A friend of mine recently messaged me over Instagram, asking me if I have any tips for travellers, he might benefit from considering his desire to hit the road in South East Asia soon. I said, sure I do. And the tips below are universal, not location specific – and I’ve found that doing things this way means efficiency and ease for me. I will also note, I do have another article with tips from few months back, which does have some of these points in it, but this is more extensive.
Planning what to see/do while at a new place.
I really don’t like to Google every place I go to with the aim of making a list of places to see and things to do. To me it feels like a chore and it does affect my expectations – and I’d say here I’d rather have no expectations at all. Additionally Google and TripAdvisor have tourists’ views and recommendations and I prefer those of the locals. So instead I almost always post on CouchSurfing that I’m going at a place and that I would appreciate people’s tips for places to see/go to, and I specify what kind of things I like – e.g. Nature places. Some people have just messaged me to say Hi and mention a few places for me to visit while in their area.
One can also just message the locals via CouchSurfing and seek their advice and recommendations.
Using CouchSurfing (and Hangouts on the app) and/or MeetUp to socialise is a good way of meeting people at new places.
Another thing I do is go to the tourist information centre first and I
- get a tourist map
- ask about free tours
- ask about the not so touristy places that are worth seeing
- ask for the best places in town for coffee/pancakes/views etc.
I have found through experience that doing whatever you need to do when you have the chance is better than postponing it for later, when you cannot possibly know for sure, if you’d have the amenities or services you need. For instance, while travelling you may not always have WiFi access so download your offline maps for your next destinations (which may be 100s of MB) so do it while you can.
- download your off-line maps, tickets, routes
- do laundry, every time you can, e.g. have either running water or access to free/cheap washing machine
- charge your electronics – phone, camera batteries and power banks
- buy the goods you need – if you’re running low on something estimate how much you can or cannot live without it if you run out of it and plan your shopping
When I travelled in Eastern Europe each country had its own currency, and that can be a pain and may result in a lot of money just not being spent, spent on silly things one doesn’t need or lost in currency exchange. So to avoid currency exchange I suggest the following.
- Download a currency converter for your phone
- Use your multi-currency travel card, in my case Revolut, to pay for everything. With Revolut I don’t have to have of the local currency, the conversion happens at the moment of the transaction. Read more about Revolut here.
- When you sit in a coffee shop or are buying a food or whatever with others, pay with your card for yourself and the others, and ask them to give you the money in cash in the local currency.
- I don’t, but if you do, then buy your souvenirs with the last cash you have
Your backpack is your house, your wardrobe and your burden too – because most of the time, you can’t just leave it somewhere and go exploring.
When it comes to packing, there are many things to consider, here are a couple.
- It’s obvious, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to be organised with your luggage, always separate things you use on a daily basis from those you don’t use so often. Pack those you rarely need at the bottom. Additionally make sure things like medication, notebook, knife/spoon/fork, tissues, towel are at easy access pockets.
- Make sure all the clothes you’re bringing can be used for more than two purposes, e.g. t-shirt/pants to sleep in – can you also wear them during the day?
- I have found that having fewer clothes is easier, easier from many perspectives. It’s lighter, you don’t spend too much time choosing what to wear, you can wash by hand if necessary (I do it all the time, especially for underwear, socks, t-shirts). The only downside I’ve found is getting bored with the few clothes I have, yet if you travel somewhere cheap, you can easily change your wardrobe.
- I don’t recommend having many shoes with you, maybe up to 4 pairs, but best is consider the 3 types of shoes you feel you want to have with you and the type of trip. For me in the summer in Eastern Europe were – flat converse type of city shoes, open sporty shoes and hiking boots; but in the winter for Western Europe with a stop in Portugal for 6-8 weeks these are flat converse type of shoes, black heels and hiking boots. Yes, you noted right, I don’t carry flip-flops.
Leaving your luggage
- In the countries that are not obsessed with terror and security and still lead pretty normal, calm and nice lives, it is not a big issue for instance to have a coffee at a place and ask them if you could leave your backpack with them for a few hours while you explore the town
- Paid storage in western countries can be expensive and if you carry a big backpack it’s not easy or even possible to stuff it in their tiny cupboards, so keep this in mind
- Your hostel may also have limited or tiny lockers and so you better not carry too many expensive things or just be aware you may have to leave your backpack in the room, not secured into a locker – you may want to call the hostel before you book to ask them if that can be a potential issue for you
When on the road one develops new habits and starts to engage in behaviours that were fairly foreign to them prior their journey. For me, I find that I have developed the habit of making short video clips when I get to new places or when I feel like I have something to share – these are private and I make them for myself – to look back on. One thing that has changed and I am happy about is that I try my best to invite and linger on the stories that come to me in moments of inspiration, and I do try to record at least the story lines. Whereas in the past I felt like pushing them away, because of duties and tasks I was preoccupied with. Yet I hoped to listen to more audio books, but I haven’t really and that’s much to do with the amount of social life I happen to have when on the road. So a few points here..
- I have found that people always invent conditions under which their habits will improve, but the reality in most cases is that it’s unlikely to ‘get into a new habit’ you’ve never come around doing while at home, simply because you’re on the road
- Notice the moments you get angry or frustrated in and the moments you’re pretty pleased with how things are going- and reflect on what you’re doing right and wrong and how you may improve on these. On my first journey I wasn’t that great with the way I organised my backpack, now I feel I’m doing better, but that’s because I had to reflect on the amount of things I don’t really use, but have in ‘daily items’ parts of my luggage.
- Review your luggage every so often and evaluate what you’ve used, what you haven’t and say goodbye to the things you keep ”just in case” – few exceptions; in my opinion- medication and knife.
- That one is common sense, but still – use the loo before you get on a plane, long bus journey, go out etc. Because using public toilets in cheap countries may be a stinky horror experience, using it in expensive countries like Switzerland may cost you 2 CHF (£1.50/€1.73).
- Rely on yourself.
That’s all for now. If any of my readers have other travel tips, please do comment below, I will make a post with your tips should I collect enough.