A quick Google search of top travel tips will bring you millions of results. All of the tips that you’ll find from these results are useful and practical, and you should definitely try them out on your next big adventure. But you’ll also find that the same handful of tips tend to be repeated in most of the articles. If you’re fed up of getting the same advice over and over again, read on to discover the 8 best kept secret travel tips.
Splurge on your first night
If you’re travelling on a budget, it can be tempting to make all of your accommodation cheap and cheerful. But for your first night away, it’s definitely worth spending a little extra. Whether you’ve come by plane, train, boat or any other mode of transport, the chances are that you’ve had a long and tiring journey and all you want to do is sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love staying at hostels. They have an atmosphere like no other, and it’s the easiest place to make new friends on the road. But after a 12 hour flight, all you want to do is get into your cosiest pyjamas and crawl into bed. The last thing you need is to make small talk with your dorm mates or deal with drunk partygoers.
It’s not like you need to splash out on 5 star accommodation. Just make sure you have a room to yourself for your first night, with a big comfy bed for you to rest and recover in. If you want to spend a little extra on your first night but you don’t know which accommodation to book, play it safe and stick with a chain hotel. When my partner and I travelled through Chile last year, we spent our first night in the Holiday Inn next to Santiago airport. It was one of the best decisions that we made. We successfully slept off our jet lag and we were ready to head out and start exploring the very next day.
Shoulder season is the way to go
When looking for the best time to travel, it can be very tricky to find the perfect balance. You don’t want your chosen location to be too busy, but you don’t want a dead atmosphere. You don’t want to deal with impossible heat, but you don’t want to have to wear 5 layers just to pop to the shops. Like Goldilocks, you want everything about your trip to be just right. Well fear not, your prayers have been answered — and they come in the form of shoulder season.
If you don’t already know, shoulder season is basically the in-between bit of the year. It’s the time when the tourist spots aren’t heaving, but most things are still open so there’s enough for you to explore. For most countries, spring and autumn are the shoulder seasons, as although the weather is no longer optimal, it’s still warm and dry enough to spend plenty of time outside.
Some of the benefits of shoulder season include cheaper accommodation, cheaper transport, shorter queues for tourist attractions, comfortable temperatures, quieter beaches, and so much more. Travelling in the shoulder season makes your experience far less stressful and so much more interesting — it’s definitely something to consider when booking your next getaway.
Solid shampoo is a must
Whether you’re going away for a long weekend or 6 months, it can be so difficult not to overpack. Do you get stressed when there are so many things you need to bring, and for some reason your suitcase is half the size it was the last time you saw it? If so, you’re not alone.
For me, it’s my toiletries that always seem to take up much more room than they should. Seriously, how does my boyfriend manage to fit all of his into a half empty wash bag whilst I’m struggling to cut it down to 2 full ones? If you’re like me, let me share with you the best space saver ever: a solid shampoo bar.
I know it doesn’t sound great, and I was hesitant the first time I used it too. But now I wouldn’t go travelling without it. Not only does it work just as well as liquid shampoo, but it’s much better value for money too. They can last for weeks at a time, and they’re great for the environment as well! Plus, if you only use cruelty free products like me, it can be difficult to find shampoo that hasn’t been tested on animals abroad when your liquid shampoo inevitably runs out. Lush have some great cruelty free shampoo bars at a reasonable price, so make sure to check them out.
Bag it up
Before I first went travelling, I thought “living out of your backpack” was just a phrase. But when you’re moving from one hostel to the next every few days, there’s little point unpacking your entire bag, just to end up trying to squeeze everything back in shortly after. Plus, it’s extremely rare that you’ll find a hostel with a wardrobe for you to unpack your clothes in, so the chances are that you won’t be able to do it in the first place.
Living out of your backpack does have its benefits — it makes it easier to move on when you’re ready to do so, and when you only get out what you need, you’re less likely to leave things behind. But unless you’re a packing maestro, it can be completely impossible to find anything in your backpack, even if it has a bunch of different compartments.
To make the process easier and a lot less stressful, organise your stuff by separating your packing into a bunch of smaller bags. For example, when I travel, I split my packing into 8 sections: tops, bottoms, dresses and jumpsuits, shoes, toiletries, makeup, electronics and other. Not only does it make finding less of an ordeal, but it’s so much easier to plan an outfit too! Some people use packing cubes to organise their backpack. Whilst everyone I know who uses them seems to love them, I just use a mixture of plastic bags and tote plastic bags instead. They may not be as practical or resilient as packing cubes, but they’re free and they get the job done!
Technology is your friend
If I had a shot everyone time I heard someone complain about how smartphones have ruined travel, I’d have alcohol poisoning. Whenever we talk about technology, many of us seem to see it as a hindrance which gets in the way of life, rather than something that can let us live it to the full. Of course, this isn’t 100% false. Technology can get in the way when it comes to travel, but this isn’t inevitable. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you use it.
One of the best ways to use technology when travelling is to make the most of Google Maps. Yes, you can rely on just a printed map, but navigating using an online map is so much easier. I’m pretty awful with directions — if I had to rely on a printed map alone, I’d have no idea where I was going 99% of the time. But with Google Maps, you can see where you are and which way you’re heading, which makes the process a whole lot easier. Plus, if you get split up from your travel companion, you can send them a pin to show where you are, and they’ll be able to find you in an instant.
