It’s now been 4 years since I sold everything and left the United States to travel the world. These are the best travel tips I’ve discovered along the way.
November marks 4 years since I took a one-way flight from Miami to Guatemala City, leaping nervously into the unknown and leaving much of my old life behind while embarking on an epic travel adventure around the world.
It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve learned a lot since then. To celebrate my 4 year “travelversary”, I’ve decided to share a collection of my best and most useful travel tips to help inspire you.
Feel free to share your best travel tips at the end!
1. Patience Is Important
Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. Life is much too short to be angry & annoyed all the time. Did you miss your bus? No worries, there will be another one. ATMs out of money? Great! Take an unplanned road trip over to the next town and explore. Sometimes freakouts happen regardless. Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that it could be worse.
2. Wake Up Early
Rise at sunrise to have the best attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds. It’s also a magical time for photos due to soft diffused light, and usually easier to interact with locals. Sketchy areas are less dangerous in the morning too. Honest hardworking people wake up early; touts, scammers, and criminals sleep in.
3. Laugh At Yourself
You will definitely look like a fool many times when traveling to new places. Rather than get embarrassed, laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to screw up, and don’t take life so seriously. Once a whole bus full of Guatemalans laughed with glee when I forced our driver to stop so I could urgently pee on the side of the road. Returning to the bus and laughing with them gave me new friends for the remainder of the journey.
4. Stash Extra Cash
Cash is king around the world. To cover your ass in an emergency, make sure to stash some in a few different places. I recommend at least a couple hundred dollars worth. If you lose your wallet, your card stops working, or the ATMs run out of money, you’ll be glad you did. Some of my favorite stash spots include socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, around the frame of a backpack, even sewn behind a patch on your bag.
5. Meet Local People
Make it a point to avoid other travelers from time to time and start conversations with local people. Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so it’s easier to communicate with them than you might think, especially when you combine hand gestures and body language. Learn from those who live in the country you’re visiting. People enrich your travels more than sights do.
6. Pack A Scarf
I happen to use a Shemagh, but sarongs work great too. This simple piece of cotton cloth is one of my most useful travel accessories with many different practical applications. It’s great for sun protection, a makeshift towel, carrying stuff around, an eye mask, and much more.
7. Observe Daily Life
If you really want to get a feel for the pulse of a place, I recommend spending a few hours sitting in a park or on a busy street corner by yourself just watching day to day life happen in front of you. Slow down your thoughts and pay close attention to the details around you. The smells, the colors, human interactions, and sounds. It’s a kind of meditation — and you’ll see stuff you never noticed before.
8. Back Everything Up
When my laptop computer was stolen in Panama, having most of my important documents and photos backed up saved my ass. Keep both digital and physical copies of your passport, visas, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, serial numbers, and important phone numbers ready to go in case of an emergency. Backup your files & photos on an external hard drive as well as online with software like Backblaze.
9. Take Lots Of Photos
You may only see these places & meet these people once in your lifetime. Remember them forever with plenty of photos. Don’t worry about looking like a “tourist”. Are you traveling to look cool? No one cares. Great photos are the ultimate souvenir. They don’t cost anything, they’re easy to share with others, and they don’t take up space in your luggage. Just remember once you have your shot to get out from behind the lens and enjoy the view.
10. There’s Always A Way
Nothing is impossible. If you are having trouble going somewhere or doing something, don’t give up. You just haven’t found the best solution or met the right person yet. Don’t listen to those who say it can’t be done. Perseverance pays off. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me what I want isn’t possible, only to prove them wrong later when I don’t listen to their advice and try anyway.
11. Smile & Say Hello
Having trouble interacting with locals? Do people seem unfriendly? Maybe it’s your body language. One of my best travel tips is to make eye contact and smile as you walk by. If they smile back, say hello in the local language too. This is a fast way to make new friends. You can’t expect everyone to just walk around with a big stupid grin on their face. That’s your job. Usually all it takes is for you to initiate contact and they’ll open up.
