When you travel nomad-style, slowly moving from place to place, you very quickly learn plenty of travel tips to make your life just that little bit easier. Stopping and soaking up the culture of a place, rather than ticking tourist attractions off a bucket list, is very different to using your 3-4 weeks off work every year to lie on a beach at a resort.
Whether you’re travelling alone, with someone else, or as a family like we do, you’ll very quickly learn what works and what doesn’t for you and your particular needs and circumstances. Our first destination when we left Australia was Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and before we’d left our first hotel we’d made changes to the way we travelled. Your travel learning curve really is that quick!
So, to give you a head start on things to think about for when you start travelling, or even if you’re already on your way, here are 34 bite sized travel tips to make you’re travel life a bit easier.
Learn to be patient
I must admit I get frustrated easily, and when travelling like we do, frustrating situations arise every day. From not understanding the language, to being harassed by tuk tuk drivers and shopkeepers, the key to enjoying your travels is relaxing, taking deep breaths, counting to 10 and realising the world is not going to be exactly the same as you’ve known it from back home. Just take it in your stride and enjoy the differences.
Get up early and you’ll beat the crowds
Having a child, we’re usually up pretty early anyway. Jack gets up by at least 6.30am EVERY morning, so early starts are nothing new to us. But what we’ve found is most people don’t really get out and about until mid to late morning. So if you want to beat the crowds to the sites you want to see, and get those great crowd free photos, go early.
Have some spare cash and a credit card hidden somewhere
Losing your cash and cards is never fun, and trying to arrange replacement cards can take a while. So ALWAYS have a spare credit card and $200 safely hidden in your pack or somewhere else handy. You never know when you’ll need it.
Get away from the tourist traps and meet the locals
Meeting the locals and understanding the way they live is one of the great things about nomadic travel. Seeing the sites is amazing of course, but it’s the experiences you have with real people that you’ll remember forever. And you’ll develop and grow as a person with a deeper understanding of how to world really is, rather than the way the media tells you it is.
There are two main reasons why you should slow down. First, it will save you money because you won’t be paying to get from place to place as often. And second, you’ll learn so much more about a place if you stop for a while and soak it all in. For example, we spent two months in Chiang Mai and developed a real love for the place, which I’m not sure we would have done if we’d only stayed for a few days.
Always use the local tourist office
If you’re afraid of being labelled a ‘tourist’ instead of a ‘traveller’, then you need to redefine what you’re trying to be. To me there’s no difference, there are so many ways to be a tourist/traveller. The local tourist office can help with so many things, not least a free map and some advice about what to see and where to go if you want to experience the local culture. The 15 minutes you spend there could save you plenty of time and money elsewhere.
Take photos, but don’t just watch the world through a lens
Take as many photos as you can because they will be your greatest possession for many years to come. But don’t spend your whole trip looking through the viewfinder. Take the time to put your camera, phone and laptop away and just soak everything in through your own eyes.
Invest in an iPad if you have a child
If you’re travelling with a child, get an iPad or some sort of tablet. It doesn’t have to be the latest iPad, Jack uses Sarah’s old iPad 2. As long as you can download some videos and game apps, it will be worth it’s weight in gold, especially when you’re in a plane, train, bus or car.
Back everything up on a hard drive or cloud storage
Don’t risk all of your images and memories by only storing everything on one hard drive. You are seriously asking for trouble. If you lose it, or it crashes, you will be absolutely devastated. By a second and third hard drive, or better still, invest in some cloud storage like Dropbox. It’s only a few dollars a month and you can get more storage space than you’ll ever need. And it will never crash!
Free walking tours are awesome
Most major cities have free walking tours, and we take them all the time. You’ll learn a lot about the history of a place, and it really helps to get your bearings. While technically they’re free, the whole idea is you pay what you can afford, and think they’re worth, at the end of the tour by way of donation. It the guide was awesome, like the one we had in Brussels, pay them well. If they were rubbish, a few coins will do. At the end of the day, it’s up to you.
