On preparing for your trip
1. Print your entire itinerary and flight tickets/confirmations. Store these with your passports. You can’t always rely on Internet access or electricity to pull this info off your phone or laptop.
2. Keep a copy of your passport and never have all of your forms of identification or access to cash (ATM/credit cards) in the same bag. If that one gets lost or stolen, you are SOL.
3. Check in with friends and family from time to time, especially when traveling alone. It’s a good idea for someone to always know where your next movements are, just in case.
On talking to airline agents
4. Always be patient and polite. This person could be the difference between you getting the flight that night or having to spend it on the airport floor.
Bad: “Can you get me on the next flight out — I can’t miss my connection to Europe!”
Good: “Excuse me, Barbara. I totally understand you guys are slammed right now, but if you have one minute, I’d really appreciate if you could try to get me on that next flight out, otherwise I’ll miss my international connection. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.”
5. Call the airline if you’re getting stonewalled, and find an agent that is willing to help you. Keep calling until you get the answer you want. Many times agents are trained differently and some are better than others.
On budgeting abroad
6. Travel in low season. In places like Thailand and India, food and accommodation can be half the price. And there is still plenty of sunshine.
7. Use the Share-a-bill iPhone app when traveling with friends. It helps to track who spends what so no more arguing about money.
8. Track your spending. If you have a laptop, use a spreadsheet and set up some simple formulas to automatically add up your purchases. Or simply write it all down in your journal. Be vigilant.
9. Set up a new account to pull from on the road. Limit yourself to that, so when it’s gone, you come home.
10. Check your bank account options. Withdrawing overseas can be a huge cost, so make sure you know the fees. It might be worth it to upgrade to a premium account that includes international ATM withdrawals (and sometimes your service fee can be waived if you keep a minimum amount in the account).
11. Know the exchange rate of your destination countries ahead of time.
12. Don’t use traveler’s checks. These are a pain to cash in, and the fees can be very costly.
13. Have local currency when you arrive (preferably small denominations). Having to exchange money at the airport when you land is expensive. If you do have to exchange at the airport, shop around a bit if possible. The first one you encounter is likely to be the most expensive.
14. Try your hardest to avoid currency exchange places. The exchange rate at these are the worst, especially in airports and train stations. Always better to get the local currency from an ATM.
15. Buy food and booze at large grocery stores, instead of going out to bars and restaurants.
16. Do research ahead of time and book a reservation at a hostel that is both nice and inexpensive. Walking around with a backpack on looking for a cheaper place to stay isn’t fun when you’re exhausted from traveling all day.
17. Check out Craigslist, HomeAway, Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), and AirBnB for apartments to rent in the places you’re visiting — these are often cheaper than hotels and hostels.
18. Use Couchsurfing for free accommodations. [*Note: Never use this site solely for free accommodations. The main purpose is cultural exchange and to meet people. Reciprocate if possible when you return home.]
19. Don’t book domestic flights at the same time you get your international flights. Booking close to the departure dates from inside the country can be much cheaper.
For example, flying into Kathmandu from New York is really expensive if you make that your destination and book from the US. It is much cheaper to fly from JFK to Bangkok, spend a night or two, and then book the flight from BKK to Kathmandu on a local Asian airline.
On meeting people when traveling alone
20. Use Couchsurfing to meet folks for coffee or tea or to join in a group event. If you’re hesitant about it, check out Overcome Your Fear: How to Practice Safe Couchsurfing.
21. Sit at a bar and strike up a conversation with the bartender. They’re possibly bored, know a lot about the town and might introduce you to other regulars.
22. Stay in a hostel, even if you want to stay in a private room. You can always meet people in the common areas.
23. Share information with other travelers. What goes around comes around. When you give others a leg up, it comes back to you down the road.
[*Note: Meeting people is never compulsory. Don’t feel bad if you’re not up for it.]