I love to travel.
If you’re reading this article, you probably do too.
When I left the country for the first time back in 2013, I had no idea what to expect. By the end of my two-month experience teaching in Belize, I knew that I wasn’t going to be getting a job and living in the U.S.
Since then, I’ve lived, worked, and traveled in over 15 countries. I’ve learned a lot during this time about what to do (and not do), and I’d love to share some that insight with all of you.
1. Be smart with your money. A lot of people think, “Oh. I’ll keep spending because I’ll never be back in this place again.” If you do that too often, you’re going to run out of money fast. Sometimes, the best nights and the best stories happen without spending a cent, so consider getting off the beaten path before you blow your budget.
2. Make money while you’re traveling. We’ve been able to travel full-time for two years now because we work as freelancers while we go.
3. Set a clear budget. Know your budget, and stick to it as much as you can.
4. Use cash. Money feels a lot more real when it’s physically disappearing from your wallet. It’s a lot easier to overspend when it’s just one more card swipe rather than a trip to the ATM.
5. Save. A lot of people who travel full-time don’t make money a priority, but you should do your best to save money every month. Caring about retirement is cool.
6. Don’t worry too much about what other people or employers might think. People might tell you that extended travel is a bad idea, but we’ve been able to pay off our loans, save money, and advance our careers while traveling. The amount of remote workers is going up every year, and people are much more open to working with them than you may think.
7. Be wary of anyone asking you to pay a deposit. If you give one in a foreign country, you’re just asking to lose a bunch of money or spend time arguing trying to get your money back. Even more so if you don’t speak the language.
8. Don’t trust someone just because they’re from your country. We thought we could trust a landlord in Colombia because he was American, but he was the worst one we’ve dealt with.
9. People will do just about anything to get as much money out of you as possible. If they seem like a hustler, they are.
10. Airbnb is great for protecting yourself from scammers in the rental industry. You can read reviews, rent from trustworthy people, and have a third-party mediator.
11. You get significant discount on Airbnb the longer you rent. We almost always get at least 20% when we rent for a month.
12. Take pictures of your apartment when you arrive and when you leave. If there’s ever a dispute, you’ll have evidence.
13. Know the tipping expectations. If they don’t tip, then don’t tip. If they tip, then tip.
14. Make sure you have an emergency fund. When you inevitably f*ck up and need to buy a new flight ASAP or drop money on something serious, you won’t have to worry about charges going through, over drafting, or anything else.
15. Always have a credit card on hand. If you can’t have an emergency fund, a credit car is the next best thing to ensure you’re never stuck someone you can’t get out of. They buy you time and are also necessary for some car rentals and other international purchases.
16. Separate the important stuff. Both you and your partner should have debit and credit cards, so if one of you gets pick pocketed or loses their wallet it’s not the end of the world. If you’re traveling alone, leave a second debit and credit card in your apartment when you go out to avoid being stranded without cash or access to your accounts if something goes wrong.
17. A deck of cards almost always comes in handy. There’s a ton of different two-person games to play, and it’s a great way to hang out with people you don’t really know.
18. Invest in sturdy boots. We do a lot of walking when we’re traveling, so I always bring a good pair of walking shoes with me.
19. Always bring a portable charger. No one wants to choose between photos of an exotic destination or music on the ride home. portable chargers are cheap and one of the most important items if you don’t want to be stuck staring into space on a bus, train, or plane.
20. Pack a headphone splitter if you’re a couple. Great for watching tv/movies or listening to music/podcasts together, especially when one person’s phone inevitable dies.
21. Don’t overpack. Pack everything you want, then remove half before you leave. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
22. Limit your luggage to one on your back, one on your stomach. We go with a big backpack and a small backpack and always have everything we need.
23. Packing a speaker is a great idea. I use my portable speaker all the time.
24. Consider a portable projector. Your apartments might not always have a TV, so look into portable projectors if you want something bigger than your laptop screen.
25. Always travel with an extra outfit in your carry-on bag. If your luggage is lost, you can at least feel fresh the next day when you start the miserable hunt to get it back.
26. Never put anything valuable in a checked bag or under the bus. Laptops, cameras, cellphones, and passports should all be in one bag that’s in your sight at all times.
27. If you’re sleeping in a bus, train, or air terminal, wrap the straps of your bag around your arm or leg before you pass out and get robbed.
28. Practical above all else. A cute sundress may look amazing, but jeans and a black tee will be appropriate for more events and seasons. Every article of clothing counts. If you don’t wear it in the first month, donate it or throw it out.
