Here are 50 Travel Tips…some are no-brainers, while some you might never have thought of. I hope at least a couple can help you someday. Happy travels!
Passports, Visas and Documents
-Enroll in Global Entry (if you’re American). It allows you to skip the customs and immigration line when returning to the U.S. from out of the country. Saves you so much time!
-Always, always, always triple-check the visa requirements of every country you visit. Do this way in advance. Some countries require you obtain a tourist visa months in advance.
-Whatever you do and wherever you go, always, always, always know where your passport is at all times. You can “buy” everything else on your trip except a passport.
-Keep a copy of your passport in your bag.
-Email yourself a copy of your passport. That way wherever you are in the world, you’ll have access to a copy of your passport if you ever lose it.
-Get passport photos at Costco. They are a rip-off at Walgreens, CVS, etc.
-If you do a lot of international travel, get a bunch of passport photos all at once; you never know when you’ll need them for a visa, etc. and if you do need one last minute, having one handy will save you time and stress!
-Always make sure all of your reservations (air, hotel, car, etc.) are saved somewhere in your email. That way if you lose your paper copy, you can access reservation details through your email.
-Send out your full itinerary to a friend(s) or family member(s). Make sure someone can get a hold of you.
-When filling out customs and immigration entry cards for foreign countries, remember that most countries date format places the day first, then month and year. For example, August 22, 1976 should be written: 22/08/76, no 08/22/76.
-Some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccine. In this case, you’ll need to bring your “yellow card” immunization records. You can be refused entry to a country for not having this. Check the respective country’s “travel” page on the State Department website, it lists proof of vaccination requirements.
Money, Credit Cards, ATMs
-Hide an extra credit or debit card somewhere in your bag. That way if your wallet is lost of stolen, you have a backup.
-Before you leave, make sure to call your bank(s) to let them know you are traveling out of the country, or you risk having your cards shut off when you attempt to use them in a foreign country. Often, if the bank all of sudden sees an attempted charge in a foreign country, they will automatically flag and keep your card from working, in an effort to combat fraud; they’ll think your card’s been stolen. Then, you’ll the have to call them to take the block off your card, but that’s a major pain in the ass and very expensive to do in a foreign country (international call).
-Bring multiple credit and ATM cards if you have (different banks, etc.) That way if you have trouble with one card, you have others. I can’t stress the importance of a second ATM card (preferably from a second bank)! It will happen one of these days: a machine will take your card! If you have a second card, no sweat! On a recent trip, my ATM card’s info was compromised and the bank had to shut it down. Thankfully, I had my backup card ready to go. On another trip, an ATM in Guinea Bissau ate my card on my last day there – and it was a Sunday, so I wasn’t getting it back!
-If you don’t know what you’re looking for, often it can be maddening trying to find an ATM machine that will accept your card. Look on the back of your ATM card for the “Star” or “Plus” logos; then look for ATM machines with those matching logos.
Rewards Points and Miles:
-Make sure you’re getting credit for every purchase you make! Don’t spend a cent on travel without earning points.
-Sign up for the loyalty program for every airline, hotel and rental car company that you use, before you book. Try to stay loyal to one, or a couple of brands; that way you have a better chance of earning enough points to actually use. Come up with a strategy of how you want to earn your points: for example, some car rental companies will let you earn points in “their” program, or an airline of your choice. Figure out what’s best for you.
–If you can be responsible about it, enroll in a credit card that gives you miles and use it for everything–no matter how big or small. As long as you can pay off your balance every month, you’ll be able to fly for free! As you know, credit cards can be dangerous and get you in a heap of trouble. But as long as you don’t charge more than you can pay off each month, you’ll be earning miles for every dollar you spend. So buy EVERYTHING you can with your miles-earning credit card: from huge purchases like cars (I paid my 5k down payment with credit card!), to minuscule items like a pack of gum...always use your credit card; miles are miles! I’ve earned over one million miles using credit cards over the years! Check out my personal arsenal of the BEST CARDS and their bonuses HERE.
RAMBLIN’ EXPERT TIP: Wait for only the best credit card offers. For example, in the airport only, you can often sign up for a Southwest credit card and earn 50,000 points. That’s enough for two free flights, an amazing deal. I just received an offer by mail for 60,000 miles for the Citi Aadvantage Card (American Airlines). Take some time and look for the best offers–they usually happen at the airport or via a special invitation in the mail. These offers are much better than the standard online offers everyone sees; for example the Southwest everyday online offer is 25,000 miles, but enroll in person at their special kiosks in the airport (not always there), and earn twice the amount of miles. It’s worth taking some time to find the better offer. Check out thepointsguy.com for up-to-date standard offers and news on credit card offers. Note that there is a minimum spending requirement that varies. The Southwest visa I just signed up requires a $3,000 spend in the first three months to earn those bonus miles. Don’t sign up unless you know you’ll spend (and be able to afford) the minimum requirement, or you’ll miss the miles or be in debt. Check out my personal arsenal of the BEST CARDS and their bonuses HERE.
RAMBLIN’ EXPERT TIP: This one is probably the most valuable piece of advice on this page. Sign up for the credit cards with big bonus offers, mentioned above. Complete your minimum spend before the deadline. Cancel card. Wait 30-60 days and sign up again. Repeat over and over. I have gotten almost a half a million miles doing this. You are following their terms and spending the money, so there’s nothing unethical about this–it’s just smart. The only unknown is exactly how long you have to wait in between cards. I must have done this three or four times with the Southwest card, waiting less and and less time in between cancelling and joining–finally I got a letter saying I was ineligible for the miles offer. I got too greedy! Again, the caveat here, is you must be able to make that “minimum” spend in the time required; so make sure you’re really planning to spend that much money and that you can afford too–and scatter your enrollments: for example, do a United card, complete the minimum spend and pay it off, and then enroll in an American Airlines card…in other words, rotate cards. And be sure you can afford to pay off all balances immediately, or with the interest you’ll pay, it won’t be worth it! Check out my personal arsenal of the BEST CARDS and their bonuses HERE.