12. Splurge A Bit
I’m a huge fan of budget travel, as it lets you travel longer and actually experience more of the fascinating world we live in rather than waste money on stuff you don’t need. You can travel many places for $30 a day with no problems. That said, living on a shoestring gets old after a while. It’s nice (and healthy) to go over your budget occasionally. Book a few days at a nice hotel, eat out at a fancy restaurant, or spend a wild night on the town.
13. Keep An Open Mind
Don’t judge the lifestyles of others if different from your own. Listen to opinions you don’t agree with. It’s arrogant to assume your views are correct and other people are wrong. Practice empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Embrace different possibilities, opportunities, people, suggestions and interests. Ask questions. You may be surprised at what you’ll learn from each other.
14. Try Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing.org is a large online community of travelers who share their spare rooms or couches with strangers for free. If you truly want to experience a country and it’s people, staying with a local is the way to go. There are millions of couchsurfers around the world willing to host you and provide recommendations. It’s fun and safe too.
15. Volunteer Occasionally
Make it a point to volunteer some of your time for worthwhile projects when traveling. Not only is it a very rewarding experience, but you’ll often learn more about the country and its people while also making new friends. There’s a great site called Grassroots Volunteering where you can search for highly recommended volunteer opportunities around the world.
I was never the person who dreamed about going abroad. I never fantasized about developing a British accent or hopping on a plane for a weekend trip to Sweden. No, I was content with being a USC student basking in the 80-degree weather and eating lunch at the Campus Center nearly every day.
Therefore, when I was accepted to the London study abroad program for journalism, I was still a bit hesitant and uncertain if I was even going to take the opportunity to live across the pond for a semester. I had only been outside the country twice and had gotten a bad case of homesickness both times.
But an exhausting weekend trip outside of London showed me that living overseas is providing much-needed perspective in my life.
Like most study abroad students realize early on, higher education curriculum differs greatly from country to country. The British school system isn’t as homework-based as the American one. More emphasis is put on reading and final projects than weekly assessments. This difference has afforded my study abroad peers and I more opportunities to explore museums and markets, to complete our readings in historic buildings and libraries around the city and to take weekend trips to other countries.
So my friends and I spent this past weekend in Paris. It is a country so beautiful and rich with literary and artistic history and a reputation for love that when you’re there it’s difficult to imagine being anywhere else. We ate crepes and toured the Eiffel Tower and saw the Mona Lisa. Though it was not as warm as in Los Angeles, we walked along the Seine River, marveled at the padlock bridges and took in the melodic sounds of the French language. . . .
“You know that looking up at the tall buildings totally gives you away as a tourist, right?”
My father gave me this gem of traveling wisdom during my first trip to New York City. Even though I was almost 18, I still walked around with my neck craned to the sky, in awe of the towering buildings I had seen so many times in movies.
At least, I walked around like this until my father told me that I looked like a tourist. Then I quickly dropped my head, put away my camera and tried my best to keep my eyes on the ground like “real” New Yorkers apparently do.
Acting like a tourist is pretty much taboo in my family. We eat in sketchy dives that serve the best food in town and avoid any spot that attracts swarms of out-of-staters.
As someone who worked as a teenager in the Walt Disney World parks — a tourist town if there ever was one — my father is now the anti-tourist. Everywhere we travel, his ultimate goal is to play it cool and blend in with the locals, and I’ve adapted this same mentality even when I’m traveling alone.
Without a doubt, there are many advantages to acting like a local, such as discovering great yet unknown restaurants, or reducing the odds that you’ll be marked by a pickpocket as easy money.
In fact, one of the major reasons college students study abroad is to immerse themselves in a different culture and to learn to live life like the locals do. And of course, no one likes ignorant, obnoxious tourists, whether they’re traveling here in the U.S. or abroad (the “ugly American” stereotype exists for a reason).
But there’s a time and a place for everything, and sometimes, it’s all right to act like a tourist.
