GoAbroad started in 1997. After twenty years in the biz of making travel meaningful, we’ve picked up a thing or two about how to make travel great and what the best travel tips are. From flight bookings to returning home, we’ve seen it all, and now we’re here to share our insights to help make YOUR next adventure awesome (we’ll even help you pay for it with our latest travel scholarships).
Of course, travel isn’t always smooth sailing — there will be bumps, bruises, missed connections, and unexpected 12 hour bus rides when you’re stuck in traffic. Whoever said (or made you believe with their Instagram posts) that travel is glamorous clearly is not a real traveler… ;-)
With over hundreds of years of collective travel experience amongst our team, we put our heads together to give you 20 pipin’ hot pieces of the best travel tips.
1. When you go with a program, push the envelope a little bit.
If you are going to have an amazing support system while you travel, we recommend going to more far-flung or off-the-beaten-path locations. Why? Because the information about and experiences within well-traveled countries, like Western Europe, are easy to come by and well-established. But those unique and crazy experiences — like hanging off the edge of Victoria Falls or getting to live with a Chinese family in a homestay for three months — are much harder to coordinate as an independent traveler.
2. Ditch a suitcase for a backpack.
Suitcases totally cramp your style. Since we’re suckers for mobility (and maximizing our ability to see as much as possible, on foot, while we explore a new place), we suggest you leave your suitcase with Mom and Dad and adopt the super cool, grungy backpacker look instead. Regardless if you’re more of an Osprey pack or Tortuga trailblazer, there’s a backpack out there that meets both your utility and stylistic needs.
3. Don’t splurge your money on where you stay.
You’re young, you’re adventurous, you’re eager to experience the world. Who cares if your bed has 5000 count linen sheets or is one you have to make yourself on the top bunk of the hostel. Save your money to pay for extra helpings of spaghetti or a ticket into the Haggia Sofia instead of on a hotel or Airbnb that racks up the cost of your trip.
4. Boys are always the hardest to buy gifts for.
Whether your dad, partner, or brother, we recommend bringing them the kinds of souvenirs that are edible. They always love a good snack.
5. Use Instagram to research fun places to go.
All it takes is a couple of searches in the “Places” and “Tags” to find actual photos taken by people experiencing your dream destinations now. Using Instagram can be a great way to find unique places or specific cafes that make your heart go “double tap.” With their new save functionality, you can even create an entire secret album of “must stop locations.” Awesome!
6. Adjustable airplane headrests can be a lifesaver.
If you’ve been stuck with the dreaded middle seat on a longhaul flight, don’t fall into despair just yet. We love when airplanes are equipped with adjustable headrests, making your snoozes to the left AND the right a more comfortable experience (we didn’t say comfortable, but we did say more comfortable). :-)
[READ MORE: 26 Tips for Better Air Travel]
7. Maximize your layovers.
If you’re a savvy flight booker, you can quickly see where your suggested stopovers are from point A to be point C via point B. The secret is to book individual flight legs between points A and B and then B and C. In this way, you call the shots on your layover adventures (sometimes a couple hours will do, sometimes a whole night is fun!). This is an especially fun tactic if you go light and only pack a carry on.
8. Pack socks for the flight.
The cozier the better.
9. Anticipate conservative dress in most countries.
Unless you are visiting a country where you are absolutely confident that the locals dress casually and often show skin, place your bets on dressing more conservatively during your travels. Look at this less as an inconvenience and more as a way to go deeper and learn even more about the local culture. Relieve yourself of temptation by leaving your tank tops, belly shirts, short shorts, and yoga pants back home.
10. Everyone you meet and every experience you have has something to teach you.
Traveling makes you hyper-aware of your surroundings, allowing you to tune in to the subtleties and nuances that seem to escape us in our everyday lives. Look around you. Your surroundings, the food, the historic sights, the environment — and most importantly the people — have something new to show you about the world.
11. Try to use your smartphone as a tool, rather than a crutch or an escape.
Some of the best travel adventures happen in-between place to place, when you’re not quite sure where you’re going and could use some pointers from one of the locals. Instead of consulting Google, tap into the knowledge of the people around you. Your smartphone is an incredible asset for travel, but only if you use it for support rather than as a lifeline.
12. But seriously, use your smartphone wisely.
Look around you rather than idly down. Use your hand to extend friendship rather than scroll through feeds. Be present rather than cling to the life you left behind. The internet has been a total game changer for travel and connectivity to loved ones, but let’s face it. Sitting around and dinking on the web, watching Netflix on end, snooping on exes, and all of the other ways we waste our time holed up in our smartphone can (and should) be paused until further notice.
13. Pack an extra outfit (or two) in your carry on.
Lest you be damned to wear the same airplane outfit for days on end should your bags get lost en route.
14. Don’t overplan your itinerary or schedule too many activities.
It can be tempting to stuff every waking minute with experiences and activities, but take a word of advice from a chronic over planner: you’ll want to leave a day where you don’t have anything to do. Or a spare afternoon, morning, or evening. Trust us, you’ll find plenty along the way to fill it up with along the way, or you can use the time for some much needed rest and relaxation.
[READ MORE: How to Plan Less & Experience More]
15. Reflection is an imperative part of the travel process.
This is best done back home at the end of your epic adventure, or on those long bus rides while on the ground. Bonus points if you keep a journal to document all of your experiences, feelings, emotions. Think hard about how you are going to connect your travels to your everyday life, new insights on your strengths and skills, what your culture means to you, what a global citizen is and why it is important? How can the people in this country have so little and be so happy? Are the people in this well-off country happier? What does a life you’re proud of look like?
Take some time to hunker down and dig deep into your why, your purpose, your vocation. Travel has a funny way of bringing lots of clarity to these sorts of lofty questions...
16. Leave public reviews online for your favorite places.
Support the people, companies, businesses, and organizations that you fall in love with as you travel by showing them some love via reviews. One of the easiest and most appreciated forms of gratitude you can give is a public acknowledgment of the good work they do. It will bring them future business and help them continue to grow.
17. Homesickness and FOMO are temporary feelings.
Leaving your community of loved ones back home takes guts. Despite all of the fun and adventure travel brings, it doesn’t necessarily wipe away feelings of missing out or wanting to just be in your own bed. These feelings are perfectly normal and come hand in hand with wrestling culture shock. On the bright side, you’re tougher than you think, and you’ll come out on the other end of your sad phase stronger than ever. Hang in there and don’t quit too soon.
[READ MORE: How to Avoid Feeling Homesick]
18. Stay for longer.
Less isn’t more when it comes to traveling. Well, maybe when we’re talking about packing, but certainly not when we’re talking about how long you should go. Take as much time as you can when you’re planning a trip to a new country. A few weeks will award you more insights than a few days, a few months more than a few weeks, and so on. Volunteering, teaching, and studying abroad are great avenues toward spending more time in a host country. It’s one of our favorite things about programs rather than independent travel.
19. Push yourself.
Use the foreign language when you can, sit through those uncomfortable silences with your host families, keep the smartphone tucked away. Consciously push yourself in your travels, as your situation is entirely unique and not an experience you’ll be able to have forever. Take advantage of the learning potential from your trip. Actively stretch your comfort zone, even when it’s hard (actually, especially when it’s hard).
20. You owe it to the people you meet to share their stories, their lives, their cultures when you come back.
Traveling abroad makes you an ambassador. There’s more to Mexico than pristine beaches, ancient empires, or drug mules. There’s more to Australia than scorpions, a big rock, and people in khakis. Find out what happens in their day to day lives, the good, the bad, the ugly. Then tell your friends and family back home about it (via your blog or real life conversations). Give them a real picture of life in this country, rather than just the postcard perfect moments.
To celebrate 20 years of travel with GoAbroad, we’re giving away 20 travel scholarships!
Apply for one of our twenty travel scholarships by July 28, 2017. Any individual planning to travel in 2017-2018 is eligible to win.