49 Tips to Travel (and Live) Better

Before I left on what turned out to be a 7 month trip across Europe, I spent a lot of time procrastinating and curbing my anxiety by reading travel advice. Now that I’m back (briefly), I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of what I learned and am delighted to contribute to this all-important body of listicle literature. Recently I also shared what’s still in my backpack after 7 months of travel. 

What follows is a collection of travel tips for my future, forgetting self. These are things I try to live by—many (if not most) of which I learned the hard way first.

If at any point you get the sneaking suspicion that what you are actually reading is a list of general life advice loosely camouflaged under the pretense of travel…shhh.

MONEY

1. Never keep cash in your pocket. It won’t stay there very long.
2. Avoid ATMs and restaurants in city centers and around tourist attractions.
3. Get a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.
4. Get a debit card that doesn’t charge ATM fees. 
5. Keep backup cards for both in a separate place in case you lose your wallet.
6. Always have a plan for how you’ll get out of a major transit hub (bus station, railway, airport). The local cab driver’s plan is likely to be very expensive.
7. Always know the exchange rate ahead of time.
8. Eating vegetarian isn’t only good for your body, it’s good for your wallet.

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Summer in Slovakia.
HEALTH

9. Vegetables and fruits are your best friends. Eat many of them and eat them often.
10. Not washing your fruit is like playing Russian roulette with your gut.
12. Even “when in Rome” it’s not a good idea to smoke cigarettes.
13. Brush and floss your teeth every day. It’s bad enough going to a dentist that speaks your language.

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Churchkhela (nuts dipped in a thickened fruit juice) in a street stall in Georgia.
GEAR

14. You don’t need to carry shower soap with you.
15. The best thing you will ever pack are earplugs and an eye mask.
16. Have a designated place for everything you pack and always put things away.
17. Never put anything down on the seat of a car. Not even for “just a second.”
18. If you aren’t using something you packed, give it away. Many things you don’t need will be exotic to locals or useful for other travelers.
19. Handwritten thank you cards are the best gifts. Sweets, chocolate, and wine will also do the trick.

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Wine country in the hills of southeast Romania.
TRAVEL

20. It’s amazing how much you can see and do when you aren’t hungover.
21. Sometimes the hangover is worth it.
22. Default to yes in new situations but don’t be afraid to say no when you need to.
23. Always carry a book, Kindle or a device with Audible with you for the countless hours of in between time.
24. You don’t need to be facebook friends with everyone you meet. Being friends in the moment is enough.
25. Unless it’s your wine, don’t pour it.
26. If you feel lonely or overstimulated, change your plans. You have control.
27. When you feel lonely, write to someone. You’ll feel less lonely and it’ll be nice when you hear back from them.
28. If you feel really lonely call someone as soon as possible.
29. Send postcards often. It’s like shooting off little love missiles from all over the world.
30. Go easy on the planning. Most things are easy to find out when you get there.
31. If you stay at a hostel with a bar attached to it don’t expect to get much sleep.
32. Travel is no excuse to not be reading. Keep feeding your mind.
33. Be patient. Sometimes the long route is the best one.
34. You don’t have to see or do anything that’s on someone else’s top ten list. By simply being present where you are you will see and do plenty.

Traffic on the highway in Armenia.
Traffic on the highway in Armenia.

LOCALS

35. Knowing how to say “hello”, “thank you” and “cheers” in the local language will get you by in 90% of situations.
36. A notebook and pen will get you by in the other 10% of situations. Turns out travel includes a lot of awkward games of Pictionary.
37. Making an effort to use just one word (even incorrectly) in someone’s native tongue can change the dynamics of a conversation and an entire relationship.
38. Don’t forget to smile. It’s the fastest way to communicate your intentions.
39. Be nice. Everyone is doing the best they can.
40. Don’t take it personal. You never know exactly what others are going through —it’s probably more than you think.
41. Always know the visa requirements BEFORE entering a country.
42. Trust people. Like you, they generally want to help.
43. If you don’t know, ask. Curiosity is usually well received. Ignorance isn’t.
44. If someone has made your experience special take the time to let them know. They will appreciate it.
45. If someone has made your experience special take the time to let others know. Everyone will benefit.
46. Generosity isn’t infinite. Pass it forward.
47. Ask for help when you need it. Being “self-sufficient” is a myth.
48. Leave things better than you found them whenever you have the chance.

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A meal with locals in a village in the disputed country of Nagorno-Karabakh.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…

49. You are an ambassador for your country. Work for peace.

A Grey Heron perched along the bank (look on the right side) of the Danube Delta, Romania.
A grey crane perched along the bank (look on the right side) in the Danube Delta, Romania.

What would you add to this list for others reading? Share them in the comments! 😀

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Hello. I’m Alasdair.

Hello. I’m Alasdair.

I believe that being aware of who I am and mindful of who I am becoming is the best investment I can make in my life —and that when we focus our efforts within, the rewards naturally flow outward to those we love and through the communities we belong to.