I’ve been travelling for a while now, and it’s been over a decade since I had a place to call my own in my home country. I’ve had a lot of great travel experiences and some not so great ones as well, but I like to think that as a whole they’ve brought me to where I am now and will help me to have even better experiences in the future. Fingers crossed!
I’ve read a lot of different blogs giving pointless ‘tips’ about you shouldn’t do when you travel – “Don’t pose like you’re holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.” “Don’t post too frequently about your travels on Facebook.” Seriously, if you want to do those things, go for it. It doesn’t hurt anyone and it’s your holiday. Rather than writing about what you shouldn’t do, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learnt to do to make my travels even more enjoyable.
1. Be careful with connecting flights
Over the years I’ve had to manage quite a few connecting flights. While they’re sometimes a cheaper option, when I travel to “off the beaten path” destinations they can be the only option. Generally I try to stick with the same airline, but if there’s very little time between flights or if I’m flying with different airlines I try to avoid travelling with check-in luggage. On a recent trip to Europe I flew with Swiss Airlines and ended up being delayed by nearly an hour, which gave me less than 30 minutes to make it to my next flight. Thankfully, I only took cabin luggage as I’m sure 30 minutes wouldn’t be enough time to transfer a suitcase between planes on opposite sides of an airport. This is obviously something which is much easier to do in summer as you don’t need to pack as much.
2. Learn a few Filipino expressions
KUMUSTA KABAYAN? MABUHAY! MAHAL NAMAN. TULONG PO? While English is an international language and you can usually find someone who speaks a few words, in almost every country I’ve been to I come across someone from the Philippines. Over 10 million Filipinos work overseas in variety of different professions and they’re really hospitable, friendly people. I’ve gotten great recommendations on where to eat, discounts on tours, free meals, better seats, and met good friends by just speaking a few words of Tagalog and being polite. They have pointed us to better meals in Hong Kong Airport, helped us get to the right platform at Zurich central station, even complimented us with afternoon high tea in the swanky Ritz Carlton in Muscat!
3. Be calm and assertive
Travelling can be exhausting, and it’s really easy to lose your temper when you’re tired. Many times, I’ve had to step back, take a breath, and calm down. However, there are times when you have to be assertive. In India and China I’ve had guides who’ve taken me from one tourist trap to another. In Vietnam, a taxi driver took money out of my wallet. In Kyrgyzstan, a travel agent lied about organizing suitable visas for us to enter the country. [Read more about our Kyrgyzstan dilemma] Things like these happen from time to time when you travel, but it puts you in a tricky situation where you can’t just let it slide, yet you can’t give in to anger as it can make things worse – especially when dealing with immigration officers in Central Asia. When things don’t go according to plan, assess the situation and think before you clearly voice what you want.
4. Keep both a digital and hard copy of passport and tickets
I’ve never needed my back-up copies yet (and I hope I never will), but I always make sure I have a digital copy of my ID, tickets, vouchers, and receipts when I travel. In addition to this, I usually get a local SIM card with plenty of data so that I can easily access everything if I need it. Know where your embassy or consulate is located and keep emergency numbers handy.
5. Bring extra memory cards and back up your photos
We had a bad experience of losing 8GB of photos because of a small crack in a DSLR SD card. We even sent the SD card to a data recovery guy in Germany, but none of the photos were saved. Now we use smaller cards and we create back-ups every day. Photos are one of the best things you can bring back from a trip, so it really sucks when you discover that they’re gone.
6. Remember to take in the destination
Exploring a new city/country can actually be quite hectic. You have to get around the language barrier, navigate the streets or figure out how to use public transport, see the sights, and take a bunch of photos. Sometimes we need to remember to sit down and take in the place, admire a painting, really savour a good meal, or put down the camera and enjoy the view with our own eyes.
7. Be cautious of strangers approaching you/asking for donations at major tourist attractions
Tourists are usually targets for different scams. If you’re at a major tourist attraction and a complete stranger approaches you asking you to fill out a form or give a donation, always be cautious. In Kuala Lumpur and Paris I’ve seen people collecting “donations” for bogus charities in major tourist areas. They know that tourists usually aren’t aware of any of the legitimate local charities, and they take advantage of that. Paris also has other great scams like the one where a guy ties string around your wrist and then asks you for 5 Euros for your ‘bracelet’.
8. The internet is your friend
Skyscanner and Google Flights are great for finding the best airfares. Picrumb uses photos to show you how to get to recommended restaurants in Japan. Google Street view allows to walk around a city and familiarize yourself with different neighbourhoods from the comfort of your home/hotel. Google Maps and a headset for your phone can ensure that you won’t be the obvious tourist standing on the corner with a giant unfolded map. Google Translate can help you order the right thing. Wikipedia knows more than any guide. Tripadvisor not only provides reviews, but also has holiday rentals available just like Airbnb. Any information you could possibly need for an awesome trip is right at your fingertips. [Check out our Hotel and Flight Booking Page]
9. Get up early
We have some really good photos of the Piazza San Marco in Venice with no people in them. We arrived there just after sunrise and slowly strolled around and took in everything. The soft light made our photos look even better. It’s great to discover that many major tourist attractions are so much better without swarms of tourists, touts, beggars, and vendors. Of course it’s much easier to get up early if you’ve just travelled a few thousand kilometers from east to west than it is the other way around.
10. Lower your expectations
I’ve found that when I’ve been really excited about a destination, it doesn’t fully live up to what I had imagined. The food is mediocre, the place is too crowded, the views aren’t as good as the Photoshopped photos I saw online. However, it’s usually places that I’m not that interested in that really wow me. I’ve learnt to go to a new place expecting it to be extremely average so that I truly appreciate everything good it has to offer.
11. Be an ethical traveler
It sucks when you discover that you’ve done something on your travels that wasn’t really ethical. It spoils your whole memory of your trip and the experiences you had. I rode an elephant in Thailand before I discovered how elephants are “trained” and how weak their spines are, so now I hate that I supported the practice and actually funded its continuation. [Read World Nomad's article on Why You Shouldn't Ride Elephants] I see people travelling to the tiger temples in Thailand (many tigers are drugged and the adults are sold for Chinese medicine), or eating dog in Korea and Vietnam (a large percentage are stolen pets and many are slaughtered in very cruel ways as it is believed to improve the flavor), wearing coral jewelry (some species grow less than 1cm in a year and are not always harvested legally), or swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu (sharks have been scarred by boat propellers outside the feeding area and no longer follow natural migratory patterns). If you’re planning on buying a souvenir that comes from a plant or animal, eating something “exotic”, going to a show/attraction which involves animals, or going to see a minority ethnic group for a true cultural experience, do some research first.
What are your tried and tested tips for better travel? Share them below in the comments!
Scott M. Allford, Owner and Co-Founder THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE