"Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy." ~ KushandWisdom.Tumblr
Most of us aren't born intelligent travelers. This kind of skill only comes with hands-on experience. Travelling encompasses life lessons and plenty of mistakes & misconceptions. Travel expertise is birthed from a series of missed flights, forgotten passports, stolen money, foolish behavior, cultural ignorance, and multiple little mishaps. Then one day, you effortlessly glide through airports, conversate with locals, spot shady individuals and engage with diverse cultures like an eagle to air.
We want to help you on your travel journey by giving you a few tips to help you avoid our mistakes ( and we still make plenty of them). As we learn, we grow, and if we come across important info that may help you, we will list it here. Please check our website frequently as we update often.
Google Maps To Navigate Cities
I cannot tell you how many hours of time and stress this has saved us over the years. Did you know that Google Maps works offline, even when your phone is in Airplane mode?
All you have to do is make sure to load a city in Google Maps BEFORE getting off the plane (or leaving your hotel) — and the little blue GPS dot will follow you around as you wander the city.
This is especially helpful when you’re in a foreign taxi, so you can make sure to see exactly where the driver is taking you.
For Booking Flights, Use Google Flights & Skyscanner
There are many flight search engines these days; It can be tedious to figure out which ones are best. We can tell you from first-hand experience that Google Flights, Skyscanner & Expedia are the most reliable and cheapest search engines out there. Google Flights makes easy to compare flight prices across various dates in a month, and Skyscanner is one of the most visible online booking engines, winning numerous awards, including an award for being the Best Flight Comparison Site in 2010, from Travolution. If you’re flexible, you can choose to search the whole month rather than an exact date. We use this method often, as you can view the best prices for each day of the month. This has saved us hundreds on flight prices. Expedia has a great booking experience online. It’s very user-friendly, comes with tons of filters for price, location, etc. Also, you can use points earned to gain discounts on flights, hotels, vacations packages, etc. Also, you can almost always find a subcategory for an attraction, monument, market square, etc. Searching for flights is just as easy, and there’s an option for filtering class fares and even multi-city stops.
More tips when buying flights:
– Delete your browser’s cookies before buying an airline ticket, because the prices usually go up when you visit multiple travel sites.
– Wait until midnight to book your flight because there will be more of an inventory and better rates because many seats are put on a 24 hour hold.
– Book flights in an “Incognito Window” of Google Chrome, so there are no cookies
NOTE: Travel alerts. It’s a good idea to check the State Department’s travel warnings and alerts prior to traveling. It’s also smart to print out the address and contact information of the local embassy.
AAA IDP (International Driving Permit)
Your International Driving Permit is a valid form of identification in 150 countries worldwide and contains your name, photo and driver information. It translates your identification information into 10 languages — so it speaks the language even if you don't. Most countries highly recommend an International Driving Permit. AAA is one of only two private entities in the U.S. authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue an International Driving Permit and it only costs $20 bucks!
For Accommodations, Use Air Bnb/ VRBO/ Booking.com/ Expedia.com
HomeStays such as Air Bnb & VRBO is best when you are traveling with another person, or a group of people, otherwise it can be a bit expensive. It’s great to stay in a local apartment because it gives us a sense of “home” and makes us feel like a local!
Booking.com & Expedia is our go-to place for booking hotels, as it has hundreds of thousands of properties worldwide. We prefer them to the others because the prices are slightly lower than the rest, and you don’t always need to give your credit card (you can pay when you arrive!)
WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms
Help out and learn organic growing in exchange for free bed and food. WWOOF i s a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. It is a hospitality service operated by a loose network of national organizations that facilitate homestays on organic farms. Check them out here.
Use Uber Whenever Possible
As we write this, Uber is active in 76 countries, and we highly recommend using it whenever you can.
The 2 main reasons why you should use Uber is because it’s cheaper and safer than standard taxis. Inside of the app, you have all the information of the driver and you are protected by the company should anything go wrong.
Always Use ATM’s to Pull Out Local Currency
When dealing with getting local currency, it’s best to pull out of an ATM with your debit card at the airport.
The reason being that ATMs always have the most up-to-date exchange rate, and they cannot rip you off. Most banks do charge a fee for international ATM withdraws, your best bet is to switch over to Schwab Bank because they reimburse for all foreign ATM fees. If you aren’t from the U.S. (Schwab is only accessible for Americans), then do a quick Google Search for banks in your country that waive foreign ATM fees. Click here for the best international banks for travel.
Try to avoid “Money Exchange” desks if possible, because they always take a commission (even if it says “no fee”). Obviously, if there are no ATMs around or you lost your debit card, then exchanging cash at an exchange desk is your only option.