Keep hard and digital copies of important documents
Make sure you’ve got photocopies of important documents like your passports and birth certificates (especially if travelling with a child). Also, keep scanned copies on a hard drive or cloud storage. You never know when you’ll need them. We had scanned copies of the following in our Dropbox:
- Drivers Licence
- Academic transcripts and other forms of qualifications
- Birth certificates (especially for children)
- Invoices for insurance in case of loss, damage or theft (laptop, camera, etc.)
Learn some of the local language
It’s unrealistic to suggest you should learn the language of the country you’re in. Some people have no interest in it, while others absolutely love it. Everyone is different. In fact, we lived in France for six months and I had no interest in learning French. However, I did learn a number of phrases, and the locals always appreciate it when you try to speak the local language. So learn ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ at the very least.
Tell your bank you’ll be travelling before you leave
Before going on this adventure, Sarah and I went on a holiday to Thailand. We didn’t tell the bank, so one morning we woke up and our credit cards didn’t work. No warning, no enquiry from the bank, just cancelled credit cards because their security system assumed they’d been stolen. And they couldn’t reactivate them for us while we were overseas. It was a major pain in the butt, so before you leave tell your bank you’ll be heading overseas and that you’ll be gone for a long time.
Have a decent pair of shoes
You spend a third of your life in bed, so make sure you’ve got a good mattress at home. The same principal applies for shoes, especially for travellers. You’re going to be on your feet for a long time most days, so get some good shoes. Otherwise you’ll pay a painful price!
Be prepared for flying with your child
No one likes flying when there’s an annoying child sitting nearby. Sometimes it’s not the child’s fault, but rather the parent hasn’t planned properly. If a child is well fed, comfortable and amused, they’ll be a delight to travel with. Of course this is not always the case, sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop them from crying, especially when they’re young. We know because we have a child. But our 13 tips for flying with a toddler or infant offers plenty of suggestions for keeping your kids happy.
Don’t over plan
It’s always a good idea to have a plan, but whatever you do, don’t over plan. Some of the best times are when the unexpected happens, when you stumble across something you had no idea was happening and you just go with the flow. If you plan every minute of every day, the likelihood of those unexpected surprises dramatically decreases.
Don’t become so tight you don’t do anything
After a few months of travelling I started to get really paranoid about spending money. Every single dollar spent had to be justified, and if it wasn’t, it would really annoy me. This lasted for a few months and it took away the enjoyment of our adventure for both myself and Sarah. I eventually loosened up and instantly relaxed, and our collective enjoyment of travelling rose as well. It’s better to treat yourself occasionally and come home a few months early because you’ve run out of money, than stay on the road longer but do nothing.
Avoid tourist areas when it’s time to eat
Food outlets around tourist attractions are notoriously expensive, and generally speaking, not exactly good for you. Go where the locals go and you can usually be guaranteed a good feed at a good price.
Be a Couchsurfer
The idea of staying with strangers can be scary for some people, particularly when you’ve got children. But guess what? The world is not as scary as the media likes to tell us, and most people are actually very friendly. Couchsurfing is a fantastic way of meeting some really good people, and you’ll save plenty on accommodation costs as well. We stayed with some wonderful people in Switzerland, Belgium and France, and we will definitely do it again.
Respect local customs
You may not agree or like customs in some of the countries you visit, but you’re a visitor and it’s always a good idea to respect them. For example, we stayed in the UAE for a month in the middle of summer, but Sarah still covered up because that’s what the locals expect. If you don’t like it, don’t go.
Keep in touch with family and friends (and tell them your plans)
Don’t forget about family and friends. Keep in touch because they want to hear about your adventures. It’s also a good idea to make sure people back home know your plans, just in case.
Pack a universal power adapter and power board
Charge everything up at once overnight so you’re never caught out. The last thing you want is to head out for a day of sightseeing and the battery in your camera goes flat. Or you head to a cafe to do some work and your laptop is dead. Pack a universal power adapter and a power board.
