These are our best travel tips from nearly 2 decades on the road. We travelled for 10 years before we turned travel into a career. It was a valuable time for us. We spent 10 years experiencing travel for the pure love of it.
That decade helped us to really appreciate the quiet moments and little things.
Our Best Travel Tips from 16 Years Traveling the World
It also helped us to understand what is important and what is real. While many people are traveling now as influencers and bloggers, it's the time spent traveling for yourself alone that you really learn about travel.
And here's what we learned from spending time in more than 100 countries on seven continents.
1. Put Down the Cell Phone
We have actually been blogging less time than we've been traveling. We remember the days when you couldn't share a moment instantly with your online friends.
Now we watch groups of people spend so much time capturing the perfect selfie at a monument or lookout, that they forget to see what is in front of them.
A photo is wonderful, but it's how you feel in the moment that you will remember forever. It's a marvellous world that is full of noise right now.
Travel gives you the opportunity to block out the noise, so put down your smartphone and be present instead.
Takeaway: Travel was about being in the moment and it was those times that we truly had the life changing experiences.
2. Don't Go Into Debt
Instead, enjoy getaways in your own backyard. When Dave and I were dreaming of traveling but we were stuck working, we explored a lot of our home province of Ontario, Canada.
We stayed out of debt by packing up our bikes and camping gear for cheap weekend getaways.
We lived frugally while we explored our own backyard.
Think about it.
If you have just finished up an amazing life changing experience traveling the world, you will be filled with ideas, inspiration and excitement.
If after that trip you have to go home to a pile of debt, that inspiration will immediately be squashed due to the stress of debt.
Takeaway: If you don't have the cash to travel, don't do it.
3. Hire Local Guides
To do an epic adventure you need skill and experience.
Dave and I have taken on a lot of epic adventures in our lives, but we worked our way up with baby steps. And more importantly, we hired professionals to help us out when we needed it.
We've trekked 100km in the dead of winter through the Canadian Arctic watershed, climbed to Everest Base Camp, gone white water kayaking through class III rapids.
We weren't qualified to do any of these independently, but with expert guides, were learned new skills and accomplished these challenges safely.
Takeaway: Seeing a photograph on Instagram by someone, doesn't mean you are qualified to do that thing.
As a travel couple, this is our number one piece of advice when traveling together.
It can’t be one person dictating where you are going and what you are doing.
Dave and I like spending time together but we don't necessarily like the same things. Don't be one of those couples that constantly take separate vacations or go their separate ways when they travel.
We've seen those couples throughout our lives, and most of them are not together anymore.
If you give and take and try things that you don't not want to do, you may find out you like it. And you'll make your partner really happy.
Sure, go separate ways sometimes and spend the odd afternoon apart, but don't live separate lives. Find a common ground to make your travels work together.
Takeaway: You have to be willing to give and take.
5. Invest in Travel Insurance
A lot of people say to us, “I only need travel insurance if I am going to somewhere remote.
Heck, my brother went to Florida and broke his arm. If he didn't have insurance, he'd have been stuck with a hefty hospital bill. Accidents can happen anywhere.
Dave and I were on a luxury cruise two years ago and he slipped on a set of stairs and broke his back.
If we didn't have insurance, we would have been stuck paying nearly $100,000 dollars for the air ambulance and hospital bills. We can say with certainty.
Get travel medical insurance.
Takeaway: Trust me, one of my number one tips is…you need travel insurance everywhere you go!
6. Pack Light
Dave and I are the most irritable when we pack too much.
The hotel room becomes a disaster, we can't find anything, and when we are stuck lugging heavy suitcases through train stations and bus stations. It's unbearable.
We aren't the lightest packers out there, but we pack very light for how much we travel.
Trust me, as someone who has packed heavy on more than one occasion, packing light makes travel much easier.
Takeaway: Carry just the essential clothing and mix and match.
7. Have an Open Mind
Many people have preconceived notions about a place before they go.
We often visit places where people at home are afraid of crime or safety and more often than not, we have felt perfectly safe.
The beauty of travel is that you learn and understand different cultures and religions. People are often the same as you and me. They laugh, they cry, they care about their families.
I know it's difficult to believe in this world that is filled with so much uncertainty right now, but most people are good and will look out for you or help you when you need it.
You'll find that you have more in common with people around the world than you thought.
Takeaway: Throw all your thoughts out the window and visit a new destination with an open mind. Most often a lot of what you've heard about it is false.
8. Bring Portable Chargers
I can't tell you how many times in the past we've been in the middle of a great day and our batteries go dead. There is no excuse anymore.
Most of our Sony products charge by USB and our portable charger has 4 USB charges in it.
Now we never miss a shot! If you make sure you have the right travel tech gear, your 21st century travels will be much more fun.
Don't be cheap. Get a good one. We've been given cheap ones as gifts and they don't charge all the way and soon give out.
Takeaway: We carry two portable chargers that have four complete charges in them, and we can charge two things at once.
9. Give Back
Be it through volunteering, raising money, or visiting a project. You can make a difference.
It can be as simple as staying at a local family run guest house, hiring a private local guide, or shopping locally.
