I realised that I should make a list of my top travel tips for any traveller on my first solo trip to Italy when the lift didn’t work. I was obliged to carry my bag down a few flights of stairs, and I wanted to keep a reminder for myself of what not to do on my future travels.
I have been travelling to local and international destinations since my childhood, first with my family and more recently, as a solo traveller. During this time I have accumulated a wealth of travel tips and tricks for travelling abroad the first time.
It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, single or travelling with companions or family, these twenty something international travel tips will help you plan and execute your vacation with minimal fuss and inconvenience.
Travelling solo is not for the faint hearted but if you want to give it a go you may want to read The truth about travelling solo as a Muslim woman or 5 Top destinations for Muslim solo female travelers.
TRIP PLANNING – THINGS TO DO BEFORE TRAVELING ABROAD
- Research the destination in advance and determine whether you wish to travel in the peak season when prices are high, or in low season when there are fewer tourists and prices are lower. Adjust your travel budget accordingly.
- Research all the different types of travel documents required and ensure that your travel documents are valid for travel. If necessary contact the relevant embassy in your country of residence to determine whether you require a visa for entry. Ensure that you apply for the visa early enough so that there are no delays in travel due to visa processing delays and holidays in the either your country of residence or the destination country.
- Make copies of all your travel documents and keep these in a different location to your passport when travelling. Also email scanned copies to yourself so that you can access it from any internet cafe during the trip, if necessary.
- Check with your doctor whether vaccinations are recommended for the region that you are travelling to. Most vaccinations are recommended for four to six weeks before the date of travel to enable a build up of immunity or because more than one immunisation is required.
- Familiarise yourself with the cultural etiquette of the country that you are visiting. This includes learning a few words of the native language or the correct manner of greeting; dressing appropriately and respectfully in public or when visiting places of worship; or relevant cultural norms when dealing with locals, including tipping etiquette or acceptable table manners. The more you know about the customs and culture of the local population the less likelihood of extreme culture shock and unrealistic expectations.
- Book flights and accommodation well in advance if you want to save a few pennies. If you are doing a trip on short notice, you may be able to find last minute deals online, but those are rare nowadays.
- Before choosing a hotel I usually check the TripAdvisor hotel rankings then find the best one for price and location on booking.com or the hotel’s own website, if I belong to their loyalty programme. You can search for accommodation directly on booking.com using the booking.com widget on the right side bar of this page.
- Always lookout for seasonal or flash sales on your favorite hotel loyalty sites for good deals. My favorites are Hilton Honors and Intercontinental. Members of their loyalty programs get even better rates than those available to the general public.
- Sometimes it is a toss up between location and price and bad service is always a turn off.
- I tend to use booking.com for all other bookings and find that there are often good discounts or secret deals available to registered users.
- For the past ten years I have travelled exclusively on airlines based in the Gulf as their economy class fares were significantly cheaper and with more inclusions, than most international airlines. To find the cheapest domestic and international flights try using Skyscanner or GoogleFlights.
- If you have any difficulty with mobility or climbing stairs, be sure to request Wheelchair assistance when booking your flights and check whether there are elevators or stairs to access the hotel and guest rooms.
- Search online for the best ways to travel within the destination country and if possible buy flight, train and bus tickets in advance. Also check whether the destination city offers an official travel pass that may be used on buses and trains. Check and ensure that you buy the official city travel pass and not one with a similar name offered by tour companies, as those cost more and often include additional services that you may never use.
- If you are doing a self-drive holiday, check online for cheap car rentals and offers for early bird bookings. These may be offered as an add on when you book your flights. Check the conditions of booking and whether there are charges for changes or cancellation of the entire booking.
- Always wake up earlier than you need to on the day of travel, and get going early in case you get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport or train station, or have to carry your luggage down a few flights of stairs leaving your apartment or hotel.