The world is not a dangerous place
Pick up a newspaper, watch the six o’clock news, or tune into talkback radio and you’d think the world was about to end. Very quickly you’ll learn it’s total bullshit. Of course there are horrible things going on around the world, but 99% of people are friendly and only too happy to help you. No matter where we’ve been and what religion the locals follow, we’ve only ever experienced people who want to help us.
Carry a first aid kit
Jack split his head open just above his eye when we were living in France, and without the first aid kit I would have had to wrap a t-shirt or something similar around his head. You never know what might happen on the road, especially in countries that might not be as advanced as yours, so be prepared.
This is absolutely non-negotiable. If you travel without insurance you are asking for trouble. Sarah got sick in Cambodia and India, and spent a few days in hospital. World Nomads are the insurance company we use, and they were unbelievable to us. We submitted our medical bills and they paid them quickly, no further questions asked. We can’t recommend them enough.
Get your craft hat on (if you have kids)
If you’re travelling with children, carrying toys can be difficult. Sarah is really good at taking everyday cardboard items like toilet rolls and food containers and turn them into cameras, computers, aeroplanes and other toys. Check out these 8 easy toys you can make on the road.
Don’t take any chances, start getting your vaccinations 4-6 months before you leave. The last thing you want to do is get really sick away from home.
Always pack sunscreen
It’s easy to get burnt and it can really mess up your week. A tube of sunscreen and 60 seconds will make all the difference.
Have a map, but put it away sometimes
Sarah will tell you I love maps. Wherever we go I’ve always got one in my hand. I like to know where I am and where I’m going. But sometimes it’s great to put the map away and just wander the streets, unsure of where you’re going or where you’ll end up. That’s how you stumble across those unexpected surprises.
Eat street food
Do not be scared of street food. Not only is it incredibly cheap, but it’s also some of the best food you’ll ever eat! However, there are always precautions you should take. Here are 6 things to consider when eating street food.
Record your travels
Whether it’s a blog site, journal, videos or voice recordings, make sure you keep a record of your travels. Even if you’ve got a great memory, you’re bound to forget certain parts of your travels. Going back over your journey years down the track will unleash a flood of memories and bring incredible joy.
At home you get in a comfort zone. Break down your barriers and try things on your travels that you would never have dreamed of doing back home. Not only will you feel free and exhilarated at the time, but it will build your confidence for the future.
Before we’d even left our first hotel three days into our adventure, Sarah was leaving clothes behind. On the night before you leave, pack your bag with what clothes you think you’ll need, then take half of it out. We’ve been carrying around clothes we hardly ever wear and it’s a complete waist of energy. Be very strict with the clothes you pack.
Gym access might be limited, especially if you’re constantly on the move, and stocking the fridge and cupboards full of nutritious food may be a struggle. But there are ways you can stay healthy while travelling, and planning is the key. Go to the supermarket and buy good food. It will save you money in the long run, and it’s better than the rubbish you inevitably buy from take away places that are cheap and quick. And there are thousands of websites that will show you how to exercise without a gym. A simple Google search and you’ll be ready to go in a matter of minutes. Take care of yourself.
Don’t wait to travel, do it now
I don’t know how many people have told us how much they’d like to travel indefinitely, but can’t for one reason or another. They can’t leave work right now, family needs them, don’t have enough money, it’s not safe to travel with children…I’ve heard them all. If you don’t want to travel in this way, that is absolutely fine. But if you do, then make it your top priority and don’t let anything else get in your way. It’s not expensive (that’s just what marketing companies have led us to believe), it’s not unsafe (that’s just what the media want us to believe), and home will always be there if and when you want to come home.
There is almost never a perfect time to leave; the best thing you can do is pick a date, book your flights and work towards it with every ounce of energy you’ve got. You will never regret travelling, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have in your life.
As you travel you’ll learn many more travel tips along the way. We made plenty of mistakes when we first started, and we still do! That’s the beauty of travelling, you are constantly learning every day, which is what life is all about.
Have fun and good luck.