Aerial view from plane window looking white plane wing in foreground and Sydney Harbour in background. Visible are the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

Top Travel Tips

I have travelled locally and internationally my whole life (thanks to my Dad who worked at Qantas!) and I’ve been to six of the seven continents (sorry, Antarctica!). While technology has changed some aspects of modern travel (I don’t carry a paperback copy of the “Lonely Planet” guide anymore!), some things invariably remain the same. Over the years, I’ve complied a list of travel tips that are tried and tested, so I’m keen to share them with you. Here is my updated for 2024 list of 25 top travel tips, starting with the before-you-leave-home basics:

Aerial view from plane window looking white plane wing in foreground and Sydney Harbour in background. Visible are the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
Flying into Sydney, Australia, offers some spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

1. Passport

Firstly, the obvious: make sure you have (and can find!) your passport.

Secondly – and less obviously – check that your passport has at least six months’ validity remaining from the date you plan to arrive in your final destination. Many countries won’t allow you to enter without (at least) six months’ validity.

2. Visa

Do you need a visa to enter the country (or countries) you’re planning to visit? Might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many stories I’ve heard from people who were “sure” their US/ Canadian/ British passport would allow them visa-free entry, only to be refused at the border. It’s a nightmare experience and one that can be so easily avoided with a quick internet search before you leave home.

You can often apply for a visa online and without too much fuss or cost. However, occasionally you might need to visit the country’s embassy in your nearest capital city and apply in person.

3. Money, money, money

This is the big one because without money, there is no travel. There are a few money-related things you need to consider before you go anywhere. I think of travel money in terms of the 4Bs: bank, budget, buttoned-up, and bank card. Let me explain:

  • BANK: Let your bank know you’re going away so that they don’t flag foreign currency transactions as ‘suspicious activity’ and suspend your account. You should be able to do this online, but sometimes it requires a phone call. It’s worth it to not have your credit card frozen when you’re far away from home. Trust me on this!
  • BUDGET: Do some research about prices in your holiday destination before you go and work out a travel budget. Each person’s budget will be different, of course, but you need to have a bit of an idea of what to expect things to cost in your destination so that you don’t get any uncomfortable surprises when you arrive. How much will your accommodation be? How much will you need for meals, snacks, and drinks each day? Will you need to tip? (See my whole section below on Tipping.) If you’re going on a pre-paid tour, will there be any out of pocket expenses?
  • BUTTONED-UP: You need to be able to protect your money, and don’t keep it all in one place. Consider a money belt and/ or a pouch worn hanging from your neck and tucked into the front of your shirt. Only keep small amounts of cash in your purse, wallet, or pocket. Don’t rely solely on the safe in your hotel room, or – worse! – your pocket.
  • BANK CARD: The very best way I’ve found to operate in various currencies for the lowest cost is to have a Wise account. (Note: I have absolutely NO affiliation at all with Wise and do not claim to know all the ins and outs of their policies. Always check what is best for you, rather than taking my word for it.) It’s basically a money app into which you can deposit your own money and then convert it – inside the app on your phone – to up to 50 different currencies, at a very low exchange rate. And safely. You can get a physical card, as well as a virtual card to keep your physical card safe. You can also open ‘jars’ that keep your money safe. Look into it. I love it and can’t imagine how I ever traveled without it!

4. Travel Insurance (including Health Insurance!)

Resign yourself to the fact that you will lose something – whether you drop it when you dash for a train, or you’re be pick-pocketed in a crowded market, or the airline gods finally get their revenge on you for having the audacity to check in luggage. Somewhere, sometime, you will find yourself without your belongings. And you will need to replace some things. 

Alternatively, you or your travel buddy will get sick and will either need medical attention, or you’ll miss a flight/ bus/ train/ tour because you’re practising for the gold medal Olympic vomiting.

Whatever happens (and something will happen), the sting in the tail will be greatly reduced if you have travel (including medical!) insurance.