- Leave enough time between connections to take into account flight, train or bus delays. Booking them too close together, means that you may end up missing one or more connection if there is a delay on your route.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR PACKING
- Pack light, very light. Whether you are trekking across the mountain villages of Nepal or the urban jungle of Milan, lugging suitcases or heavy backpacks around is hard, especially if you are using public transport to get around. You also need to keep space for those mementos you are sure to pick up along the way. Personally I never travel with more than a carry on bag, and an empty extra one for gifts or products that I want to bring back with me.
- Ensure that you have at least one pair of comfortable walking shoes. There is nothing worse than wearing shoes that are too tight or too loose when you are walking around a foreign city, as both can cause painful blisters.
- Always pack a small umbrella even during summer, especially in the northern hemisphere where the weather changes in the blink of an eye and it can rain at any time.
- If you are prone to sunburn then a sunhat and sunglasses are invaluable during summer, along with adequate supplies of sunblock.
- Even if you are planning to enjoy the local food and beverages, always pack emergency rations like a packet of crackers, a can of tuna, instant soup or instant noodles. You may run out of cash and at least you will have something to eat while you wait for funds to become available.
HEALTH AND WELFARE
- Check whether any travel insurance is required for your visa application or entry to the destination country, and apply early to avoid disappointment or delays in travel. I have used World Nomads for travel insurance in the past. Alternatively, check whether your medical insurance plan covers foreign travel and obtain a certificate before travel (PS: this may also be required for visa applications to certain countries).
- If you are purchasing flight tickets online, check whether your bank offers free or reduced cost travel insurance for the duration of the travel.
- If you suffer from any chronic diseases that require medication, ensure that the medication is not prohibited in the destination country, and keep a copy of the prescription with you at all times. This will come in handy at customs checks as well as if you require emergency medication during the trip.
- Always ensure that you have access to more cash in the local currency than you think you need. Prior to leaving on the trip, contact your bank to ensure that your travel plans are recorded and that you will be able to use your ATM or credit cards in a foreign country. Some banks may automatically block foreign transactions or those done at certain financial institutions abroad.
- Ensure that you are able to access funds while abroad, in the event that you run out of cash and are unable to use your ATM debit or credit cards. This may require a friend or relative remitting funds via a service like Western Union or Moneygram.
- If you want to do any VAT refunds for big ticket items ensure that you familiarize yourself with the applicable rules and regulations BEFORE your journey begins. More often than not there are forms to be filled in and submitted by the vendor from whom you bought the items, and should be done on the day of purchase.
ACTIVITIES AND SIGHTSEEING
- I always book at least one guided food tour in a city as it gives me a snapshot of the life and culture of the people through their food. It also allows me to meet like minded people and make friends with complete strangers. I have booked Culinary Backstreets food tours in Istanbul and Eating Europe Food Tours in the UK (London East End food tour) and Italy. If you want to save money, there are also free walking tours in many cities, that may or may not require prior booking and a tip at the conclusion of the tour.
- Take it easy, it’s a vacation not a marathon and unless you have a pre-booked tour or museum visit you have no one’s timetable to keep, except your own. Try to enjoy exploring the city, observing the locals in their daily lives and most importantly, smile and be flexible.
- With this in mind, take time to discover places on your own, take photos and make copious notes to which you can refer to later, if necessary. Be sure to pick up a city map at the airport or train station or ask for one at your hotel.
- Avoid lines and crowds at museums, places of worship and ancient sites and monuments by buying entrance tickets from their official websites. It is usually cheaper than buying on the day, and you can select your preferred date and time in advance.
- Be respectful when visiting places of worship and prepare in advance to abide by the dress code and cover shoulders / arms and legs. At mosques women will be required to cover their hair and wear clothing that covers arms and legs. A pair of lightweight trousers and a shawl / pashmina / sarong should suffice.
- If the water is unsafe to drink ensure that you buy drinking water from a reputable shop or supplier and take a bottle with you when you go out for the day. If there are public drinking water fountains for the public, use this to fill your water bottles while you are out during the day.
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