Here are 70 of my top travel tips, gathered from trips throughout the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East. I have stories about the times I learned most of these tips, like the time my backpack was stolen while I was eating risotto at a nice restaurant in Quito (see tip 44). You’ll find tips for trip planning, packing, navigating the airport, and eating abroad. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Pre-Trip Planning and Preparation Tips
1. Call your cell phone company. You’ll want to know if/how your phone will work before you arrive, and make arrangements for a SIM card in your destination if you’ll need one.
2. Unless this is a remote work trip, don’t plan to work on your trip, or try to limit it.
3. If you’re going for a longer trip, you can plan to buy some clothes when you arrive. This will save you space in your bag and help to ensure that the clothes you buy are appropriate for your destination city.
4. Watch a documentary about your destination before you go. This will give you some historical and/or cultural context ahead of your trip.
5. Read a novel by an author from the country you’re planning to visit. Like watching a documentary, this will help you to contextualize the place you’re planning to visit.
6. Know at least few basic words in the local language. I suggest “hello,” “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “Excuse me, do you speak English?” More is better, but that should help you get by!
7. If you’re going somewhere famous for its wine or olive oil or liqueurs (ahem: Italy), buy a checked bag for your return flight so you can bring some home to share.
8. Bring an outfit that you can dress up in case you decide to go to the opera or similar cultural event. If you can’t fit it in your bag or forget, H&M is a good option for a cheap but passable outfit.
9. Make sure your shoes are comfortable. You’ll likely be walking much further than you’re used to and on hard surfaces for days on end. If your shoes are all style and no substance, you’ll be in pain. My favorite travel shoes are water resistant and can easily pass for city shoes while being sturdy enough to hike in. Hiking shoes, approach shoes, and trail running shoes are all good options.
10. Know how you will get from the airport to your first destination, and have a back up plan in mind if that doesn’t work out. The later your flight arrives in the evening, the more important this step becomes (think: if you get in at 8am, you’re probably OK to wing it. You have all day to figure it out and the airport will be open. Arrive at 10pm? Have multiple backup options.).
11. If you’re traveling across time zones, be prepared for jet lag and ask if your accommodation will allow you to check in early. You’ll probably want to take a nap after you arrive, and it can be miserable to try to wait the day out with all of your things while you’re exhausted.
12. Take a photo of all essential documents before your trip, including: passport, driver’s license, COVID vaccine card, credit card(s), and any relevant visa stamps.
13. Double or triple check COVID requirements before you leave. Requirements can change rapidly, and border control officials are typically not very lenient.
14. Buy travel insurance. Be sure that it includes “missed connection” coverage if you have any connecting flights. I use SquareMouth to search for travel insurance.
15. Research tipping in your destination. If you don’t know how much to tip, default to 15-20% when abroad.
16. Download Google Translate and Google Maps. For Google Maps, download the map area for your destination so that it will work offline.
17. Pack light. The lighter you pack, the more mobile you will be when you arrive at your destination.
18. Bring snacks, but make sure they’re processed so you don’t have to surrender them at the airport. Cliff bars are great for this because they’re compact, filling, lightweight, and cheap. Homemade granola is another great choice.
19. Bring a sarong with you if you’re going anywhere warm. I’ve used my sarong as a blanket, beach towel, cover up, scarf, table cloth, and privacy screen in a hostel, just to name a few. Here’s one that I love.
20. Bring an outlet adapter with you if you’ll need one, they can be surprisingly hard to find once you arrive because locals don’t need them.
21. Bring at least one padlock with you, you never know when you might need it. I like these small combination locks.
22. If you take medication, bring it with you. It may not be available in your destination. The same goes for any over-the-counter medications that you need–it may not be available abroad, so bring some with you. Melatonin, for instance, is regulated in Ireland and not available over-the-counter for people under the age of 55.
