Traveling is fun, but it can come with its ups and downs. To ensure you have more high times, take heed of a few of these savvy traveler tips:
Map Your Itinerary. Capture all of your important travel details in one document: include flight itineraries, accommodation confirmations, transportation instructions, area attraction information, etc. In case your electronics aren't cooperating in your new locale, stash away a hard copy or two of this info in your bag. If you are traveling alone, or even if you aren't, it is a good idea to leave the details with a friend back home.
Notify Your People. It's a good idea to check your mobile phone plan to understand if it will be usable out of country. Some plans will show service but incur high roaming charges outside of your home country. It may also be wise to call your bank or credit card company to inform them of your travels; this will prevent undue stress if you plan on using your card while away. As an added bonus when traveling in Europe, secure a credit card with a chip embedded; this will allow you to use it at more businesses.
Travel Light. Avoid checked baggage at all costs. Do you really want to trust a handful of strangers with your stuff? I've traveled for six months with only a backpack and a roller board suitcase, both carried on the plane. Must haves: passport, electronics chargers, converters/adapters, comfortable shoes, luggage locks, neutral mix and match clothing, ear plugs, mosquito repellent, sunblock, toothpaste, sunglasses, camera, pens and paper, water bottle, over-the-counter medicines, and first aid kit.
Learn the Basics. When traveling to a new place, research the basics before you arrive. Learn how to say hello, please and thank you in the local language. Know the key facts about the location: time zone, currency, religions, attractions, inappropriate conversation topics. It's also good to research transportation and accommodation ahead of time and know which areas to avoid for safety reasons.
Carry Cash. When arriving in a new country, it's best to obtain some local currency before leaving the airport or train station. Make sure you have small bills and coins. It's also a good idea to stash away a few larger bills of your home currency in a safe place if by chance an emergency should arise.
Befriend a Taxi Driver. Who knows the city better than the local cab driver? Before jumping in, scope out the cab, tuk-tuk or bike taxi drivers fighting for your business. Select one who has a decent grasp of the English language and looks presentable. Strike up a conversation to learn a little bit about your new surroundings. What are a few of the most popular places to see? Any recommendations as to where to grab a bite to eat?
If you like what you hear, your new taxi driver friend just might be the most economical and pleasant way to explore your surroundings. I've done this in dozens of places and found that if you meet the right cabbie, you're set up for an unforgettable low-budget adventure.
Pictured here are a few of my favorite drivers/impromptu tour guides from Vietnam, Nepal, Cuba and Cambodia.