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Currently in: Seattle, USA
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World travel tips

This is a work in progress so check back from time to time. This assumes you already know the basic world travel tips like: trust your gut, stay up to date on your vaccinations, respect local customs/culture, roll your cloths, copy your important documents and leave one set at home and take another with you and keep it separate from the originals, bring proper footwear, stay hydrated, safety first etc.

Get a smart phone and buy a local sim card with a data plan

Having a local phone number is great for keeping in touch with locals and a near must if you're gonna be CouchSurfing. Make sure your phone allows you to tether your data plan to any laptop so you can get internet anywhere anytime. Your phone will also come in handy for navigation and looking up information last minute. Wikitravel.org is your friend. Install the following apps:

  • Line and WhatsApp
  • Waze
  • A flashlight
  • Skype, Facebook, Viber, VoipCheap

Bring the following

  • Sheet + pillow case
  • Sewing kit
  • Plastic bags
  • Knife
  • Music
  • A day pack
  • Light long cloths
  • International student ID and an international drivers license

This list leaves off the obvious things like a well stocked med kit, toiletries, a flashlight etc. You'll also want to bring any items that are hard/expensive to buy where you're going, which are often things the locals don't use like sun screen or shaving supplies.

Having your own music can be a lifesaver. Whether you can't stand the local music, you're sick of hearing the same songs, all you hear is love songs and you're eternally recovering from a broken heart or you just want to hear your native tongue, your favorite music can be just what you need.

Heavy items that keep spirits up like a deck of cards, book, frisbee or mp3 player are worth their weight on a long trip, trust me.

Light long cloths help protect from the sun and bugs in places where heavy long cloths would be too hot. If you're going somewhere that has the possibility to monsoon, be prepared for a monsoon. In your day pack always carry tissues, a snack, paper and a pen.

Bring an outlet splitter or power strip if you're bringing a lot of electronics that can't be charged via USB or you're not bringing a netbook. Take every opportunity to charge your electronics, you never know when you'll get another.

If you're really traveling without a plan but expect to hit many countries, bringing several passport photos and scans of your passport will save you time, money and hassle when applying for visas and such. You should have at least one scan of your passport with you anyway. Many countries require proof of forward journey and the address of where you plan to stay in their country, both of which can be easily faked...

Pick up-beat karaoke songs that most people know the words to

And sing it like you're a rockstar. American pop songs usually fit the bill.

Check the room before checking in

By "check the room" I don't mean peer in from the doorway. Check that whatever you're most looking forward to is sufficient for your needs. For instance the shower, toilet, bed, wifi, fan/air conditioner etc. If you're ok without any of those things for the night it's ok not to check them, but don't be mad when they don't work. You may also want to inspect for insects like bed bugs. Once you do check in the first thing you should do is grab a business card. If/when you get lost in a foreign city it should have invaluable information for getting you back.

Enjoy the journey

I guarantee you will enjoy your trip more if you do. If you enjoy the journey then it's not so bad if the destination is disappointing, and the more destinations you visit the more each one has to compete with to impress you. As Ursula K. Le Guin said: "It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end." Always stop and smell the flowers.

Speak up as soon as you feel uncomfortable

You obviously want to be respectful of local culture but if something is making you feel uncomfortable you should speak up right away. If those around you are well intentioned they'll be understanding, if they're not understanding they're probably not well intentioned and your gut was right.

Keep something

Some people keep ticket stubs or money. I'm keeping my old SIM cards. If you think about it before your trip you wont be kicking yourself halfway along wishing you'd have started collecting something sooner.

Indulge

Take pleasure in the little things and indulge in your vice(s) when necessary. I'm lucky, my main fixes come from chocolate, almonds and walnuts(though I prefer chocolate without nuts), which are often difficult and expensive to procure where I'm traveling but not illegal or frowned upon. Unless you're traveling to kick a habit, make sure you have a special reserve of whatever makes you happy for situations when you really need it.

Money

Get an international fee-free ATM card with a chip that works in Europe. Another traveler told me that you can get such a thing from Charls Schwab if you have any account with them and that it's really easy to open up a very small investment with them.

