind the true reason: they’re scared. Unfortunately most people who wait to travel the world never do. Just get out there more than you do now. Start with a weekend in a different state. Then maybe try a week in the country next door. The new car, remodeling project, and iPhone can wait. If you truly want to travel more, you can make it happen. It’s a big, beautiful, exciting, and fascinating world out there.