Whether you’re planning a long weekend in an exciting city with your partner, a week in the sun with friends or a solo round-the-world-adventure, here are my top travel tips that I’ve picked up over thirty-plus years of travelling and more than twenty years working in the travel industry. These simple hacks will help you get the most out of your travels, from how to prepare before you go, what to pack, where to find the best places to eat and how to make the most of your time while you are away.
Before-you-go travel tips
1. Use no-fee bank cards
You’ve worked hard for your money, don’t give it away to your bank. Find a credit card that doesn’t charge you for overseas use and a debit card that doesn’t charge you for using ATMs abroad, like Loot. While this might not make a huge difference during a short-break, if, like me, you travel a lot or are on an extended journey, it will soon add-up.
2. Make copies of your passport and other important documents
Scan all your important documents, email them to yourself and make photocopies. You can carry the copies with you, leaving the originals in your hotel safe. If the worst happens and all your belongings get lost or stolen, you can log on and download copies from your email.
3. Collect points and miles
Experienced travellers know how to collect points and air miles to save on their travel expenses. I once found myself in Toronto without any accommodation for a few nights. This was an unforeseen expense that wasn’t in my budget and could have potentially ruined my holiday. I hopped onto the internet and found a hotel I could pay for with my air miles. It used up a huge chunk of points, but I didn’t have to pay a penny for my hotel.
My credit card automatically accrues points as I spend. I use it as often as I can, then pay the balance off monthly by direct debit. I also collect points through my supermarket club card. Together they soon start adding up.
4. Get travel insurance
For me, this is a no-brainer. If you become ill or get injured while abroad, the cost of medical treatment and repatriation can easily add up to tens of thousands of pounds, so it simply isn’t worth the risk. Your insurance should cover you if you have any items stolen but remember to report the theft to the local police and get the relevant case number in order for you to make a claim. I get travel insurance through my bank account, so it doesn’t cost me any extra. If you’re not sure if you are covered via your bank it’s worth checking.
Photo credit: Stuart, Go Eat Do
Packing Travel Tips
5. Pack a torch
While there have been many trips when I’ve not needed my torch, there have been several when I have. I’ve found a torch to be invaluable when my hotel has been on an unlit road or has had a power cut while I ‘m in the middle of washing my hair!
6. Take a refillable water bottle
If I’m flying, I’ll take the empty bottle through security in my hand luggage and fill it up airside. This gives me plenty of water to drink on the flight without having to pay for overpriced plastic bottles of water. It’s better for your wallet as well as the environment. When I’ve not been able to drink the tap water locally, I’ve been known to pop into the hotel gym and fill up from the water dispenser (bit of a cheeky one!), but you can also get water bottles with a filter to make tap water safe to drink.
7. Take a travel adapter
Make sure you have the right travel adapter for the type of electrical sockets used in the country you are travelling to. I also make sure I have two of every USB charger I might need, in case one breaks.
You can find out more about what gadgets I can’t live without while travelling, in this post, Travel Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos.
8. Take the right shoes
Wherever I travel I tend to walk a lot, whether it’s a hike in the countryside or exploring a city. Cold, wet or aching feet can ruin an otherwise wonderful experience. Always consider carefully what footwear to take. Think comfort over fashion if you are walking any further than your room to the hotel bar!
Until recently the balls of my feet always ached very badly, even after a relatively short walk, unless I wore the right shoes — and the right shoes weren’t easy to find. Normal walking boots didn’t cut it. I considered seeing a chiropodist, but a shop assistant at a specialist shoe shop took one look at my feet and how I stood and told me I had flat feet! I didn’t need to spend £60 on a chiropodist appointment, a simple shoe insert would solve the problem. And it has! I wish I had known this 30 years ago.
9. Take earplugs
Whether to help you sleep on a plane or in a hotel that turns out not to be as tranquil as the website implies, earplugs can prove to be invaluable. I also make sure I have an eye mask to hand on flights, in case I want to take a nap when the lights are on.
10. Pack a first-aid kit
I always travel with a few plasters, antiseptic cream and painkillers, diarrhoea relief tablets and rehydration salts, antihistamines, sunburn treatment, insect repellent, and insect bite treatment.
If you know you tend to suffer from a particular condition, from sea sickness to UTIs, take a supply of the appropriate treatment. It’s a lot easier to be prepared than having to figure out how to ask for medicine in a language you don’t speak.
11. Pack essentials in your hand luggage
Pack essential items such as medication in your hand luggage, never in your hold luggage. While to date (touch wood) I’ve not lost any hold luggage, I have had my bags delayed. This is particularly common when you have an interconnecting flight, so a change of clothes in your hand luggage is a good idea. I always have (at the very least) spare underwear in my cabin bag.
12. Get immunised
Check what immunisations you might need, on the NHS Fit for Travel site (or equivalent, if you aren’t based in the UK).
13. Wear compression socks during long journeys
Whether you are travelling by plane, train, car or bus, try not to sit still for too long, and wear compression socks on any long journeys to help prevent deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). There are exercises that can also help. You can find out more about preventing DVT on the NHS website.
