While there’s certainly no such thing as a perfect traveler or perfect travel experience, there are some key tips to keep in mind whenever you leave for vacation. Books have been written on the subject but here are a few of my favorite travel tips to make sure you have the best trip possible.
1. Handling money wrong
When traveling overseas, the best exchange rate is found through the nearest ATM. It is a financial and safety mistake to withdraw your entire travel budget before leaving home, with the intention of exchanging it overseas. You also won’t have the best rate using traveler’s cheques. Instead, you should plan on withdrawing money a couple of times while on your trip. The problem with this however are the fees associated with this practical travel behavior. Some countries, such as Thailand, attach a charge on all foreign debit cards regardless of bank or location. Not only will you sometimes incur charges from the ATM bank, but you may also be charged by your own bank. The best way to avoid all of these fees is to first find a bank with minimal or no fees for ATM withdrawals. In addition to not charging their customers for international withdrawals, they also reimburse for fees incurred at other banks. That means you can access your money for free; novel concept, right? If you’re worried about being charged at a higher interest rate for cash withdrawals, then prepay your travel budget on the card so that you are essentially using it as a debit card. Even better, if you want to use the card as a traditional credit card, there are no extra exchange fees for international purchases, unlike most other banks.
2. Planning wrong
I am a self-confessed over planner. There is nothing I enjoy more than researching my next travel destination and planning out every second of our visit. Luckily, I almost always ignore these intricately planned schedules. Rather than go to these extremes though, for a truly rewarding vacation a planning balance has to be struck. Prior to your trip, it is always a good idea to research the destination, but only construct a loose time line of sightseeing. A hazy idea of what you want to do is smart, efficient and ultimately will save you money. What’s important though is not to plan to the point that your trip ceases to be fun. You’re traveling for a reason – you are taking a break from your normal routine and exploring the world, hopefully relaxing at the same time. If you plan every moment of your trip, you miss the entire point. Usually, the most fun and rewarding experiences are the ones for which you don’t plan and probably didn’t even know existed. So, plan a little, but don’t go overboard.
3. Eating wrong
One of the most important aspects of the travel experience is food. There is no better way to learn about a culture than by participating in meal-time rituals and sampling the same culinary staples as the people who live there. If you are gone for a week, your opportunities to participate in this experience are limited, so don’t waste your time. While it’s fine to eat at McDonald’s or something similar once or twice, don’t make this a habit. Instead, seek out the street stalls, cafes and restaurants that will provide you with rich, meaningful food memories. These experiences don’t have to be expensive and the most meaningful ones will be some of the cheapest. While touring the city or area, take note of small bistros or food stands that aren’t too pricey, but which can provide an authentic food experience. Better yet, check out the street food offerings. Some of the best meals I’ve consumed anywhere in the world have been eaten standing up.
Grocery stores are also a fantastic way to gaze into the stomach of a new country. I first started visiting supermarkets as a way to save money on sodas, water and snacks. It became quickly apparent though that the visit was about much more than just saving money. While perusing a store on the outskirts of Madrid I noticed something odd. There wasn’t just a nice selection of olive oil, there was an entire olive oil section. Hundreds of different kinds lining at least two rows in the huge store. Obviously the Spanish mean business when it comes to good oil. Many groceries are pretty generic, but there are always regional oddities that pop out and reveal a lot about the area.
What other tips would you add to this list?
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