To most of you, I hope travel insurance showing up on my list is a no-brainer, but – again – I’m honestly surprised at how often I speak to fellow travellers who don’t have it. In my opinion, it’s just not worth leaving home without. I lived in Indonesia for many years, and as much as I love the country and the people, I know that I never want to have to rely on the Indonesian public health care system!

There are a zillion different travel insurance providers. I don’t have a particular company that I recommend or that I even regularly use. Before each trip – long or short – I go through the (tedious and time-consuming!) process of comparing as many different travel insurance providers as I can, and making a decision that best fits my travel needs at that time. 

My strongest recommendation is to just get some sort of travel insurance and make sure that includes decent health and repatriation cover.

5. e-SIM

It’s 2024 and long gone are the days of relying on public wifi or not having internet access until you’re in your travel accommodation. Even a couple of years ago I was buying a local SIM card everywhere I went. Not anymore! Helloooooo, eSIM!

On my current (extended European) trip, I’m using a 90-day unlimited data eSIM. I did a tonne of research before I left home, and for me on this trip, Holafly seemed to have the best deal. (Again, I have no affiliation with Holafly at all, except that I bought and am using their product and am very happy with it.) This 90-day unlimited 5g (where available) data eSIM cost me just under AUD135 (or approximately EUR80). It includes an Austrian mobile/ cell number and some call time (I can’t remember how much!). Given that my Australian mobile phone plan costs me AUD50 per month and does not have unlimited data, I am pretty happy with the Holafly deal. 

It means I can leave my usual/ home SIM card in my phone, but turn it off and have my eSIM turned on. Or I can have both active. Depends on your mobile/ cell phone. But having an eSIM is certainly a game changer.

As always, have a look online and find which eSIM will work best for you in the region you’ll be travelling to.

6. Passport protection

Make sure you protect your most important documents all the time! I absolutely HATE the passport holders that you wear around your waist or your neck under your clothes – especially in hot climates. But, worse than feeling hot or a bit uncomfortable is losing your passport or access to your money. So I just deal with it. I have a RFID-blocking passport holder that I wear like a cross-body bag under my clothes so that it sits on my side, sort of between my elbow and my waist. It annoys me for the first ten minutes each day, and then I forget that it’s there.

The only time it’s truly annoying is when I have to hand over my passport for verification when I check into new accommodation (it’s the law here in Spain and Portugal, as well as in many other locations). It’s kind of embarrassing to have to rummage around inside all my winter layers to produce my (warm!) passport. However, it’s never been lost or stolen, and that’s the point.

As well as my passport, I also store cash if I’m carrying large amounts (not as often as I’d like!!), and bank cards from home. I also carry a photocopy of The Husband’s passport in there, in case anything happens to him or his passport while we’re on the road.

7. Party planner

Do TONNES of pre-holiday research for the most important aspects of your trip. Unfortunately, there’s just no shortcut for this (*sadface*). Consider the following when planning your trip:

  • What season will it be in your destination? Not only does the season affect what you should pack (shorts or ski gear?), but also whether it will be high season and therefore expensive and crowded? Or low season and wet/ cold/ dark all day (depending on where you’re going!)?
  • Travel – how will you get there? Consider different options so that you can reduce the cost/ maximise holiday days/ travel via the most direct route/ travel via the most scenic route/ allow for side trips. So much to think about, but worth mapping out in advance.
  • Accommodation – where do you want to stay? Is it important to you to stay super-close to public transport? Do you want to be close to the city, or closer to nature? Do you want a plush hotel, a hostel, or a farmstay? My tip is to consider booking accommodation that has a free cancellation policy (for a period of time, anyway) so that if your travel plans change, you can easily change your accommodation.

