I’ve been travelling for 19 out of 20 years of my life, usually internationally, and these are some of the biggest tips or life hacks that I live by while abroad.
I have travelled and studied abroad countless times in the past, not just to Japan where I am now, and I’ve used most of these around the world.
Regardless of where you study or are currently living in, you’re going to be doing a lot of wandering around and hopefully these may come in handy for you as they have me.
Here’s my list, from A-Z!
A – Apps.
I swear by Androids for mobile phones, so I mostly have travel apps there. However, most of these apps are available on iOS, and I have some on my iPad as well.
Hostelworld – Download before you go and book on the phone to go paperless.
[Google] Translate and iTranslate – There are many translator apps, most of them are good. I’ve got quite a few different dictionaries on my mobile, since I don’t usually translate phrases too often, and they are all useful. So, it is hard for me to say only one is the best haha.
TripAdvisor – reviews of different things to see and do whilst abroad.
Lonely Planet –if you want to buy guidebooks and phrasebooks, or check out the forums for tips. Personally, I don’t use LP here in Japan since I know my way around, but I do love to use it whilst travelling elsewhere~!
SmartTraveler –For US-originate travellers mostly. This handy app comes straight from the State Department and keeps up to date info on the safety conditions of other nations. Good to have if travelling to nations that are struggling internally or have cultural differences with your citizenship, as well as natural disasters.
WordPress – For easy blogging on the go. The wordpress app is a lifesaver to get things written up and posted easily.
These will all be useful for your travel and to keep everything in one place.
B – Bag, bathing suit.
Your bag should be as small as possible. Remember you’ll be carrying it places, and you’re gone for just a weekend. Pack as little as possible. I brought this huge stuffed backpack and didn’t use half the stuff in there. It’s all about knowing yourself and being okay with reusing clothes that don’t get dirty.
Travelon Anti-Theft Messenger Bag, Fossil Morgan Traveler Shoulder Bag, Pacsafe Luggage Metrosafe, and Travelon Luggage Anti-Theft Cross-Body Bag.
If you’re backpacking or travelling long-term, then a bigger bag will be best.
Some of the bags I’ve used throughout the years and recommend are: Arcteryx Khamski 38 Backpack,
Arc’teryx Arro 22 Hicking Pack, and Pacsafe Luggage Venture Safe 25L GII.
Depending on your location, you may want to have a bathing suit.
I have yet to use mine in Japan since coming over to study, but that’s because I have yet to go down to one of the lakes or beaches due to scheduling issues. I’ve used it many times while in Japan for pleasure before and even more so while travelling across Europe, Asia, or South America. If you are anywhere in South America or Europe I would definitely recommend bring one along since you will most likely end up going for a swim at some point in time. 🙂
C – Chargers, camera, convertor, computer.
You’re going somewhere new, most likely, and even if you are not there is always something new to capture. Don’t forget a camera and everything you’ll need for it, such as an extra memory card or two if you are not going to be transferring to another source, such as a computer, external HD or cloud.
I use a few different camera while travelling, especially since I do commissions for my business. My favourites though are: Canon EOS 60D, Nikon Coolpix L330, GoPro HERO4 BLACK, Canon PowerShot ELPH 130, and Nikon D5000.
Of course, your chargers for your camera, [smart]phone, and any other electronics you bring with you is a must.
Convertors are also a good idea for obvious reasons. Research the country, or countries, you shall be visiting and know what type of plugs and voltages they use. I recommend buying an all-in-one convertor, since they last and you just never know where you’re going to end up.
I currently am using two different ones that are universal: BESTEK® Portable 6A, and BESTEK® Portable Charger Universal.
If you are just travelling or backpacking rather than studying, teaching, or interning abroad, then as far as your computer goes, if you have a smartphone with you, you really do not need one. If you are going to be on the move most of the time and have limited space in your luggage, it will be better to leave the extra technology at home. Most hostels have their own computer connected to the internet that you can use, and frankly, you can live without it for a weekend with enough planning beforehand. If you are planning to be actively blogging or editing photos, then by all means bring your laptop, but usually you can manage without one for shorter trips.
D – Directions and documents.
