Are you looking for travel tips for your first time traveling abroad? Or are those days a fond but distant memory? Either way, here's my collection of the best international travel tips to help you save time and money and feel better about the places you visit and feel better about yourself.
A tall order?
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The Best International Travel Tips
1 - Don't Use the Hotel Safe
Staff can easily access it, it directs thieves towards your valuables and, last but by no means least, it's the only sure way to leave your passport in it.
Every tour operator and travel writer in the land knows someone who has done this (someone else, obviously, never them.)
So what should you do instead? Limit the valuables you take with you. If you only take what you need, like a camera, then you'll have it out with you.
For the rest, hide it in your dirty laundry bag or in a secret compartment in your locked suitcase. If they have the nerve for the former or the skill for the latter, they probably deserve the stuff more than you.
2 - Always Get to the Gate Early
Not just the airport. The actual gate. Gate numbers aren't always sequential. Sometimes there's an additional security queue or passport checkup. Being late for your flight is one of the few travel mishaps you can't actually put right. Get there early.
3 - Carry Cash: Local Currency and US Dollars
We live in a plastic, plastic world, with Apple Pay and nanochips reading our minds for our pins and passcodes. Until we don't. Quirky customs exist all over the world. Taxis in Cardiff, for example, only accept cash. Why, just why?!
In other places, you'll need cash for bribes to ensure your safety. USD is the most widely accepted currency. You don't need much but the smaller the notes, the better.
Also, save money on currency exchange by being about savvy when using your credit card and debit card. Money Saving Expert regularly update their money travel advice, so I always check with them before I go.
4 - Photocopy Your Passport - And Share It With Someone Else
Don't just stop at your passport. Take a copy of every important document. Visas. Travel insurance. Paperwork for prescriptions. Proof of residency, return flights, marriage certificate, driving license, depending on where you're going.
Put a paper copy in your suitcase and keep an electronic one on your phone and in the cloud. Share these documents with someone at home.
5 - Buy Travel Insurance
No, it's not exciting. But it's vital for medical cover in most places in the world and essential for legal cover too. These bills can run into the millions and you won't get home without the treatment or the money.
6 - Leave Plenty of Time for Your Pre-Trip Medical
Depending where you're going, you may need vaccinations and these may need months to organise. It's not a matter of money, it's a question of immunisation. The way the vaccine works means you need weeks between the jabs. You still need to visit a doctor, but the following websites are the ones that doctors use. Check them out first to get an idea of what you need.
7 - Don't Skimp on the Suitcase
An international flight is not the time for your suitcase to fall apart. Buy the right kind of luggage for your trip and your back, neck and shoulders will thank you.
8 - Wear Comfortable Clothes to Travel In
Loose, flexible, cosy. Layered. Avoid zips, buckles, studs and tights (the static on the plane.) I love these kind of slouchy cardigans for travel. The more comfortable your clothes are, the more enjoyable your trip will be.
9 - Carry Tissues with You
It may not be as romantic as a cotton handkerchief in Jane Austen's time, but a small packet of tissues can save the day in a number of situations. These ones even have inspiring messages on the tissue packs.
10 - Carry Something Scented
Even the nicest people and the nicest places cease to smell good after a while. Bundle the idea into an aromatherapy necklace or bracelet and you won't even need to remember to do it!
The Best Travel Booking Tips
1 - Always Use Comparison Sites
Compare flights, hotels, travel insurance and car hire online before booking. Find the best travel websites over here.
2 - Be Flexible (But Not Foolhardy)
Tuesday to Thursday outside of school holidays is typically the cheapest time to travel. Early morning and late evening flights are cheaper too but factor in the increased cost of getting to the airport at that time, the safety of arriving somewhere late and the general misery of feeling tired before you start. Cheap flights aren't worth ruining your travel time.
3 - Consider Paying By the Hour
Hotels, airport lounges and even gyms have PAYG sessions now. Whether you want to burn off some energy or simply snooze in a hotel for a short while, paying per hour is a good way to save some money during an international trip. Yes, you don’t have to pay for a full service like you used to.
4 - Know How to Use the Best Travel Websites
While I love the travel comparison sites, to uncover the more unusual or beautiful parts of the world more quickly, it helps to know about some of the other websites. Use this list of the best travel websites to drill down for the best deals in the best places.