I realized this during the spring, when I took a road trip to Florida with my roommate, then turned around and flew to NYC again for a conference. When I got back from NYC, my father ironically asked me to send him photos of my trip, but all I had was a photo of a colossal sandwich from Carnegie’s Deli.
I immediately regretted that I had spent my trip pretending that visiting NYC was no big deal rather than making a record of my travels, and resolved to do better on my upcoming summer study abroad trip to Italy. . .. .
A record number of American college students are studying abroad – 282,000 according to the most recent data gathered by the Institute of International Education.
Educators say that’s good, since international education promotes critical relationship building and cross cultural understanding. But many in the field worry the influx of technology and social media may be hampering the ability of American students to fully immerse themselves abroad.
At Middlebury College’s annual study abroad fair, program administrators from all over the world recently touted their schools to travel hungry students.
Wairimu Ndirangu, has directed St. Lawrence University’s Kenya Program for 15 years. Like many in the field, she thinks students today are too plugged in to friends and family back home. “We talk about it all the time. It’s nice that students get connected and feel safe,” said Nkirangu. “But then on the other hand we feel like we’re losing quite a bit of the full student when they’re plugged to the other side.”
Barbara Hofer, a Psychology Professor at Middlebury College, believes it’s fairly new for people to be so connected while away. She’s currently researching the impact of technology on study abroad programs to provide more hard data on the subject. “It’s not just that they can email or text or make a phone call, they also have Skype; they have Face Time; they have Viber,” she said, plus all the social media.
Things don’t start to feel real until you drag your two empty suitcases into your bedroom and start to pack for your semester abroad. That’s when you realize your life for the next six months will have to weigh less than you do, in fact less than a small child.
There was a morning in late May, just a couple of weeks before I would have to re-pack those suitcases, when the heat of Seville woke me up earlier than usual. Even with the window wide open, as soon as the sun rises there’s no escaping the heat of this ancient Spanish port city. I sat up in bed listening to the sounds of the apartment building waking up, shades rattling open and mothers moving in kitchens. I thought about leaving this city, whether I was ready. Though it was hard to sleep with the noise from the neighbors and the street below, I was grateful for this, to wake up organically with the beginnings of other people’s days.
My six months in Spain were the most exciting, frightening, enlightening months of my life. I learned so much about another culture: what other people value, what makes them get out of bed, what makes them stay up so late. I learned what it’s like to live with a family I’m not related to, and how to explore a country with strangers who would become close friends. I learned how to read a city with my feet, walking through streets so narrow that the sidewalks, where they existed, were no wider than a foot.
There are terrifying moments, like when you walk into your apartment to find the place burglarized. But there are also the magical ones, like discovering, at 3 a.m., a tiny flamenco bar filled with both neighborhood regulars and those passing through. Where the guitarist plays your favorite song and the man as large as a tuba suddenly begins to sing in a stunning and melancholic voice. Being asked to dance. . . . .”
If you are interested in Studying Abroad or if you have Studied Abroad in the past, now might be a good time to look at how it can help expand your Résumé.
One of the simplest ways that you can use your Study Abroad experience in your Résumé is simply by listing it as part of your education. There are multiple ways you can benefit from this. First, if you are new to the career field, then your Résumé might be running a little thin on information; use the “Studying Abroad” experience as a filler/lengthener. Sounds silly/cheap, but everything counts in the job search. More importantly, if you list the foreign college that you studied under, it adds to the depth of your educational experience. It shows that you have studied under Professors coming from different backgrounds or ways of thought. It adds to the fact that you might bring in unique or different ideas to their work. For example, I have studied the Law in Civil Law nations and Common Law nations. That means that simply by stating that I studied in China and the United States, my interviewers can tell that I understand ways different people view the law and how it can be applied in alternative ways. It strengthens the fact that I stand out from the rest of their applicants.
One of the things you are going to need on both your Résumé and your Cover Letter are key terms, skills, and/or character traits. You will frequently be asked to name your strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Or perhaps you just need to show them what you can offer their team. If you Study Abroad, there are many helpful terms that can now be applied to you. Some of those you might use include: Continue reading