As the title eludes to the topic, this blog post is just a collection of things I have learned from traveling. I usually learned them all by doing. So, it seems like a bad idea, it was a bad idea. I find experience to be the best teacher. Here are some things that everybody should consider when traveling the globe. These ideas apply whether you’re 25 or 65. They are just pieces of good advice.
Always change your money either in your own country or your destination, not in-between
On one of my random trips to Europe, I forgot to change some money at the airport before I left. I figured, no problem, I’ll do it when I land in London. I have a good layover there. There will be plenty of time to find a currency exchange. I landed, I found a currency exchange, and they fleeced me. I ended up changing my Dollars to Pounds, and the my newly acquired Pounds into Euros. Each time taking the appropriately reduced exchange rate, and the added transaction fee. Needless to say, I flew out of the airport with less than I flew in with. This taught me to always handle my transaction either in the original currency or the end currency. And let’s be honest, everybody anywhere that deals in currency will take the US Dollar.
If you plan on taking a hit on the exchange rate, right from the start, things will be better
Everyone on the internet (myself included) throws out advice on how to maximize your exchange rate. You can use bank exchanges, use your debit card at ATMs, do major purchases on your credit card for better rates, and a host of other ideas. They are all solid pieces of advice. But, let’s be frank, sometimes you want to go for a week or so and not deal with the front-end planning. You want to pull some money, grab your passport, and hit the road. I have been here many times. If you just factor the lesser exchange rate into your thought right out of the gate, it won’t hurt as much. Once you stop thinking about it, you start thinking about your vacation instead. This, after all, is why you walked out the door in the first place.
Things won’t actually be as expensive as you think they will be, but you’ll end up spending too much anyway
I work with a per-day budget when I travel. I take whatever I managed to bring along, and divide that number by the number of days that I plan on traveling. This tells me how much I can spend each day. Normally, I tend not to spend it all. At the mid-point in a trip I may have double the daily amount in my pocket, because the scraps from each day get added to the next day’s available cash. This excess generally leads me to spending extra time at the bars or buying things I wouldn’t normally buy. So, it all ends up getting spent anyway. That is when I find something else I can’t live without or change my plans in mid stride, and wished I hadn’t of spent so much. I say, don’t worry about a couple extra dollars here and there. Money comes and goes, whereas time just goes. You may never find yourself there again in your lifetime. And, you can’t take it with you. Spend the money and be happy.
Almost all airport food is bad
I’ve been in a lot of airports. I’ve eaten in most all of them. Airport food may seem new or exotic, because you may have never been to that particular local before. I find that if you find the same meal out on the economy, it will always be better. Sometimes, it’s a matter of timing. Early flights or long connection can facilitate the need for eating at the airport. As a rule, I say eat downtown somewhere, then go.
McDonalds is the same … even at the airport at Bangkok.
Whenever possible, don’t check any bags.
Okay, I’ll preface this one by saying that I’m not a girl, and I have no need for multiple changes of clothes when I travel. I’m your standard t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I throw it all in a backpack and head out. I’ve checked bags a several times with good success. I’ve also checked my dive gear, snowboard, and golf clubs with equal success. Then again, there are times when I made the other end and my bags (or golf clubs) did not. I find it to be completely aggravating. If it will all fit in a carry-on, then definitely carry it on. Carry-on bags almost never get lost (at least I haven’t lost any yet), and they are no more of a pain than waiting in some throng of people who think that their bag is somehow more important than yours. I avoid the carousel at all cost.
Airports make us walk through the Duty Free Shop because they know that we’re weak-willed
It’s just a simple truth, you show me booze and food, and you have my undivided attention. Airport planners know that we are inherently weak-willed. They put the booze and the shiny stuff right up in our face, so we must have it. The cologne and perfume, the Cuban cigars center stage in the walk-in humidor, the shiny bobbles and watches, all right in front of us for the taking. They know we are already on vacation mode and are unconscientiously spending money. They want some of that money. And, they usually get it. At least, the booze isle in any Middle Eastern airport has my full attention.
Getting to the airport early is a waste of time.
I tend to not plan my exit very well. I get the flight out that I want, and then grab whatever return flight they recommend as being the cheapest. If it fits into my general return timing, I’m almost always cool with it. This, almost always, leads to me having time to kill. This killing time, almost always, leads to me getting to the airport earlier than I need to. This leads to me playing Boom Beach or Doom on my phone for hours, until I can check-in for my flight. This time can always be put to better use. Find a hotel with a bag check, so you can go out before you must check-out. Plan ahead with better return flights. Whatever works, wasting time at the airport is just wasting time. (I have wasted time at many airports and train stations, as well as ferry docks and bus terminals. Once your phone goes dead, you’re just sitting around bored as hell.)
Screenshot for one of my epic Boom Beach battles while killing time.
Don’t panic, you will most-likely have money left over
With an homage to point number three, don’t panic about the money. I’ve travelled to expensive places around the globe, and I’ve travelled to cheap places around the globe. AT the end of my individual journey, there was almost without exception some money left over. Sometimes, it was cab fare home from the airport money. Sometimes, it was put it back into my bank account level money. I say this because there was pretty much always a time during each of these trips where I spent too much on something, or didn’t think I was going to make my budgeting amount. My advice, don’t panic. Just keep loving your trip and let the money do what it is going to do. That’s what I try to do, and there is usually always money left over.
My bag of random currencies leftover from this year’s excursions.
That is that, as they say. I find from talking to people as I travel that people have the same experiences, given enough time. Maybe, these thoughts will help you out at some point along the way.
Now, get out there! Go do travel stuff!