But technology isn’t just useful for practical travel — it can be a great source of entertainment too. Imagine having to endure an 18 hour bus journey without having your phone, kindle or any other technology to keep you going? Of course, you can spend a part of the journey speaking with your fellow travellers, but after a few hours you’ll probably want some me-time. This is the perfect time to turn to your phone and get cracking on your list of Netflix downloads. So, save yourself from hours of boredom and don’t shun tech when you travel.
Guidebooks can’t help you all of the time
When my partner and I go travelling, the Lonely Planet is practically glued to his hand. I ask him where we should eat, he checks the Lonely Planet guide. I ask him what he fancies doing today, he checks the Lonely Planet guide. I ask him if he’s seen my phone, he checks the Lonely Planet guide. It. is. infuriating. (Sorry, Robin).
Don’t get me wrong, guidebooks can be great. When it comes to travel (and pretty much anything else in life), I’m a planner. Guidebooks are so helpful when it comes to planning my trip. And they still come in handy even after the planning stage is complete, as they’re chock-full of helpful advice and recommendations for when you’re on the road. But there is such a thing as too much Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or whatever travel guide that you rely on.
Because as good a job as they do, it’s impossible for you to only rely on them. Firstly, the guides are written by just a handful of people. When you have resources like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and HostelWorld, relying solely on your travel guides recommendations seems like a waste. There are so many amazing restaurants, hostels and attractions that the writers can’t fit in, or simply haven’t visited. Make sure to check out a wide range of reviews from a range of different people before committing yourself to your decision.
And secondly, guides can get pretty old pretty fast. The author might have had an amazing experience at a charming local restaurant a year or two ago. But if that restaurant has a new chef, new staff, or is under new management, you can have a completely different experience. So, make sure to read your guidebook — it’s a fantastic resource. But remember that it isn’t your only resource. Make sure to rely on online reviews, word of mouth, and your own intuition to make sure you have the best time travelling.
Don’t skip the touristy areas
As much as I love travel, there’s no getting around one particular fact: many travellers can be snobby. Not snobby in the stereotypical posh way. In fact, if anything, they’re the complete opposite. They relish in sharing stories of the roughest areas they’ve been and the grimmest hostels that they’ve stayed at. They wear their awful experiences as some sort of badge of honour, as if this is the only way that they can become a “genuine” traveller.
No, they’re not snobby in the normal sense — they’re snobby when it comes to the “right” and the “wrong” kind of travel. Many backpackers shun what are considered to be “tourist traps”. One of the most popular places for “real” travellers to look down on is Times Square. And I can see why — it’s big, it’s loud, it’s a capitalist paradise and it must be hell on earth for New York natives. But there’s no denying that it looks like an experience, and it’s somewhere I’ve always dreamed of going.
Yes, the restaurants in the area will undoubtedly be overpriced, and you’re almost certain to find stalls selling cheap and tacky souvenirs for 4 times the price that they’re actually worth. But for me, that’s just part of the fun. Whenever I visit Amsterdam, I always end up filling my suitcase full of tacky and distasteful souvenirs. And I never regret it! I think the problem is that many travellers like to take themselves a bit too seriously. It becomes so important for them to have a truly “authentic” experience, that they lose track of why they went travelling in the first place — for a fun adventure!
Do cheap and gaudy souvenirs give tourists an accurate insight into life in Amsterdam? Of course they don’t. But is there room for tourists to experience the cultural history of a city alongside the tourist traps and tacky souvenirs? Absolutely.
Take all the photos
This last one is hands down the most important, not just for travel but life in general. When Robin took this picture, I told him to delete it. It’s blurry, and I hated the way I looked in it. But he didn’t, and I’m so glad for that. Since I’ve started Live To Be Lost, I’ve spent a lot of time scrolling through my gallery for my daily Instagram upload. It’s made me realise how important taking pictures is, and I’m so glad that I’ve taken so many.
But this is where travel snobbery rears its ugly head again. When an “authentic” backpacker sees you taking a selfie, they might chastise you for living life through a screen, and not “living in the moment”. If anyone tells you this, just tell them to piss off. Because we can’t rely on memory alone when looking back on our time travelling.
I thought I remembered the moment in this picture well before I saw it. I remember sitting at the deck chairs at our hostel, with a sea view. I remember Robin having an absolutely enormous Sri Lankan breakfast (of course), and I remember the adorable dog that was snoozing in front of us. But until looking back at this picture, I didn’t remember drinking from a coconut. It was the first time I’d ever drank straight from the shell, and now I can remember how good it tasted. And I remember our host bringing it to me, I remember how kind and lovely they were and how much I enjoyed my stay there — it was one of the highlights of my trip.
So, don’t be afraid of not “living in the moment”, whatever that even means. Take the pictures, and make sure to look back on them. No, they won’t all end up on Instagram. But one day you’ll look back at that blurry, unflattering photo and smile.
Do you have any unconventional travel tips that you think the world should know? Don’t be shy, leave a comment down below!