I recently realized that I spend so much time going into detail about planning for specific destinations that I haven’t really talked about the big picture as much. There are some foundational principles that I apply to any travel I do, so I thought it was time to share my best travel tips that help no matter what type of trip you’re planning!
11 of the best travel tips for any type of trip
These tips are blend of how you prep for a trip and what you do while you’re there, but their shared DNA is in doing some research ahead of time. Because even for things like what type of souvenir to buy, you should do a bit of research beforehand to know what items the place is known for and how to recognize quality.
Have I missed some obvious tips?? Hit me up in the comments and let me know your thoughts!
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#1 – Rethink your accommodation
I think my passion for this was born out of my study abroad days, when I lived in the suburbs of Florence with an older couple in their apartment. So even before the days of Airbnb, I often sought out apartments to rent rather than a hotel…and in places like Europe this often makes a ton of sense because lots of the bigger hotels aren’t as central.
I love the feeling of waking up in the morning early, looking out the window at the city, and then going for a run on the streets before the crowds take over (followed by delicious local coffee and pastries). So look at hotels but also apartments that might work.
But don’t stop there. I’ve stayed in a gorgeous apartment in a medieval hill town, a Bedouin camp in the desert, cute bed and breakfasts, a traditional Norwegian Sami lavvu tent, and a couple of times rented a boat for overnight sailing trips. Think outside of the box.
Don’t get me wrong, though—there are times when a hotel makes more sense. I have a detailed post on how to choose the best hotel or rental, and considerations for which fits your trip best.
#2 – Do something special (& maybe a little scary)
My travel ethos is firmly rooted in making every trip at least a little epic, whether it’s a jam-packed week in Turkey or just a weekend in Portland. Look into different interesting experiences that are unique to where you’re visiting, including things that make you a little nervous or excited. Go dog sledding, jump off a cliff while paragliding, snorkel between continents, or hike a glacier. In general I always try to build some nature-y things into any trip I take.
I often tend to think of it as something “active”, but that’s not always the case…it might be a food tour in Asheville, a cooking class in Thailand, the mystical Petra at night, a traditional afternoon tea in London, or learning how coffee is farmed in Colombia. This is one of my best travel tips even if it’s just a quick weekend away.
#3 – Don’t bring new clothes
This might be my most controversial tip. A lot of people make the mistake of shopping right before a trip, and I totally get it (and am often guilty of it). But it’s a HUGE gamble.
I know that sounds crazy, and for those people who just magically fit into and look amazing in any clothes, go for it. For most of us, different fits and fabrics take time to get used to, and we might have totally loved something when we tried it on…only to have it pull or bunch in weird places, look terrible in photos, or bust a seam on the first wear. Shoes in particular are a major leap of faith (like, blister city).
Yes, there are exceptions like a special Arctic winter trip (I’ve got you covered!) or trekking through a rainforest. But for most other trips, take it from me and build a go-to subset of your wardrobe that’s simple, cute, and comfortable that you can take on all your trips (see also: my trusty cross-body purse).
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#4 – Learn a few words in the native language
To me, this is non-negotiable. I’m not talking about becoming fluent in a new language (though sure, you go, Glen Coco)…but to me it is not only smart but also respectful to learn a handful of conversational words in the language of wherever you’re traveling.
I’ve found that just saying “Hi, how are you?” and maybe ordering your coffee and saying please and thank you in the local language really makes a difference in how friendly people are. It’s so much better (and more respectful) than just expecting everyone you meet to speak your own language. It’s one way to blend in just a little more and feel like you belong. I loved this detailed advice on how to navigate language from Team Hazard Rides Again.
(Though no amount of language prep will probably make you ready for driving through this…)
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#5 – Buy something useful for a souvenir
I have a special hatred of completely useless and tacky souvenirs. Just…WHY. Finding special things to take home (or give as gifts) from my travels is one of my greatest pleasures. I gravitate toward items I can use in my daily life, like coffee mugs, pint glasses, jewelry, and foodstuffs. That way every time I use it, I get a little thrill and wave of happy nostalgia for the amazing trip I took.