8. Spreadsheet

It’s hardly glamorous or sexy (in fact, it’s probably the opposite!!), but I always make a spreadsheet for my travels – long or short – so I can see at a glance where I’ll be, where I’m staying, and what I’ll be doing on each day of my trip. All the information goes into that spreadsheet so that it becomes my “one stop shop” for all things travel related. I add map links to accommodation details and restaurants I want to check out. I have a column for activity suggestions. And I have a column to keep track of what I’m spending so that at any point – before or after the trip – I can see roughly what I spent.

9. “Cozi-livs”

It’s a very Australian habit to shorten words and expressions, and this is no exception. Cozi-livs = cost of living. In this context, I mean that everything is going to cost more than you anticipate.

If you’re going to Europe, you go knowing that it’s expensive, but it is more expensive than you imagine it should be. My most recent example is that at Notre Dame in Paris, it’s €3 to use the public toilet!! I’m spending Australian dollars so that’s AUD$5!!

If you’re going to south-east Asia, you’ve heard all about how cheap everything is, so you think you can get by on $10 a day. But you can’t, because you’re staying in a tourist area or you want a foreign/ international brand beer or just a taste from home, or you want to buy something cute you’ve seen at the markets. Wherever you go and whatever it is, you will always spend more than you anticipate. Budget accordingly, and have some back-up funds that you can access if you need to (see Money, Money, Money above).

10. Walk of life

You will always walk more than you think you will (so pack good and comfortable shoes!) And if you’re travelling on a budget and going to be using public/ shared bathroom and shower spaces, take a very cheap, lightweight pair of flip-flops to wear to the bathroom and in the shower. Foot fungus is not as much fun as it might sound!

A pair of red, white and black Converse-brand hi-top sneakers.
Pack practical, comfortable shoes – you will walk more than you think you will!

11. Less is more

  • You will always use less than you pack. Think about moving from one place to another (eg, up and down stairs, over cobbled or dirt streets, into and out of trains/ planes/ buses/ taxis). Consider taking some washing powers and hand-washing your underwear and t-shirt each evening in the bathroom instead of packing extras.
  • Roll your clothes when you pack. Not only does it take up less room in your suitcase or backpack, but it also doesn’t crease your clothes as much as folding.
  • The Husband ALWAYS says, “Passport, credit card, phone – check, check, check. Anything else can be replaced!” To be honest, it kinda drives me mad because I’m all about packing and making sure I will survive in any and every eventuality. However, when it all boils down to it, The Husband is right. (Just don’t tell him I admitted that!!) Everywhere in the world sells clothing, toiletries, and even electronics. If you’ve forgotten something that you *desperately* need, you can get it anywhere. Just keep your passport, credit card, and phone close and protected and you’ll be OK.

12. Learn before you leave

If you’re heading to country that speaks a different language than your own, make sure to learn a few words and key phrases before you leave home. There are loads of websites and YouTube tutorials on basic words and phrases in foreign languages. Spend 5 minutes a day for a week before you leave home learning things like:

  • Hello and goodbye
  • Thank you
  • How much?
  • I want [then you can point!]
  • Can I have the bill?
  • Where is the toilet?
  • One, two, five, ten, fifty, one hundred
  • No meat (if you’re vegetarian)

13. Tipping

Learn what the local custom for tipping is before you arrive. Is there a service charge built into the bill? Is it customary to tip – and if so, by what percentage? In some cultures, it is actually insulting to tip!

  • USA – hospitality and service industry workers often aren’t paid a living wage, so customer tips are required to subsidise wages. I suggest around 15-20%.
  • Indonesia – sometimes there’s a service charge included on the bill, but staff commonly report not receiving that amount. I recommend around 10%.
  • Australia and New Zealand – workers are paid a living wage, but it has become customary to ’round up’ the bill or leave a tip for waitstaff for a great job. Try around 10%.
  • Spain and Portugal – tipping is less common (although becoming more so). Locals tend to leave a few coins on the bar or table when they leave. I suggest somewhere between 5-10% of the bill.
  • Japan – You should not tip in Japan; it is not encouraged or expected, and can cause confusion (did you leave the money accidentally?) or even cause some offence. Tipping can imply that you don’t believe the establishment is doing well enough to be able to survive without donations. No tip! Instead, make sure you leave how to say “thank you” in Japanese 🙂