Try to Google the directions between your arrival location and the place you will be staying, said place and your other activities, etc. If you have to change hostels/hotels/etc, Google that too. Print, write down or take pictures of all of your directions, maps, etc. for this will make your life a lot easier, as well as prevent people from getting mad at you for hogging the computer in your hostel. If you take pictures, make sure you have another source as well, in case you phone or camera dies.
Documents such as your transportation tickets, hostel booking reference, visa copies, etc. should be with you when you check in and check out, as well as when you are at the airport for easy access in case you need it, and you should keep the address of your hostel/hotel on you at all times, just in case you get lost. Be sure to have copies with you at all times, primarily visas and passports, while out and leave the originals at your hotel or hostel–particularly in a safe.
Making copies of your credit cards, at the very least their numbers and information, if a good plan as well, in case of theft or loss.
E – Essentials.
Remember to bring, if only travel sizes, your shampoo, deodorant, etc. If you don’t have to spend your first few hours in your new city looking for these items, you’ll be much happier. Hostels are not hotels. They won’t always have these things for you. You have been warned. Even some cheaper hotels do not always provide these for you.
Ladies, be sure to be prepared for emergency situations for nothing sucks more than having to try to find those much needed items in a foreign country with frazzled nerves.
If you are willing to try and find these locally, that is great! When I backpack, I usually only bring one set of tiny travel-sizes, and then buy refills along the way.
F – Food, flexibility, and friends.
Food is an interesting topic, as every experience is different based on the hostel, hotel, etc. Find out if your hostel serves any meals and plan around that. As far as buying food, just watch your money. Right down, either on paper or in an app, of your spendings, you’ll be thankful later when you realise how much you spent (or saved).
You’d be surprised how much money goes to food; most of mine would always go to that. I am that person that will try anything once, so I have a hard time limiting myself with food while travelling. Look for small stands, fresh markets, and even a grocery store. Most hostels will let you store your food, but make sure you put your name on it.
Friends; if you want to travel alone, that’s just fine! I have done it countless times and have made a lot of friends in the process. Solo travel is truly a life-changing experience. However, if you do want to travel with your friends, book the hostel together, and plan a lot of your stuff before you leave: what you want to see, what you want to eat, etc. for then things will be smoother along the way. It would suck if you went through the process of travelling together only to be in different hostels or have to catch late flights. Also, know that you and your friends will have some different opinions along the way on what to do or see, but that is okay–split up for a bit for some solo exploring or give it a shot and try out both things with an open mind.
Finally, whether you travel alone or with others, be flexible. If something cool is happening that weekend you didn’t know about beforehand, wouldn’t it be sad if you had to miss it because your schedule is so tight? Allow yourself the time to see other stuff not on the schedule and just relax!
G – Great memories will be made whether you have a plan or not.
You wanna do something, go do it! Just remember to take pictures and write the memories down.
H – Hostelworld [is magic], Humility
Nothing more to say on Hostelworld honestly, if you are not yet using it, get it. End of story.
Humility, if you are not familiar with this concept and using it every day, then something is wrong with you. Honestly, be humble, show some bloody humility when you meet people and interact with those around you, especially when you are abroad. People don’t like arses, so don’t be one. Your time abroad, and in life in general, will be much more pleasurable when you show some humility and are good to others.
I – Informed.
Be informed about flight carry-on limits, hostel rules, social customs, etc. before you go.
Remember, be prepared for the unexpected!
J – Journal and jewellery.
Let me address the ladies (primarily; of course anyone may fall into this category) first: if you don’t change jewellery or accessorize much at home, don’t bring it with you! There’s no reason to bring all that extra space and weight. Wear one set and let that match everything if you truly want to bring something.
A huge must: bring some sort of journal with you wherever you go. You may be without internet access, and you’ll want to write everything down so you remember what to blog about or simply as an amazing keepsake to look back on! I always jot things down in a journal or my tablet, it makes things a lot more personal and is great to read on a rainy day to take you back to that moment in time.
K – Keep.
This falls in line with D[ocuments].
Keep your passport [copy], hostel/hotel/etc. address, money, phone, room key, and camera on you at all times. Keep copies of all important documents on you as well! Don’t let this stuff out of your sight. Lock it away in the hostel lockers or hotel safes at night. If you lose any or all of these things while you’re in another country, it’s not fun to try and replace them.
L – Lazy days, location, local stuff.
