As exciting as it is to day dream about your next trip, there are plenty of times when actually being on the road can feel like a chore. If you don’t know what you’re in for, you’re likely to end up paying too much for things, standing in long lines and generally feel worn down, overwhelmed or let down by the experience.
Fortunately, it only takes a little bit of effort and know-how to avoid the biggest, most common travel inconveniences.
Over the last few years (and tens of thousands of miles!) I’ve discovered a number of small tips, tricks and hacks that can make your trip much more exciting, rewarding and enjoyable.
1. Go for a Run Right After You Check In
Right after you check in and drop your bags off, go for a quick 1-2 mile jog around your new neighborhood. You don’t have to be a runner or in great shape to do it. Just throw on your comfy shoes and something you don’t mind sweating in.
This is probably my favorite travel tip since it offers a bunch of great benefits. It helps with getting your heart rate up to shake off the inevitable post-flight grogginess you’ll be feeling after you land.
It’s also a great way to quickly explore your new surroundings. Make note of any interesting-looking cafes, restaurants, clubs and other nearby attractions that you’ll want to checkout later.
It’s also a great chance to start doing some sightseeing. If you do 2 easy miles in 20-30 minutes, you’re covering the same distance that it might take over an hour or more to explore while walking. The goal isn’t to be setting world records or even going all that fast – feel free to stop and take pictures if you see something cool.
Plus, after a good sweat, you’ll be really ready to shower and clean up before settling into your new city.
2. Hydrate Like Crazy for 24 Hours Around Your Flight
Staying hydrated before, during and after the flight goes a long way keeping you alert and on the move, so you can make the most of your first day, instead of crashing at the hotel when you check in.
It’s also important for you post-check-in-run! Plus, having to get up to pee during long flights is a good excuse to stretch your legs and walk around.
Water bottles can take up a ton of space in your bag and can be a hassle to bring through security, but I love these durable roll-up bottle from Platypus. I got them for ultralight wilderness backpacking but they make a great travel bottle as well.
3. Rep a Hometown Team to Meet Other Travellers
If you’re looking for an easy way to break the ice with fellow travellers on your tour or staying in your hostel, be sure to bring a hat, t-shirt or something else that suggests where you’re from.
There’s something very comforting to most people about seeing another person in a foreign country who identifies as coming from the same part of the world as them.
Lots of people have struck up conversations with me because of the Cleveland Indians hat I’m always wearing. People can’t help asking if it’s where I’m from, if I saw the game last night, and if I know their friend who grew up there.
If you see someone else rocking gear from your hometown, be sure to say hi! 👋
4. Use Shazam to Identify Local Music
I always keep an ear out for music by local artists that I hear playing in cafes, taxis and on the radio. Often times it’s really catchy and gets stuck in my head for hours, even if I don’t know what they’re saying. There’s a potential “Gangnam Style” coming out of pretty much every country these days.
Even if it’s in a foreign language and you can’t simply google the lyrics, the Shazam mobile app is great way to identify local music. Once you get the track name and artist, you can usually find the song on YouTube or Spotify and start building a playlist.
Put it on when you get home after your trip and it’ll feel like you’ve been transported back. 🎶
5. Find a Local Version of a Hobby You Enjoy
Finding a meetup for a hobby you enjoy allows you to break out of the hospitality bubble and interact with locals in a much more personal way.
If you only interact with the people who work at shops, hotels and restaurants, you’re never really having authentic conversations with the locals. Employees in those situations are focused on making you feel good and enjoying yourself, they’re not necessarily giving you their honest selves.
Even if you don’t speak the local language, you can still communicate with other people through the activity. Show them your own techniques from back home, and try to pick up some local customs to bring back with you.
It’s a great tip for traveling, and it also gives ample opportunity to relate to fellow human beings who look and talk nothing like you.
When I was in Paris, I dropped into a local Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy for 2 classes. Even through the instructor didn’t speak any English (and I didn’t speak much French), I was still able to learn some techniques from watching and practicing. Plus some of the other students were excited to practice their English with me, and I got to learn a bit more French.