29. They don’t really wear shorts in a lot of countries. Americans love shorts. A lot of other countries don’t. Unless you’re going to be on a beach, skip them on your packing list.
30. Don’t get caught up trying to see everything. When I first started traveling, I felt like I had to see and do it all. You just have to accept that you can’t see everything so that you can actually enjoy yourself.
31. Try not to say no too often. I find myself turning things down too much at times. I try to remember that I’m traveling to see and try new things.
32. Don’t romanticize traveling without a plan. It might sound adventurous and fun, but in reality it just means wasting hours at a coffee shop trying to figure out your next steps. We typically have the big stuff (i.e. accommodation) planned before we get somewhere.
33. Don’t rely on tour agencies to give you the facts. In a lot of countries they are willing to sacrifice your wellbeing to make some money.
34. Don’t rely on ratings alone for restaurants and businesses. Read reviews even if a rating is high because TripAdvisor has become less reliable over the years, and sometimes the average or bad reviews paint a different picture.
35. Take pictures of the mundane stuff. Beautiful landscapes are great, but snap some of your meals and partner and new friends you meet… those are the ones that will bring back the most memories in years to come.
36. Don’t be afraid to haggle, but don’t be a dick about it. Negotiation is expected in a lot of countries, so get comfortable doing it. Just don’t push it too much if it’s not a significant amount of money.
37. Don’t give to kids. Parents use them as beggars all the time, and though it’ll tug at your heartstrings it’s better in the long run not to support it. If you really feel terrible about yourself, find a reputable organization you can donate to instead.
38. On Airbnb, always verify that you’re actually renting an entire apartment and not sharing it. People list shared apartments as entire apartments all the time. Really read the description, and send a message to clarify before your book.
39. If someone seems like they don’t really know how to use Airbnb, don’t rent from them. If they struggle with the tech, they’ll probably struggle with providing a good experience.
40. Don’t buy too many souvenirs. They take up space and will usually fall apart or be thrown away the minute you get home.
41. You can find a lot of good information in Facebook groups. In more popular cities, there’s almost always an expat group of some sort where you can ask more specific questions.
42. Four full weekends is almost always enough time in one city. We typically stay in each city for five weeks, and it’s enough to enjoy a mix of visiting the big sites and getting off the beaten path.
43. The internet isn’t always right. Sometimes I show up in a city where everyone says you can’t drink the water, and it’s perfectly fine (looking at you, Sibiu.) Or, the media will sensationalize a culture (like Dubai) and we’ll show up to find that it’s way more normal and relaxed than the online articles make it appear.
44. When you start planning a trip, dedicate a gmail folder to it and move all confirmation emails directly to the folder. Then, when you’re traveling it will be much easier to find the one you need in the moment.
45. Before you set out on the next leg of your journey, screen shot addresses, phone numbers, and tickets or bar codes. You may find yourself without service or internet, and having the essentials safe on your phone can be a godsend.
46. Popular digital nomad destinations aren’t always the best. Medellin is praised as one of the best, but I’ve preferred almost every other city I’ve lived in to it. Do your own research, and don’t lock yourself into one place for too long.
47. Check tourism boards and ticketing websites for every city when you arrive. There’s often plenty of cool festivals, shows, and events that you’ll never hear about otherwise.
48. Always, always, always know the visa rules for every country you’re traveling through. We lost a lot of money because we didn’t know that we needed a visa to transfer airports in India on a layover. Don’t make a mistake like that.
49. Pay attention to whether your driver seems drunk. After a tuk-tuk driver almost drove us all off the side of a mountain one night, we’re much more careful about adhering to this rule.
50. Downloading movies and shows from Netflix to your phone is one of the best forms of entertainment. I used to only use music and podcasts, but now movies and shows are my go-to for long trips.
51. A Spotify subscription is worth it. We pay $10/month, and it’s 100% worth the money to have access to downloadable music and podcasts.
52. Being on the plane overnight is better than being in the airport overnight. After spending a night in the Mexico City airport, I’ll do whatever I can to avoid it again. If you have to travel overnight, try to at least be on a flight.
53. Sometimes it’s better to spend a little bit of extra money on transportation. The more I travel the more I realize it’s often worth it to pay a little bit extra for comfort, speed, convenience or all three.
54. Always let someone know if you’re getting off the bus at a quick stop… otherwise, there’s a very real chance that your bathroom break could end with you getting left behind in the middle of nowhere!
On Day-to-Day Life on the Road
55. Stay active, and sign up for gym memberships when possible. Unlike the US, most gyms in other countries don’t require craze fees and contracts. I always sign up for a month-long membership when I get to a city, and it helps keep me healthy and sane.