Also, you should always find out what the exchange rate is before you land in a given country, so you can figure out how much cash to take out (assuming there is no wifi in the airport).
Learn Languages & Youtube Videos
Before we visit any country, our goal is to take the time to learn popular words/phrases to communicate. You can learn a lot of common words & phrases by watching Youtube Videos. You will be surprised by how much you can learn in a short period. If you want to get more serious, then watch movies online in the language you are trying to learn, with English subtitles. Additionally, Duolingo is another great learning app, which offers fun and addictive games to master multiple foreign languages. Duolingo currently offers 28 languages, one being Swahili.
Find Free Wifi in Hotels, Restaurants & Coffee Shops
If you can't afford an Internet cafe, then you can find free wifi in pretty much every hotel, coffee shop & fast food restaurants (among many other places). While in Ghana, we usually go to Vodafone which provides world-class high-speed internet services at the cost of approximately GH¢2.5 per an hour, guaranteeing customers value for their money.
Another tip: (This tip was given to us by a seasoned traveler) For specific hotels and airports that charge for their wifi, add “?.jpg” at the end of any URL to bypass the expensive fee and use the internet for free. We didn't have a chance to try this. Let us know if this works for you.
Teaching English Internationally
Teaching English internationally offers unique life experiences. You can make some of the best income teaching English in Asian countries. This does not have to be a permanent solution, but many folks have used this method to stack up some serious dough. People can make $30K + per year, including free housing and four weeks paid vacation.
In order to qualify to teach English (in most countries), you need to hold a passport from an English speaking country, have a bachelors degree from a University, and obtain your TEFL certification that proves your fluency in English. From what we know of, there are some South America Institutions which do NOT require a degree. We recommend doing a bit of digging on your own.
International English Teaching Job Directory (www.eslcafe.com)
Tripit is the Best Travel Planning App
Tripit is an all-in-one phone application that organizes your travel plans in one convenient place. Whenever you book a flight or hotel, the booking information will automatically transfer to Tripit. They even send you real-time alerts if your plane is changing gates or departing late.
Tripit is the best travel app on the market, and it’s the only app we use and trust. We cannot tell you how many hours of time and stress that Tripit has saved me over the last year. Whenever we have an upcoming flight, we no longer have to dig through emails to find the confirmations – all we have to do is open Tripit, and 2 seconds later, we find out all the info that we need.
When in a foreign country, we recommend going to the doctor only when necessary. Make sure before traveling to get a checkup, so you know what medicine, vitamins, etc. you may need prior to travel. Though our family does not take medicine regularly, we still pack emergency medications which can protect us from fever, cold, sore throat, diarrhea, allergies, cuts, etc. Don't forget to get yourself an emergency first aid kit. It will come in handy.
Backup Chargers and Electronics
Be prepared in case your phone charger or headphones stop working. Always travel with backup gear. We carry a waterproof electronic carrying case, to keep all of our items safe and organized. This is an excellent case with a waterproof finish, but I wouldn't submerge this in water as the zipper doesn't seem to protect water from getting in. You can also add a double layer of protection by placing the case in a large zip-lock bag. This case comfortably carries and organizes chargers, batteries, and any other electronic equipment that we need.
Use "First Row Sports" to Stream Any Live Sports Game Online
First Row Sports is an excellent option for any traveler who is a huge sports fan! The website is technically illegal, and therefore a bit sketchy, but we have never had any issues using it.
You can stream LIVE any sporting event that’s happening around the world — baseball, hockey, water polo, football, archery, you name it!
The website URL frequently changes, so you have to do a Google Search for “First Row Sports,” and you will find the most up-to-date link.
Passport Health & Yellow Fever
As a family, we made the choice to NOT vaccinate our children. Unfortunately, traveling to West Africa requires the Yellow Fever vaccination. Luckily, Passport Health gives travelers, a stamp of approval on their yellow fever document if you claim to have an "egg allergy" or any other sensitivity to the ingredients contained in the vaccine (which most humans do). We stated each person in our family has an allergy to the elements in the vaccine (no medical proof required). Passport Health will give you plenty of additional materials and other therapeutic options to protect yourself while overseas, such as ointments, pills, etc. This has worked for us during our travels. As a word of caution, we are not sure how this exempt card will be received when traveling to various countries, but it's better to have it in your possession instead of having nothing at all.