You don't have to stay at the huge corporate hotel chain owned by foreigners. With travel, you have the chance to have a direct impact on the local economy.
Takeaway: One of the best things you can do when traveling is to give back to the community you are visiting.
10. Travel Responsibly
Some tours or excursions seem like a good idea at the time and then when out there you realize that the excursion you took has a negative impact on the environment, the wildlife or the culture.
Is the tour company you are traveling with responsible? When on a wildlife safari, is your guide harassing the animals, chasing the animals or interacting with the animals?
You are there to observe. If wildlife doesn't want to be around, don't chase it. If your guide does do something you don't like, tell him so. T
hey often think they need to pick up the turtle or chase the dolphins to make the tourists happy or get a tip. Speak up and say no.
Those elephant rides you are taking may have started by abusing the elephant.
Don't ride them. Instead, go to a sanctuary. Don't support zoos, support conservation and sanctuaries.
The same goes for indigenous culture. Is a culture being exploited by tourists snapping photographs like it is a human zoo?
Are they stuck putting on a show rather than inviting you into their community?
Don't take a tour that simply drives through a neighbourhood and keeps you behind the glass as you gawk at the people on the street.
Hire a local guide who will walk you through their home and let you meet and talk to the people.
Takeaway: It's important to travel responsibly and ask questions, and be an informed traveller.
11. Splurge Every Once in a While
Even if you are on the tightest of budgets, it's important to splurge on the finer things in life.
We've arrived at a city and booked a luxury hotel so that we could enjoy it in style. It gives you a break from the rigours of the road and gives you memories that you will talk about for years to come.
I'll never forget splurging on a hotel in Kuala Lumpur when we were traveling as poor backpackers.
Those two days by the pool rejuvenated our excitement for travel and helped up the romance factor of our relationship. Travel can sometimes take its toll on a relationship, you have to make time for luxury and romance.
It's great to see the world and do adventures, but you have to do a little pampering every once in a while as well.
Takeaway: Make sure you do not squeeze the budget so tight, you can't enjoy anything.
12. Do an Idiot Check
Dave and I used this term with each other a lot when traveling.
Even if we thought we had everything packed up, we usually found something left behind. Before leaving a hotel, we always do a final sweep.
I always make the bed because inevitably things get lost in the covers. I check outlets, under chairs, and behind doors.
We rarely lose things when we travel but when we do, it's only when we are in too much of a hurry and didn't do that final sweep of the hotel room before leaving.
Takeaway: In the film industry, we used to do a final sweep of a set at the end of the day and called it an “idiot check”.
13. Step out of your Comfort Zone
Even today Dave and I take on adventures that make us a bit nervous or that we don't immediately want to do.
I don't know why we are always surprised after each adventure that we loved it, but like clockwork we always say, “You know, I didn't really want to do that, but after doing it, I loved it!”
Travel and vacations are your time to do something spontaneous that you'd never dream of doing at home.
It's travel that can inspire you to take on new hobbies or adventures once you get home. So go for it!
Takeaway: Every single time we try something new, no matter how much we didn't want to do it in the first place, we were so happy we did!
14. Don't Compete with Other Travellers
You know who they are. The travel snobs who have to brag about where they've been, what they've done, and who they did it with. Who cares? Travel is for you.
To those who try to one up your experiences, forget about them.
We have our amount of countries in our bio, but that is because it is our job. We've also been traveling a lot since 2000.
It took us 20 years to get to the number of countries we've visited and most of those came after we started traveling professionally because we now go to places for contracts and assignments.
But our best travel experiences have been when we've stayed in a place for weeks at a time, made life-long friends and took our time to really immerse ourselves in the local community.
Those are the moments you'll never forget, not a checkmark on a long list of things done simply for the sake of checking them off.
Takeaway: Whether you've been to one country or 100 countries, it is your personal experience that counts.
15. A Smile Goes a Long Way
It breaks the ice when you first meet people and in tough situations it breaks the tension. Even when negotiating, we smile.
We find we can get a better deal if we smile. We find that locals will approach us more if we smile. We get better service if we smile. We make new friends when we smile… You get the point…smile!
Takeaway: This doesn't just ring true for when you travel, a smile is a wonderful thing for life in general.
16. You Don't have to Be Fluent in a Language
I am awful at languages. I try hard and I wish I had a gift for linguistics, but I don't.
However, that has never stopped us from traveling.
Heck, in today's world with Google Translate and countless apps, you can get by with ease.
Don't let the fact that you don't speak the language stop you from going to another country.
One of my favourite memories was during the Mongol Rally when we couldn't read the Cyrillic menus through Russia and Kazakhstan.
We played Russian Roulette with our menu and let them bring whatever our pointer finger landed on (funny how it always seemed like Borscht).
During that trip through 15 different countries where very few people spoke English, we commented on how far five local words, a smile and a thumbs up could get us.
Takeaway: We learn the basics and get by with sign language and body language.
17. A Fight Doesn't Mean the End of Your Relationship (or friendship)
Traveling with the one you love can be a very intense experience. You are stuck with each other 24 hours a day.
Emotions run high and you are definitely not in your usual comfortable environment. This situation causes stress on a couple.
