What’s the reason for these travel tips? March 22, 2008: a day my life changed forever.
After some very long flights (the longest in my life), I landed in Incheon, South Korea, to meet my boss and start a job teaching English in South Korea. Before this, I had been an accountant, a mattress salesperson, a newspaper delivery person, a part-time computer instructor, and a few other things…
It’s been 11 years since then. I’ve learned a few things about traveling.
Right at 5 years teaching English / living in South Korea, and now 6 years of life as a digital nomad. A lot has changed in that time — a lot that would take a long time to explain and type out. For now, I’m happy to share 11 traveling tips on my 11th traveling anniversary.
Know when to buy quality — and when not to
This took me more time than I’d like to admit, but it’s a pretty important thing. As one example, I got tired of buying a pair of cheap sandals that would barely last a month before something critical tore or broke. I justified it as a way to save money and keep luggage lighter — after all, once summer is over, I won’t need to carry them around any more, and I won’t feel guilty about throwing something cheap out. In the end, I spent a lot of time and money trying to locate durable-looking sandals in my size before buying a pair of Birkenstocks in Eastern Europe.
At the same time, not everything needs to be an ‘own it for life’ sort of purchase. It really comes down to how much you’ll use the thing as you travel and how long it needs to last. That cheap coffeemaker I bought to outfit the place we’re staying for three months? I consider that an investment to avoid drinking instant coffee.
Carry extra power cords
I hope this is obvious enough — whatever electronics you’re trying to power, the power cords are a pretty critical part of it. To that end, I have a backup laptop power cord, several USB power cords for my smartphone and table, a few different ways to connect USB cables to wall power.
Wait, can’t you just find USB power cords wherever you go? In an ideal world, yes, absolutely. In the real world? It’s sometimes hard to find the thing you need when you need it the most
Always carry pen and paper wherever you go
Whether you’re taking notes, writing down inspirations or ideas, or need to remember something, paper and pen have been in my pocket (and usually there’s a notebook in my manbag) for most of my adult life. Stationery stores have plenty of sizes available, but look for sketchbooks or paper that’s a little thicker (at least 100 gsm). It’ll stand up to more wear while traveling.
Local chain restaurants for the win!
I’ve asked some fellow travel bloggers to contribute to a post about chain restaurants around the world, but the main idea here is that they offer local dishes at competitive prices in lots of locations. They’re also more likely to have an English menu and be easy to order at. Sure, sometimes you want to carefully research a place. Other times you just want something easy and cheap.
Back up your photos
Backup and Sync from Google has been my solution for quite awhile now. So long as you’re OK with Google storing your files, you get free, unlimited storage of large (but not original-sized) versions of your photo. Even if Flickr hasn’t won any brownie points for reducing the amount of photos stored on free accounts, their Pro+ package at $50/year for unlimited storage is probably the most competitive price and service out there.
External hard drives are another part of the equation, since you never want to be too reliant on any one cloud service to store your photos. They’re also a lot faster in places with poor internet speeds.
Location really does matter
Whether staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, research the location and neighborhood a bit before booking. Google Street Maps is a great way to look at an area’s condition, and few areas have profoundly changed between their last update and now.
The balance here, of course, is being close to what matters to you (restaurants? Public transportation? The train station?) and the rest of the neighborhood.
Once you get back where you’re staying, start resetting
After a day of travel, it’s very tempting to just put the bags down, grab a drink, and slink into a chair to begin relaxing before you get distracted by something else. Resist that temptation, if only for 5 minutes. That’s long enough to:
- Plug in the smartphone
- Plug in the external battery / power pack
- Change and charge the camera’s battery (if you’re packing a DSLR / mirrorless camera)
- Connect the camera’s memory card to your computer and start downloading images
You can save editing photos for later. For now, these few steps ensure your phone’s charged for whatever happens next, your camera’s memory card won’t fill up, and so on.
Know how to improvise and adapt
If you ever go on a trip that goes exactly as you planned it, I’ll send you a cookie.
In 11 years, that has never happened. Buses don’t follow the routes that Google Maps has. You’ll get on the subway going the wrong way. A place you expected to be open will be closed, under maintenance, or has moved. Yeah, these things suck, but it’s nothing to get bent out of shape about. Try to remember the Serenity Prayer, and have a look at my version of it dedicated to digital nomads and travelers.
Put a copy of your passport in every bag
It’s easier to identify it if it gets separated, and in an emergency it helps to start identifying who you are.
Plan geographically, not thematically
When I say ‘plan geographically’, I mean ‘plan to see things that are physically close to each other’. It’s a lot easier to get the vibe of a region / area if you spend more of your time in it versus flitting about from one side of the city to the other.
Smell the roses (or the coffee)
It’s really hard for some folks to slow down. Like, seriously hard, especially if you’re used to being ‘on’ or working all the time. That’s perhaps my favorite reason to tell people to go walk around a garden, a park, or sit somewhere and just drink a coffee/tea in a cafe somewhere. Watch a sunset. Observe the world around you. Try to relax and slow down. Remember life is good.
Over to you
Travel tips welcome in the comments.