When it comes to travel, there is always something new for us to learn. We learn from mistakes and find creative solutions to challenges on every trip we take, and each month we share a favorite tip with our newsletter readers. Earlier this year we shared Part One of our Smart and Savvy Travel Tips series, and now we’re ready to share our next installment. We hope these travel tips make your upcoming adventures a little easier!
Order Money in Advance
When you notify your bank that you will be traveling overseas, take a few extra minutes and order some of the currency you’ll need at your destination. While most people will exchange currency at the airport or visit an ATM upon arrival, you’ll save some time (and some stress!) if you have cash on hand for taxis and immediate expenses. Your bank will typically give you the best available exchange rate, and some banks allow you to choose whether you want large or small bills—if you do have that choice, ask for small bills or a mix of large and small bills so you don’t have to worry about needing vendors to make change.
Learn the Local LanguageLanguage barriers are one of the biggest challenges to overcome when you’re on the road, but taking some time before you leave to learn some of the local language will go a long way toward making your vacation easier. You don’t have to master the language before you go; just a few key words and phrases will help you on your way.
What words should you know before you go if you only have time to memorize the basics? Consider some of the essentials, like hello, thank you, goodbye, hotel, and taxi. Think about your itinerary to help you identify a few more—we often use museum, restaurant, and bar or wine when we ask for directions or recommendations. A few key questions will help as well; knowing how to ask where the restroom is or how to get to a landmark will be helpful and keep you from having to seek out only locals who speak your native language.
If you have 10-15 minutes a day and want to learn more than the basics, consider free apps like Duolingo, which will help you to learn anything from Spanish to Dutch to Hungarian! Whatever you do, don’t panic! More often than not locals will appreciate your attempts to communicate in their language, so don’t be embarrassed if your pronunciation isn’t perfect.
More Information: Duolingo.com
Don’t Skip Travel Insurance
Did you know when you travel outside of your home country you often aren’t covered by your health insurance plan? It’s true- getting sick on the road can not only derail your trip, it can hurt your wallet as well. Before you leave, research and pick a travel insurance plan that will provide you with coverage in case you find yourself in need of medical attention. As a bonus, many insurance plans will also provide you with support in case your flights are delayed or cancelled, your luggage goes missing, or you need to cancel your journey. Most plans aren’t terribly expensive, but skipping insurance can be a very costly gamble to make!
Enroll in the STEP Program
You tell your friends and family about your vacation plans in case of an emergency—but you probably haven’t considered telling the government. The US State Department offers a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that can provide some surprising assistance when you’re on the road. When you register a trip through STEP, the US Embassy will have your contact information and will know to get in touch with you if an emergency or dangerous situation might impact your plans. They will also send you destination-specific updates that may be beneficial to you; we enrolled our 2016 trip to Bolivia and were surprised—but happy—to receive updates about roads closed by protests that helped us to make well-informed travel arrangements. Similar programs may exist in other countries, but STEP is a worthwhile program to consider if you are a US citizen.
More Information: State.gov
Don’t Leave Valuables in Just One Place
If there is one thing that could ruin your trip, it would be losing your money or valuables. Pickpocketing, hotel room theft, and even robberies are a reality around the world, and it’s not always possible to protect yourself against someone else’s actions.
When you travel—whether it’s in your own country or to a place far from home—separate your valuables and keep them in multiple places. If you travel with two credit cards, keep one in your wallet and another in your hotel safe. Carry only the cash you will need for the day, and keep the rest in the safe—or visit an ATM when you need more. Think about the safeguarding options your hotel may offer, and carry a locking device for your suitcase or backpack.
If your wallet goes missing while you are sightseeing, knowing you have cash or a credit card waiting for you in your hotel room will ensure you still have options. It won’t take the sting away from losing what you had, but it may help to keep your trip on track!
Pack a Power Bank Battery Charger
Here in the digital age, most of us would rather suffer through a flight delay than discover our phone’s battery has run out of juice—especially on once-in-a-lifetime vacations or lengthy day trips when reliable access to a wall outlet might not be possible. Put your worries to rest by investing in a great portable power bank backup battery. Power banks come in all sizes- we have a small, lightweight one that will charge a phone once as well as a bigger, heavier power bank that will charge two phones at once multiple times. Power bank chargers have been lifesavers for us on trips where we’ve been stranded on the tarmac, stuck on a long bus ride, or even in hotel rooms with only a single power outlet for all of our electronics.
You can find great power banks for as little as $15 on websites like Amazon—not a bad price for peace of mind for a day!
Lock It Up
If the thought of leaving home without your laptop or a flight without your iPad sounds like a nightmare, you’re not alone; as technology becomes more and more integrated into our lives, it’s harder and harder to imagine even a short vacation without it. That’s why a simple lock could be your next can’t-live-without travel accessory.
While they certainly aren’t foolproof, locking your suitcase with a combination lock or a key lock could be enough of a deterrent to keep people from rifling through your belongings. Hotel safes are often on the smaller side, but your own luggage is certainly large enough to store your valuables. When you leave your room for the day, lock your luggage as an added layer of protection. In the absence of a room safe or a trustworthy safe at your hotel’s front desk, locking your suitcase is a good alternative. Combination locks can be a bit more secure than key locks, which can be more easily picked. If you’re in the market for new luggage, consider a suitcase that has a TSA-approved lock built into it for even greater convenience!
Bring a First Aid Kit
If your idea of a first aid kit is a couple of Band-Aids and some hand sanitizer, you’re not alone—that’s exactly what we used to carry when we traveled away from home. It wasn’t until Adam slipped on the walls of Kotor in Montenegro and walked away with a deep gash on his finger that we started taking first aid much more seriously.
These days, we keep a small Ziploc bag full of first aid supplies in our suitcase at all times. While you can buy a premade first aid kit, we find it just as easy to stock and maintain a similar kit with the items we have at home. Bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic cream, gauze, and pain relievers are a great start; you may also want to consider over-the-counter medications like cold medicine, anti-itch cream, Moleskin (for blisters), allergy medicine, and Imodium. Be sure to only pack medicine that you have used before and follow proper dosage instructions—finding out you have a negative reaction to any kind of medicine while travelling is never a good surprise. You’ll also avoid having to make a stop at a local pharmacy, which may not carry the medicine or supplies you know and trust.
While packing your own first aid kit will set you up to properly handle some of the more minor challenges you may encounter, don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance, especially in emergencies. Know what your health insurance will cover before you leave home, and purchase additional coverage or an international plan if necessary!
Do you have a favorite tip or secret you would love to share? Let us know! We just might feature your idea in an upcoming post. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter so you can receive travel tips like these once a month instead of once or twice a year!