Written by: Shane
Travel's not all Instagram worthy sites and delicious meals. It's challenging, frustrating and fulfilling. If you're planning on taking a trip, these are a few small tips we wish we had known before we even started packing our bags:
1- Pack Less
When packing if you think 'I might need this'...leave it behind. You may use that item once but on a long trip you should be using every item in your bag weekly. Especially when it comes to clothing, basic items can be worn until they are falling off your body. Shirts, shorts, pants and underwear are easily replaced and you'll often find your self wanting to buy an item of clothing as a memory of an awesome place you have visited or activity you have done. Initially try and leave space in your bag because you'll always be picking up items along the way. Airlines and some bus lines can be very strict on luggage size and weight limits, so pack less and avoid the stress of a bag bursting at the seams.
2- Cook For Yourself
It's so tempting to eat every meal out and try as much local cuisine as you can. While we support this and had our fair share of restaurant visits, you have to pick your moments. Try to limit your eating out to 1 meal a day or even once every few days. Most hostels, casas and guesthouses will offer some sort of kitchen. Take advantage and cook large meals with plenty of leftovers that can last you a couple of days (rice and pasta go along way) . Pack lunches for day trips and refill your water bottles at your accommodation. This may seem like little savings at first but over the course of a year you can save hundreds of dollars that can be used on experiences. Visit local restaurants and eateries outside of the popular tourist hubs to avoid being over charged. We found not only was the food cheaper but most times much better.
3- Travel Smart
Travelling on overnight trains, buses and flights will save you money on accommodation whilst getting you to your destination while you sleep. It may not be the most comfortable night but its economical. Be aware of your belongings the entire time, try to keep valuables on your person or in a locked bag that is attached to you. Thieves can be very brazen and have been known to take laptops, phones and other valuables from bags overhead or at your feet. Side tip for flights: if you are travelling as a couple book two seats and leave a spare in the middle. Most of the time, people won't book seats to sit between you and if the do it's easy to swap and give them a window or isle so you can sit together.
4- Take A Day
Travelling and living out of a bag can be exhausting. Constantly on the move, packing and not to mention the odd night sleeping on a bus. So make sure you leave a day aside every now and again to do nothing!! Sleep late, watch Netflix, spend a day sorting photos or what ever it is that you find relaxing. Don't burn yourself out by being constantly on the move with no rest. A day spent somewhere amazing while not feeling 100% can really take away from the experience, so don't feel like a rest day is a waste of time.
5- Carry Spare Cash
Make sure you always have an easily exchangeable currency on hand, just in case. Whether your card gets lost, declined or ATM's aren't accessible, you should always have an emergency fund of a few hundred dollars. We recommend USD, as it is exchanged everywhere and will even be accepted as spendable currency in some countries. We found a lot of boarders have fees that aren't always mentioned and being stuck at a border with no money while being asked to pay a suspicious fee isn't fun.
6- Carry Backup Food
Always have some type of non perishable food with you. Just because your bus is scheduled for 4 hours doesn't mean that it might not take 8 or 10. Try and carry snack bars, crackers, peanut butter, nuts or anything you enjoy. Hungry traveling (especially as a couple) can lead to arguments over the littlest things...Gents keep her fed!
7- Have Your Own Toilet Tickets
Toilet paper can be a luxury in a lot of places. It can be hard enough to find a toilet at times but to find a toilet with paper is a travel unicorn. Always be looking out for number one when it comes to number 2's.
8- Put The Camera Down
Don't get us wrong, pictures are important and we recommend taking as many as you can. Heck over 12 months we took 30 000 of them BUT that doesn't mean you want your memory of a site to be worrying about the perfect picture. Put your camera down and just embrace the sites and sounds, sit and take it all in. Too often people leave somewhere and realise they spent the whole time looking down a lens.
9- Use Offline Maps & Translators
We used 'Maps.Me' for cities, towns and even hikes. Just pre-load an area when you have internet and then you're set. It's nice to have the back up of a map, even if you don't use it. Although lacking accuracy when it comes to driving and arrival time on some routes, the overall maps are generally correct to get you from point A to point B. You can also download offline maps using Google Maps, but we found these had less "hidden gems" in terms of attractions that users had added themselves in isolated places. Also, download the offline version of Google Translate for the languages most spoken where you are travelling. This will come in handy when your language skills just aren't cutting it and you need to communicate.
10- Don't Believe Everything You Hear
Chatting to fellow travellers is great for tips of things to see and places to go but take everything with a grain of salt. People will often only repeat negative things about a place that they have heard from others, and it seemed to us that negative reviews travelled much further than anything positive. And the positive reviews often end up being a list of things that everyone has seen and done, making it harder to experience something unique. The more you travel, the more you will need to search for the things that make a place truly unique. The "best beach in the world" that someone tells you about in one country might end up being a slight disappointment if you just came from a country where every beach was breathtaking. Ultimately do what interests you. The road less traveled is hit or miss, but it's always exciting.
11- Embrace The Differences
Just because it's different doesn't mean its wrong. It may seem dirty, backwards, unhygienic or strange but that's all a part of the experience. Don't expect everything to be the same standard as back home and be open and understanding that the quality might not be there. Eat the strange meat, sleep in a hammock, put your toilet paper in the bin instead of the bowl, kiss people hello and be open to everything that comes your way.