We've accumulated what we think is a significant travelling experience during the past 6 months travelling around the world. We met a few people along the way who asked us for travelling tips so we thought we would share our most valuable tips with our readers and travelling friends!
Be lost no more! Maps.me: Free offline maps on your smartphone
Really, this one is a no-brainer but also a life saver. If you're going to visit anywhere that is not home, there is no need to fiddle with printed maps or trying to decipher the directions in your guide books. If you carry a smartphone with you, you MUST install the free app Maps.me. Point. Final.
The app is just great... once you install it you get a high level map of the world where you can zoom into each country as you would with Google Maps or other online maps solutions. Once you get to a certain zoom level in a country, it will ask you to download a more detailed map. Most (all?) countries are available and you can even download just a specific region in a country if you're not visiting the whole country.
We can't count the number of times we were in the bus or train and not sure if we were arrived at our destination... with the app we knew immediately!
Moreover, you have the option to download the mapping data only or the maps + routing data, which allows you to get the best route between two points (usually your current location and a destination but it could be any start and end points). It provides routes for travel by car or travel by foot. The downloads are larger (between 100MB to 400MB in general for a whole country) with routing data but totally worth it. You just need to remember to download the data from the Wifi before going offline!
You can save specific locations (like your next hotel location) for easy reference later on. We have taken a habit of saving our next accommodation's location in Maps.me before taking off. This way if the bus ends up dropping us at a different bus station at least we know where we are, and we're equipped to better negotiate with the taxi driver who's trying to charge the moon because our destination is oh so far.
The maps are not always perfect (but most time they are fine) - they are based mostly on freely available data and user contributions - but it's definitely better than having no way to get around at all!
Maps.me has been a life saver in many situations for us. We can't count the number of times we were in the bus or train and not sure if we were arrived at our destination... with the app we knew immediately!
We were fortunate enough to get the app recommended on the second day of our trip. And we haven't been lost a single time in 6 months...
Pack light and small
Here's an exercise for your next trip: put all you think you need for your trip on your bed, then discard half of it. I guarantee you don't need more than that to travel, and I bet you'll need even less!
So many times we've seen tourists with their HUGE luggage trying to dangerously get off the train while we just flew by with our backpacks. Or tourists laboriously pulling their large wheeled bags on centuries-old rocky streets or dirt roads...
You usually don't need more stuff whether you're travelling for a week or for many months. Don't try to bring everything you could need; you can buy mostly anything everywhere in the world. You can do your laundry or have it done for you anywhere and sometimes for very cheap.
You'll benefit from thoroughly thinking about your travel wardrobe before hitting the road. Bring fewer clothes that can be mixed and matched, clothes that are lightweight and odour-resistant to wear multiple days (we've quite literally fallen in love with Icebreaker wool products) and stay away from synthetic fabrics like polyester as they'll tend to smell much, much faster than anything else. Bringing enough clothes for 4 days seems to be a reasonable balance for us.
Shoes are also an important item to think through: this is the item that takes the most space in luggage. You should only need a single pair of well chosen shoes for most travels, along with flip-flops for these hot and sunny days, and another pair of flip-flops for showers - especially if you're sharing showers with others!
When you travel between cities, put your heaviest and largest items on you as much as the weather allows it (walking shoes, sweater or jacket, jeans, etc.) this way your luggage will be easier to pack and easier to carry around.
Be very selective with who you trust
It's an unfortunate reality: you can never really trust most of the following people while traveling:
Tuk-tuk drivers: Tuk-tuks are the modified motorbikes on 3 wheels that can take 1 to 6 (!) passengers in the back and beside the driver. You'll find them mostly in Asia. A common trap is for them to offer you a long visit around of the city attractions for dirt cheap. What they don't tell you is that along the way they'll force you to visit a few tourists "shops" (read: "traps"). They get a commission as money or fuel vouchers when you get into the shop, and you get to lose your precious travel time forced to visit boring tourist traps.
Most tuk-tuk drivers will also refuse to use the meter and continuously try to charge you more than it should for trips, so it's worth knowing the standard prices before arriving in a city. Negotiate but don't sweat it, you're a tourist and you're bound to pay the "tourist tax". Accept it and move on... Always negotiate the price before hopping on the tuk-tuk. Be sure to have the exact change or small notes as most tuk-tuk drivers seemingly never have change to give back!
Anyone who approaches you directly in the street: It can start in many different ways but usually it will be "Where are you from?" or "How long in [the country you're in]?". These people are usually very friendly and seem to be full of good intentions. But their only intent is to either bring you in their shop, sell you stuff or get a reference somewhere. They are not dangerous and they don't want to steal your money, but there's no need to get into their traps. Just kindly refuse their help, ignore the rest and move on...
"Official guides" at the entrance of tourist attractions: Professional guides are rarely hired on location. The guides who linger in front of the entrance of your favorite attraction are not professional guides. Not to say you can't hire them, but don't expect very much from the experience. They'll either speak your language very badly or give you a bunch of wrong info. We've been fooled once in the Agra Fort in India and let's say it was a painful hour!
These people are not dangerous; they simply want to benefit financially from your ignorance as a tourist. We still haven't mastered the art of turning them away quickly, but it's an entertaining challenge to perfect the art!
Keep in mind that most humans are good and kind
So many people refrain from visiting areas or places because they fear someone could steal or harm them. Of course we hear horror stories, there are isolate cases of violence against tourists, and of course, there are countries that should not be visited.
The reality is an overwhelming majority of people are truely and genuinely good and kind.
But everywhere we've been in the last 6 months, we've never felt in danger. We haven't been robbed, we haven't been attacked. The reality is an overwhelming majority of people are truely and genuinely good and kind. Learn to trust your guts and never get yourself in a situation you're not comfortable with. It's OK to say no, it's OK to change your mind.
It's also a good idea to get off the beaten path! Tourist-packed areas attract the most touts and thugs because this where the money is. Stay away from the touristy locations for a trouble-free travelling experience!