5 - Know When Direct is Best
Always price check but booking direct with an airline is often best, but it's a mistake to do it with a hotel. If the flight is delayed or cancelled, it's much easier to fix the situation if you booked direct with the airline rather than with an unreachable online operator. Yet, strangely, hotels often offer the worst rates to customers who book directly with them. Things are less likely to go wrong in such a dramatic fashion with a hotel so you can sort out any issues with third parties more easily.
That said, remember that credit card companies often offer travel assistance, too. For example, the Amex travel services provide reassurance if something goes wrong with your flight or travel plans as you'll have a reputable company that can help you. Plus, you get to gain Amex points by using Amex travel services. You can exchange Amex points for a free or discounted merchandise in online retail stores, such as Amazon.com, and online service providers, like Expedia.
6 - Become a Bloodhound with Baggage
Airlines battle to be the most cryptic and cunning about catching people out when it comes to luggage. Even the good airlines are at it. Always, always check how much you will be allowed to take on a flight. Book any luggage you need in advance as the charges at the airport are huge. And airlines show no mercy, even for business class tickets.
7 - The Earlier the Better for Train Tickets
An advance ticket in first class can cost less than a standard ticket bought on the day. The earlier the better, whether it be travel on UK trains and Heathrow Express or making a reservation when travelling through Italy. Some countries (hello France, Italy) insist on a reservation even if you've already paid for your ticket. Read the small print for long journeys and book ahead when you can.
8 - Always Check Prices Online - Especially When You're in a Queue
Many travel companies give a discount if you book online as it allows them to keep their costs down. This can be done by mobile phone while you're in the queue to speak to a "real person." For National Express Coaches in the UK, for example, you can save 20% off the ticket price by doing it this way - and give yourself time to get a sandwich instead of waiting ;-)
9 - City Cards and Passes Are Rarely Worth It
Major caveat: if you have a few days in a city and know that you want to blitz your way around as many things as you possibly can, they can make sense. Or, for membership schemes that allow you to visit many different places within a year, they can work. If you have a few days and want to have a relaxing time, stopping in cafes and wandering through parks, then as a general rule of them: don't bother with them.
10 - Always Check the Airport Code
More places than you might imagine have more than one airport, leading to disastrous travel mistakes either when buying the ticket or when arranging travel to take the flight. Always check the three letter code (eg LHR for London Heathrow.) These are international standards and are more reliable than colloquial terms. Also, always check where the airport actually is. Some airports may be named after a city but are actually 40 km away. Not the end of the world, but you do need to know before you base your travel plans around it.
The Best Packing Tips
1 - Learn to Love the List
I'm swearing at myself for just how many years it took me to learn this. Don't rely on brainpower, just write a list.
And then, once you've written it, save it on your computer or phone and then use it every single time. Easy, right? Yeah. All these things are easy when you remember to do them.
Looking for some inspiration? We have some packing lists right here.
- The Ultimate Travel Packing List - with free download to print out
- What to take on a walking holiday - the hiking gear checklist
- What to pack on a cycling holiday
- The Ultimate Pre-Trip Checklist
2 - Pack A Laundry Bag
Just. You know. Who wants to be rifling through that every day? If you forget, most hotels have one but it's another piece of plastic in the world (and you may actually want to use the laundry service, they may have introduced cotton bags you can't take away or you may need to use the plastic laundry bag because you forgot to pack something to put your wet swimwear into...)
3 - Use a Travel Drawer to Save Hours and Hours of Your Time
Chuck everything you only use for travelling in there. International adapters. Passports. Passport holders. Inflatable neck pillows. Noise-cancelling headphones. In they go at the end of a trip. There they are at the start of the next one to save time and hassle.
4 - Use Packing Cubes
I was sceptical at first but now I'm hooked. If you've no idea what they are, packing cubes are either zippable or velcro containers for your clothes to keep them organised. Sounds unnecessary, right? They help so much I'm going to write a separate article about them...
5 - Frequent Flyer? Develop a Doppelganger
Save time scrabbling around for toiletries by having a dedicated toiletries bag which never leaves your suitcase. Use the shampoo you use at home at home. Keep the travel sized version in your suitcase.
6 - Have a Secret Compartment
Put any spare credit cards and some cash, photocopies of vital paperwork and the like in a "secret compartment" in your suitcase in your hotel. That way, if someone does snatch your bag while you're out, you have some way of fixing things back at the hotel.
While tourist destinations are generally safe, it’s important to be prepared. So, whether you’re carrying a handbag, backpack, or suitcase, consider using a bag with a secret compartment for safety reasons.
7 - A Word About Money Belts and Travel Locks
To be honest, you don't need these for most trips. Money belts are hot and uncomfortable (and need some slack in your waistband!) but they can be useful in high crime areas where you're likely to be separated from your bags.
Some people say that thieves know that tourists wear them - and they do - but so what? Sometimes they will be useful and that's that.
As for locks, again, in high crime areas, people will have bolt cutters or knives to slash through suitcases. For those, I'd recommend hard shell suitcases with combination locks. And always sit with an arm or leg through the strap of your bag or luggage if possible so that quick snatches are less likely.
The Best Green Travel Tips
1 - Walk Whenever You Can
Not only does this cut down on pollution but it's also often a much better way to see a place. At ground level, you can take your time, stop when you want to and breathe in the flavours, listen to the sizzle, the pop, the chatter, the laughter.
Walking allows you to capture the real beauty and experience of visiting places, especially museums, parks, and natural landmarks. Unless you're walking alongside a motorway, that is...
2 - Carry a Spoon and Fork With You
It's incredibly popular to carry eco-friendly bamboo cutlery with you at the moment but anything will do. Airlines sometimes get het up about knives (even butter knives) so stick to a fork and spoon for cabin luggage. These are handy for all kinds of reasons but mostly they will stop you needing to use plastic knives and forks at places where you find yourself with no other option.
3 - Learn a Little About Sustainable Tourism - And Support it Whenever You Can
Sustainable tourism isn't just about being green or travelling slow or... feeling guilty and miserable all the time. Read up on sustainable tourism and then leave a suggestion at each place you stay at so that word spreads on practices that help.
Wondering how to travel more sustainably? Read about sustainable tourism here.
4 - Wherever Possible, Avoid Plastic
Pick fruit loose at a market. Use a reusable water bottle. Carry your own cutlery. Remember that brown envelopes or bags are better for the environment than plastic bags.
And try to avoid eating in places with disposable plates. All the things you'd do at home, basically.
5 - Get Off the Beaten Track (Or Path)
It's a travel writing cliche but it's not a social ill. Getting off the beaten path is actually good from a sustainable travel point of view. It's also a much more enriching way to travel and find authentic interactions between... well, not to put too fine a point on it, the world and yourself.
- Here are some ways to get off the beaten track when you travel.
6 - Support Endangered Species through Travel
Demonstrate through tourism that endangered animals are worth more to a region's economy alive than dead. Travel with reputable tour operators and seek out endangered species in a responsible way. Here's an article to help with that: Five Ways to Help Save Endangered Species.
7 - Reliably Do the Obvious
Don't drop litter, do turn out the lights, don't leave taps running, be sparing with the air conditioning. Eat local food, don't expect products to be flown across the miles. Don't poke, prod or feed animals. Avoid companies who do not engage with local communities. Ask about and praise the good sustainable initiatives you find.
The Best Business Travel Tips
1 - Develop a System for Those Receipts
Whether it's a paper envelope you use from day one or a snazzy app that you snap as you go, have a system in place before you start. Better yet, speak with your company and look for a system that doesn't involve receipts at all but that agrees a standard charge per day. We all have limited time on this planet and one short life and wading through receipts is not a great way to spend it.
2 - Build in Work Outs
Travel for business can leave you seriously out of shape very quickly. Pack workout gear and look out for hotels with swimming pools. An early morning jog, or post meeting pre-dinner, is a great way to see the area as well as keeping your heart happy for the long term.
3 - Organise with Apps
Business trips don’t welcome delays, especially if you’re meeting an important client. It’s a good thing that many apps can now keep you on time, from guides to scheduling, to ensure you’ll never miss anything.
Frequent schedule changes, flights and meetings can lead to an enormous paper trail. Minimise and streamline with this list of the best travel apps for Europe.
4 - Relish Your Comfort Zone
One of the best things about travel is the chance to try something new. But sometimes for business travel you have to, well, focus on your work. If that means staying within your comfort zone and going to Starbucks, well so be it. Better that than messing up the job you're there to do...
The Best Food Travel Tips
1 - Drink Safe Water
Cut down on travel-related illnesses enormously by ONLY drinking from bottled water. Better yet, refill a water bottle from water you know to be safe. Drink often and don't get dehydrated - whether in the hot or cold.
2 - Try Something New
Always! As much as possible. And in particular, try the local or signature dish somewhere. Sometimes it will feel like a rip off (hello Singapore Sling in Raffles, Singapore) but more often than not, food and drink taste better in the places that dreamed them up. Even if you follow the exact same recipe at home, the flavours aren't the same. The combination of locally grown produce and experience gleaned over years make things taste better in their hometown. Street food is great for browsing (just pay attention as much as you can to hygiene.)
3 -Carry Snacks That Won't Fall Apart, Go Off or Weigh Too Much
While this is vital when travelling with children or when pregnant, I've also found it incredibly useful when travelling solo. A packet of cous cous you can rehydrate with boiling water, some raisins and some rice cakes can make it so much easier to deal with the uncertainties that travel can throw your way: delayed flights, cancelled flights, hotel restaurant closed on arrival, breakfast not ready before you have to leave and so on...
4 - Take a Cooking Class
These are fantastic for three big reasons. One, you meet other people who speak your language. Two, you meet local people (who can speak your language as a bonus.) Three, you eat good food! Not only will you learn about the food in any given destination, you'll typically learn all the inside tips that guidebooks (and blog reviews) sometimes miss. Some of the happiest moments I've had while travelling have been when I shared a meal with someone.
5 - Always Ask About Breakfast
Places can be strange about breakfast. Often, they're not upfront about the separate charge (which is typically more than a nice meal out.) Or, they start quite late if you have to get up to work or get to the airport. But it's always worth a polite ask at the desk to see if someone can rustle up some toast for you ahead of schedule, along with a piece of fruit. Saves money, saves time, saves hunger-induced rattiness.
6 - Never Eat Near a Tourist Attraction Unless You Have A Specific Reason to do So
Ugh. Even in countries of food excellence like France and Italy, the restaurants around the main sights have realised they can cut corners with quality and charge more for the result. And the thing is, you only need to wander a block or two away, typically, to find much nicer places to eat.
7 - Eat Where Locals Eat
This tried and tested advice is one of the best travel tips in the world. And can save you from a multitude of illnesses.
8 - Get Ready to Handle Food Restrictions with Grace
Most of the world is still pretty bad at dealing with food restrictions. It's changing but it's unlikely to change that fast. Translate (in advance) the phrase you need: no dairy, vegetarian only and so on. But realise that the very concept of not eating everything hasn't caught on in the vast majority of places.
9 - Try the Chopsticks
Or fingers. Or tortilla wrap. Have a go at eating the local way. It's more fun and no-one cares if you get it wrong!
10 - Always Wash your Hands Before You Eat
Hm. Have I slipped back into medical school here? Yes, maybe I have. Still, it remains good advice and a timeless travel tip. Wash your hands before you eat. Sanitiser too, if you can be bothered.
The Best Airport Travel Tips
1 - Be Strategic About Where You Sit
On short haul flights, this probably doesn't matter too much. But on long haul flights, particularly red-eye overnight flights, it can make all the difference.
Check out the layout of the plane on seatguru.com
2 - Bring Your Own Water
It's easy to dehydrate during flights and annoying to keep asking for water. Plus, if there's turbulence then drinks service may stop altogether. Buy your own bottle of water once you're airside or else bring a refillable bottle. More and more airports provide drinking water on the other side of security but not all do. Don't bring a bottle that you couldn't bear to throw away if confiscated...
3 - Learn How to Sleep on a Plane
That's right! It's a technique that can be learned! I'm one of the world's worst sleepers but I have narrowed down the technique to perfection. Read how to sleep on a plane over here.
4 - A Word About Toilet Queues
During the flight, make sure to go before the dinner service starts and the trolley blocks the aisle. Once off the plane, the queue for the first toilets is usually huge, the second set not so bad. Stride on to the second set! And certainly make any bathroom stop before you pick up your luggage from the carousel.
