In my travels, there have been times where I felt like I was some sort of an Indiana Jones-type traveling expert. A trip where everything went smoothly, no one ripped us off, we had zero problems, and my Chinese companion Short-Round says to me in thickly-accented english: "I love you Indy!" One example was when we went to Korea, planned almost everything in advance and hit the jackpot by choosing to stay in love motels. But there were other times when things did not go so smoothly, like when we got pulled into a rickshaw-scam in Saigon. Luckily we survived and learned a bunch of lessons along the way, which I hope will be useful to you if you're taking a trip in the near future.
- Do your homework
- Learn about the place you're going to. This may seem obvious but you'll definitely enjoy the trip more and have a greater appreciation for the culture and places you visit if you take a little time to learn about it. You don't need to write a thesis or anything but at least read the wiki page. Speaking of wikis...
- Read the wikitravel entry for the cities you're visiting. It gives very practical advice for visitors like how to get from the airport to the city and which modes of transportation are best for getting around. Even better: print out the pages or save them as pdf docs on your phone so you can access that info any time.
- Reading about restaurants and attractions on Yelp, Google, Traveladvisor, etc is fine but be warned that people don't always give the most informative reviews and they're prone to exaggeration (This hotdog was the BEST meal I've ever had!!!1111!@$@$) Get help from locals if possible and eat where they eat. Listen to Anthony Bourdain's advice on how to eat well when traveling.
- Learn some of the language. No, you don't need to become fluent, but learn a few phrases at the very least. In my opinion, not bothering to learn any of the language makes a tourist come across as rude. In America, we give people crap for not learning English so the least WE can do when traveling to other countries is to make an attempt at learning the language, no matter how small. There are great podcasts like SurvivalPhrases.com to help you learn and pronounce the basic phrases like "thank you," "excuse me", and "I just crapped myself"
- Learn what type of power outlets they use where you're traveling and get the right adapters beforehand. Go to http://whatplug.info/from/. Just don't mistype it as buttplug. Trust me on that.
- Try to book with hotels that have flexible cancellation policies long before your trip. That way, you'll have a hotel booked way in advance but can cancel it if you find something better.
- hotels.com, orbitz, agoda - I've used these to find cheap, conveniently located hotels and also earn a few rewards (discounts, free hotel nights) in the process
airbnb - Our experience with airbnb has been ok but it was almost as expensive as a hotel, minus the convenience and there's always the awkward feeling of sleeping in someone else's home. If you can find a place with a really good location or a penthouse suite though it might be worth it to splurge a little.NOPE. Had a bad experience with airbnb (not to mention a few recent articles where one guy was assaulted by his host, and the host who lied about his gender and tried to drug his guests). It's probably not worth it if you can get a hotel. Airbnb might be fine most of the time but remember you're taking a gamble, not just with your safety but the type of host, especially if the host will be on the property while you are staying there. You gotta live by their rules, worry about disrupting their schedule, etc. basically tiptoeing around. Whereas the hotel room is yours to trash as you please (j/k, but you catch my drift). I don't deny that airbnb can be a great deal or can give you an opportunity to stay in some really nice places that wouldn't be available otherwise... but it's not for me.
- Get a credit card that works abroad (lots of countries are starting to use cards with microchips) and has no foreign transaction fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but it's waived for the first year (maximizing your credit cards rewards is a topic for another day, but there are whole websites devoted to the topic). If you want cards that don't have foreign transaction fees with no annual cost, check out CapitalOne Quicksilver or DiscoverIt. There are more listed here too.
- Tell your bank in advance that you're going abroad so they won't block your credit card when you start using it. Can't tell you how many freaking times this has happened to us.
- Withdraw money from an ATM when you land at your destination for (most likely) the best exchange rate, and try not to use money changers. If you're concerned about not having any local currency, just exchange a small amount first at the rip-off rate in your home country and exchange for the rest later. Hopefully you won't need to much cash anyway since you have a credit card with no transaction fees, right?
- Beware of common scams, pickpocketers, and shady people. Be wary of everyone, actually.
- Travel light. It's so much easier not having to wait for your check-in bags at the airport when you land, lugging them around until you get to your hotel or looking for a place to store them. This means leaving your laptop at home. Unless it's one of those ultra thin or tablet/laptop hybrids, or unless you're planning to type an essay on the road, it's probably best to just use your smartphone for all your computing needs.
- Early flights might seem like a good idea to save time and possibly money when traveling but it's tough waking up to get to the airport at 4am for your 6am flight. You might also be paying more for transportation since public transport/shuttles might not be available that early and you'll need to pay for a taxi.
- Make use of technology
- Google maps will become your best friend on the road. However, it's still good to keep around an old-school paper map so that you won't draw unwanted attention to your iPhone666
- Get T-Mobile if you like to travel abroad frequently because they have free international data plans and free international texting. Ultra useful and I can't recommend it enough. I was in Europe for a couple of months last year and I never needed to get a local sim card or local data plan the whole time. It's only 2g speed but it's good enough for most basic tasks like messaging, emailing, google maps, and hacking T-800s. Unless you plan to watch youtube videos all day while you're in another country. If changing mobile data plans isn't an option, just try to get a local sim card and make sure your phone is unlocked before traveling. I don't know how much local sim cards cost in Europe, but in South East Asia they're pretty cheap. If you can't get local data on your phone while roaming, just stick to using wifi and apps like whatsapp, viber, skype, google chat, imessage, etc.
- Get an extra battery for your phone if you can or get a portable charger. there are some pretty good cheap ones on amazon. This one can charge your phone at least twice in one charge and only costs around $20. It's worth it and you don't want to waste any of your vacation looking for an outlet and waiting for your phone to charge.
- If you have an old smartphone, instead of selling it, why not keep it around use it as a "decoy?" Keep your real phone tucked safely away within your nether regions where the sun don't shine and use the decoy phone while walking around, checking maps, etc. Phone snatchers are a real thing.
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