Take some US cash with you and keep it separate from the rest of your money. Between $100 and $500 seems to be the sweet spot. Greenbacks are accepted directly in many places and exchanged almost everywhere and will almost always help you in a pinch. It's also good to have someone back home with access to your finances to assist you when necessary. These two points really fall under the standard travel tips you should already know. If you start in a cheaper country you're likely to spend less money in total on your trip.

Don't lock yourself in with plans

If you do you're not really open to anything and you're likely to miss lots of great opportunities. This will also help reduce your pre-trip workload. Research to your hearts content and have a general plan, but don't make any bookings/reservations ahead of time unless absolutely necessary.

Set aside time to relax and recharge

Going with the flow is good but it's easy to get carried away and never have any time to breathe. Sometimes you need to schedule time to do nothing. If you're on a finite trip this may seem like a waste but it will be worth it regardless of what part of your trip it falls in; during the middle will make the end of your trip better and at the end won't leave you feeling exhausted when you return.

Be wary of cercopithecoidea

What it comes down to is: don't trust monkeys! I would argue you should take caution around all primates including humans. They'll steal/wreck your stuff and they carry diseases. Getting bit/scratched by a monkey is one of the worst things that can happen to you while traveling. Ask a travel nurse.

Have the right attitude

Don't live out of fear. Try new things. Be open to anything.

Learn at least a little of the local language

Picking up some common phrases will set you apart from other travelers and get you far. It's respectful and it shows that you're willing to put in some effort to help yourself. The things I would start with are:

  • Hello
  • Thank you
  • You're welcome
  • Delicious
  • Beautiful
  • Good
  • Very
  • How are you?
  • How much?
  • 0-10
  • Good morning/night
  • Good bye
  • Free

Smile

Nothing is more universal or gets your further than a good smile. Well, maybe not in eastern European countries; I guess I'll see when I get there.

Talk to everyone

You'd be amazed what wonderful things can come from a simple conversation. It's also a great way to get to know the locals and get a glimpse into their life and what's important to them.

Look back

Especially when trekking, remember to look back frequently. Even if you're planning to go back the same route, you may get a drastically different view depending on lighting and weather conditions.

Don't tell hired transport about future plans

This advice goes for taxis, motorbike-taxis, tuk tuks etc. If you're going to the bus station, don't tell them where you're trying to get a bus to. If you're going to a tourist district looking for a place to stay, don't tell them that. Pretty much anything you tell them will result in the driver trying to "help" you find that which means taking you to his buddies business which is usually more expensive and worse than what you would find on your own.

Wrap your straps, pack a drink and save your ticket

If you have long dangling straps on your baggage (like are often found on a backpack), you should do your best to wrap them up so they don't get caught in the belts of the airport system. I've heard they'll slash your straps rather than trying to detangle them. You should also put something to drink in your bag if possible as it may be a while after getting off the plane before you can quench yourself, especially if you have to go through immigration, customs and exchange money. In many places you need your ticket in order to claim your baggage and leave the terminal.

CouchSurfing

Couchsurfing can be a great way to see a different side of a country, giving you a glance of how modern people live. Most of the hosts are great people and excellent guides to their cities. Couchsurfing is most appropriate if you plan to stay somewhere for a while and want to get to know the locals, not just as a place to crash for the night on your way through town. It's good practice to schedule a formal good bye and plans to keep in touch.

Programs to be aware of

  • DAN - By joining the Divers Alert Network you get their TravelAssist insurance which seems to be a good deal. You don't even need to be a diver or plan on diving to use it.
  • IAMAT - A free/donation based non-profit driven to keep travelers healthy. This is another tip I got from a fellow traveler.
  • STEP - If you're a US citizen you may consider signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program which will allow the US government to send you important updates#8212;like embassy closings on account of protests(which happens all the time)#8212;and better help you out if you should need it.
  • EHIC - If you're going to Europe consider applying for a European Health Insurance Card.

Additional resources

  • Travel Independent seems to have lots of great info which I look forward to reading when I get a chance.
  • A good buddy and inspiring world traveler posted an article on his travel blog about finding cheap plane tickets. Check it out at NoHopeNoFear.net