5 - Store a Pen with Your Passport
Ready to fill in those immigration forms during flight. They tend to hand them out early, so complete them then and there instead of waiting until the end of the flight when you're a little more jaded and confused...
6 - Store Chewing Gum There As Well
Helpful if you have trouble with your ears on take off and landing. And otherwise, it's something I always forget...
7 - Pack a Warm Pair of Socks
It can get cold during a flight! Pack a warm pair of socks, a scarf and a jumper in your hand luggage. Particularly if you plan on sleeping, make sure you can get cosy. You can find a full list of carry on essentials here.
8 - Enjoy Your Time Without Wifi
Yes, I know that some flights now offer wifi and phone calls. But most still don't and for most of us, this is one of the rare times in life when the outside world can't bug us. Make the most of it! Switch gears and read, watch a movie or focus on your writing. Get in the zone instead of letting the zone get at you...
9 - Know When It's Worth Booking Business Class
Flying business class: is it worth it? The answer of course is: it depends.
Airlines change, routes vary and the even the layout of the cabin can play a part in whether or not you choose to book a ticket.
Some business class cabins allow you to sit next to someone else; in others it’s physically impossible.
Then there are all the different names: Business Class, First Class, Upper Suite, Club World.
That's why we cover dedicated business class reviews. So that you can see what flying business class is really like before you book your ticket.
So that you can make the right choice for your trip.
10 - Count the Rows to the Emergency Exit
In the (vanishingly unlikely) event of a crash, the only way of surviving is if the plane was already close to the ground before something went wrong - and you manage to get out fast. Smoke often obscures the view, to aviation safety experts recommend counting the number of rows of seats between you and the exit. Then, get to your hands and knees and feel your way out. This isn't one of those urban legends. This has actually worked.
Family Travel Tips
We've been travelling with baby Lab since she was three months old and have plenty of family travel tips to share! From the best baby travel gear to the best toddler travel toys and the best places to visit with a baby, we've rounded up all the best advice and learned (hard!) from our experience.
We've even rounded up the best places to arrange a zika-free babymoon for you. Travel and enjoy!
1 - Don't Put It Off Forever
Travel with children can be absolutely amazing - and authentic - and everyone can be happy!
In fact, in many ways you see a different side of the world.
Children are universal (hey, we all were babies once!) and invite much more cross-cultural interaction than travelling as an adult. Children help us to see the world in different ways and they aren't held back by as many strange conventions as we are. So, yes, some parts are hard work. But that goes for all of parenting. Don't push yourself into a breakdown. But also realise that travel with children may help you to avoid one altogether!
2 - Pack Plenty of Spare Clothes
For them. For you. Especially on a long haul flight. Nobody wants to be sat in a pair of unexpectedly wet clothes for twelve hours...
3 - Always Have A Plan B
Have spare toys in your bag, snacks at the ready and keep an eye on bedtimes and mealtimes. Don't play all your cards at once. Keep a colouring set in reserve, some stickers in your suitcase. Heck, even in your bra! Try to stay one step ahead of the game to win the game!
4 - Factor in the Whole Family
At least once a day, make sure that everyone has the chance to something that they wholeheartedly enjoy. Maybe that's a splash pad for a toddler, a short independent trip for a teen. But don't forget you! Make sure that you have something planned for each day that sets your heart on fire.
5 - Set Aside Double the Time for Trip Planning
Ugh. Different airlines have different rules about which equipment you can take with you in terms of strollers, cots and car seats. Different hotels have different access to highchairs and cots. Taxi companies may or may not have car seats and different countries have different rules on whether or not you need them. Make your peace with the need to investigate this properly and budget your time so that you can do so.
6 - In Fact, Set Aside Double the Time For Everything (Except Dinner)
Face facts. It's going to take longer to get through airport security, longer to fit your bags into the car, longer to pack and longer to get dressed. The only thing that will be shorter is dinner, when it's a good idea to order one course only and skidaddle out as fast as you can before meltdown city arrives.
7 - Museums Are Your Friend
For some reason, museums seem to have a bad name with parents. But I think they're awesome places for travel with children! They have non-junkie toilets, decent cafes, lots of space and interesting things to see and do. Increasingly, museums are deliberately setting up interactive child exhibits too. They're often air conditioned, have changing facilities and are well signposted. Win, win, win!
