Being paid to travel the world and write about it may sound like a dream job — and those of us who’ve ever found ourselves pecking away on our laptops at an oceanfront hotel in Greece certainly aren’t complaining! But it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds. Travel writers encounter the same nuisances that every other traveler does — like language barriers, airline fees, lost passports and the eternal struggle to have the best possible trip at an affordable price.
That’s why we asked 35 writers and bloggers to share their hard-earned travel wisdom from their lives on the road. Ranging from the practical to the profound, the travel secrets they reveal offer insights and ideas for every type of traveler.
“Be curious — and humble.” — Laura Bly, Bly on the Fly
“It sounds morbid, but one of the most interesting (and usually free) ways to learn about a city is to explore its cemeteries. These spaces are often beautiful and can offer insights into the history, architecture, art and religious beliefs of a city. Major cemeteries are usually full of elaborate monuments, interesting folklore and even celebrities (their headstones at least). Despite being such treasure troves, cemeteries are rarely crowded and make a nice escape from the urban jungle.” — Stephanie Yoder, Why Wait to See the World?
“Trying to get into a sold-out hotel? Find out when cancellation penalties set in for the date you want to arrive, then call the property on the morning of that day. You can scoop up rooms made available by people who’ve just canceled.” — Wendy Perrin, WendyPerrin.com
“I put almost every dollar I spend on my American Express Gold card that gets me Membership Reward points — even my mortgage company takes it for monthly house payments! When you use the points at American Express Travel (online), they’re good on any airline, hotel or car rental. Because almost all of my spending goes on that card, I have enough points to travel (nearly) free all year long. I have another airline credit card (Visa) for those few places that don’t take American Express.” — Trisha Miller, Travel Writers Exchange
“It’s harder to receive than to give. We’re naturally suspicious of local people’s motives when offered friendship or shelter. Be open-minded.” — Graham Styles, Brainrotting
“You should always carry a copy of your passport when you travel, but more important is keeping that copy safe. In the event your bags are lost or stolen, what are you going to do if your passport is in the bag? Keep a copy of your passport in the sole of your shoe. Most tennis shoes have removable inserts — tuck the copy of your passport under the insert and go about your merry way. You won’t lose your shoes if you’re wearing them, and if you’re robbed in a foreign city, the mugger won’t go after your tennis shoes — so you’ll still have a copy of your passport.” — Melanie Nayer
“Always pack zip-lock bags. They are ideal for packing things tighter, separating wet from dry and managing small items like batteries. I always pack a few bags in a variety of sizes before every trip.” — JoAnna Haugen, Kaleidoscopic Wandering
“Connect with locals living in your destination via Facebook, Twitter or blogs, and make a point to meet them for coffee or even couch surf with some of them. You’ll find yourself getting deeper under the skin of the country, and understanding a bit more about local culture and lifestyle than you usually would.” — Nellie Huang, Wild Junket
“Question charges like resort fees or valet parking at hotels. Often they will be removed from your bill if you question them at check-out.” — Kathy A. McDonald, Eastside Eye
“You’ll always get more in-depth information in the guidebook with the narrowest scope. If you’re going to Rome, the Rome book will be better than the Italy book, and that will be better than the Europe book. Guidebooks are not necessarily updated every year, so choose the one with the most recent publication date and know that the book was written at least six to nine months prior to publication (i.e., things may have changed). Also, three guidebooks are better than one — consider bringing only one or two travel guides and photocopying pages out of the rest, which you can toss when you move on to the next destination or head home.” — Erica Silverstein, Cruise Critic
“Don’t assume your way is the only way.” — Melanie Mize Renzulli, Italofile