Whether it’s a pretty garnet ring from Prague, a leather purse from Florence, a beautifully-detailed handmade scarf from Jordan, or brightly-colored ceramics from Turkey, go out of your way to research the best ideas ahead of time and seek out high-quality items to take home. And don’t forget perishables like olive oil, truffles, sea salt, honey, and wine!
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#6 – Try public transportation
Even if it’s not the main way you get around, I think that using public transportation is such a great way to get a feel for local life! I love it as an exercise in figuring out how to navigate despite language and culture barriers (figuring out the process, how to buy a ticket, validating it, which line you’re on, etc.).
I’ve ridden trams in Istanbul and Jerusalem, the cable cars of Medellin, the metro in London and Paris, and funiculars and ferries the world over. Seeing how the locals get to work and get around is so much fun, though it’s sometimes best to avoid during rush hour if you’re just doing it for fun.
#7 – Keep a record of your trip
I’m not as great at this and honestly don’t enjoy it a ton, but still think it’s so important…in some ways I include this on my “best travel tips” list to keep myself accountable! I have journaled on and off since I was a kid, but have tried to be diligent about it whenever I travel. And because of that I can look back and remember weird little details and funny anecdotes that I would never in a million years have retained.
So whether it’s journal, video diary, whatever, try and consciously keep a record. The one thing I *am* good about is taking tons of pictures, which is a different type of record.
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#8 – Go local
For the love of all that’s holy please don’t just go to a new destination and eat at or stay at all the same places you have at home. Find hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars or stay in a family-run hotel. Find out what the local drink is and give it a try. Seek out places where you’re the only non-local in sight, because the locals typically know what’s good.
#9 – Check sunrise & sunset times ahead
I know this sounds like a “duh” tip, but sometimes people forget that time of year can make a DRASTIC impact on how much you can fit into your itinerary. If you book a trip to Iceland in July hoping to see the Northern Lights, you’ll be disappointed. Sunset in Scotland in the winter is like…3:30pm.
If you’re actually wanting to *be* somewhere for sunrise or sunset, make sure to add some padding beforehand. Sunrise and sunsets are funny depending on where you are (I’m assuming latitude and seasonality make the most impact). Some start early and are drawn out, while others happen so fast you miss it if your camera settings aren’t right. An extra 20-30 minutes as a safety net will make sure you don’t miss the experience.
#10 – Don’t overpack
I cannot stress this enough! It slows you down and ties you down. Obviously the type of trip you’re planning makes a difference, and in particular how much you’ll be moving around and what type of transportation you’re using (e.g. renting a car or being based entirely in one place gives more leeway).
But there are so many times I’ve been thankful I packed carry-on only because it allowed me to be flexible when something went awry…whether that was delays that made for a super tight connection, a cancelled flight that ended up changing our destination entirely, or just having to haul bags up and down the INSANE stairs and hills of Cinque Terre.
#11 – Get out early
This isn’t just one of my best travel tips, it just might be my personal travel foundation, and is particularly effective when traveling in more touristy destinations (like anywhere in Europe). There is something magical about getting out in the pearly light of early morning and going for a walk or run. It’s quiet and peaceful, and you feel like you have the place to yourself—even in somewhere like Rome’s Pantheon!
Whether it’s being able to capture a breathtaking sunrise over the ocean or snap a photo of a world-famous spot with no one else around, I’ve never once regretted dragging myself out of bed and exploring.
So there you have some of my best travel tips of all time, the ones that work every single time for every type of trip. These won’t steer you wrong and will make you feel more prepared, more immersed in your destination, and have a wonderful time!
Other travel advice to help you out:
- Trip Planning Tips: How to Make Every Itinerary A Little Epic
- A Guide to Finding the Right Flight…Every Single Time
- 20+ Tips to Survive (& Thrive) on a Long Flight
- 10 Things You Must Do Before Every Trip
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