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20 Tips on Becoming a Better Traveler

20 Tips to Becoming a Better Traveler

  1. Remember that nothing is impossible. Ignore the naysayers and everyone who tells you it can’t be done, because IT CAN. If I’d have listened to all the naysayers in my life (friends and family included), I would never travel anywhere. Keep your eye on the prize. Perseverance is key and it’ll get you anywhere. Don’t give up.
  2. Chuck the itinerary, seriously, you don’t need it. That schedule that you made where every hour and minute of the day is filled up, just toss it. If you try to cram too many things into your trip, you’ll be exhausted and won’t enjoy any of it. Sure there are lots of things to see where you are going, but that’s why you make future plans to go back. If you learn to relax and enjoy the moment, you’ll appreciate it more. I mean, you’re on vacation right? Do you really want to see another schedule?
  3. Patience is a virtue. Missed your train? Missed your connecting flight? Don’t freak out, there will be others. Life is way too short to be sad and angry over little things.
  4. Don’t eat near tourist attractions. If you eat near a tourist attraction, you’ll most likely be paying more for your food than you should and it’ll be of lesser quality. Why? Restaurants near tourist attractions know that you won’t be able to tell the difference, so the food won’t taste as good as it should and they’ll charge you more for it. How do you avoid this? If you see “tourist menu,’ it’s probably best to move on. If the people working there don’t speak any English, you’re probably in the right place.
  5. Meet locals. You’re in a foreign country right? What better way is there to experience the culture of a place than to meet people who actually live and work there. You’ll also get in on the local secrets like the secret bread of Florence (yes, it does exist).
  6. Learn to smile and say hi. The simplest things make a world of difference. If you smile, people are more likely to come up to you and talk to you. When was the last time you spoke to someone who was grouchy? And learn how to say hi in the local language. Sure you won’t be fluent in the local language but learning how to say hi goes a long way. In Spain? “Hola!” In the Philippines? “Kumusta!”
  7. Say yes. You should still keep your wits about you, but if you meet someone and they invite you over to meet their family and have dinner, you should go! Why wouldn’t you? This is your chance for an authentic cultural experience, and the opportunity may never come up again. It could be a wedding or a festival or a road trip to the family vineyard in the countryside to try the special reserve wine. Just go. These are the things that make traveling worthwhile. Don’t pass them up.
  8. Try couchsurfing. It’s beyond amazing. I’ve been couchsurfing since 2009 and I
    Couchsurfing in Paris with my hosts Gaëlle and Gaël and their friend Christopher

    Couchsurfing in Paris with my hosts Gaëlle and Gaël and their friend Christopher

    can honestly say that my life wouldn’t be the same without it. Couchsurfing is a large community of people around the world willing to host you and get to know you. They’ll also give recommendations on where to go and where to eat, and if they have time, they’ll show you around. The best part? You’ll make life long friends and gain a better understanding of the world and its people. If you’re looking for an authentic travel experience, couchsurf.

  9. Learn to laugh at yourself. This applies to all aspects of life. You WILL make mistakes along the way, and that is OKAY. Just pick yourself up and move on. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  10. Eat the local food. A big part of experiencing another country’s culture is the food. Whether it’s chinicuiles in Mexico, balut in the Philippines, pasta nero in Italy or that extra smelly cheese in France, try it all. Just because it looks funny or smells weird doesn’t mean that it doesn’t taste good. Don’t knock it ’til you try it I say.
  11. Don’t be afraid. The world is full of scary things sure, but that doesn’t make it a scary place. Don’t believe everything you see in the media, it’s only ever one-sided. The world is a beautiful place and its people and cultures nothing short of awe-inspiring. More often than not, you’ll find that people around the world want to get to know you just as much as you want to get to know them. In the words of my favorite president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
  12. Be open-minded. Leave your prejudices, inhibitions, and misconceptions about the world where they belong…at home! It is absolutely paramount in my opinion. Don’t judge people just because they do things differently from you or speak in a language you don’t understand. You’re there for the experience, take it all in.
  13. Take photos, and take lots of them. It can be tempting to buy souvenirs everywhere you go, but keep in mind that they take up space and eventually start to get heavy. If you’re on a multi-week trip, your pack will be chock full of them. Do you really want to be hauling it around? Instead, take photos, and take lots of them. Photos are the best souvenirs because they weigh nothing and you can take as many as you want (at least as many as your memory card will hold). With photos, you can relive the experience, try doing that with a shot glass.
  14. People watch. Go to a cafe, grab a coffee and just sit outside. See how the locals live. It’s a good way to take in the culture and relax at the same time.
  15. Be respectful. This doesn’t mean that you can’t fun but just be mindful of where you are. If you’re going to visit a church or temple, dress appropriately. Guys, that means pants and a shirt, no shorts and a tank top. Ladies, don’t wear anything revealing.
  16. Be frugal. Your trip won’t be as fun if you’re always on a budget. Know when to save and know when to splurge a little. Don’t miss out on something just because you decided to walk ten miles instead of taking the bus for $2.
  17. Travel insurance. Don’t leave home without it. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of being robbed while abroad, you’ll know what I mean. It kinda sucks when you’re stuff is stolen, especially when it’s stuff like your camera, computer or even your passport. World Nomads is a good place to start.