-Make sure to sign up for rental car loyalty clubs–it makes it so much easier and faster when you arrive at the rental counter; you get a separate line and get your car right away!
-As much as I love them for the convenience, be mindful of using third party sites like Travelocity. Here’s why: many hotel operators will not give you your “points” unless you book directly through them. Boy did I learn this the hard way. I must have missed thousands of hotel rewards because I used Travelocity for years. You can always use these third party sites to check the prices, and then book directly through the individual hotel site. Careful with these sites and airline tickets too; it’s much harder to make flight changes when you don’t book directly through the airline.
-Booking a one-way flight? Check the price of a round-trip ticket before you book! Don’t ask me why, but often you can purchase a round-trip ticket cheaper than a one-way ticket. Weird, right? Buy the round-trip ticket and just don’t take the return flight.
-No matter how “sure” you are, always verbally double-check that you are on the right bus or train. If you travel a lot, you will get on a wrong bus or train eventually–it is bound to happen. Just confirm with someone on the bus or train that you’re on the right route.
-Bring a sweater for flights. Many flights will freeze you out!
-Always check-in for your flight online. Even if you don’t have a printer or a way to print your ticket, just check-in online anyway. In case you’re seriously late to the airport, you’ll still be able to board your flight if you make it before they “close the door.” However, if you’re not even checked in at all yet and you cut it close, they might not even let you in the gate–they often close check-in for international flights 50 minutes before departure. You show up 49 minutes before your flight without being checked in, and you’re S.O.L!
-In foreign countries, always ask the cab driver how much the ride will be first…especially in cabs without meters. If the cab does have a working meter, the cabbie should be able to give you a rough estimate. It’s the non-metered taxis that can really screw you–ask the price before you get in the cab, and then repeat it back to the driver before you get in for verbal confirmation. I once had to pay $150 for a two-mile cab ride or risk being killed, no joke. That will never happen again!
-Research the cost of cab fare from the airport to your hotel before you arrive, that way you’ll know exactly what to expect and can avoid rip-offs.
-Add more pins to your travel map by booking a flight with a long stopover in a new country that you haven’t been to yet; anything over six hours–that way you can leave the airport and experience the city and mark off another country on your list–basically for free–since you’re not paying for the layover. The trick is finding a stopover long enough to be able to leave the airport and come back in time without missing your flight. You have to take into account the taxi in and out of town, airport security, etc. You certainly don’t want to miss your second part of the flight–as booking a new flight day-of can end up costing you a fortune.
-Always try and make sure the hotel you book will let you cancel without charging you. The cancellation policy is usually pretty clear. I’ve been burned a few times after having to cancel or change a trip; charged for a room I didn’t even sleep in. Total waste of money and unnecessary.
-Many countries build in the “tip” right into your check, so there’s no need to leave a “second” tip. Look for “service charge” on your bill. When in doubt, ask. Do some research ahead of time too, that will help. You don’t want to stiff your server, but you also shouldn’t tip twice either!
–RAMBLIN’ EXPERT TIP: Before you bite into that olive, be careful! Many countries outside of the US do NOT remove the pits! I learned the hard way the first time I chomped down on a slice of pizza in Brasil. I almost broke my tooth–OUCH! Same thing happened years later in Germany, when I was eating some cherry pie. Yup, cherries with the pits still inside. Beware, and bite softly!
-In some countries, people are weird about being photographed, even if they’re not the main subject of the picture. I once got yelled at for taking a picture of a market from across the street! Always ask before photographing someone–if you don’t, they may demand a payment or worse!
-While it’s not usually a big deal to snap a pic of your plane from the tarmac as you board your flight in The States or Europe, I’ve been reprimanded for doing this in many other countries. You’ve been warned!
-In the majority of countries, it’s illegal to take pictures of soldiers, military and police officer–you can get in big trouble, so don’t do it! Sometimes government buildings are even off limits. Photograph with caution!
-When abroad, never ever take up a stranger’s offer to “come see my family’s store at the market.” Also, never accept a “free” gift from these people. These are just one of many ploys to turn up the pressure on you to spend a lot of money on their stuff.
-Often people will try and “help” you, especially at airports. Some of these people are just kind, however many (if not most) are “helping” you only because they want to earn a tip. Best thing to do is put yourself in a “bubble,” and resist the temptation to even respond to a stranger trying to help you. You risk getting shaken down for a tip afterwards. I never mind flipping someone five bucks–but some people will get aggressive and demand more and put you into a really uncomfortable position. I had to learn the hard way, and now if I need help, I look for an employee.
-Always set an alarm and ask for a wake-up call. Never rely on just one alarm!
-Make sure you are earning points and rewards for every reservation you make: cars, hotels, air, dining…make sure you’re signed up for each company’s respective loyalty/miles program, so you’re getting credit every time you book travel.
-Pack sleeping pills in the event your body clock refuses to adjust to the local time. There’s nothing worse than not being able to sleep, and many countries don’t sell over the counter sleep aides.
-Don’t buy a timeshare. Please. Look at it this way: why do you think there are entire companies dedicated to getting people out of their time shares. Don’t do it.
Like these tips? Here’s the AUDIO version of my 50 Tips, in this special episode of Destination 193: