20 Expert Travel Tips That Will Improve Your Trip – from Virtuoso
By Betsy Goldberg – Virtuoso
Even seasoned travelers are always looking for savvier ways to voyage around the world. Whether you’re newer to international travel or a longtime pro, the advice, tricks and hacks below will help you travel better.
Discover these 20 expert travel tips for a different experience next time you venture away from home.
Expert Travel Tips: Before You Arrive
Read up on your destination
For some destinations, you may want to read the work of a beloved local giant of literature, past or present. For others, you may want to delve into the location’s rich history. Still other places serve as the setting for a book by a non-native author (think Eat, Pray, Love).
Either way, reading something about your destination will set the stage for your visit. You’ll learn about the place and get more from your visit as you flip through the pages (physically or digitally).
Apply for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry
You’ll whiz through shorter airport security lines without stopping to take off your shoes and remove liquids and laptops from their bags. You’ll also speed through (frequently long) customs lines, enabling you to make tight connections and get home sooner.
Buy travel insurance
An accident while traveling could result in tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. For a small cost, you can buy yourself peace of mind in case something goes awry. In addition to covering expenses, travel insurance can also speed up claims and cover baggage losses.
Seek online inspiration
Virtuoso.com is an veritable encyclopedia of articles about global destinations as well as information on hotels, tours and cruises. From the Destinations tab in Virtuoso.com, find the place you plan to visit on the map, by clicking on the continent name, or by entering it into the search bar.
Social media is also a fantastic source of inspiration, especially for visuals. Search by hashtags or names of places, hotels or attractions. You’ll get a wealth of ideas about what to see, do, eat and drink in your destination.
Save images of key documents
Before the trip, take photos of important documents with your phone’s camera. Snap your passport, credit cards (front and back), driver’s license, health insurance cards, and itineraries. As an extra precaution, email them to yourself and a trusted friend or family member back home. You can also print off copies and keep them in your suitcase. In case any key items are lost or stolen during the trip, you’ll have everything at your fingertips.
Also use your camera for practical on-the-spot images. One helpful hint: take a picture of where you parked at the airport.
Dressing a cut above the average traveler can help you in several ways. When you’re flying, you’ll enhance your chances of being upgraded (or assigned a better seat) if you’re dressed in a business-casual style. A comfortable top and pants with nice shoes should do the trick. Look for wrinkle-free fabrics and ones with some stretch to them so you can move easily.
When you check into your hotel, the same is true: better dress may mean a nicer room or other perks.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, dress to blend in. If you look like a tourist (no fanny packs, please), you may invite different treatment from locals. And dress conservatively on days you’re visiting houses of worship.
Lounge in comfort
Ever pass by those private airport lounges and look at the closed doors with envy? You, too, can become a (temporary) member of those oases of calm in the midst of airport hustle and bustle.
If you’re not already a member, don’t hold the right credit card to open doors and are flying economy, fear not. You can still buy a day pass at an airline or independent lounge for about $30 to $50. With the food and drink offerings, as well as the relaxing surroundings, it’s well worth it for a long layover.
Work with a travel advisor
Partnering with a travel advisor to plan your trip is the way to go. You’ll enjoy a trip customized just for you, save time, receive better value, enjoy VIP treatment, and have a safety net if issues arise.
Expert Travel Tips: During the Journey
Wake up early
Set your alarm for bright and early. Watch the sun rise. Find a local hangout for coffee and absorb the ambience. Enjoy attractions before they get crowded. Your photos will have that magical glow due to soft light early in the day. And you’ll have fewer people to dodge while snapping shots of popular sights.
The best way to purchase anything on your travels? Use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. You’ll have an extra degree of protection if something goes wrong with a purchase. And you’ll earn points that you can invest in more travel. Bonus idea: bring more than one credit card with you, in case one is lost, stolen or compromised and needs to be canceled.
It’s also good to keep some cash on hand in the local currency. Withdraw money at an ATM once you get to your destination. You’ll get the best exchange rate and likely a smaller fee than an airport currency conversion service or your hotel’s front desk. Once you get your larger bills from the ATM, get smaller denominations for tips or little purchases.
Expect issues to arise
You know what they say about the best-laid plans. Travel is joyful yet uncontrollable and unpredictable. What you can control is your mindset.
Adopt ‘expect the unexpected’ as your mantra. When minor hiccups arise, let them go quickly. Look at them as an unexpected adventure, or a funny story to tell after you’re home. If a major problem occurs, however, contact your travel advisor right away for help.
Eat where the locals do
Food is one of the best ways to get to know a destination. It’s also one of the most pleasurable. Avoid tourist traps by eating at the restaurants the locals do.
How can you find these jewels? Visit a neighborhood where locals hang out. Observe which restaurants are doing a booming business. Or ask someone on the street for their favorite nearby spot.
Red flags: Don’t eat in well-touristed areas or close to major attractions. If you’re in a country where English isn’t a main language, pass by places that display English menus.
Another way to find good local food: get in line at a popular street vendor. Street food is one of the most authentic and delicious ways to eat when traveling. It may also be one of your most memorable culinary experiences.
Travel is a learning experience, and the best people to learn from are locals. Ask questions with confidence and a welcoming smile. The answers you receive could help you find hidden gems, make it to the museum on time, gain an interesting perspective, or track down the best view for a photo. Most locals are proud of their hometown and are happy to help you enjoy it to its fullest.
Document your travels
One of travel’s greatest gifts is its ability to create lifelong memories. Photos are a wonderful way to enhance those memories. You may only be in these places with these people once in your life.
Create the definitive souvenir for yourself and your travel companions. Snap many, many shots. They’re free, they’re easy to share and they don’t weigh down your suitcase. Plus there’s plenty of time to edit when you get home.
Another method of recording your trip is to keep a journal. Jot down what you did during the day or your impressions of your surroundings. A small journal and pen can accompany you throughout the day for in-the-moment thoughts.
Don’t schedule every minute of every day on a trip. Reserve time for wandering. Take it slow and observe what’s happening around you as locals go about their daily lives. Put away your phone and other distractions, be present and enjoy the moment.
Another benefit to not over scheduling: You can’t know a month in advance that you’ll want an elegant multi-course Italian meal on a specific night. Or that you’ll want to spend even more time exploring that intriguing neighborhood or that art museum.
Learn phrases in the local language
A few words in the language of your destination will go a long way with locals. You’ll be rewarded with a smile at least, and possibly some invitations or even friendships.
A multitude of websites and apps will help you learn some basics. At a minimum: hello, please, how are you, thank you and goodbye.
Venture off the beaten path
People love to seek out new territory. Consider up-and-coming destinations that aren’t as well-established yet. Now’s the time to see these places in their less-visited state. Added benefit: fewer travelers to compete with for hotel bookings, restaurant reservations and prime museum slots.
Looking for ideas? The 2016 Virtuoso Luxe Report named Cuba, Iceland, Croatia, Myanmar and Antarctica as the top emerging destinations.
Get lost – on purpose
Part of the joy of the journey is experiencing the unplanned and going with the flow. In fact, you might even want to get lost on purpose to explore a different side to your destination. You’ll get to know the city better. And you’ll take pride in your unexpected new discoveries. Those adventures are sometimes the best memories of a trip.
Do as well as see
To truly experience your destination, plan activities that give you a sense of place. What can you uniquely experience there and only there?
In Italy, book a cooking class. Enjoy a private samba lesson in Brazil. Travel by dogsled in Switzerland. Attempt to speak the distinctive language of Botswana’s San people (clicks and all).
Venture out of your comfort zone
Being away from home is a great time to break out of your comfort zone. You’re already exploring the unfamiliar. One more new experience should be easy.
You might try sticking a baby toe out of your usual zone, like a half-hour hike for someone who never hits the trails at home. Or it can be more major. Shark diving, anyone?
The more you challenge yourself, the easier experimenting will become. And the more confidence you’ll gain.