One of my favourite pastimes is watching reruns of Anthony Bourdain travel shows – Parts Unknown, No Reservations, etc. Not only was his witty commentary enjoyable, Bourdain had an innate ability to have a conversation with anyone about their culture and food - showing us how connected we all were and offering answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. He advocated for exploring the lesser-known sights of new destinations, going with the flow and letting unplanned moments and experiences occur. These ideas helped inform how I travel.
My overarching travel hack is to travel to different pockets of the world - be curious, immerse yourself with locals and discuss their life experiences. This has led to many great conversations and adventures that I would have probably never experienced otherwise.
Whilst individual travel needs are often subjective and unique to the individual, I’ll go ahead and share some tips and hacks to help you plan your next international trip.
No, this doesn’t mean planning every minute of your trip. This means figuring out whether it’s a solo or group trip, budgeting for your expenses and researching to avoid money scams. This will allow you to have a much more enjoyable trip. Account for your food, insurance, transportation, flights, accommodation, drinks, activities, and anything else you think will be relevant.
Afterwards, use apps such as Mint and TravelSpend to track your spending throughout the trip. TravelSpend has a feature that allows you to share your trip with your group of friends and keep track of who owes whom. Split bills, check your balances and settle debts.
This is a crucial step before any travel. When you know yourself and what you want to spend money on, it’s easy to create a robust budget that will cover you for the duration of your trip. This is where pre-trip research comes in.
- Will you be taking any tours or any salsa classes?
- Will you going zip-lining or be taking a sunset cruise?
Once you determine the activities and interests, you can set your budget.
Other things to research regarding your travel destination include:
- Tipping culture
- Transit options to your accommodation
- If you’re travelling to remote towns in Southern Europe – do they practise siesta time and how will these affect your travel plans
- When is the best time of the year to travel – to avoid monsoon season; when you can see the northern lights
Know when to book, prices on international flights are lowest 2 to 3 months before departure. Always use incognito mode when booking flights – airlines auto increase prices if they’ve seen you search for flights repeatedly. My favourite sites for finding cheap airfare are listed below;
- Skyscanner is the best website for searching multiple destinations at the same time.
- Momondo – A great platform for finding really cheap flights.
- Airfare Watchdog and SecretFlying are good for error fares
- Kiwi – is great for finding lesser-known routes or smaller carriers ( especially for connecting flights)
- AirTreks – focuses exclusively on multi-destination and around the world (RTW) tickets.
Try booking flights with airlines with no cost layovers to allow for more travel i.e. Icelandair to travel across the Atlantic Ocean. This gives you free time to explore other destinations. Turkish airlines offer similar stopovers.
Assess Your Seating Situation
For seat optimization, it’s worth checking SeatGuru‘s detailed seat maps for major aircraft to review the location of your chosen seat.
- Looking for more space – Exit rows are the best for extra room
- Looking for a less bumpy ride – seating over the wings allows for smoother sailing
- Safety-wise – passengers seated behind the trailing edge of the wing have the highest survival rates in crashes. Aisle seats are best in case of evacuation.
- For the best sleep quality go for the middle of the plane away from the bathrooms and galleys
Try to beat Jet Lag
If you are flying across multiple time zones, use apps like Timeshifter or Entrain before you fly. These apps help you to gradually shift your pre-travel schedule toward your destination time zone by resetting your circadian rhythms. By the time you fly, you’re already ahead of jet lag and don’t need to spend your first days recovering.
Do you have a layover of more than 2 hours but no frequent flyer status or a credit card with travel rewards? Use Loungebuddy to get affordable lounge access while you're on your layover. This will grant you entry to a wide variety of lounges across the globe. With this admission, you will be able to log onto the free Wi-Fi and catch up on your emails, spa access, hot showers and unlimited food and drink options.
These websites I've found to consistently have the best prices:
- Hostelworld – the site has a wide variety of stylish and affordable housing options.
- Expedia - good for members only and last-minute deals
- Hotels Combined - combines multiple hotel and hostel options
- Booking.com - offers special rates with free membership
- AirBnB and Wimdu (popular in Europe) for rentals across the world
Some booking sites (Expedia & Hotels.com) have their own loyalty programs where you earn credit or free nights after a certain number of bookings. Members can also earn exclusive discounts. More often than not, smaller hotel chains and bed and breakfast are often missed on search engines. Check Tripadvisor forums and friends for housing recommendations. Avoid choosing cheaper hotels quite far from all your planned activities. Not only will these increase your transport costs there are safety concerns to consider travelling back to your accommodation late at night.
Getting around the city
Walking is one of the best ways to experience a place. Use pre-downloaded maps of the city as you never know if you will lose internet access while out and about. Google translate will also be useful to decipher simple phrases or road signs. Instead of joining city tour buses, I would advise renting a city bike for a couple of hours. This is a flexible and sustainable way to travel across the city as there are numerous bike parking zones where you can leave the bike. You will also avoid the expensive ride-sharing surges in the evening.
Here are additional tips to help you explore a city:
- Seek out free or discounted museum days
- Seek out a bird’s eye view of the city- rooftop bars and restaurants for beautiful sunset spots
- Check out live music spots
- Check out free walking tours across the city – you need to tip at the end of the tour
- Always research the popular cab apps in your travel destination prior to travel
- Always have your hotel cab or hostel recommend a cab number - save it for instances where you can’t get a cab
- Use your hotel front desk service - they know the good local restaurants, when the shops open and how to find public transport
- Carry your travel debit card as the West increasingly uses cashless payment options and you don’t have to walk around carrying large sums of money.
Tourists are often easily identified when travelling. In order to keep you safe when travelling, I suggest using a dummy wallet. In the event that you are pickpocketed, the thief would think they got something worthwhile while your real valuables will be well hidden. Another important safety tip is to carry a whistle especially as a solo female traveller, you may need to draw attention to your direction i.e. group of monkeys surrounding you for your food. Lastly, dress appropriately ….like a local to blend in and avoid any altercations that may occur if your dressing is deemed improper.