    the ever iconic Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border

    the ever iconic Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border

  18. Wake up early (or stay up really late). Ever go to take a picture of a tourist attraction only to find that everyone is getting in the way? If so, wake up early. You can get a picture of an empty Piazza San Pietro or an almost empty Fontana di Trevi. The other alternative is to stay up really late and get some awesome night shots.
  19. Cash is king. You won’t always be able to debit and credit cards when you travel, so remember to always have some cash on you. This is especially important if you are traveling to less developed countries where ATMs are far and few between.
  20. Most importantly, DON’T WAIT. The only way to become a better traveler is to actually travel. Sadly most people that say they will travel, actually never do. It’s always one excuse or another. I don’t have enough money or life got in the way. The world is constantly changing and what might be there today may not be there tomorrow. Don’t miss out on it. Don’t wait.
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Solo travel and why you should do it at least once in your life

Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah - 6 July 2014

Canyon Overlook, Zion National Park, Utah, U.S.A. – 6 July 2014

“Hey man, have you booked your ticket to London yet?”

“Yeah, about that…I haven’t, I decided I’m not going to go.”

“What?! We’ve been planning for weeks, we’re supposed to take off in a month!”

“I just got too much goin’ on right now man, it’s just not the right time. We’ll go next time, I promise.”

I’m sure many of us have experienced this before, it’s nothing new. You and your friend (or friends) come up with this amazing trip idea, maybe to Europe or Southeast Asia, to celebrate a major life milestone, a college graduation or maybe an engagement. You spend weeks planning where to go, what to do, where to stay, what to eat. Adrenaline is coursing through your body. Excitement and anxiousness become all too familiar feelings, you’re ready to board that plane and leave the world you know behind. It’s down to the wire and your friend…BAILS ON YOU. They give you some lame excuse along the lines of, “Something came up,” or “I’m just too busy,” or even more simply, “I don’t feel like going anymore.” You freak out, you don’t know what to do. You can’t find anyone who wants to take the place of that (said) friend. Have all those weeks of planning been for nothing? Rest assured, all is not lost. You CAN still go on your trip. And you don’t need your friend to come along to enjoy it.

If I’d have waited all those times for my friends to come along, I would have never gone anywhere. I wouldn’t have backpacked my way through Europe and I definitely would not have made it to Africa. Lesson #1, if you wait for others, you’ll never go anywhere.  There are so many places in this world to go and only so much time to experience it all. My bucketlist is miles long and I don’t have time to wait around and have people tell me that they’re finally ready. If I want to go somewhere, I’M GOING.

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Elliot

I refuse to wait for others. This is my dream and I won’t let anyone stand in the way of me achieving it. If you’ve been putting off your dreams of traveling because you’re waiting on others, here’s my advice to you: JUST GO. Don’t let anyone hold you back. Let the wind fill your sails and just go wherever it’ll take you. Traveling by yourself can be just as if not more exciting as traveling with friends. And once you start, you’ll never stop.

I’m not the first to say this, but solo travel can be scary. It forces you to step out of your box and out of your comfort zone. Solo travel forces you to live, I mean really LIVE. There’s no safety net to fall on if you fail. You’ll experience the ups and downs of travel. Some days will be so amazing that you’ll think that if you were to die right then and there, you’d die happy. And some days will just be down right shitty. You might miss the train from Geneva to Brig because the plane that was supposed to get you to Geneva four hours before the train departed actually got you there thirty minutes beforehand. You might have to wander all around the city at night to find a place to sleep because the last available bed in the hostel you wanted to stay at suddenly became unavailable. And as luck might have it, there’s a convention in town, so guess what? There are no beds available, ANYWHERE. Your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In my opinion, everything that makes solo travel scary is also everything that makes it exciting. You’ll have experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have had if you had just stayed at home. You’ll meet people that you never in a million years thought you’d meet. And you know what’ll happen? You’ll get along! And you’ll talk for hours about anything and everything as you sip on wine in the Tuscan countryside or over beer in some hole in the wall bar in Seattle. So is it worth it? You bet your ass it is.