For further travel health tips check out my post, Top 10 health tips for the 50-plus traveller.
14. Pack culturally appropriate clothing
If you are travelling to a country where the culture is very different from your own, research appropriate clothing to wear so that you do not offend anyone. I have found that erring on the side of caution is a good idea. When I’ve travelled to a Muslim country that is very used to seeing scantily clad holidaymakers on the beach or by the hotel pool, I’ve still dressed modestly when walking around the hotel grounds, even though many others don’t. It may appear to be perfectly acceptable to walk around in cropped tops and shorts that barely cover your bum, but in reality, the locals are merely putting up with it. I’ve been told a number of times by local people in different countries that they like that I dress more modestly than most tourists and appreciate my respect for their culture.
This is especially important when you travel away from the tourist areas or visit a religious site.
When we travel, we are ambassadors for our country. Sadly, there have been many times on my travels when my fellow Brits have let the rest of us down.
While you are there travel tips
15. Visit the tourism office
From free activities and special events to discounts on attractions or public transport, the local tourism office is an invaluable resource for the savvy traveller.
16. Don’t try and do everything
Don’t completely fill every day with a pre-planned itinerary. Firstly, if you try and see everything you’ll exhaust yourself rushing around and not really appreciate what you do see. Secondly, you are bound to discover things while you are there that you’ll want to add them to your day on an ad hoc basis.
17. Join a walking tour
Something I particularly like to do when I arrive somewhere new is to take a walking tour. It will help you orientate yourself in a new city and you’ll also get the chance to ask your guide questions, be that about the public transport system, where to find the best coffee or where you can hear some traditional local music. There are some fabulous free or pay-what-you-like walking tours in many cities. I also love food tours to find out the best spots to eat and drink in a city. Plus, if I’m travelling alone, a late afternoon or evening food-themed walking tour means I don’t have to dine alone that day. Walking tours are a great way to meet new people too.
Recommended for you: Where and What to Eat and Drink in Lisbon
18. Pre-book your tickets to attractions
If you plan to visit major tourist attractions, check them out online the day before you visit. Many have pre-bookable, skip-the-line tickets which will save you from queuing for hours at the most popular attractions. It may also be cheaper to book your ticket in advance online.
19. Visit popular attractions at unpopular times
Rise early and beat the crowds at popular tourist attractions. Lunch-time can also be less busy, as it’s when most tourists and virtually all tour groups head off to eat.
In very hot countries, the best time to visit some attractions can ironically be during the hottest part of the day, when it is usually recommended that you stay inside. I remember visiting the Valley of the Kings in Egypt with a tour group one morning when all the coach parties go. The queues of hot, sweaty people waiting to enter the tombs were ridiculously long. We returned on our own the next day at noon, the time everyone recommends avoiding, and we had the place virtually to ourselves. It was magical and without a doubt the best time to go.
20. Eat local food
I love getting to know a country through its food, and for places such as Japan, where we think we know the local cuisine from our experience of restaurants in the UK, think again! I visited Japan for the first time last year and while I found a few things that were familiar, most of the dishes were completely new to me. By trying everything that is unfamiliar, I’ve discovered some wonderful food. Admittedly, I have also found things I don’t like (eel’s liver and crab’s brains spring to mind) but I would have missed out on the many more wonderful taste sensations if I hadn’t tried them all!
21. Avoid tourist traps
Restaurants located by popular tourist sites don’t need to try hard to attract customers. Check out the restaurants that are further away and full of local people and you’ll most likely find you are onto a good thing.
22. Look out for edible bargains
If you’ve set your heart on a highly recommended restaurant but see that the evening menu is too pricey, check whether they have any lunchtime or midweek specials. There are some great bargains to be had if you keep your eyes open.
23. Have a picnic
Whether in the local park or your hotel room, not eating out for every meal can save a fortune and allow you to splash out on other occasions. Buy some cheese, fruit and pastries from the local deli or supermarket and eat in. Don’t be afraid to ask your hotel for a knife and plate or be prepared and take them with you (in your hold luggage that is!).
24. Chat with the locals
Asking for advice from locals is often a good idea. Approach people with a big smile on your face and make eye contact, preferably starting with ‘hello’ in the local language and you’ll find most people are more than happy to help.
I’ve learned so much about an area or a particular place by chatting with the locals, from Mama Irene in Greece and the barman in a UK pub who told me about a wonderful footpath at the bottom of their garden, to a lady I met in the street in Bologna who told me all about their secret canals. Of course, there are exceptions. If a guy in The Gambia walks up to you with a broken drum that he needs money to fix so he can earn a living, it’s probably a scam. However, keep in mind he can make more money with a broken drum than as a working musician. In fact, I’ve known venues pay so little to musicians that by the time they have paid the bus fare to get there they are out of pocket. So, don’t judge too harshly. There’s often much more to the story than you’ll ever know.
25. Have an adventure
Most importantly of all, have an adventure, be that exploring the countryside not far from home or a city on the other side of the world. Don’t buy those new shoes or build that extension, try something new, challenge yourself, collect experiences and make memories to treasure.
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