6. Take a "Preventative Pepto"
If you’re worried about adjusting to the local diet or generally have a sensitive stomach when you travel, many people recommend taking a daily pepto bismal tablet as a preventative measure:
This has been shown to reduce the risk of traveler’s diarrhea by up to 65 percent.
It’s definitely worth keeping a few in your bag to save you the hassle of an upset stomach.
7. Check In for Your Flight as Soon as the Airline Allows
It used to be that “checking in” for a flight meant that you were at the airport with your bags, ready to go. However, most airlines now allow you to check in online from anywhere, up to 24 hours before your flight.
If you didn’t explicitly choose your seats when you booked your tickets, most airlines automatically assign you a seat the moment you check in for the flight. This means that if you wait until you’re at the airport 2 hours before your flight, you’re likely to end up with the last seats at the very back of the plane.
You’re far from the wings and it takes forever to get off once you’ve landed. Instead, set a calendar reminder to check in as soon as you’re within 24 hours of your flight so you get the best options.
8. Choose Seats Over the Wings of the Plane
If you get a chance to choose your seats, try to sit as close to the wings as possible. This is the most stable part of the plane if it encounters any turbulent air, and it can make a huge difference if you’ll be flying by any storms en route.
It also means you’re not at the very back so you can get off decently fast once you’ve arrived at the gate. Plus, in the extremely unlikely event of a crash, you stand a pretty good chance of surviving the impact in the middle or rear of the aircraft.
9. Choose the Right Overhead Bin for Your Carry On
When boarding the plane, most people schlep their bags down the aisle until they reach their row, and then start looking for a place to put their bag. If the overhead bins are already decently full, it may be tempting to go further down towards the back of the plane where there’s more available room.
But if you do that, it means you’ll have to swim upstream to retrieve your bag at the end of the flight. You’ll have to make your way towards the back of the plane while everyone else is pushing forward to get off.
Instead, start looking for overhead bin storage 3-5 rows before your actual row. This way, you can deplane quickly in the same flow as everyone else, and simply reach up to grab your bag as you breeze by that row when you’re walking down the aisle.
10. Get a Ginger Ale as Your In-Flight Beverage
This one might come down to personal preference, but I’ve adopted a ginger ale as my go-to travel drink. Ginger is a natural cure for motion sickness which can go a long way to making you feel better on turbulent flights.
It’s also got a good amount of sugar so you don’t crash after a long day of travelling. Plus the fizziness makes it fun to drink!
11. Gamify & Track Your Wanderings
I’ve been using an app called Fog of World for several years now and I can’t imagine travelling without it. The premise is simple: the whole map of the world is covered in fog, but you clear the fog away as you explore new places.
It effectively leaves a bread crumb trail as you wander around and explore, so you can see where you’ve been, and what areas you still have to check out. You’ll end up exploring new side streets and neighborhoods instead of using the same main roads to get around.
Plus, it can also be helpful for retracing your steps if you want to go back and find a place you saw. Caution, it does burn your phone’s battery a bit faster while it’s recording your tracks and using the GPS, although it doesn’t use your service plan’s data.
12. Get Around Without Google Maps
While it’s obviously a bit more challenging, learning to get around in a city without modern technology can be quite fun. If you get lost, you get to have the classic tourist interaction of asking a local for directions.
But it also forces you to learn the layout of a city’s roads and public transportation much more thoroughly. Rather than having your head down, waiting for a digital assistant to tell you when to get off, following the signs and paying attention to the city forces you to keep your head up and lets you see a lot more as you go.
13. Game the Trip Advisor List
When trying to come up with a list of can’t miss activities in a new place, many people start by getting a travel guide or searching for “things to do in __” and going down the well-worn “most popular” attractions list.
These almost always end up being the most crowded and expensive places, and involve the most standing around in long lines. Unless there’s a particular attraction that really calls to you (like a specific museum) it’s best to use these lists for inspiration.
If everyone recommends going to a specific park, attraction, or show, see if there are other lesser-known ones that offer the same experience without the crowds, lines and sky-high prices.
