Lordy lordy, do I miss travelling! It has been my greatest passion for years: something to look forward to, month by month, year by year. It’s also been the the largest investment of my time, money and energy. It’s safe to say that I am missing travel a lot. I have found myself revisiting past blog posts and gazing over travel photographs, relieving memories and fantasizing about when we can explore foreign countries again.
Travel enriches my life in many ways, one being that it is so educational and informative. Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been through exploration and adventure. Some have been passed onto me by friends and family members, such as my mum. She was an incredibly experienced traveller, full of practical and sensible suggestions. Other lessons have been learned the hard way, through mishaps, screw-ups and rookie errors. In this post, I’d like to share 21 tips to help your next trip be absolutely worth the wait!
1. Be adventurous! I will literally try anything once, and as a result, have eaten some rather unusual things like snake, scorpion, spider, silkworm, haggis, frog, snail, grasshopper, ant, all kinds of offal and something called milt, which is cod sperm! True, there are quite a few I wouldn’t order again but it’s fun to try new things.
2. If you see a group of locals queuing for a restaurant, join that queue. Choosing to eat based on where the residents go is a good way to skip tourist traps and have a more authentic dining experience.
3. Unless you’ve got allergies or intolerances, try to be open-minded when it comes to foreign cuisine. Some of my favourite meals abroad have been dishes I can’t pronounce; containing ingredients I can’t identify.
4. Avoid restaurants with large menus translated into multiple foreign languages. They are aimed towards tourists and are usually overpriced and underwhelming.
5. Ask for recommendations. Get recommendations from locals on where to eat, check Instagram, read blogs and visit websites like Culture Trip.
6. Visit upmarket or popular restaurants during the day to beat the crowds, and take advantage of cheaper lunch menus.
7. If you see something you fall head over heels in love with, and you can afford it, get it. Don’t kid yourself that you’ll come back for it tomorrow. You probably won’t be able to find the shop or stall again and may regret it.
8. Speaking of souvenirs, you don’t have to buy gifts for your entire family. Spend your money wisely and buy things they will genuinely enjoy and appreciate. Apologies to my family for all the random junk I gifted to you before adopting this rule.
9. Visit the main tourist attractions and explore off the beaten path. I am not someone who shuns well-known tourist sites. They are usually celebrated and well-regarded for a reason. However, when visiting a new city, I like to also make time to explore more obscure areas and sites where the tourists usually don’t go. Walk as much as you can, wander down side streets and keep an eye out for hidden gems.
10. Whenever possible, book tours and excursions upon arrival. You will get cheaper rates and can compare different travel agencies within the same street or neighbourhood (they are often clustered together). By doing your research and directly referring to competitors, you’re more likely to be able to negotiate a lower price.
11. If you’re an avid photographer like me, you’re bound to take hundreds of photographs of the wonderful sights and scenery, but don’t forget pictures of yourself. You’ll want to have some photos of yourself amongst the impressive architecture and gorgeous landscape to look back on.
12. Research which museums and art galleries have free entry or discounts. You might be able to save a lot of money by visiting on a particular day, or after a certain time.
13. Carry small denominations of bills. It’s a total pain trying to find change for large notes, especially for small purchases.
14. Don’t carry all your cash on you. If your accommodation has a lockable safe, keep your passport and most of your cash and cards in there. If you’re unsure whether your room has a safe, consider bringing your own. We have a PACsafe bag and it is utterly impenetrable.
15. Download a currency converter app. I used XE and it’s very helpful for on-the-spot currency exchanges. It can also be used offline, without being connected to data or Wi-Fi.
16. Check if you need a visa and if so, how long the application process takes. Some countries offer free visas on arrival, some ask for cash upon arrival, while others insist you apply and pay in advance.
17. Get travel insurance. Hopefully, you won’t ever need to make a claim, but better safe than sorry.
18. Take a business card of your hotel/hostel so you have the name and address of where you are staying. Particularly useful in countries where you can’t read or pronounce the local language.
19. Keep paper and digital copies of all important documents and photos of things like entry visas. I store my digital copies on Google Drive so they can be easily accessed if I need them.
20. Make note of the emergency response phone number of the country you are in (again, hopefully you won’t need to use it).
21. Be aware of your passport’s expiration date. A lot of countries won’t let you enter if there’s less than six months before the expiry date. It can take weeks or months to renew a passport, so make sure you factor that into your planning.
I hope these suggestions have been helpful. If you have any that you’d like to share, please put them in the comments section. There is so much travel advice out there that it can be overwhelming, especially for inexperienced travellers. I think it’s important to figure out what kind of travel works for you, and that realisation often comes through trial and error. The way I see it, travel is about developing connections with places and people in your own way. It is a skill like anything else. You’ll get better at it with practice and mistakes are learning opportunities.
Things go awry, try not to panic, or berate yourself. And if you are having a bad day, remember things always feel better after a nap, a shower, and some food.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow