We’re continuing where we left off last week with some tips and tricks for people that want to learn how to travel more savvily, but don’t want to spend hours (weeks, years…) researching on Flyertalk or blogs (er… I mean, this one’s okay right?).
3) Stop shopping only on price. Find the right value for you
Generally with travel, like many industries, you get what you pay for.
Pro Tip: Sometimes the cheapest option isn’t the best idea.
Expect ridiculously early or late departures, long layovers and hidden fees on the cheapest tickets on the lowest cost carriers.
You don’t eat at McDonalds every time you go out, and that underwear at the dollar store might not be a good idea, so why are you shopping solely on price?
Also, with unbundling, yes the ticket price is often lower, but consider buying a la carte services that will make your trip go more smoothly.
Tall? Buy extra legroom.
Have an 8 hour layover? Consider buying a lounge pass.
Dreading that 14 hour flight? Spring for Wi-Fi early in the flight (though only if it’s unlimited, not one of the horrible 20mb for $20 plans)
Similarly with lodging, think about the added costs of getting around. $40 less per night at a hotel is negated if you have to take two $20 cab rides just to get wherever you’re going each day.
I don’t quite understand why people become overly focused on price while traveling, when I see these same people splurge at home. But the complaints I get from people who fly Ryanair or Spirit never seen to stop.
4) Have access to the internet while traveling
Pro Tip: I don’t care how you do it, but connect your god***n phone!
The number of complaints about tourist traps or getting lost is astounding. Check out this Tripadvisor thread of Rue De Bouchers in Belgium. Just get your phone unlocked (almost all carriers will do this now) and buy a SIM card at the airport or a grocery store. Save yourself endless requests for Wi-Fi passwords and coffees you don’t need. Check whether a restaurant is any good before blindly walking in at the behest of the very insistent “host” or “hostess” or the overly-friendly cab driver or concierge. Just get validation from two or more sources and you’re good.
Three (a UK telecom) offers a great SIM card that works nearly anywhere in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand that can be topped up with 1gb of data for £10. This can be quite handy so you’re not buying multiple SIM cards. If the UK is your first destination on a longer Europe trip, consider stopping in one of their stores and picking one up.
For reference, I usually go through 1gb every 2 weeks with normal usage (so don’t stream video/movies, play games that take a huge amount of bandwidth etc). Roughly 1 hour of phone calls via Skype or Google Voice will probably use about 100mb of data, so just avoid even worrying about buying minutes since it’ll just complicate the value prop. This site – http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com is the best crowd-sourced resource for the prepaid SIM card options (and activation/topping up) in every country.
If you have a Google-backed phone (like any Nexus or the Pixel), Project Fi is also a great option with a similar pricing model –$10/gb which just autocharges your credit card for each additional GB and works in 135 countries.
Most of the US carriers now offer international roaming plans that you can pre-purchase before you leave. Verizon costs $10/day and T-Mobile is free, but runs on much slower EDGE/2G networks that (we’re currently on 4G for those not paying attention). Save yourself the pain and plan ahead.
5) Don’t Overplan
Pro Tip: Stop moving around! Visit one or two destinations, not five!
A classic American mistake is to try to see 5 cities in 9 days on the one week of vacation they take per year. Try to show some restraint and visit one or maybe two destinations.
Resist the temptation to cram in as much as you can.
A) It’s way more expensive to hop around every two days. Really, those train tickets and Easyjet flights add up.
B) You’re not really going to get the feel of a city or make any friends who actually live there if you only spend time running from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, so you’ll like never come back and you’ve only seen the “It’s a small world” version of the country. Quite unrealistic.
Operate under the assumption that you can always come back to that part of the world (It’s only a plane ride away and fares are likely to only get cheaper as a relative cost to the rest of our spending). London and Prague will still be there in 10 years, so don’t feel pressure to visit them in addition to Amsterdam AND Rome.
Pro Tip: See only some of the sites. Assume that you can come back on another trip.
This holds especially true for activities within a city. Some people completely wear themselves out by criss-crossing the town trying to see every single sight. Sure, the museums are impressive, but do you have to see the ENTIRE Louvre?
Your travel companions may hate you by the end.
Especially for group travel, I follow the guideline “one group activity per day, everything else is optional” Go off and do your own things and meet up for dinner, or take a day trip to a castle and let people break off to nap or shop when you get back. That way you can regroup energized and eager to tell your stories or make recommendations to other subgroups (remember you’re all in the destination for at least a few days, right?)
6) Be Flexible and Be Yourself
Lastly, travel really rewards flexibility.
Pro Tip: Shoulder season is where it’s at.
Consider visiting during shoulder seasons when the weather is still nice and the prices are way cheaper.
I don’t understand why people are so uncompromising and insist on traveling during the peak summer season or right during the holidays, when prices are high and most airlines and hotels are at capacity.
Yes, it’s more disruptive to pull kids out of school, but it’s almost a given that they’re going to learn so much more from going to Thailand than the week they were going to spend at school. Similarly, yes you can get away with taking more time off during the holidays, but most people don’t use their vacation days fully anyway. Make the conscious choice to block out a week or two at a time when far fewer people are traveling.
You’re really setting yourself up for a substandard (and expensive) experience trekking around Rome in July or hitting Vail over New Years. If you’re unwilling to be flexible and take more control of your life and work schedule (which often means only having a minorly uncomfortable conversation with your boss or kid’s teacher or coach), you’ll likely condemning yourself to crummy vacations for the next 20 years.
Pro Tip: Do More of What You Like and Less of What You Don’t
Reflect on previous trips to figure out what you like and what you don’t.
For me, I like urban density (I get bored easily), but I dislike overly touristic centers and cities, so going to huge cities that don’t draw hoards of boorish tourists like Seoul, Mexico City and Sao Paulo really appeals to me. Hard Rock Cafe and Margaritaville need not apply.
A decent gay scene helps too (for fun but also safety), so I have less of a desire to go to the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa and more to secondary European and South American cities like Cologne, Gothenburg, Quito and Mar del Plata.
Pro Tip: Do what works for you
Similarly, think about what features have defined your best trips.
Was it access to nature? (San Francisco, Taipei)
Being on boats? (Thailand, Croatia)
A culinary scene where you could just wander and stumble upon great food and drinks? (Singapore, Buenos Aires)
Do more of those things and less of what you think is “expected” of you as a traveler. Make your own choices, don’t just live by the ones made for you.
I partly wrote this article to share with friends who want the zeitgeist for better travel, but I don’t want to make it go on forever. Should I continue with an additional installment? Let me know in the comments.
Do you have any tips that have helped you? Add them below too!