Travel 101– Tips and Tricks for Independent Travelers

For our 101st post, we felt it would be fitting to jot down some useful tips for better travel from our own storied travel experiences. We made plenty of mistakes and then some. This post is useful for real-time travelers. Arm chair travelers can skip it and wait for our Iceland post coming up next.

PLAN WELL

so you have time to enjoy the trip and not stress. But also be flexible and spontaneous to deviate, drop something or add something special. Find your pace and at times slow down or take a break and rest.

FIND YOUR THING

Besides must do sites or natural wonders, what holds special interest for you? Chocolate shops,

birds, Christmas ornaments, city graffiti? It makes travel more fun and more uniquely yours.

GO TO THE TOILET

when you see one, not when you need one. Always carry a paper napkin and/or some toilet paper with you.

SMILE a lot.

A smile is disarming and shows friendly intent. It goes a long way also when you are in trouble, like with traffic police.

PACK LIGHT

You only have two hands so you can only lug two things: 1. Your main roller/duffel/big backpack 2. Small backpack Additionally pack a small foldable nylon duffel and a 1/3 left over duct tape roll.

PACKING CUBES

are the best invention for easy packing. Add some spare ziplock bags.

FANNY PACKS They might be lame, but they are the best for easy access and safety. Practice having walet, passport, and phone always in the same designated place in the same pocket. Alternatively small cross body bags are Ok, but they do strain your neck quickly.

Take small emergency FIRST AID KIT and hotel SEWING KIT.

TAKE SOME CASH upon arrival when you see an ATM (get an ATM card at home with no charges for international withdrawals and returns of the foreign bank fees) If you travel in pairs always go to the ATM together and know in advance how much you want to take out in LOCAL currency.

LEARN 5-10 WORDS in the language of the country: hello, how are you, thank you, goodbye, beautiful, I need, toilet, sorry (excuse me).

GOOGLE TRANSLATE

If you are limited in your foreign languages and are traveling to countries with limited English proficiency Google translate can be very helpful. Make sure it is downloaded to the offline library so you can use it without data service.

ASK QUESTIONS

of fellow travelers and especially local people. Where, how far, is it open, how bad is the road, where do you eat (for simple cheap food and where do they go for a special celebration dinner), how much should a taxi cost to your destination, where is a good spot to pick up Uber, which area is not safe at night?).

TANK UP THE CAR when you find a gas station, not when the tank is empty. Don’t dip below half tank ever. Needless to say we did not always follow our own advice. Unfortunately!

BUY RENTAL CAR INSURANCE

You probably won’t need it, but when you will need it it will pay back for all the times you paid it and didn’t need it.

MAPS

Get maps apps and download the country/area google maps or maps.me on your smartphone for OFFLINE navigation. Buy or pick up tourist printed maps too, it is much easier to find a place or plan a route while talking to a local.

PHONE

Get an international phone plan. We have been extremely happy with T Mobile that gives us free texting and data up to 2 G. We personally don’t bother with local Sim cards, but many travelers use them.

WHATSAPP

Download Whatsapp, it is now used widely in all countries to communicate freely instead of (sometimes expensive for the locals) text messages or phone calls. Skype is used less these days.

DRESS RESPECTFULLY

and culturally appropriate.

Err on the side of conservatism. Goes for men and women alike. Even in very liberal Western countries you should not enter a church in shorts and spaghetti straps. It is annoying to have long sleeves or a scarf in hot Iran, but it shows respect and solidarity with local women, that mostly don’t want to wear it either.

Sometimes we even wear some local clothes, which make people very happy or at least gives them a good laugh.

TRAVEL APPS

We are old farts and fairly limited in our technology know how, but Airbnb, Booking, Uber, Currency calculator, Culture Trip, Rentalcar apps are life savers on the road. Move those icons to the front on your smartphone screen.

TRIP NOTES

Keep simple notes of your days: the highlights, best places, special coffee shops, restaurants, accommodations. I type them in Notes on my Iphone. Some people are great at detailed diaries and budgets and expenses. We are not those people 😉 )

PHOTOS

Enable Location on for Camera and Photos so that all your photos are automatically labeled with the exact location. Go to Settings – Privacy –Location Services. This photo was taken at the Municipal House in Prague on June 8, 2018. Do you recognize the man on the right? He is Rick Steve, the American Travel guru we met there.

Clean up your photos in the evening. Delete, delete, delete. Those saved get at least an automatic enhancement treatment (open the photo, click Edit, click magic wand symbol underneath). It straightens and enhances your photo.

P.S. Take some time to enjoy your surroundings without looking through your photo lens.

BANDANA

is a great reusable tool to wipe your sweat, dry your hands when there are no towels in the bathroom, to soak it in cold water, and put around your neck when hot, etc. It can come in handy as a replacement for a face mask.

