We dispute the wisdom of some conventional “best travel tips and tricks” and recommend alternatives that’ll help you travel better.
Better Travel Tips and Tricks for Better Travel
Beware of the “best travel tips and tricks” you find on Google.
Most are stupidly obvious (“Pack light,” “Eat local food,” “Book early to save“), lazy cliches (“Ask the locals,” “Get lost“), or advice that applies to everything in life (“Be open-minded,” “Be patient,” “Smile“).
Tips like these assume your IQ is lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.
We don’t think you’re that dumb. Your IQ is probably average. You can handle more sophisticated tips.
So with that in mind, here are some fresh alternatives to the stale and misguided travel tricks and tips you’ll find elsewhere.
Ditch travel guidebooks
✓ Read a guidebook cover to cover
In many ways, guidebooks are more helpful than anything you can find online. The trick to unleashing their value—but one that most people are too distracted to try these days—is reading them from cover.
On top of getting a decent history and culture lesson, by reading a complete guidebook you’ll discover festivals, events, destinations, and attractions that barely exist online, in English at least, because #followme bloggers and Instagram “influencers” have never visited them.
Learn the common local phrases before leaving✓ Learn one unusual phrase
Don’t bother studying local phrases before you travel. It’s a waste of your time. You’ll learn everything you need to know—like how to say “please,” “thank you,” and “hello”—out of necessity pretty much immediately when you get there.
If you want to study the local language before you go, learn something out of the ordinary. Something like, “I’m from Canada and do handstands for exercise.” Locals won’t see it coming and will find it hilarious. Unlike a standard “hello” or “thank you,” an unusual phrase will make you new friends and open new doors to extraordinary travel stories.
Don’t exchange currency at the airport
✓ Know the right exchange rates
Not all airport currency exchange offices are rip-offs. Some offer the best rates in town.
At Mexico City’s airport, the currency exchange booths will pay you to take US dollars of their hands. Seriously. So try to have extra pesos on hand before you leave and do exchange your money at the airport.
Currency exchange booths at Cairo’s airport are similar. They have such a high demand for US dollars that they offer better-than-market-rates to get them from you.
So note down the market exchange rate before you leave (XE.com’s a good site for rates) then check the rates at the airport currency exchange offices just in case. You never know.
Roll your clothes
✓ Don’t get to the point where you have to roll your clothes
If you need to roll your clothes to make space you either need a bigger bag or, more likely, you need to pack less crap. We also recommend you leave some spare room in your bag for souvenirs or, our favorite, duty-free booze.
And, pack wrinkle-free clothing. That way you can just stuff in your bag willy-nilly.
Check out Chris’ packing list for ideas on what to pack and what not to pack.
Carry a photocopy of your passport
✓ Carry your travel insurance contact info
You can store a copy of your passport on the cloud and pull it up when needed, but don’t do the same with your travel insurance.
If you get hurt, the first thing you need to do (once you’re done screaming and crying in pain or sickness) is call your insurer. If not, there’s a chance your insurer won’t approve of the hospital or treatment you chose and won’t fully cover you.
And if you’re too hurt or sick to call, whoever’s looking after you needs to know who to talk to, so have the contact number on you.
For tips on how to pick the right policy while saving as much money as possible, read our guide of eight simple steps to finding the best travel insurance. It’s geared towards Canadians, but the steps apply to all other nationalities as well.
Don’t go to McDonald’s or Starbucks
✓ Do go to McDonald’s and Starbucks
You don’t have to get anything at them if you don’t want.
Go in them to get some insight into the local culture and cuisine by comparing their menus to the ones back home. Check what types of chocolate bars McDonald’s uses in their McFlurrys. (In Geneva they had Toblerone!). See what unusual spices Starbucks adds to their coffee. And compare the prices to the ones back home and other countries you’ve been, just like the Economist does so with their Big Mac index.
As an added bonus, Starbucks and McDonalds have clean public restrooms and free wifi.
Don’t judge people
✓ Judge judiciously
Every list of “best travel tips and tricks” is right that you should keep an open mind about the people you come across. Judging people you don’t know is bad. That’s literally pre-judgment, a.k.a. prejudice.
But post-judge away.
Dig into what led this person you’re meeting to act, believe, dress, think, or smell different than you. There are no exact answers, so you’ll have to judge for yourself. Doing so is how you enhance understanding of the world and learn to be a better person yourself.