23. Pack your essentials in your carry on bag. Always in my carry on bag when I travel:
-change of clothes (including underwear and socks)
-pen + journal
-tooth powder + toothbrush + floss
-hair brush + hair ties
-phone and watch chargers
-laptop + charger (if I bring my laptop)
-germicidal tablets (not necessary if tap water is safe to drink in your destination)
-cell phone + charger
-q-tips + tissues
-glasses + sunglasses
This is basically everything I’d need if my checked bag were lost on the flight. My goal is to have enough of my things to be able to proceed without interrupting my trip.
24. Leave valuables at home, if possible. Try not to bring anything that you’d be sad to lose when traveling, including sentimental pieces.
25. Bring a large tote bag with you–I usually use the cloth Trader Joes bags as my personal item on the plane. They have a lot of space, they’re strong, they’re machine washable, and they’re not expensive so you won’t be upset if you have to ditch them.
26. If you don’t have room in your bag, you can buy small items when you arrive, like flip flops, shampoo, and conditioner.
27. Travel with a backpack for your carry on, instead of a rolling bag–usually airlines are more lenient with backpacks and you’ll be more mobile once you arrive. Here’s my carry on bag.
28. Bring a book. You never know when you’ll be stuck at a train station for hours or unable to sleep. If you’re looking for your next read, here are some of my favorites.
29. Bring plastic bags for holding dirty laundry or other things you might want to store separately. I also like to keep my shoes in plastic bags so they’re not able to touch to my clean clothes.
30. Bring a travel sized bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap for emergency handwashing and clothes washing situations. They’re little but highly concentrated, so a bottle normally lasts your whole trip.
31. Eat before you get to the airport. Airport food is notoriously bland and expensive, so this is an easy way to save some money.
32. Did you know that you can bring burritos and sandwiches through TSA, so long as they don’t have any extra sides of sauces? I do this all of the time: I’ll buy two burritos/sandwiches on my way to the airport. I eat one for dinner and then bring a second one to split with my travel partner in case we get hungry on the plane.
33. Arrive 3 hours before your flight for international flights. You have all of these great plans for your trip, why gamble them? Arrive early for your flights so you have time to react if something goes wrong.
34. Use a passport holder. You’re less likely to lose important documents, and they’re usually RFID blocking.
35. Don’t drink at the airport. This is a bad habit for three reasons: 1) it’s expensive, 2) if you’re a nervous flyer, it’ll make you more nervous to fly without alcohol, and 3) it’ll make it harder to manage your jet lag when you arrive.
36. Don’t check a bag on your way to your destination unless you absolutely need to. Instead, focus on parring down your packing to just the essentials and see if you can fit it all in a carry on bag.
37. Before you leave your destination airport, take out some cash. Airports are typically a safe and secure places to withdraw money, and it will be in the local currency.
38. Download Netflix shows, podcasts, audiobooks, etc ahead of your flight. Never trust in flight WiFi or entertainment systems, they’re notoriously glitchy. If you’re looking for some great podcasts, I shared a two-part list here and here.
39. Charge all of your electronics while you’re waiting at the gate. Try to have all of your devices at 100% before your flight because you never know what the outlet situation will be when you land. This includes your power bank, which you may need in order to find your hotel or navigate public transit.
40. Make sure that you have the address where you’ll stay your first night in your destination country. Border control officials almost always ask for this information.
41. Wear your biggest shoes onto the plane if you need to save weight/space. This is the easiest way to cut down on the bulk in your bag.
Out and About
42. If you are traveling to a country where English isn’t widely spoken, don’t expect people to speak English. Do your best and be polite.
43. Keep some cash in different places in your bag. If you get pickpocketed, at least you’ll have some reserve cash to help you get home.
44. Don’t leave your things unattended. There are people with bad intentions everywhere, keep a close eye on your belongings when you’re out. Yes, even at “nice” places. Better safe than sorry.