Always Carry At Least $500 USD With you in Cash
It’s a good idea to stash USD in several different parts of your bags, just in case your wallet gets lost or stolen. Remember that U.S. Cash is the King of currencies, as it is recognized in pretty much every country on earth. If your ATM debit card isn’t working, then you have the cash to exchange in the meantime. It’s also a good idea to have USD for any bribes that you may come across.
Also, make sure the bills are crisp with no rips or marks on them. Most countries won’t accept bills that aren’t perfect.
Smile & Say Hello
This may sound silly and a little obvious, but we’ve made many friends over the years by being friendly and smiling. It also makes us feel more comfortable when the locals have a good impression of us.
Even though 99% of the people we’ve met abroad are kind and welcoming, you never know what kind of situation you will get in. The more positivity you spread to the people, the better chances you will be safe.
For the true wanderer and travel nomad who desires to be immersed in local living, Couchsurfing is a travel community with millions of members around the world, and is the best way to experience any city like a local. We currently live in Ghana where there is over 3,781 hosts in Accra. Couchsurfing allows you to to discover unique places to stay, and locals to stay with. Use Couchsurfing to find accommodations, meetup with locals and travelers, and more. Of course, take every precaution to remain safe by reading the reviews and making sure the hosts and/or surfers are verified users.
Don’t be Too Cheap
Lots of first-time travelers are guilty of believing traveling cheaper is somehow better. Granted, there is a smart way to travel so you can save, but being too cheap can be a detriment to your safety. Yes, we know you are traveling on a budget (who isn’t?), but most of the time, it’s worth it to spend an extra $100 for a 24-hour secured home, $10 for a modest hotel room or $5 more for a better view.
Also, it’s worth it to take a one-hour flight for $100 then take a 15-hour bus for $30. Trust me; it’s called the time value of money. Yes, you spent an extra $70, but you are also gaining a full day of travel because it’s faster and you won’t feel exhausted the next day.
The currency exchange rate is the rate at which one currency can be exchanged for another. Download the app to stay connected with how money is moving across the globe.
It’s essential to have travel insurance whenever you leave your country’s borders. The basic coverages include
- Medical Insurance
- Emergency Evacuation
- Accidental Death/Dismemberment
- Travel Protection
- Baggage Protection
Recommended Insurance Providers: + World Nomads: http://bit.ly/WorldNomadsInsurance + Insure My Trip: https://www.insuremytrip.com/ + STA Travel: http://bit.ly/STAInsurance + Allianz Travel Insurance: http://bit.ly/AllianzTravelInsurance
For Best Local Food, Find Crowded Hole-in-the-Wall Places
Never walk into an empty restaurant, because nine times out of 10, there is a better restaurant nearby. If you are seeking the best local food, walk around the popular streets/areas and find a dive place with a bunch of locals feasting inside.
Alternatively, find a local and ask them where is the best place to eat!
Wake up Early
Morning is the best time to not only explore a city but to get some fresh air and peace of mind. It's cool to be out and about when the streets are less crowded. You also get more done. If you love the outdoors and are into sports and exercise then waking up early is the best time to go on a hike, ride a bike, or go on a run. It’s more peaceful!
Always Travel with Copies of Important Documents
These may come in handy, especially if you are getting a “visa on arrival” or are planning to apply for visas abroad. I carry a small, zip lock bag with the following documents:
– 2X2 passport photos
– passport copies (biometric page)
– copies of my credit & debit cards
Be informed: Know your visa requirements before visiting any country in Africa. Get in touch with your local embassy before traveling, or pay a visit to Project Visa for answers to all your visa-related questions.
Be organized: While you can get most visas at the individual points of entry, arranging them ahead of time saves a tone of hassle (and sometimes, money!) later.
Wear a Money Belt when Necessary
Money Belts looks like standard belts, but they have a hidden zipper inside where you can stash some extra cash in case of emergency. This comes in handy more when traveling in more dangerous, off-the-beaten-path countries. The Alpha Keeper lays flat on the body, so it's convenient to wear under your shirt. You can buy one on Amazon for $16.
Always be Having Fun
Why so serious? If you're not enjoying your life or having fun, then something is seriously wrong.
Don't pretend to love something that you don't, or to be happy when you're not.
If you're not enjoying the culture, then travel to a different country. Hate the food? Eat something different. The environment not your cup of tea? Change the scenery.
Enjoying life is about being honest about what you like and dislike. The world is your oyster. Go out and live it.
"I love people with whom I can joke around, have fun, and then have deep conversations with."
*Note – Few links in this post are affiliate links, meaning we make a small commission if you purchase something through my link at no additional cost to you. The money that we make goes directly towards the livelihood of our family and making this website better. Thank you!*