I guess I have gained some kind of reputation among my friends and people that know me for being a traveler. Mostly, the main question I get asked is how I can afford these adventures, to which I respond, I honestly have no idea. Despite the accumulation of travel debt, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge about the world, and how to explore it the best I know how.
With all the countries I have been so, so lucky to go to (New Zealand, Samoa, Vietnam, Thailand and France to name a few), I’ve developed some travel advice from the past year of traveling that I think would be invaluable for any new wander luster. When I did my first solo travel trip to study abroad in New Zealand, I did a lot of Googling to find travel tips and “insider secrets.” Some of the tips may seem obvious, some of them may seem rather random, but I promise that these tips either saved me on several occasions or was something I wished I had done earlier.
Prepaid travel cards: I personally don’t like to have a lot of cash on me. It’s easier to block a card than to try to regain cash that gets stolen from you. It can also cost a lot to exchange money in your home country before flying somewhere else. To avoid that hassle, you can get a prepaid travel card, pay a really small initial user fee and load money on the card in the currency of the country you’ll be going to. A friend of mine that I met up with had been using it all over Europe before I met her in Portugal, and tapping the card took less than a second. I was definitely envious of her, as I always carried cash and kept it close to me at all times. A quick side note too, if you do plan on exchanging your country’s currency for cash, exchange enough at the bank at home for some airport food and a taxi ride at your destination. Then, exchange it locally; usually banks within the country you are visiting are the most trustworthy. You can look up the day’s exchange rates online, as it changes each day.
Flip flops: Maybe you’re going to an impromptu beach trip. Maybe you’re like me and went on an eight hour hike and wanted to give your feet some breathing space. You could also be like me, who went to a hostel and forgot to bring flip flops for the shower. I stood on my toes and prayed for no foot disease. Regardless, staying in hostels is one of the cheapest ways to get a bed while traveling, while and AirBnB from time to time just to have your own bathroom is really nice. Flip flops are essential, especially for use with shared showers. The memory of those forgotten shoes brought me back to my freshmen year, when I had also forgotten flip flops for the shower. Shout out to my best friend for letting me borrow hers until mine from Amazon came in.
Mesh shower bag: This is another freshmen year item that I brought along with me in my travels. It’s convenient strap makes it easy to hang up when toting toiletries around a hostel and easier to hang when you’re in the shower. A lot of the time, hostels have a hook and minimal to no space to put down a bottle of shampoo or anything else that you might need. The bags are easy to wash and can have multiple pockets to put other toiletry items you may need; I sometimes brush my teeth in the shower if I’m in a rush. Don’t be like me, who carried shampoo and shower bottles in her hands and almost had to chuck it on the shower floor of a hostel.
Other pairs of shoes: Going back to footwear, my top three other essential shoes to pack are a nice pair of dress shoes, casual shoes that are comfy to walk in and a pair of running sneakers. An impromptu night out could happen at any time, and it’s always nice to have a pair of fancy-ish heels for the occasion. I would recommend a thicker heel; stilettos won’t do you any good on cobblestone streets at 3 a.m. Casual shoes or running sneakers are good for exploring. A cute pair of casual shoes for a photo was always a must for me, and I tended to wear neutral colors on my feet to match with any outfit I had on. For running sneakers, I often liked to wear them on the plane. There would also be times when I would be in an area which I thought would be really nice to go for a run around in the morning, cursing myself for not having packed running shoes.
Rain jacket: This is much easier to fold up and store in a backpack than an umbrella. Having a rain jacket has come in handy for me so many times when I’ve forgotten to check the weather or was flying to a destination that I thought was going to be sunny the whole time I was there (looking at you Thailand). Imagine going on a hike, seeing grey clouds and realizing that you have nothing to cover yourself with? For outdoors adventures, I would recommend a rain poncho. You can easily cover your pack with it as well if it isn’t waterproof. A poncho definitely came in handy for me when I was riding on a motorbike in Vietnam, where the rain would often come suddenly and harshly.
Pack your clothes once, then repack: I am guilty of packing too much for a trip, thinking that I was going to wear every single item of clothing that I shoved into my suitcase. I am also guilty of shopping while I’m away, and at that point, I have to use my backpack to gather the overflow. To really streamline my closet, I’ve packed once and then taken out items in the second round. I always want to look stylish and comfortable while traveling, but it’s not necessary to bring a whole closet to achieve the look. Items that can be mixed and matched are key. I always try to pack some statement items, such as a belt or a purse, if I’m trying to elevate my look.