Be prepared to be lazy. I’ve spent a whole day on the bank of the Kamo River, Rhine, the Seine, and relaxing in parks, writing postcards and journalling before. You never know when you need a break or just take some time to relax and enjoy the little thing.
Try out the local stuff too. If there’s something going on, go! More so, try to do things like a local, whether it be regarding food, parties, and where to relax. The local food is always the best.If you find yourself craving something from your home country, try to find something local to satisfy yourself with, even if it only something that is a local version of the food, such as burgers or pasta. Even though it is something that is not from the country you are in specifically, each place has its own take on foods, so it is always different. I always avoid any international food chain while travelling, unless there is a regional speciality there to try out once.
Finally, location. If you want a beach, go to Spain or Italy. Don’t go to London or Scotland. Common sense in your location goes a long way. Know what you want, and know how long you have. You can’t see Italy in a weekend.
M – Money.
Know what you’re going to spend, and spend only that. Budget an emergency cushion of money in case something happens, but stick to a set budget. Again, do your research.
Save up extra funds or fund-raise to have the ideal spending limit of your choosing.
N – “Nobody cares, you’re on vacation”.
There is absolutely no need for you to walk around all made-up with your hair straightened in designer clothes. Nobody cares. You are there to enjoy yourself and have the time of your life. There is no need for you to get all dressed up in impractical clothes and styles, which will only make your travels more difficult.
Going clubbing? That’s a bit different. But for the most part, you can get away with no makeup, jewellery, etc.
O – Opportunity.
Don’t forget, wherever you may end up, you have an opportunity many people don’t have. Learn from it and share your experience! When opportunity knocks, answer it.
P – Phone and personal info.
Bring your mobile phone with you, especially if it is a smartphone. It can still come in handy for the various reasons I have explained already, such as apps and photos.
Be sure to turn off roaming unless your provider has a good deal/plan internationally! Otherwise, you’ll get a very unpleasant surprise when you get back home.
You can get local sim cards for cheap and come countries will even give you prepaid ones for FREE! Thailand is one of the countries that will give you one at the airport when you arrive, so take advantage of these opportunities!
Your personal contact info is much more useful on a card than it is scrawled out on a napkin, map, etc. Make little business cards or take one of the free offers for 150 from Pandora or so, there are a lot of different offers so try one of those.
Just your name as it appears on Facebook, your Skype, twitter, etc. should go on the card, as well as your phone number if you want. Hand out the cards to the cool new friends you meet. It also helps to leave an impression. Who knows what some of the connections you may make while travelling that may come in handy in the future. 🙂
Q – Quick phrasebook.
What’s that? You’re going to Germany but sie nicht Deutsch sprechen?! Uh-oh. Make yourself a quick phrasebook.
Things you’ll want to know: hello and goodbye, please, thank you, sir, ma’am, how much, and where is ABC.
Hostelworld includes one in their guidebook, as well as Lonely Planet, but look at it and see if there’s anything missing. You know what you usually ask for, what you are looking for and want, so if there is not a phrase already written out in a guidebook, do your research. You don’t need to learn the entire language before you travel, just enough key phrases that will come in handy–though learning a new language that you can use abroad is always an amazing feeling.
R – Reading.
Travel, particularly cheap travel, involves a lot of waiting. Bring things to read, because buying them is expensive and you can’t always find something in English. If you bring physical books, try to stick with paperbacks for weight’s sake. If you want to take a lot of book, it might be best to bring an e-reader with you or download an e-reading app, such as the free kindle app.
I always travel with a paperback & e-reader for shorter travels and only an e-reader for longer travels or if I have a lot of physical guidebooks. My go to tablets are the Kindle Voyage, and Kindle Fire HDX. I’v found that they are more versatile and durable than my Nook after all the hard travels.
S – Sheets, shoes, space bags.
Make sure your hostel provides sheets or allows rental of sheets. If not, try using a sheet liner, like the Cocoon Silk TravelSheet which I swear by when budget travelling, or go for a different hostel/hotel.
As far as shoes are concerned, bring a pair of cheap flip-flops/thongs and your trainers. Remember, where style is concerned: nobody cares, you’re on vacation.