14. Power

Powering your devices is essential. But in 2024, we all carry a number of devices that each have their own charger, and it all gets bulky and heavy to lug around. I carry one universal power adapter, and a slimline power board (with usb ports) from my home country. That way, I only need one power outlet and can plug all my devices (mobile phone, laptop, camera battery) into the one place. I don’t need an adapter for each device. I suggest getting a power board with surge protection, as well as individual switches for each outlet.

A white four-socket power board that includes three USB ports
Power board that includes USB ports and individual switches.

15. Medication

If you take medication, you’ll need to do a bit of research before you travel to work out if and how you can take it with you.

In most cases, you can carry prescription medication with you if it’s in its original packaging with your name on the label. In some cases, you might need to carry a letter from your prescribing doctor, too. Be aware that some medications (like some for ADHD, depression, strong pain etc) might be considered a ‘controlled substance’ and may not be permitted in the region to which you’re travelling. You definitely do not want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law about things like that. Please investigate what you need to take, and how you can take it safely and legally. 

16. Boring bits

I’m sorry, but deep down inside you knew that the boring “I sound like your mother” safety talk was coming, didn’t you? Someone had to do it, and in this instance, it’s my job.

Take a photo or make a photocopy of all your important documents:

  • passport
  • visa(s), if applicable
  • bank/ credit cards
  • itinerary – including the names and addresses of your accommodation
  • travel and health insurance policy

Leave those copies with a trusted family member or friend, and a copy at your home in an obvious spot so that – in the event of an emergency – someone can find them, and then find you.

17. Write it down

Write down your hotel’s name and street address – or take their business card or piece of in-room notepaper – and take it with you when you head out. Don’t rely on your holiday brain or the battery life in your phone for the address you need to get back to. Also, if you’re anything like me, trying to remember numbers and pronounce unfamiliar street names to taxi or tuk tuk drivers in a different language is stressful, time-consuming, and not always entirely successful! If you’ve got your hotel address written down, you can hand it to your taxi driver and save yourself the pronunciation embarrassment!.

18. Upload

Upload all your travel photos to the cloud (I use Google Photos) every time you have the opportunity to do so. (Daily, if possible!) If you lose your phone or camera, you don’t want to lose all your awesome holiday photos and videos!

19. Stop and smell the roses

I know I just said to upload your photos frequently, so I fully support taking photos, but… Also remember to spend some time NOT taking photos.

When you’re at a spectacular view, put your phone/ camera away and spend a few minutes soaking in the scene. It’s possible that you might never return to that place. You might never see, hear, feel, touch,  or smell that scene again, so you need to make the most of it while you can. Zone out briefly and… smell the heady incense burning at the entrance to the temple. Savour the herbs and spices of the local delicacy. Thumb the rough-hewn fabrics that have been fashioned by hand for centuries. Look for symbolism in the little details on the traditional dancers’ costumes. Marvel at the expansive stretch of coastline that looks like it marches on forever. Feel the pull and sway of the crowd in the bustling bazaar.

Photos are fantastic, but there’s more to remembering your travels than visual cues and Insta-worthy content alone.

20. Send

Send yourself a postcard! It’s a great way to see some ‘professional’ pics, local stamps, and remind yourself when you get home what you were doing and how you were feeling while you were away. I find it a good way to get some souvenirs without carrying any extra weight or spending too much money.

Additionally, rather than carrying souvenirs with you all holiday, see if it’s affordable and/ or practical to post your souvenirs home to yourself. A gift for future-you! 🙂

21. Be kind

As awesome as it is, travelling can also be stressful. Throw into the mix a whole bunch of different people who each have their own ideas on cultural practices, queuing, mobile phone etiquette, personal space, and smoking – and things can get heated, quickly!

