10 Aug Travel Hacking: 17 handy little tips to make life a little easier on the road
Travelling; visiting areas of the globe that you’ve heard on the news, jumping into bed with hot, sticky and intimidating cities. Immersing yourself in cultures that are alien to you, surrounded by people who don’t speak your language. Vagabonding; a sense of wonder, excitement, and adventure. An epic adventure that digs deep into the heart and changes you forever. Wandering; providing memories for a lifetime, photos that never fade and presenting ideas, opportunities, and friends forever. Uprooting your life and filling a bag with clothes, money, valuables and shoes to last your 3/6/12 months can be stressful, never mind all the extra obstacles that will no doubt stand in your way en route. In this guide, I will use my experience and point you through some of the best travel hacks and advice to make your trip easier, so you can focus on the important things.
- ONE: Subscribe and download Podcasts and Audiobooks. Everyone has enough music on their devices now to last a lifetime, but it can be hard to change that playlist that you’ve listened to endless times. Podcasts and Audiobooks are a great way to consistently update your content (often for free) every day or so. There are some great travel podcasts that are dedicated to your country of choice or subscribe to a comedy show. Travelling is full of long journeys, so you never know what you might stumble across on a podcast. Also, most hostels, hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants now offer free wifi, so it’s even easier to update.
- TWO: Buy a Kindle. I was never a big reader until I went to travelling, but my sense of wonder reached fever pitch so that I wanted to absorb every iota of information I could get my hands on. Life is all about sharing and reading inspiring travel stories/journals or non-fiction can add to your wanderlust even more. Most travellers read books to pass the time and leave them in hostels, but this adds to precious weight especially if you’re flying. A kindle can hold multiple different books and documents at a breezy 205g!
- THREE: Make sure you take a hard drive, and format it for use with both Mac and Windows. You’re sitting on a balcony looking over the Mekong river sharing a few beers with your new found friends when a song comes on that pricks up your ears. You’ve never heard this kind of beat or rhythm that hasn’t graced the charts back home. You delve deeper and listen to their album, you then watch a show that makes you die with laughter, or a film you’ve heard of before and always wanted to watch. During the day you went tubing and someone took and amazing photo of you. What about when you’ve got a rainy day inside and you feel like curling up and watching a TV series? A formatted hard drive can be your window to sharing with the world, swapping photos, music, TV shows and films (all legitimate of course).
- FOUR: Take a bunch of passport style photos with you. I recently found myself traversing the crowded streets of Hong Kong for 2 hours in the sticky city humidity, searching for a photo booth or shop that produced passport style photos for a Chinese Visa application. My blood was boiling as I went from shop to shop and subway station to subway station for a simple case of a few small photos. Don’t get stuck, bring a few small photos with you as you never know when they may come in handy!
- FIVE: Apply for a credit card. Credit cards these days are easy to come by and some provide excellent rates and bonuses including; shopping vouchers, air miles, cash back and 0% interest. I went for the latter and found one that provided 0% interest on purchases for 18 months. What happens if you run out of cash and need to book an emergency flight home? Or you’re stuck overnight in a city you don’t know and want to book a nice hotel? A credit card can be your ticket to freedom and one where you don’t have to worry about the financial struggles straight away. Set a minimum payback option and travel with a stress-free mind with an optional backup plan. NB, an emergency round of shots in a reggae bar do not count as an emergency! Be careful and responsible when using credit and know what you’re getting into.
- SIX: Apps, there are some great travel apps out there that can act as an essential travel buddy. Here is my run down of the best:
XE Currency Exchange: Allows you to set up to 10 different currencies so you can always work out how much things cost in your home currency
Hopper: Much like Skyscanner but it will track a specific flight’s price and notify you when it is at its cheapest
Air BnB: One of the best ways to experience a city or a country is to live there and Air BnB is great for that. It will also introduce you to hosts who can give you insider tips, places to eat, attractions and may even give you a little tour if you ask nicely
Uber: Everyone knows Uber, but now that it’s international, it offers that safe option. Set up a profile even if you don;t use it
Google Translate: Perfect if in a tough spot and need some information from a non-English speaking local
Tour Radar: Met a fellow traveller who told you about an amazing organised tour they took part in? Chances are that it will be on Tour Radar. You can check reviews, photos, dates, prices and availability
Duolingo: One of, if not the best language learning app on the market today.
Note: With apps such as AirBnB, Uber, Grab (Uber for the Philippines), etc, it is best to set up your profile before you leave. You don’t want to try and answer the security questions, confirm your e-mail or upload a profile picture in an emergency. Take 5 minutes and do it before you leave, it will save you a lot of stress trust me!