For example, we made the mistake of pre-judging Osmin Hernandez, a celebrity fitness trainer we improbably met in Colombia. We thought he was a loud-mouthed, wannabe celebrity meathead. Fortunately, we had the chance to hang and work out with him and eventually opened ourselves up to finding wisdom in his non-stop chatter. Thanks to this, we ended up learning some valuable lessons about fitness, marketing, and life in general.
Be open to strangers
✓ Be wary of strangers who approach you for no good reason
Wherever you travel, be careful with surprisingly friendly individuals who speak surprisingly good English. You may be in for some negative surprises otherwise.
Chris learned this the hard way. In Istanbul, a super friendly guy chatted him up and invited him to join him for a beer. Chris agreed. Then, when they sat down, their table was surrounded by henchmen. They told Chris he had to either pay them 100 euros for his drink or… well they didn’t provide another option. His new “friend” had lured me into a trap.
We’ve heard countless stories like this from all over the world and there are undoubtedly many more out there from travelers who are too embarrassed to admit it.
To avoid being scammed or robbed in similar situations, give overly-friendy and surprisingly-fluent strangers the opposite of the benefit of the doubt (the detriment of the trust?). Either that or politely turn them away. Yes, there’s a chance they’re honest, but it’s not worth the risk.
Meeting local people is a must—every great story needs great characters after all—but it’s safer to be the one to approach them, not the other way around.
Always wear sunscreen
✓ WTF? Why is everyone mentioning sunscreen?!
Do they not have any better tips than that? And do they assume you live deep in a cave and have never used sunscreen before?
Not only is this advice kind of insulting, but it’s questionable. Sunscreen’s a good idea for situations where you can’t otherwise avoid extended sun exposure, but it’s got its problems too. It enables you to spend unnatural amounts of time exposed to the sun, and unnatural is almost always bad. Plus it blocks your skin from absorbing all the sun’s nutrients. There’s also a debate about whether some of its chemicals are toxic or not. And…
Enough about sunscreen.
Let’s move on.
Ask locals for the best travel advice
✓ Ask certain locals for the best travel advice
Most locals have the same boring daily routines you do back home. They don’t see their hometown in the eyes of a tourist, lose touch with what’s going on, and rarely explore new parts of town. Because of this, they can’t give you the best travel tips.
The trick is to find the right locals.
People in the hospitality industry like chefs, hotel and hostel managers, and (sometimes) Uber drivers are good sources of info. They know their cities the best and constantly get feedback and new tips from travelers and peers.
Even better sources of local travel tips are often foreign expats. They still remember what it was like to arrive as a tourist, they’re used to giving travel tips to friends and family who visit them, and they’re probably still exploring their new hometown more than other locals do. To connect with a foreign expat, ask around your network for connections to friends of friends. And if that doesn’t work join expat groups on Facebook.
Wake up early
✓ Get a good sleep
Waking up early to seize the day and beat the crowds is only a good idea if you get to bed early. Otherwise, you’re screwing up your trip.
Less sleep means more tired. And more tired means more moody, lethargic, and close-minded. That’s exactly what you don’t want to be when traveling.
But what if you don’t feel tired? As sleep scientist Matthew Walker explains in his eye-opening book, Why We Sleep, when you’re sleep-deprived you often don’t think you’re tired, but you are still impaired and others can clearly tell.
✓ Be cheap even if you don’t have to be
You can’t buy yourself extraordinary travel stories. You have to earn them.
Being on a tight budget, even if you can afford not to, creates constraints that force you to do what you otherwise wouldn’t, and what most of the masses don’t either. This opens the door for the unexpected and the extraordinary.
Only splurge when it boosts your chances for experiencing an extraordinary travel story. This includes getting a better sleep (as mentioned above), doing something out of the ordinary that you’ll never have the chance to do again, or buying yourself more time in the country (like a direct flight).
✓ Actually, they’re right. Slow down
If you’re too busy looking at your agenda and hustling from one attraction to the other, you’ll return home with a completed checklist… and an empty feeling inside. And when your friends ask you about your trip, instead of having extraordinary stories to share with them, you’ll just bore them with a list of things you saw and cliché photos they’ve seen a million times before.
Put some holes in your bucket list to lighten it up. Stay longer than you think you should everywhere you go.
Now It’s Your Turn
What other conventional travel tricks and tips do you not believe in, and what do you recommend instead?
Or do you think our tips suck too?