“Saving money on a rental car has to be the most mundane and least thrilling secret I could offer, but there’s nothing dull about saving a dozen to a few hundred dollars every time you travel — money that can be put toward something a whole lot more exciting. First, I check a booking engine to find which agency is giving the best deals, check that agency’s Web site to see if I can get anything better there and then go to an auction site with the information I have. I will usually start bidding at around $13; from long experience, I have found this to be just about the bottom most rental agencies will readily accept (I have seen lower, but not reliably). If your bid is too low, the auction site usually comes back with a note indicating the price at which your chances go up significantly. Never go up the full amount to start, as you will see this number is almost identical to the rate at which you can book from Expedia or the car rental site. After you go through this process a few times, you will get a very good feel for the most likely sweet spot, and you will get the most affordable rental every single time.” — Ed Hewitt, SmarterTravel.com
“Before you start your trip, take a photo of your luggage. Put yourself into the pic, standing next to the bag. (This will give a good idea of the bag’s size.) Keep the shot in your camera, and also print out a copy. When your bag goes missing, hand over the copy (or show the in-cam shot) to the baggage folks at the airport. This can really help with finding your luggage. I did this on a recent trip to Kiev and the baggage folks there thought this was a dandy idea.” — Susan Farlow, FarWriter
“Take an extra, minimalist outfit in your carry-on. Luggage, inevitably, will get lost at some point!” — MS, mollyRsavs
“The best tip I’ve found is to go slow and immerse deeply. You’d be amazed how cheap it is to travel when you go slow. We have been traveling luxuriously, green and slow, for almost four years nonstop on just $23 a day per person! You can negotiate to get better deals too with longer stays. We saw 29 countries on one airfare.” — SoulTravelers3, SoulTravelers3.com
“Clubbing and pubbing solo: There are many things you can do to make going to a club by yourself a great time. Don’t carry your wallet in an obvious place and don’t carry a purse. Arrive early, sit at the bar and be friendly with the bartender (they’re your safety card). Don’t drink too much. Be proactive. Take pictures. Get into the scene. Chat with who you want, not who wants to chat with you.” — Janice Waugh, Solo Traveler
“Divide each person’s belongings amongst all luggage. This is especially important for traveling with a baby, but good for everyone too. That way no one is SOL if one bag is lost.” — Corinne McDermott, Have Baby Will Travel
“Book your accommodations directly on the hotel’s own website. Join the hotel’s mailing list and reward program. You’ll get the guaranteed lowest rates without booking fees and burdensome cancellation polices. The only time that I book travel with a third-party travel site (such as Orbitz) is if I’m booking a package with airfare. When booking packages, you can sometimes save a few hundred bucks by using a travel agency website.” — Pamela Jones, Travel Site Critic
“Place a plastic bag under the screw caps of soaps and shampoos and tie the bag around the bottle. This way if the cap opens, the bottle spills into the bag, not on your clothes.” — Annemarie Dooling, TravelingAnna
“If you have paper copies of your itinerary, hotel or tour reservations, or anything else you need, be sure to take a photo of them with your smartphone. That way you can access the information without having to pull the papers out. Nor will you need to access the Internet to get to the email version of the documents. Plus, if you lose the papers, you’ve still got all the info.” — Dori Saltzman, IndependentTraveler.com
“Do away with bringing loads of money on European trips and simply pack your debit card. ATM machines are all over the place in major cities and work the same way as they do here in America. I tend to carry as little cash as possible when I travel overseas. Obviously you don’t want to be walking the streets of Rome or Paris with nothing in your wallet, so always bring a little to exchange at the airport and use your plastic the rest of the way. ATM machines offer better exchange rates than the airport or your hotel. Just be cautious of ATM fees as they can add up, and avoid using a credit card. Remember it’s much easier to replace a lost debit card than it is a wallet full of cash.” — Andrew Hickey, The Brooklyn Nomad
“I’m a huge overpacker, so I find that limiting myself to just a carry-on (no matter how long the trip is) forces me to keep the amount of stuff I take to a minimum. Even if I have to do laundry while I’m on a trip, the cost is negligible compared to what I’d have to pay to check a bag with certain airlines, and I never have to worry about them losing my stuff!” — Ashley Kosciolek, Cruise Critic
“To prevent leaving your phone charger in your hotel room when you check out (which, alas, happened to me once), unplug the charger every time you remove your phone and put it back in your luggage. On a similar note, ensure that you don’t leave anything in your room safe when you check out by putting something essential for your day of travel (purse, coat, shoe) on top of the safe.” — Veronica Stoddart, VeronicaStoddart.com