- SEVEN: Buy a VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPN is your way of accessing the internet from a server located in multiple countries from around the world and absolutely essential if you’re visiting China. Essentially it tricks the web page into thinking you are in your country of choice. They can be incredibly cheap (from $6/month) and worth every last penny. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, Instagram etc are all banned in China so a VPN lets you access them all. It’s also a way of watching your favourite videos on the internet that can be broadcast only in your country. PandaPow, PureVPN, and Astrill are some of the more popular ones
- EIGHT: Pick up a local sim card. Most local sim cards are free, and, if your phone is unlocked, will be compatible with any phone. You can usually pick one up at the airport and data and credit are relatively cheap in 3rd world countries. They are also excellent in the case of emergencies.
- NINE: Fill in your emergency contact details on your phone (iPhone users only). This is a biased post as I use an iPhone, but when your phone is locked, in the bottom left-hand corner you will see a link that says Emergency, click on this and another link in the bottom left-hand corner that will display Medical where (if filled out in the Health App) you will find a person’s Name, DOB, Blood Type, Medical Conditions and, most importantly, their Emergency Contact Information
- TEN: Buy a travel wallet and always have a pen handy. This is something I’ve only started doing recently but I’ve really reaped the benefits of it. A number of times, I’ve been on a plane and had to fill in an Arrival Card and sheepishly had to ask the person next to me or a stewardess for a pen. Take your own and eliminate this need. If you have a travel wallet there is often space in there to slide one in. They are also great for holding your passport, boarding pass and arrival cards all in one handy little carry case, eliminating the need for emptying out your bag to find each one.
- ELEVEN: Pack your laptop in your hand luggage so it’s easily accessible. Catching a flight can be one of the most stressful parts about travelling, so make sure your laptop is easily accessible at the top of your bag for a smooth transition.
- TWELVE: Keep all your USB cords and leads in one handy bag. Buying a small bag for all my chargers and leads was a stroke a genius and made me think why I hadn’t done it earlier? A lot of airports stage charging points in departure lounges, so when the flight is inevitably delayed, don’t be that person emptying out their bag looking for a phone charger.
- THIRTEEN: Wait until the final call to board a plane. When checking in, you are giving a seat and a boarding time. There is no notable advantage to rushing on the plane when boarding is called. Depending on what kind of flight you could be taking, there is no need to be inside this flying tin can longer than you need to be. Wait until everyone is on board and then stroll on through to find your RESERVED seat kindly waiting for you.
- FOURTEEN: Book flights online in Incognito mode on a Tuesday (stick with me on this one) Cookies – not the type that goes perfectly with milk or the kind that sends you half to sleep on a rug in India but the invisible ones that tell corporations and advertising companies what you’re looking at on the internet. Price comparison sites and airlines use these to track what routes you’ve been searching a cheekily jack up the price when you return. Turn on incognito mode or private browsing depending on your browser, and search in peace. Also (I’m not sure if this is a myth or a backpackers tale) but Tuesdays are supposedly the best day to find cheaper flights.
- FIFTEEN: Subscribe to airline mailing lists. Budget airlines such as Air Asia and Cebu Pacific (Philippines) often run promo fares where some flights can cost as low as $10. If you are subscribed to their mailing lists you’ll be the first to find out.
- SIXTEEN: Purchase Travel Insurance. Highly important and absolutely imperative. My dad won’t let me leave the house unless I can prove I bought travel insurance as, to quote him, I don’t want to re-mortgage the house to get you home if you fall off a motorbike in Thailand and that’s not a threat, as I know he would. Giving yourself and your parent’s peace of mind is so important when travelling. You don’t want to be that person who broke their leg rock climbing and raked up a $100,000 medical bill when you can get travel insurance for $25/month. Check out STA Travel and World Nomads
- SEVENTEEN: Lastly and most importantly – Update your parents often. Technology today has made communication incredibly easy. Your parents are in a constant state of worry when you fly the nest to exotic places around the world and apps such as Whatsapp and Skype make it easy to stay in contact (even my Nan uses Whatsapp now). They are quick to send you motivating messages when you need it the most and teary texts saying how proud they are of you for seeking adventure. Send them photos, voice messages, videos (keep it clean) and keep them happy, it only takes a couple of minutes and it makes their day Travelling is a phenomenal experience and one that will stick with you for the rest of your life. Go with the flow, try everything, let yourself loose, break comfort zones, do anything, eat, sleep, drink, read, share, fall in love, change your state of mind, see, smell, explore and become fully immersed. Travelling is an art form and by following these little hacks you can be sure to appreciate it just a little bit more.