45. Visit local bookstores. I love to visit bookstores as a way to understand what people are reading in the place I’m visiting. The popular books about politics, cooking, and other topics will probably be a bit different than in the US. Also, bookstores everywhere are struggling, so they’d appreciate your business.
46. Visit museums, even if you don’t like them at home.
47. If the museum you choose to visit is enormous, try to keep your feet moving. Museums like the Louvre, in Paris, have way more than you can reasonably see and absorb in a day. I picked up a trick try to see the most while preserving as much of my energy as possible: I only stop my feet when I really want to see something. If I’m just mildly interested in an exhibit, I try to slowly look and walk at the same time.
48. Use a credit card with fraud protection and a decent international exchange rate. I use this one, but there are lots of good options.
49. Take measures to protect your debit card account and physical card, since it can be harder to reclaim stolen funds from a debit card.
50. Carry some US dollars with you in case your local currency is stolen or you’re in a jam.
51. Don’t use the currency converter services at the airport, take local cash out of the ATM. You’ll almost certainly get a better exchange rate.
52. Be discrete. Generally speaking, the less that you stand out in your destination country, the easier a time you’ll have. Try not to be overly flashy or loud, and do your best to blend in with the locals. You’re probably not going to fool anyone, but it’s more polite and makes you less of a target to nefarious actors.
53. If you go somewhere with an opera house, try to see a performance. Ask the ticket booth attendant how much the tickets are–I once went to an opera in Prague and our seats were 15 euros. It was one of the coolest things we did while we were there!
54. If you have a decent international credit card and a shop gives you the option to pay in US dollars or the local currency, paying in the local currency is usually cheaper. They’re normally making money off of the exchange rate, which is why they offer the service.
55. Exchange contact details with the people you meet so that you can keep in touch. Most people will use Instagram or Whatsapp, so you might want to download one or both of the apps if you don’t already have them.
56. Try to blend in by wearing appropriate clothing. Look at what people on the street are wearing, are they dressed up? More casual? Dressed modestly? Do your best to follow the locals’ lead.
57. Eat at places that are busy. Restaurants that are busy are less likely to serve you expired or questionable food.
58. Ask locals for recommendations. They’re likely to point you towards spots you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.
59. Bring hot sauce with you in case you need to spice up some bland food. If you need something you can take on a flight, bring chili flakes instead.
60. Avoid tourist traps. If the place is full of tourists, you’re likely going to spend more for mediocre food. Here is a great guide to finding great, cheap eats when you’re traveling.
61. Sample local cuisine. A big part of the experience of traveling for me is having the chance to eat tasty regional food! Try a few of the regional dishes on your next trip.
62. Tip appropriately. Did you know that in Latin American countries, it’s customary to tip the person who bags your groceries? In addition to waitstaff, many people make their living from tourists’ tips, so be sure that you’re tipping an appropriate amount at the appropriate times. If you’re not sure, you can ask a local patron–they’re usually happy to tell you.
63. If you don’t know what to order, ask the waiter or restaurant staff for recommendations. Just like in the US, they’ll likely point you towards something popular.
64. If you’re going to have wine with your meal in Europe, ask for the “house red wine” or “house white wine” because it is usually the cheapest option but still high quality.
65. Remember to drink water. Sometimes it can be hard to remember the basics when you’re traveling!
66. Use the bathroom before you leave the restaurant. Or cafe, or hotel, or anywhere else, really. Bathrooms in some countries are hard to come by.
On Your Way Home
67, If you buy something like cheese and want to bring it home, a down jacket is a great insulator. This works for things that you want to keep warm or cold–just be sure to pack it deep in your bag.
68. If you rent a car, take a video of you walking around the outside to note any damages and provide evidence for the company if needed. You can also do this when you rent the car to show the damage that was already present.
69. If your bag is extra full, wear your clothes when you go to the check in counter. The gate attendants are usually less strict than the people working the check in counter.
I hope my top travel tips were helpful! Do you have any travel tips? Feel free to add them in the comments!