8 - Factor in Time to Run Around and Be Free
We probably ought to extend the same courtesy to ourselves as adults, but for children it's even more important. None of us are designed to sit around all day. We all work better when we can stretch our legs and run.
Make sure you have unstructured running about time for everyone each day (even babies - they need to practice rolling over!) Playgrounds are also great places for striking up conversations with locals and finding out the inside things to do that other tourists miss.
9 - Collect Colouring Sheets
OK, this one could just be me. Lots of restaurants hand out colouring sheets with printed patterns. Some are generic but many have local recipes printed on, or pictures of local attractions or wildlife. At the end of a trip, they are a lovely addition to a keepsake box or scrapbook, along with photos and things you find along the way.
10 - Live in the Moment
Other than patience, the best thing our children can teach us is how to live in the moment more. OK, so you had plans to see a certain thing and reach a certain place. But they spotted a leaf or a bug or a statue on the corner and want to stop and look at that. Why not? Sometimes there's a good reason (a plane to catch) but often, there isn't.
Dreamy Travel Tips
Ultimately, for all the practical travel tips, the point of travel is to fall more deeply in love with life. To explore the world and discover more about the people around you and about yourself. So how do you get inspired?
1 - Spin the Globe, Close your Eyes and Point
A weekend in Scunthorpe awaits! OK, so there's no point going to a country in the middle of a war. But it's a lovely way of expanding your dreams (and moving away from the images on instagram.)
2 - Try the Opposite. Check out the Top Travel Lists
Then again, sometimes it's good to check out what the "travel experts" say. I only put it in quotes because there's no real qualification. But years and years of experience count for something. Here are some of our most useful travel lists:
3 - Chat to Someone. Anyone.
Don't be shy! Most people love to talk. Get chatting to people on planes, in queues, taxis, cooking classes (!) everywhere! It's usually easy to see if someone wants to stay quiet for the duration of your time together but in my experience, most people love to share their own travel tips! People love to talk about where they're from and what you should see, do, eat and explore while you're there.
Be travel savvy and safe. But don't clam up.
4 - Travel Solo Sometime
Just as the world seems different when you travel with a young child, so it is different when you travel alone. You have to face up to every situation - and you have to face up to yourself. You're more likely to discover something new.
If the thought of travelling solo seems too much, take some small steps. Travel solo for the afternoon. Visit the place you love (but that none of your travel companions are interested in.)
5 - Try A New Activity (But Make Sure It's Safe)
Different places in the world have different safety records and different kinds of dangerous animals. Trying something new, like a skydive, can be amazing and thrilling. What it's like to skydive.
6 - Get Up to See the Sunrise
Of course, if you travel with children, this is taken care of. But otherwise, make sure to see the cities as well as the countryside at dawn - at least once. It's a special time, ripe with possibility, and the world seems even more beautiful than before.
7 - Learn a New Language
You can, of course, go all in and spend months immersing yourself somewhere. But it's useful (vital even?) to know a few words of the language before you go. Please, thank you, hello and sorry will get you a long, long way.
But if all else fails, learn the words you find easiest to remember!
8 - Buy the Guide Book
Yes, you can find everything you need online, yadda, yadda, yadda. But it's often easier to have a paper copy in your hands. It's certainly dreamier to flick through the pages of a book on a flight or in a cafe. Plus, there are itinerary suggestions, unusual facts and historical context that can really help bring your trip alive.
9 - Sometimes, Book on a Tour
For years, I resisted going on tours. I like to travel independently and I hate people telling me what to do! But over the years, mostly through work, I've realised that there are some amazing tour companies. Companies run by locals, by people with in-depth experience and who are great fun. Context Travel organises tours run by academics so start with them, I'd say.
10 - Play At Being a Tourist
The tourist vs traveller debate has played out time and again over the years and it's mostly a fanciful waste of time. And while I advocate trying to seek out authentic travel experiences and meaningful travel, there's usually a reason why tourist activities are popular.
1) They're easy
2) They're interesting!
3) They're fun!
So, don't dismiss the touristy things to do. Even at home, make sure you've notched up the tourist things to do as well as the other more unusual things.
Top Travel Tip Number 101
Enjoy yourself and try to make the world a bit better. That's really all you can hope to do!