1. Memorize your passport number. If you’re hopping around different countries, that string of numbers will come up a lot – when you fill out arrival cards on the airplane, when you check into your hostel, when you book tickets. You can save yourself a lot of tedious passport-retrieving if you just learn it by heart.
2. Pack lightly. This one is a no-brainer, but I cannot stress the importance enough. Toting carry-on only bags will save yourself a lot of hassle at the airport. And no chance of lost luggage! And if you must check a suitcase, I recommend leaving it a bit empty, so you can have enough room for the things you buy abroad. (You know you’re going to buy clothes and presents, so it’s better to prepare for it than to have no room for your new merchandise!)
3. Get in touch with anyone you may know who lives in the country you’re visiting. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, coworkers, cousins, anyone, if they know somebody where you’re going. It’s always great to have a local or an expatriate show you around. (And maybe they’ll even offer up their place for you to stay!)
4. Research your hostels carefully, and have an open mind about accommodation. There are very few hostels around that will please you in every way. There’s usually something that bothers you – the stiff mattress, the messy bathroom, the lack of sociable “atmosphere,” so you should be willing to compromise. Look at different sites and read reviews so you won’t have any surprises. At the same time, you should be flexible. Your hostel may not be cleanest, but at $3 a night, it saves you a lot of money. As long as it doesn’t have bed bugs (eeek!), you should be okay. Alternatively, look into Airbnb and Couchsurfing. Consider all your options before you book anything.
5. Research your destinations, and wing the rest of it. It’s a good idea to make a list of sites you want to see and activities you want to do, but you don’t need to plan a strict, day-to-day itinerary. You’re going to meet people and hear about a thousand other interesting things once you’re there, so you should plan to be spontaneous too.
6. Plan to be in a place for a few more days than you originally thought. If you’re buying multiple plane tickets to different countries, it’s better to give yourself some extra time in each place. It’s very likely that you’ll want to stay longer, and it’s rare that you’ll want to leave somewhere sooner (in my experience). Even if you think a week in a city is enough time, book a ticket out for a couple days later to give yourself enough time to really explore.
7. Or, just don’t buy tickets in advance. You may have to pay a lot more money and you wont have that sense of security, but it will allow you to stay in a place for as long as you’d like.
8. Don’t be a picky eater. Half of the fun of traveling is eating different cuisine and sampling snacks at markets (or two-thirds of the fun, for me). Don’t deny yourself such an amazing opportunity to try interesting flavors!
9. Check with your bank if you’ll be able to use your card abroad and if there will be any oversees fees. And on the same note, take enough cash to exchange just in case! Don’t rely on plastic.
10. Make sure you have all appropriate visas, or be certain that you can get your visa on arrival. (If you try to go somewhere without the right visa, they won’t let you in. But I’m not talking from personal experience or anything…)
11. Be careful. Put your wallet and your safety first. Everything else you’re carrying is secondary.
12. Don’t get too embarrassed or discouraged if you get sick. When you bounce around multiple places that have changing temperatures and when you are consistently eating different kinds of food, your body is going to retaliate. Every traveler gets sick at one point, so don’t worry; it happens to the best of us.
13. Be friendly. You’re going to meet a lot of people that maybe you “would never be friends with back home” but don’t let that turn you into an Antisocial Annie. This is the time to branch out and to be open-minded. Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy your “wacky” bunkmate’s company.
14. Try to get the scoop on the less touristy spots. Every place always has some unspoiled neighborhood, shop, or restaurant, and visiting it will give you a deeper sense of the culture.
15. Take a Kindle or a book. Traveling yields a lot of waiting time, and you’ll want to have something to read.
16. Take a blank sketchbook and illustrate your travels, or take a notebook and record your trip. (Even if you “can’t draw”! It doesn’t matter if your sketches are sloppy – it’s a really rewarding thing to have in the end.) Write down what you did, something funny that someone said, anything that you’ll like looking back on. (Unfortunately we all forget large parts of our past experiences, but having a notebook will help you remember all those great tales from your adventures!)
17. Be prepared to have epiphanies. During your travels, you will have at least a few moments of profound self-realization: ‘I am going to learn French,’ ‘I need to break-up with her,’ ‘I want to open up my own business.’ There is something about traveling that unleashes your hidden desires. Embrace them, and don’t forget them!
18. Collect something from all the places you visit. (I always take business cards.)
19. Send your friends postcards. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t enjoy getting a novelty note in the mail.
20. Take a lot of pictures. Print them out and make a real photo album when you get home.