Space bags seem like a good idea, right? Wrong. Do not use them unless absolutely necessary, they are not that convenient for travelling unless you know exactly what is going in your luggage, including the extra things you will purchase abroad. More often than not you will have more luck fitting everything smoothly without the space bags than with it, and besides, while there’s more room, the weight typically stays the same so you might end up being slapped with overweight baggage fees.
T – Towels.
Your hostel or hotels, depending on how cheap it is, does not always provide these.
If you are one of those that need to have a big fluffy body-sized towel always, then you’ll have to bring one with you most likely but it will take up more room in your luggage. Find a good small travel one, or go without is what I recommend.
U – Utilise
Utilise any hands-on skills you can, such as hand washing clothes. A lot of hostels and hotels throughout the world do not always have a washing machine, so unless you are only travelling for a short period of time and packed enough clothes for it, then learning how to wash your clothes by hand is a lifesaver. It will also come in handy back in your home country in cases of emergency. 🙂
V – Verification from bank.
Some people I’ve talked to are able to simply tell their banks that they’ll be in Europe until December.
Lady Luck hates me. Not me. I have to let my bank know whenever I’ll be in any foreign country, hell, I have to let them know when I’m up-state. So, I have to call them a week ahead of time or go online to set the travel flags.
If all you’re doing is pulling money from an ATM before you leave, then you’re fine. But if you want to pay your hostel/ hotel and whatnot with a card, or use an ATM abroad, your bank better know just in case. Call them a week in advance to be safe. If you forget and call them abroad, the costs will be high and you typically will not be able to use the card until the next day due to delays and timezones.
W – Weather, water.
Check the weather before you go. Pack accordingly, but always have a jacket, just in case.
Water is expensive, especially if you are in Europe. Don’t even remind me of how many Euros it is in Italia or France, I get a migraine just thinking of it.
Bring a bottle with you and fill it up in sinks, if the place you are travelling in has regulated water that is. Tap water is generally quite safe in many countries in the West and some in developed parts of Asia, such as Japan, but if you are worried purchase a water bottle with a filter in it.
I tend to bring a filtered water bottle with me whenever I am backpacking or traveling for longer periods of time regardless of the country, as well as purifying tablets when I am in South America and Africa. It’s something that I have learned to do after many travels and it makes life so much easier. There’s quite a few really good models out there for of varying prices, but the best ones to me are: CamelBak Groove Bottle, KOR Nava BPA Free, Brita Hard Sided Water Filter Bottle, the ClearlyFiltered line, and LIFESAVER bottle.
LIFESAVER is used by the military at times and ClearlyFiltered has released their newest model which filters 100% of common chemicals with new technology.
X – eXtra time.
Make sure that you allow yourself a lot of time when travelling.
Get to your gates early for flights, figure out where you need to be, get your luggage sorted, get to your transport to where you’ll be staying, and then relax. Nothing is worse than struggling to juggle everything while rushing to where you need to be next or finding those documents that you need under pressure.
I try to always get to airports 1 hour earlier at the latest for international flights, 30-40 minutes for all other transportation. If you are travelling during rush hours or during holiday seasons, both internationally recognised and local ones, do try to get the locations as early as possible for things will get busy very fast.
If you do this, your travel is a lot less stressful.
Y – Yourself, #YOLO
Don’t forget to be yourself when you meet new people abroad. Being someone you’re not is a tough charade to keep up. This goes for more than weekend travel, but should be put here regardless.
Oh god…I hate the fad that has become of YOLO and all but it is true. You only get one chance to live your life, and, while I am not saying go crazy and be reckless by any means, do make the most of things. You may not get the chance to be in the country you are in again, or at least not for a long time, you may not meet the same kinds of people or get to do the things you are offered to do. Don’t go drinking yourself into a stupor only to wind up in the Tevere naked, and possibly get arrested by the Polizia di Stato, but do try the new foods, try out the local languages, take that tour around the city, scuba dive in the Great Reefs or try sky diving if you get the chance to. So, I guess all of us travellers need to learn to #YOLO every now and then. 🙂
Z – Zzzzz……
At the end of the day you’ll probably be tired enough to just knock out without a problem, but, overall, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. You know yourself and your limits, listen to your body when it says it’s in need of a break. Be sure to accept the reality of the matter that you won’t see an entire city in two or three days, unless you are rushing and that means you miss so much.