“Two things I think of as my strengths are to pack light and to engage with local people. These two things go hand in hand if you shop locally for your basics; you can learn a surprising amount in supermarkets.” — Rachel Cotterill, RachelCotterill.com
“For girls, women and all travelers to Paris: Don’t be safe, be dangerous! (No, we don’t mean walk in dark, unsafe areas.) But try to use your high school French, talk to strangers in restaurants, walk in the rain and enjoy being in the most beautiful city in the world.” — Doni Belau, Girls’ Guide to Paris
“A TSA checkpoint-friendly laptop bag is the best way to put your laptop on the conveyor belt through airport security. I always hated sending it naked in a plastic bin through the X-ray; now it stays safe in a cushioned pocket. I’ve heard horror stories of laptops crashing to the floor or even being stolen at security checkpoints — chances of this happening decrease when it stays in its own bag.” — Kara Williams, The Vacation Gals
“I like to bring a little bit of each trip home with me — and not just with postcards. After I return from a foreign country, I always try to recreate a local dish in my own kitchen, like Moroccan couscous or Belizean stewed chicken. The smell of the meal will often transport me right back to the place I just left.” — Sarah Schlichter, SmarterTravel.com
“When we look back on a trip, our lasting memories are rarely of the many famous attractions we’ve visited or the places we’ve rushed through to snap a picture of that well-known monument. We are far more likely to remember that uncomfortable and scary journey across the mountains or the strangers we met in the one-horse town who became our good friends. So take the time to get to know the little places you visit and don’t worry if you don’t get to every place in the guidebook. We’ve learned this the hard way, and our itineraries now contain less than half of the stops that they did several years ago.” — Andy Jarosz, 501 Places
“Be ruthless with your shoes. It’s no secret that shoes are a major space hog, and with outdoor and sporting stores suggesting a different shoe for each activity, it’s easy to believe you need an arsenal of footwear. Trust me, you don’t. One pair of broken-in walking shoes and a street-friendly sandal are usually all you need. And forget about heels. Unless you are going to a wedding, you aren’t going to wear them.” — Chris Gray Faust, Cruise Critic
“Low-cost airlines aren’t always the cheapest. The ticket price may appear to be a bargain, but take a minute to tally the additional expenses. These include items such as booking fees, check-in baggage fees, advance seat reservation fees, and food and drinks on board. In addition, low-cost airlines often fly to secondary airports that are much further from the final destination than the main airports (i.e., Frankfurt Hahn Airport is situated 75 miles from Frankfurt!). This adds an extra transport cost, not to mention the inconvenience. Take the time to do a bit more research, as there may be a better deal out there.” — Keith Jenkins, Velvet Escape
“If you have street smarts, don’t be afraid to get lost in a foreign land. It might be the most rewarding experience.” — Peter Jeffrey, Traveling New Yorker
“Remain FLEXIBLE and have BACK-UP PLANS. Expect things to go wrong — the rental agent not to answer his phone; delays that keep you from getting to town before the restaurants close; your wallet to be stolen; your passport to be lost. That way you won’t spend precious hours freaking out … you can simply move to Plan B. (My Plan Bs for the above: cell phone number too; cans of soup/nutrition bars; documents copied at home for quick resolution.) If you don’t already have a Plan B, take a deep breath (or 10) and figure it out.” — Lisa Bergren, The World is Calling
“I never check luggage when I’m traveling, even if it’s for 6+ weeks. Among my tricks is to carry items that double and triple as other items. For example, I bring along a scarf that doubles as my purse because this is no ordinary scarf: It has concealed zippered and snap pockets where I can stash credit cards, my hotel key, cell phone and more. When I’m in a big city, this scarf is oh-so-practical because, after all, who would steal a scarf? I also bring along a multi-purpose Buff that can be used as a hat, headband, scarf, bandana and much more.” — Jeanine Barone, J the Travel Authority
“Never forget that it’s your vacation and there’s no wrong way to do it. There’s no such thing as a must-see attraction. If you want to travel all the way to Paris and order room service, that’s your business. Do what feels fun to you.” — Jamie Pearson, Travel Savvy Mom
“10 Essentials for Traveling Well:
2. An open mind
10. Serendipity” — Peggy Coonley, Serendipity Traveler
What’s your top travel secret? Share it in the comments below!
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