Skydiving in Seattle with my friend Devin, he's a few hundred feet below me. Skydive Snohomish, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. - 1 Sept 2013

Skydiving in Seattle with my friend Devin, he’s a few hundred feet below me. Skydive Snohomish, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. – 1 Sept 2013

When you travel solo, you’re on your time. You don’t need to abide by anyone’s schedule but your own, which in reality will be non-existent. You don’t need to check-in with anyone You don’t need to ask anyone if they’re okay with eating at some place or doing something that you’re interested in. No consensus needed when you travel solo; you can do whatever you want to do when you want to do it. You want to go bungee jumping? Do it. Skydiving perhaps? By all means, go for it! I did it. Maybe you want to get a taste for chapulines or chinicuiles in Mexico City or try that deep fried tarantula in Cambodia? Well you can. No one is going to tell you no, and no one is going to keep you from doing so.

When you travel solo, you don’t need to worry about actually being alone the whole time. It’s quite easy to make friends. Just learn how to say hi and talk about something interesting. This is actually my favorite part of the whole solo travel experience, meeting people, new people, and being immersed in a culture previously unknown to you.  I enjoy hearing about other people’s life experiences, their hopes and dreams for the future, and what they enjoy doing in their spare time.

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” – Life Motto from the Secret Life of Water Mitty (2013)

I mean, that’s really what it’s all about in the end isn’t it? To break down barriers and get a better understanding of each other.

So if you’re still thinking about solo travel. Stop. Just do it. Go explore the world on your own, it might just surprise you. If in the end, you find that it’s not for you…then oh well. At least you can say you did it and cross it off your bucketlist. No one can take that away from you. Just book your ticket, grab your backpack, and leave any inhibitions, misconceptions, and prejudices you may have at home, and travel.

*This post is dedicated to my friends Devin Ballif, Chuck Jackson, Gaëlle Munsch, Gaël Payet, Nicola Argirò, Nic Svetman, Lena Adams, Quinn Radway, and Lalo Téllez. Traveling wouldn’t be the same without you guys.

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Money and avoiding fees while traveling abroad

So you’ve booked your ticket to your next destination…you’re stoked… excited… anxious, you’re ready to go. Then you ask yourself, what should I do about money? Should I bring cash? Should I exchange money? Maybe I should just use credit cards, will I be charged a foreign transaction fee? Can I withdraw money from an ATM abroad?

What should I do about money?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but this is what I do. Personally, I don’t like carrying cash. It’s harder to replace cash than a debit card if it gets lost or stolen. If I need some cash, I’ll withdraw it from an ATM. However, there are some instances where you won’t be able to use your debit or credit card, so you’ll need to bring cash and exchange it for the local currency. Be wary of withdrawing money from an ATM abroad as you may be charged a foreign transaction fee and additional fees for using ATMs outside of your bank’s network. Foreign transaction fees typically run 3% which may not seem like much, but it adds up; and it’ll add up quickly.

For debit card usage, it’s best to call your bank before you depart for your trip and ask them which banks and ATMs you can go to free of charge. Let them know which countries you’ll be traveling to and they’ll provide you with banks that you can use (if they’re available). If you bank with Bank of America, you’ll be able to use Barclay’s Bank in the United Kingdom, any bank associated with BNP Paribas on mainland Europe, Banco Santander in Mexico, and Scotiabank if you happen to be in Canada. The same goes for credit card usage, you’ll be charged a 3% foreign transaction fee unless you have a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.

Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card

Schwab Visa Platinum Debit Card

When I travel abroad, the only debit card I carry is my Visa Platinum Debit Card from my High Yield Investor Checking Account from Charles Schwab Bank. Here’s what I like about it:

  • No ATM fees. You will not be charged a fee for using your debit card at an ATM
  • ATM Rebates. If the ATM you use charges you a separate fee, Schwab will refund you this amount at the end of the month. If at the end of the month, you find that you were charged an ATM fee and Schwab hasn’t refunded you, just call them up and let them know.
  • This account is interest earning. The interest rate isn’t much, but any little bit helps, right?
  • No account minimum. Enough said.
  • No monthly maintenance fee.
  • Free checks and deposit slips.
  • Great customer service. If your card is ever lost or stolen while at home or abroad, Schwab will promptly send you a new debit card free of charge. They’ll also accept charges for collect calls if you’re calling from abroad.

I love this card. Sometimes I think it’s the only debit card I’ll ever need. Chuck has your back, you’ll never pay any fees with Chuck. The debit card also a world map on it, it’s perfect for travelers. If you don’t have the High Yield Investor Checking Account from Schwab, you can go here to apply.

I carry three credit cards with me when I travel, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, AAdvantage Aviator Red Card from Barclay’s, and my BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card from Bank of America. These cards all have their added benefits but the most important thing is that they have no foreign transaction fees! Foreign transaction fees add up and can get pricey. There are plenty of credit cards out there that offer no foreign transaction fees but these are my favorite. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and AAdvantage Aviator Red Cards both have annual fees, but there are ways to get around this, you just need to be creative!

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