Plus, with the more out-of-the-way places, you’re much more likely to be interacting with the locals going out for a good time, not a bunch of foreign tourists posing for selfies.
In Iceland, everyone recommended going to “The Blue Lagoon,” a giant hot tub that costs $60 per person. Instead, we found a local hot bath that was $8 per person and had no lines. We were some of the only foreigners there, and we got the same soaking experience as the locals.
14. Plan Your Own Tour by Stealing Someone Else's
If you want to drive around and explore an area to see the sights, do a bit of research to find local tour companies in the area. To sell their tours, they always list all of the great attractions that they’ll take you to along the way.
Make a note of the ones that sound interesting (and the ones you’d rather skip) and then rent a car and drive the route yourself!
Renting a car for a couple or small group is often cheaper than buying individual tour bus tickets. Plus, you have the freedom to do it on your own schedule. No need to sit on a big bus, stand in long lines with the rest of your tour group or wonder when the next bathroom stop is.
15. Find Something Happening While You're in Town
Aside from the most common things that tourists can do year-round, it’s also fun to find something that’s only going on for a few days while you’re there.
Maybe there’s an annual market or outdoor festival that overlaps with your trip. Maybe there’s a show or artist that you’ve always wanted to see that’s stopping in that city.
These sorts of things can be a bit trickier to find, but ask at your hotel, check local events calendars online and look up the schedules of any large venues you see on google maps to find out who is in town performing while you’re there.
16. Check for Tickets Online
Any time you find yourself standing in a long line waiting for tickets, it never hurts to pull out your phone and see if you can buy tickets for the attraction online. Most places have a separate line for ticket holders to enter that’s much shorter than the general public’s line.
Even if tickets weren’t available last time you checked the website, you may as well check again while you’re waiting. I’ve seen previously “sold out” time slots have tickets show up shortly before the time slot. Snagging those probably saved over an hour of standing in line with everyone else.
17. The View of Tall Attractions is Much Better Than the View from Them
A common theme to a lot of marquee tourist traps is paying to go up inside some tall, beautiful structure, like the CN Tower in Toronto or the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Unless the surrounding neighborhood is particularly scenic and beautiful, it’s probably not worth the the time and cost to get the views from the top.
If you do want a view, there are usually better options than paying to go up into the tourist traps. Try to find a tall hotel nearby with a rooftop bar or lounge instead.
18. Check the Country or City's Subreddit
Some people have a love-hate relationship with how much time they waste on reddit, but you can put your internet addiction to good use by browsing through the top content on a country or city’s subreddit.
Content on reddit is usually in English, so it’s easy to follow even if you don’t speak the language. Just plug the area’s name into the URL (like reddit.com/r/amsterdam) and you’ll see the most recent posts from the reddit community in that area.
Look at the top posts from all time on the subreddit to see what’s important, notable or amusing to locals. I discovered that New Zealanders have a running gag about gardens being illegal in the country, and it came up in conversation with some locals at a Kiwi wedding.
19. Check Wikipedia for Historical Context
One thing I really enjoy is spending a bit of time reading the Wikipedia page for the city. I always like knowing how long it has been around, to get a sense of how permanent it is and how many previous generations may have passed through.
You can also read about the economy to see whether your tourism is important to the locals, or whether they’re more focused on their own local industries.
You can also discover why certain neighborhoods are organized a certain way, or where they get their reputation from, to better understand the current traditions and customs.
20. Learn a Few Key Words in the Local Language
It may be impossible to become fluent in the local language of every place you travel to. However, I’ve found that there are 3 key phrases that I use the most often as a tourist:
- Thank You
- Excuse Me
- I’m Sorry
With these, you’ll come off as humble and appreciative when you inevitably have to struggle through a language barrier to ask for help.
You can find youtube videos of people teaching these common phrases for most languages. Practice once a day for 2-3 days before you arrive in the country and you should be fine.
What are you travel tips? Share any others you’ve picked up in the comments below!
PS: Be sure to share this list with your next travel buddy.