You never know what’s going on in someone else’s day or what cultural norms are for them, so wait a beat before you shirtfront anyone and take a deep breath instead. The view will still be there. You can get another seat on the train. You will eventually get served at the bar. 

I was living in Indonesia for half a dozen years before I started planning a trip to Finland, so I was used to no queues, sharp elbows, and zero personal space. In Finland, however, things turned 180 degrees! Suddenly a ‘crowded’ train carriage meant there was one other person already there (who glared at me for not moving to another carriage!)

22. Be Courteous

Keep in mind that you’re not living in your own little world – there are people (other travellers and locals) around you, and all are trying to do their thing while you’re doing your thing. My suggested DOs and DON’Ts for travellers:

  • DO be patient (see Be Kind above!).
  • DO offer to to give up your seat on public transport if somebody less able than you needs it. I loved seeing Portuguese youth behave so thoughtfully and respectfully towards older people on Lisbon’s metro recently!
  • DO offer to take a photo of a family or group so that everyone can be in their holiday pic.
  • DON’T have loud conversations (on speaker phone!) when others are trying to enjoy themselves. If you can’t take yourself off to a more private area, keep your conversation brief and quiet.
  • DON’T have an amateur photoshoot in front of the view that everyone else is trying to snap a picture of. Take your photo, and move on to let others take their photo. If you want to have the place to yourself, either book it out, or return at a less busy time. Your Insta content is no more important than anyone else’s – even if you’re wearing a yellow swishy dress.
  • DON’T put your feet on the seats – gross! Worse, don’t wedge your stinky bare feet between the aeroplane seats so that your toes touch my elbows (*PUKE*!). [Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. If it was you, I am not sorry that I “accidentally” elbowed your toes – twice!]
  • DON’T blow cigarette smoke or vape in other people’s faces. (I can’t believe that even needs to be said, but apparently it does.)
  • DON’T assume that if someone doesn’t speak your language, that they are hard of hearing. Increasing your volume will not help them to understand!

23. Be courageous

Travelling sometimes (often??) involves taking some measured risks. Generally speaking, I am a very risk-adverse person, but there is huge cultural value in immersing yourself in the local way of life. Try the local culinary specialty! Work out the metro or bus system rather than taking Ubers everywhere. Have a go at ordering a meal or buying a train ticket in the local language. Be bold! In my experience, the locals of an area really appreciate my efforts, and it’s easier to make a connection when we’re both laughing (at me, generally!!).

24. Local advice

Talk to the locals. It might be the cool receptionist at your hotel, or the smiling barista at the cafe on the corner, or the Uber driver delivering you from the train station. They can tell you where the ‘dodgy’ parts of town are, where to buy the best pastries, and what some of the local customs and traditions are.

The Husband and I recently spent some time in Valencia, Spain, and enjoyed going to the Central Market early each morning for coffee. A waitress at the cafe recognised us after a couple of days (I think she actually recognised – appreciated?? – our attempts at speaking Spanish), and gave us some inside info about the best spot from which to enjoy the local festival that was starting that day. What a gold mine of information! We’d read all the travel information we could lay our hands on beforehand, but nothing beats lived local advice.

25. Check in

While you’re away, regularly check in with someone at home to let them know where you are and that you’re OK. Maybe the same person (or people) that you left copies of your travel documents with? Someone who – if you don’t check in with them – will be responsible enough to try to contact you, and if they can’t reach you, will know where to start looking for you.

And that, my friends, brings us to the end! By now I hope you’ve done your homework, learned some new words, and are getting excited about seeing new horizons. Have a wonderful – and safe – trip, and please come back to let me know if there’s anything I’ve forgotten!

Bon voyage ~ Selamat jalan ~ Felices Vacaciones ~
Tanoshī kyūka o o sugoshi kudasai

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