I don’t claim to have all the answers to make travel easy and pain free, after all isn’t working things out for yourself half the fun! Having travelled across the world I have a few tips to help you along. Read my tips for first time travellers here.
Research, Research, Research.
I know it is obvious, but with so much information out there people rarely do enough research before they leave.
Don’t just rely on the established travel guides and books. The web has an almost endless supply of information. Want to know what it’s like to walk from one tourist destination to another in a foreign city? YouTube it and more than likely you will find someone has already put a video of the route online. This gives you a bird’s eye view before you leave home.
Uncertain about trains or buses? Again it will be on YouTube showing you all sorts of things no book or brochure will ever show you.
Want to know how much a cab fare should be? Give it a Google and you will know.
Money Three Ways
Banks love making a profit out of travellers. Don’t be one of their victims.
I’ve found the best way to save on fees, short of carrying a huge sum of cash with me is to use the Travel Cards that most banks now offer.
You can load up to $45,000 on a single card and specify the currency. You can change your chosen currency into one of nine other currencies at any time, depending on where you are. (Thai Baht, Singapore Dollar, USD, CAD, AUD, NZD, Euro, UK Pound and Japanese Yen are the most common) . I believe each country offers different currencies depending on what their major tourist destinations are.
If your money on the card is in the local currency there are no withdrawal fees . There is no charge to swap between currencies. The rates will be the the fixed MasterCard or Visa exchange rate on the day you swap. You can also reload the card while abroad. It uses the common BPAY system in Australia, which means that anyone could put money on for you (parents for kids etc).
Make sure you take cash in small denominations. You don’t want to wave £100 bills around and you’ll find that most people won’t be able to change anything more than $20.
USD is still the most used currency in the world so check before taking Euros or Sterling that it will be easy to change and or use.
Credit cards can be evil money sucking monsters but they have their place. I recommend taking one or two with you for emergencies. Many places will insist on having one, especially car rental agencies and for booking airline flights. If you’re robbed then the credit card will be the quickest one to be replaced along with the Travel Card. If you do use your credit card on the road make sure that you check it frequently online in case it gets skimmed.
While a smart phone can do everything with Google maps, it does need a good internet connection. Don’t use roaming as it will send you broke before you reach your destination. Also do you really want to be pulling out your phone every few seconds and waving it around? With a paper map you can show everyone from bus drivers, taxi drivers and helpful helpful strangers exactly where you want to go. You can also draw on them, that helps.
Write Down Key Phrases, Place Names and Words
If you don’t speak the local language write down the key words you will need for the day. Place names, approximate costs, foods you want to eat and of course your hostel address for when you need to get home.
Having it all written down in the local language and your own is much easier than pulling out a guide book each time. People may also think you know what your doing, hopefully giving you better local rates.
Avoid Traveling Commercial Routes
Just because you want to go from A to B doesn’t mean you have to follow that exact route.
Research the cheaper options which may include nearby but lesser known airports or transit stops.
Flying from the US to Guatemala is actually half the price if you fly to San Salvador, El Salvador, which is 4 hours away by bus.
If time isn’t a problem you get to see another country enroute to your original destination. Flights out of major cities such as Brisbane, Australia are much more expensive than the Gold Coast, which is only an hour away by train. It doesn’t always work out, but if you research both times and places you should save a considerable amount of money.
Upload Important Docs
The old suggestion was to have a photo copy of your passport.
If you’re traveling for a long period of time this isn’t always best. Paper deteriorates and after a year or more isn’t going to be much good. If you scan your passport and other documents such as travel insurance and email yourself copies, you have them for ever and can also access them anywhere.
If you do get robbed or lose all your luggage you can access all the important documents from any internet cafe or Embassy, if you need to apply for another passport.
Even taking a photo of them and having google upload to your account (make sure it is set to private beforehand) means you can access them anywhere.
Doing this with the reverse side of your credit or ATM cards is also good, so again, if stolen you have the numbers to ring. Personally I wouldn’t photograph both sides in case the bank holds you liable.
Walk With Purpose
If you were just popping down to your local shops for a loaf of bread you wouldn’t have guidebooks, phones and an uncertain walk would you? It is the same when traveling, walk around like you belong there. Not in an arrogant way but with purpose.
There are, unfortunately bad people everywhere but the reality is that they will prey on the easiest target. Make sure that it isn’t you.
It goes back to an earlier tip. Copy down on a piece of paper what you need for the day and just take that. If you have ever held the LP India guide you know it isn’t a small book. I’m only 180cm and 73kg so anyone over 12 isn’t going to be intimidated by me but walking with a confident easy smile I blend in and so don’t attract undesirables that may be lurking.
Above all, be aware of your surroundings, people normally follow you first. I normally make eye contact briefly and again with confidence which normally puts pick pockets off. Alyson and myself spotted a pickpocket on a Malaysian bus and when he knew we knew he hopped off. Even though he had paid his fare!
Insurance that Works
Short holidays of few weeks that see you going from home and back again will be ok with normal or even your credit card insurance if you have it. But what about if you are going further afield and for longer. You may not even be returning to the point of departure. Or you want to extend the holiday when you are traveling. Or change countries. Few insurance companies will let you do this. Most will require you have insurance before you leave and state all destinations and then return to point of departure. They are as limiting as they are cheap. This doesn’t fit with any nomadic traveller that I know of. Quite the opposite. The only travel insurance we use is World Nomads. With them you can start mid trip and don’t need to return to the same location as you started. Two key factors when buying travel insurance. You can also individually insure all your valuable items such as computers and phones so you have piece of mind when you set off.
Tips for First Time Travellers
This list is merely a beginning and I would love to hear about other tips and tricks people have for the first time traveler. It differs from country to country and continent to continent.