DOCUMENTS

Take photos of important documents: passport, driving license, insurance, credit cards (both sides for contact phone number), keep in your phone and also email to yourself. In case your phone is lost/stolen additionally to your wallet, you can get to it on someone’s computer from the cloud. Have a hidden spare credit card. (I keep it with my toiletries). Call your credit card company before your trip and give date of travel and countries you will visit. You don’t want your bank to block your card in a foreign country when you make the first ATM withdrawal at the airport.

Have a few hard copies of your passport’s first page and a few passport photos of yourself for visas. Always try to first offer a copy of your passport to anyone wanting your passport.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

So far we never bought trip insurance, trip cancellation, or baggage insurance. But we always had MEDICAL travel insurance. It is well worth buying basic medical travel and evacuation insurance for peace of mind. So far, knock on wood, we have not had to use it, but we are happy to have it. If you are old, beware that some insurance companies will not insure after a certain age limit and if you are young and tempted by crazy adventures get the right insurance that will also cover bungee jumping or heli-skiing. We have NO affiliated links, but here are two companies worth looking into: for American world travelers: World Nomads (https://www.worldnomads.com) and for Europeans a cheaper True Travelers (https://www.truetraveller.com)

Travel while you still can. Don’t wait for the right time. Make the right time. You can sit in your garden when you are 100!

As always we are most excited to hear from you and happy to talk travel with anyone. Any additional tips are most welcome.

16 thoughts on “Travel 101– Tips and Tricks for Independent Travelers

  1. great tips.. However you missed a few really secret ones.. how to find friends with respites in between traveling and also how to set the camera for those “jumping” shots.

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  2. I scanned this email even though I’m an armchair traveler. Always interesting. Not much traveling these days. We have some restrictions on travel between states with high virus numbers. Patience and perseverance with a mask.

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  3. Enjoyed your helpful travel tips! We’ve also left copies of our passports and drivers licenses
    with our family and Fred’s assistants for them to fax it to the US Embassy wherever if we get into a major snafu. A helpful organization is IAMAT (International Assoc for Medical Assistance to Travelers) which lists hospitals around the world with English speaking medical staff and provides a list of immunizations required for every country: http://www.iamat.org We’ve also hired private local guides through Viator to places we’ve never been and don’t speak the language – so far, the guides we chose have been excellent.
    Now in our 80’s we prefer to return to countries where we have friends or family and inevitably, there are always some new discoveries! Cambodia Cookie

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  4. Always interesting reading..
    Are you still holed up in Prague or where?
    I have just purchased a Motorhome. I pick up tomorrow. Our State of W.A. is closed off to the Eastern States of Oz. W.A. is a HUGE state so plenty of areas to go. As we are more into winter, I plan to drive north to enjoy and soak up the sunshine. I’m not sure how far north I will drive but certainly to Exmouth and Ningaloo to the area of the Coral Reef and Whale Sharks/Humback Whales.
    My RV is fully self contained with WC/ shower, Solar panels etc etc. I’m having a 2 Way radio fitted plus an electronic Shuroo (shoo away the kangaroos by emitting a noise they don’t like) This is instead of fitting a Roo Bar which is much more expensive and adds weight to the vehicle so using more fuel.
    I’m so glad my son’s wedding in Slovenia was last year and not this year. Their first Anniversary is July 24th. Just realised you are probably at your parents place in Slovenia, near Bled. Up the mountain?
    When Covid is past and its safe to travel O.S. I hope to catch up again one day…… somewhere.
    Xx Eliz Komar

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    1. We just flew from Reykjavik to Prague after 10 days in Iceland. Things in Europe are looking quite normal, and travel has somewhat resumed, but nothing is for sure. We will be heading back to California in a few weeks, not the wisest destination, but we have to go welcome our new baby granddaughter Mara, arriving soon. So excited for your caravan travel plans. Hope to join you one of these days, when all is well again.

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  5. Darn. You could have said hello to him from me and my mom. I know him since highschool together where mom was the school nurse AND his most sweet giant-of-a-man father was our piano tuner and friend. So awesome you ran into him. 😊

    >

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  6. Ksenija, živjo, mi je žal, da sem na naši obletnici kmalu odšla, a je bila mami na urgenci. Rada berem tvoje bloge, upam, da bova tudi mi2 kam kmalu odpotovala. Zdaj sva na 1 tedensksm jadranju po Jadranu in je ful lepo..
    Srečno vama želim, lp Barbara

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  7. I love these Travel Cubes. When u come to Europe again, I would truly love to have some. Also love the Choco photo, and of course the VW van ones. Whay do I have the feeling that u thought of me a bit when u were creating this post? 🙂

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  8. and sorry for the typos 😦 And of course — Again – Respect for all this consistency and persistence!!! 101 – Hut ab, as the Germans would say!

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