In the past 30+ years of my life I’ve lived, worked and studied abroad. Undoubtedly, you can probably guess I enjoy traveling. Every opportunity I get I am off exploring a new place. To date I’ve been to over 35+ countries and wanted to share with you my best stress-free travel tips.
1. Do your research
I heard that groan. 🙂 Relax. I’m not asking you to write a paper on it. Instead look up the basics about the country you are going to. For me I like to get a general understanding of the entry/exit requirements, any travel advisories or security/health related information so that I have an idea about the travel risk of my destination. So check your government’s foreign affairs website for information.
Depending on your circumstance and the country you are visiting, you may want to register your travels with your embassy or consulate, so that they can better assist you in case of an emergency. Sometime I also Google common tourist scams in the country I’m visiting.
Once that’s done the fun research begins where you can Google your heart out about what to do, where to stay, where to eat etc. Generally I don’t go overboard with the research, I get an idea of what I want to do and talk to other tourists, concierge and locals when I get there.
2. Compare Flight Prices
Here’s what you need to know to find the cheapest flights:
a. Using an airfare search engine is the easiest. The ones I like using are Skyscanner and Google Flights. It allows you to search generally by region, month, year, and shows you the lowest price, by airline, routing for any given day of the calendar and can help you monitor airfares.
b. Generally the cheapest tickets are found midweek, or on early morning or red eye flights.
c. Many sources indicate the best time to book your travels is between 6-8 weeks out. Although I would even venture to say 4-10 weeks is a good window for non-budget airlines, as I’ve found the price to be about the same if you are not traveling during prime holiday/vacation season.
d. Sometimes it’s cheaper to book two separate legs for a long distance flight. Once you see the routing of the flights. You can check separately on the search engine to see if the cost would be cheaper if you booked separately. The only thing I would caution is if you do, and you choose different airlines and decide to check in your luggage, you will need to retrieve your luggage and check in again so be sure you give yourself ample of time in between.
e. Fly budget airlines. Wikipedia has a great list of them here. Personally, I don’t mind flying budget if it is a short haul flight or a direct flight that is less than 6 hours. Also, usually if you book at least two weeks out the price is about the same.
3. Ziploc bag
Why not grab an extra plastic bag at the securities counter at the airport. These are great to have handy when you encounter rain. You can put your your cell phone and important documents like your passport in it to give it some water protection.
4. Carry a shawl or a scarf
I always travel with a cozy lightweight shawl because it is so versatile. It’s great for when you are cold, for sun protection, for covering your legs if you are vising a mosque, for carrying stuff around.
5. Pack a small bag inside your full size bag
When I travel, I like to throw in an eco-friendly tote bag, small backpack or whatever makes sense for the type of travel I’m doing. I find Envirosax bags are great. They are waterproof lightweight polyester bags with fashionable designs and graphics and can be casually used during the day without attracting too much attention. Sometimes, I also throw in my large travel bag into my full size bag since it is light and doesn’t take up too much room in case I need to use it on the way back.
6. Back up digitally
Keep a digital copy of your passport, visas, credit card, insurance, and any other important documents and phone numbers to call in case of an emergency. You can email it to yourself and title the subject as something inconspicuous instead of Passport, Passwords and other Important information. Also leave a hard copy at home. While you are at it, call your credit card company to inform them of your travels so that they can take extra care and monitor the activities of your card.
Once my debit card was compromised and thousands of dollars were taken out of my account two months later after I left Bali. Luckily, my bank flagged it and was able to rectify the issue.
7. Pack light
When packing we often don’t need as much as we think we need when we travel.
But we like to pack it ‘just in case.’ The thing is if you were to forget something you can easily buy it wherever you are. Granted, it might not be exactly what you are looking for, or you may not be able to find your favorite brand of body lotion but it’s part of the experience of traveling. Improvise as needed.
8. Your purse, wallet, backpack should always be visible to you
This is a given but often when we are caught up with the sight and sounds of a new place our guard is down. Typically, it is important to be more attentive and have these items in front of you when you are visiting countries that is known for petty thefts and scams in tourist areas.
At restaurants, if I’ve got a small wallet or purse, I generally have it on my lap or would put it in my backpack/envirosax and put it underneath the table in front of me between my feet.
Generally though, I don’t carry all my money with me when I’m out. If I can, I stack some cash away at the place I’m staying. When I have it on me, I don’t carry all of it in my wallet. One of my favorite places to stash is to use an old lip balm that’s empty where I roll up the bills and put it in the little container.
Use your own spidey senses as to how vigilant you should be with your belongings.
9. Be open-minded, be spontaneous, and try new things
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage from an open mind. You don’t have to agree but be open to the possibility of having your perceptions and beliefs challenged.
Say yes to invitations from someone who is eager to show you around, or have you over for dinner. In my experience, most people are friendly and are excited to share with you their culture. But, trust your vibes and instincts. Use common sense.
As you experience new things and embrace the different possibilities, opportunities and the people you meet, you start to appreciate what you’ve got in your life and what the world has to offer. Both in the differences and also in the qualities we all share as human beings.
At the end of the day we all want to be happy, loved and stress-free, and feel like we have lived a full life. We just go about it in different ways and this is where the beauty and magic lie.
10. Observe and People Watch
This is an awesome way to get a feel for a place and to take in the customs, sights, sounds, smells and the interactions between people.
It is also a great way to minimize the chances of social awkwardness or to avoid breaking the law. More so the latter as when you are visiting a country, you are subject to their rules and regulations. This means you need to be aware and considerate of local practices and laws. And when in doubt, ask questions, it shows your curiosity and interest in the culture.
11. Relax and slow down
I used to be an intense traveler. My days were always fully packed with activities so that I could see everything. From the moment I got up, it was go, go, go. By the end of the day I was exhausted.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly understand when you first get to a new place, you want to pack as much into your day to take advantage of the place.
But if you have the luxury to extend your time to experience the sight and enjoy the down time to take your time to wander the streets and learn about things that are not in your guidebook, I’d recommend doing so. There’s something about connecting with the place from a non-urgent level. It makes the people you meet and seeing the country so much more enjoyable.
If you don’t have the time, then pick two or three must sees and activities that you want to do during your trip. This will give you a general itinerary and also the flexibility to go where the universe takes you.
Finally, traveling can test your patience. You learn fast that there are a lot of things that are out of your control. So don’t stress out and sweat the small stuff.
Instead of being angry and frustrated, remind yourself that things can be worse. Ask yourself how can I make the best out of this situation? What can I do now to enjoy where I am at? There is always a way.
Do you have your own stress-free tip? Please share!
Also by Theresa: 6 Things We All Love to Hear but Don’t Say Enough
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Photo: Joshua Earle via unsplash