Since leaving Yorkshire and setting out on this adventure across the globe, I’ve packed and packed, booked and booked, and walked and walked more times than I thought physically possible. Often this requires brainpower and hard work, two things I’m not always that keen on using. Over the months, I’ve picked up a few travel hacks that make my traveling life a little bit easier and more efficient. Whether by using apps, items, or just philosophies that I keep in mind, they all serve a purpose for my trip in one form or another, and I believe can be useful on any traveling trip, long or short.
Traveling also gives you a lot of opportunities to see how others organize themselves. Watching the methods others use to make their trip more efficient often gives me tips and ideas for how to improve my own travels, including things I need to stock up on when I next get an opportunity. It’s a constant learning curve of efficiency which can then stem into other areas of life outside of travel.
1. Download Maps.me App
Maps.Me has been an absolutely essential app for me on my trip right from the beginning. Its GPS map works offline, you simply download the area of a country or whole country that you’re visiting, and you’re free to use it anywhere any time. It’s ideal when in a foreign country where online maps would drain a phone’s data.
Its extensive knowledge of roads and paths – some I have been utterly shocked at its awareness of – is astounding. However, it’s always best to check your route is on Maps.me before you set off on a journey, just to make sure.
2. Pack a Microfiber Towel
These lightweight and quick drying towels are the first things I will ever pack on a trip. My travels have involved being in hostels for a couple of days and then moving on, which, for ordinary bath towels is a pain in the neck due to how long they take to dry and how much space they take up.
Microfiber towels, on the other hand, squash up into the smallest spaces and can fit around other items in your luggage with no worries at all, and even when they’re wet from drying you, they only take a fraction of the time to dry as regular towels do.
3. Utilize Packing Cubes
My next purchase will be packing cubes. It’s been a bit of a regret of mine on this trip not having had them with me. They’re perfect for organizing clothes and keeping everything well compressed on your travels, and they’re relatively cheap. You can organize how you wish, T-shirts in separate bags than underwear, and even keep one spare as a laundry bag, for example, saving you rummaging through your whole backpack or suitcase for a specific item of clothing. They also come in a number of shapes and sizes which will fit both carry on and stowable luggage.
4. Water Bottle With Microfilter
This is another item I need to invest in for future travels. In Central America, for example, there are only a small number of cities which offer drinkable tap water. Some accommodation options will offer free or cheap filtered water, but for those that don’t, using a microfilter water bottle helps keep your travels cheap. Having a water bottle with microfilters makes almost any water source drinkable –rumors are that they even turn urine into drinking water, although you won’t catch me running that particular experiment – the only water type that is definitely off limits is salt water.
5. Don’t Use a Debit Card
This is something I was previously aware of from smaller trips where I’d take my native cash out and exchange it before heading to a new country. Charges for using your bank card abroad can be extortionate, and on top of that they will add their own exchange rate to your withdrawal. This is all before the ATM you’re using decides to add its own charge for the pleasure of your usage. Now, you can’t just take out cash for a whole trip via more than one country; it gets confusing and it’s just plain unsafe. Credit cards are a good way of getting around large fees and bank decided exchange rates, but my tip is to use travel cash cards.
There are a number of options on the market, depending on where you are from and some also depend on where you are visiting. Being from the U.K. and traveling worldwide, I chose to take two different types of cash card with me, one for ATM withdrawals and one for store transactions:
ATM withdrawals – I chose Caxton FX as they have no lower cash limit on transfers from your bank to their card, they charge 0% on withdrawals (not including the ATM owner’s own charges) and 0 exchange rate costs, there’s no annual fees and the card works in any machine that accepts Mastercard. Where Caxton FX make their money back is if you pay via store transactions and over the counter cash withdrawals.
Store transactions – I chose Fair FX, as they have super low store transaction fees at 1.4% (not including any charges the store itself may add). There is a £9.95 issue fee at first, but it more than pays for itself over the long term. ATM withdrawals are where Fair FX makes money, charging 1.4% and £1 per withdrawal.
Travel cash cards are a personal choice, and should be researched thoroughly before agreed upon. These were my favorite two options, but there may be options that suit other travelers better.
Travel Cash and Cash Cards
6. Book Accommodation by Email or Phone
Booking.com, Hostelworld, and the like are excellent tools for finding accommodation in parts of the world you’re unaware of. I use them all the time to see reviews, get ratings, and gather an idea of price per night. But a tip that I’ve learned over my travels is not to book through comparison sites. The reason? It’s always better for the accommodation and sometimes cheaper for you if you book directly through via email or phone. Booking companies charge fees and deposits that accommodations don’t receive, and most also charge booking fees to you. If you go directly to the hotel or hostel and cut out the middle man, both parties save/earn money.
7. Go On Free Walking Tours
Never usually one for the touristic options on trips, I tend to avoid tours and head out to find things myself. But what I always look for when I get to a new city is free walking tours. They are cheap, as the only cost is a voluntary donation, you get to explore a city pretty thoroughly and learn a bit about its past, present, and future; sample its culture, food and drinks, and you get to meet someone who is from there straight away, which is the perfect opportunity to ask any questions you may have when traveling through their hometown.
Free Walking Tour Explaining Street Art of Bogota
8. Don’t Pack Heavy Guidebooks
I’m not arguing against their quality or accuracy, as particularly with the bigger brands there is so much money, time, and research committed to them that they’re truly a trustworthy resource. However, in my personal opinion, the Internet is a far greater source and 99.9% of the time completely free. The main issues I have with guidebooks are threefold; they’re heavy, space consuming, and by the time I’ve actually reached a place usually at least mildly out of date. You can find out more than enough information about a region, city, or country by spending the same time doing online research, speaking with people in your accommodation, including staff, and also chatting with locals at a bar or eatery if you can find someone with limited language barriers.
9. Take Only One Book
I’m a big lover of books, fiction, non-fiction, semi-autobiographical I don’t really care, so long as it grabs me, I’ll read. I’m also a bit traditional in that I like a physical book over Kindle, et al. The toughest choice for me ahead of such a long trip was which books to bring with me. Stupidly, my indecision led me to bring around four.
This added a shedload of weight to my luggage and by the time I’d got through one of them I’d seen the others in various accommodations along the way which I could have traded, plus plenty of others I then wanted to read. If you’re like me, and like physical books, bring one, and when you’re done, pick up another at hotels, accommodations, book exchanges, or even book stores along the way.
10. Remember Why You’re Traveling
Less of a hack and more of a thought to bear in mind. When you’re a long way through a trip, as with life in general there are moments where sometimes you either lose appreciation for the road or question your motives. Maybe you have an urge to suddenly start something which isn’t possible right now in the moment (I’ve had that a couple of times), or maybe you miss something from home. Whatever your distraction, remind yourself that home will always be there, the option to start something new will always be there, but the chance to be in this new place you’re in right now is unlikely to ever happen again. Be conscious of the exotic plants you may never see again, the birds, the sounds of the people, the scenery, the food, and the smells. Whatever is unique to that place, breathe it all in and live it while you can.
Making traveling efficient is one of the most difficult but rewarding undertakings, the more efficient one can make it from the start, the happier and less incident filled their travels will be. Using travel hacks could save numerous headaches later down the line. Each trip is individual, but there are some issues which are more likely to occur than others, and staying on top of them early is the ultimate advice I can offer.