56. An endless vacation may sound like fun but even that comes with problems. Stick to a routine and stay productive. It will keep you from spending too much money, drinking too much, or getting traveler burn-out.
57, Buying groceries and cooking at home is cheaper and healthier than eating out. Going to restaurants regularly can be tempting, but try to cook at home during the weeks and save the meals out for a treat on the weekends.
58. Make an effort to look good. When you work from home and live out of a suitcase, it’s easy to get sloppy. Dressing nice can make you feel like a totally new person… even if it’s just for a trip to the grocery store.
59. A lot of medicines are widely available and significantly cheaper in other countries. You can usually find what you need in a pharmacy and get it over-the-counter without a prescription.
60. Project Fi is a decent worldwide phone plan, and there are ways to use it without having a Google device. I pay around $23/month for texts, $0.20 per minute for calls, and $10/GB of data on my iPhone. I believe it’s only for Americans at this time, but other countries have better phone plans anyways.
61. Sprint’s customer service sucks. We had them for over a year and didn’t have many positive experiences with them… but the Open World Plan for traveling in Latin America is still the best and cheapest option out there.
62. Apple products can be difficult to find at reasonable prices. I paid $90 for a $20 charger when I was in Mexico. Consider bringing an extra if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t typically carry Apple products.
63. Your apartment or hostel door will get stuck. And you’ll be left wondering how you’re going to get in when it’s late at night or freezing outside. Luckily pulling the door toward you as you unlock it will solve the problem and get it open again 98% of the time.
On Making Friends
64. Do your best to meet new people. If you’re traveling with a partner, it can be easy to fall into your comfort zone. You have to make an effort to be social. People won’t just come up to you and ask to hang out, but if you initiate a conversation 99% of the time you’ll make a new friend.
65. That being said… there’s a difference between going out of your comfort zone, and being uncomfortable. Some people just suck to hang out with. If you get a bad feeling, don’t be afraid to leave the situation.
66. If someone makes it a point to tell you they’re a “traveler” and not a “tourist,” stay away from them. They’re often d-bags.
67. Volunteering at local nonprofits is a great way to meet people and feel good: You might have to do some digging to find opportunities, but it’s a good way to learn about the community.
68. Not every silence needs to be filled. I’ve noticed a lot of solo travelers tend to overshare because they don’t want the conversation to stall. Let it flow naturally and don’t try to control it, and it may end up on some great unexpected topics (or, just people asking you if you voted for Trump for the millionth time).
69. What’s everyone else ordering? If everyone at the restaurant has fish, don’t get the burger. Also, don’t be afraid to point at someones meal and ask the waiter what it is.
70. Sometimes you just need a little taste of home. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing McDonald’s or Starbucks every now and then, and you shouldn’t let anyone shame you out of it!
71. Don’t complicate things. When you try to change an order or ask too many questions with a language barrier, things will just get more muddled. Accept that you just probably won’t know what’s happening or what’s coming about 50% of the time.
72. Mentally prepare yourself now to pay exorbitant prices for peanut butter. That’s just how life works now. Oh, and you’ll never, ever, ever find grape jelly outside of the US.
73. One meal out is almost always enough. Split it and tell yourself if you’re still hungry, you can order more food after… I promise you’ll never need to.
On Common Sense
74. Keep your hands on your pockets in crowded areas, especially when you’re transitioning off a bus in a crowded area with a lot of bags. I got pick pocketed once, and now I’m always super careful.
75. Pat yourself down whenever you’re getting out of a cab before letting them drive off. We’ve left THREE phones in cabs. Now we always pat ourselves down and check that we have everything before letting the car drive away.
76. Always put your pictures/videos in the cloud. It’s easy to download the Google Photos app and directly upload all of your photos at the end of each day. After losing every picture from three weeks in Thailand when I got pick pocketed on the last day, I back everything up.
77. ALWAYS check the meter before the taxi starts driving. Too many drivers will start it with the last fare still running, or won’t turn it on at all and demand a crazy price at the end. If there isn’t a meter in your taxi, check the estimated trip price on Uber before agreeing to one with the driver, and always confirm a final price before you get in. Actually, just avoid taxis when you can, but be extra careful while in them if you can’t.
78. Learn the emergency number for every country you’re in. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s important to be aware that it’s not 911 everywhere.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned many of these travel lessons the hard way. DON’T be like me, and take these 78 full-time travel tips to heart before you pack your bags and hit the road.
Of course, If you have any tips or tricks that I missed, let me know in the comments!