Portable charger: I used my phone a lot to research different places to go to and especially as the main way to figure out how to get to those places. When I had WiFi at a café, I would also use my phone to update my loved ones on what I was doing. Having a dead phone isn’t useful to do any of that, and so I really recommend a portable charger. On planes, I also enjoyed listening to music. Now, most planes will have a USB to charge your phone but depending on which airline you use, that might not be the case.
Offline Google maps: The app allows you to use maps offline if you download it while connected to a cellular or WiFi service. This saved me a few times in Europe, when I decided to live off of WiFi instead of paying for a SIM card. Having the ability to read a map on my phone helped me get around to places a lot until I found another WiFi spot at a café. It can also be really useful if for some reason, the SIM card on your phone isn’t working and you need to get back to your accommodation.
Do prior research on transportation: Not being able to get around gives me a lot of anxiety. I like to know that I can at least get to my accommodation from a long airplane ride and oftentimes, I don’t really like to take a taxi. They can often be expensive, and I don’t feel like working out a language barrier when I’m tired. Many major cities will have a Metro line that can take travelers anywhere or close to where they need to be. I also preferred traveling on buses when I could for longer distances, within a continent, especially Europe, as it was significantly cheaper than catching a plane. Taking these methods of transportation made me feel more attached the country that I was visiting. I love people watching and looking out at windows at the passing landscape.
Get away from the city: The hustle and bustle of a city is exciting; there’s so much to do, places to go for a drink, for a night out and many other historical aspects behind walls. However, the city can be draining on me after a day, and I’m already yearning for more greenery, nature and fresher air. A lot of the time, there might be a day tour or hike outside of the city you are in. I would wake up the next morning and take a train or a rented car to a hiking spot and climb. It’s beautiful to see the surrounding flora and fauna and also see the tiny city far below you.
Photos, photos, photos: As a photographer, I always had my Canon with my 50mm always attached in my hand. I enjoy portrait photography and would bother my friends I was with for a five second photoshoot. Snap as many photos as you want, just enough to capture the beauty of what you’re seeing but enough to stay present as well. The same goes for videos. I’ve seen travelers with their phone or camera constantly to their face, and I always wonder if they are truly grasping the surrounding area around them. As someone who likes to be behind a camera more than in front of it, I would ask a friend to take a photo of me once in a while on my phone. It’s nice to share with family and friends, but it’s proof to yourself that you really did travel to that destination. For me, all my photos of myself taken by friends while I was in New Zealand are extra special to me. It was a country I’ve always wanted to go to since I was twelve, and now I have photos to show family and friends that I was able to check off a childhood dream.
Eat what the locals eat (but also go to McDonald’s a couple of times too): One of the most amazing cuisine experiences of any country I’ve been to is Vietnam. I ate street food a lot of the time, from carts and stands in the roads and very little did I eat in a restaurant. The best was sitting on a small stool just down the road from my apartment and eating roasted snails (try it before you hack it). The food made by the women and their families at the carts were more authentic to me and felt more like home. In other countries, I tried to seek out smaller restaurants that served the national, specific dishes of the country I was in. However, depending on where I was, I would make McDonald’s a go to stop for one meal. I know it’s not the healthiest, but they were one of the cheapest on the go food options, especially when it was surrounded by upscale restaurants or chic cafés that I didn’t really want to spend my money in. A chocolate shake, small fries and fish fillet sandwich was, and still is, my go to Maccas meal at all times of the day. Arguably the best McDonald’s food options goes to the one in Asia, with a wider, more imaginative array of options.
Keep a notebook and pen on hand: It doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge notebook either or a fat set of pens. A small notebook and a single pen is nice for the random thoughts that might travel in your head or a destination that you might want to visit one day. It can also be used for someone to draw out a map if you’re lost (true story for me) or a way to pass on a number or an email. Pen and paper feels very personal to me, and for last minute situations, you can be the go to person for that.
Go solo once in a while: It was nice for me to break away from the group that I was with to go on a walk, or even explore a small town by myself. I always made sure to let my friends know where I was headed, just in case. One of my favorite solo trips in New Zealand was taking the plane and bus to Akaroa, a small French town by the water. I had my headphones in and my camera in my hand. It was nice to be alone, and just meander wherever I wanted to go to, lost in my own thoughts. Oftentimes, figuring out where I was going to eat later.
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.