Dave and I have had some doozy arguments. I'm talking yelling matches with each other.
But I don't think I can name what one was about. And after they are done, we forget about them and let it go. We never dwell on the little things.
We understand that sometimes you just have to let off a little steam.
Triggers can be as simple as being hungry or suffering from jet lag. Some of our biggest tiffs happen while trying to find a place to eat.
As we both become more ravenous with hunger, we become more irritable.
We then feel the pressure of finding just the right restaurant and the next thing you know, we're fighting and end up eating at McDonalds or Wendy's and are doubly pissed off at each other because now the meal is ruined. But we get over it, and move on.
No relationship is perfect and you are bound to have a few arguments while traveling.
Don't be too proud to apologize and don't hold a grudge.
Takeaway: You have to learn to be able to fight and get over it.
18. Protect Yourself from the Elements
I'm not saying you have to slather yourself in sunscreen all day every day.
But, I do cover up and wear long sleeve lightweight clothing, hats and flesh tone zinc on my nose and cheeks when on an adventure like kayaking.
When snorkelling, I wear long sleeved surf shirts. When hiking through the jungle, we wear long sleeves and pants to protect from mosquitoes.
We wear hats to protect from the sun and sunglasses to protect our eyes. Prevention is key.
There are many diseases carried by mosquitos from Malaria to Zika, wear light coloured insect repellent clothing that is breathable so you can wear long sleeves and pants to help reduce the risk.
I find covering up way better than using mosquito repellant. And of course, drink plenty of water.
Takeaway: Nothing is going to wreck your vacation more than a sunburn or getting sick.
19. Sunrise is Better than Sunset (Most of the Time)
Getting out early for sunrise is a chore, I know. But most of our best photographs and beautiful sky moments have happened at sunrise.
For one thing, there are less crowds. Often when you go to an iconic view or landmark at sunset it is over run with tourists.
We'll put up a photograph on Instagram, state that it was taken at sunrise and still people will remark, “Oh, I just love this sunset!” Sunrise is also quiet time.
We love walking on the beach or through city streets when nobody else is around. It's hard when the alarm goes off to get out of bed, but it's so worth it to start your day off early, beat the crowds and set the tone for a wonderful day ahead.
Takeaway: When you get up at the crack of dawn, you normally have the place to yourself.
20. If it Feels Wrong, It Probably Is
Why do so many people leave their brains behind when they go on vacation?
I'm not saying travel doesn't have risks, but if you travel the way you live your life at home, you will have a better chance of staying safe.
Don't party until the wee hours of the morning and go home alone. Don't walk down dark deserted alleyways and don't get into cars with strangers.
We have visited many local families and been invited to dinner or tea at many houses. We've always had a wonderful experience, but we do listen to our guts. We've turned down invitations too.
The ones that feel shady probably are. If we have second thoughts, we listen to that feeling. We are also lucky because there are two of us.
There is usually less of a target on a couple. But if you are going solo, let people know where you are going and what you are doing.
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Takeaway: Make sure to listen to your 6th Sense. It is always right.
21. Don't be Afraid to Talk to People
Don't keep your nose in your book or in your phone looking at silly SnapChats. Look around, start a conversation and make new friends.
When on a safari or a hike, get to know your fellow travellers and engage in conversation with your guide. You'll not only make new friends, you'll probably learn a lot.
We've gotten some of the best tips from talking to our fellow travellers and the locals. You can't read about most of the great stuff to do in a guide book or on a travel blog.
You'll get the best travel tips from the people you meet. So one of our best travel tips we can share with you is don't be afraid to talk to people.
Takeaway: We have had some of our best conversations on busses, in restaurants, or on a train. So Engage!
22. Be Flexible
And on that note, be open to changing plans.It's good to plan your route and your trip.
We changed plans and booked a flight to Borneo after meeting some travellers who said they were going to climb Mount Kinabalu.
We were planning on going on to Bali, but we decided to put that off and follow them. Borneo was one of our favourite destinations ever.
We spent a month trekking through jungles, climbing mountains, and searching for wildlife. If we decided to stick to our plans, we never would have had those amazing moments that we have never forgotten.
Takeaway: It's good to plan what you want to do and where you want to stay but you also need to be open to changing plans.
23. Pack a Sarong
I have used a sarong as a headscarf in muslim countries and used it to cover up when entering a temple.
I've used it as a beach blanket, a towel when snorkelling and as sunshade on a boat ride. My sarong has kept me warm on cold flights or train rides and I've even dressed up an outfit for dinner by wrapping a decorative sarong around my waist.
Dave uses his all the time as well. They make for great bed sheets in a hot destination.
I find they are less sticky than actual sheets and it feels great draped over my body when sleeping. If you don't have one, buy one from a local market when you arrive and get an extra large!
Takeaway: It is the most versatile piece of travel clothing I've got.
24. Back up your Photos
We've seen more than one person lose all their photos on a trip by never downloading.
In New Zealand a fellow traveller was moved to tears when she lost her memory card from her travels through Africa and then New Zealand that she had stored on the same card for weeks.
One mistake, and they were all erased. There are many ways to back up photos now. You can carry a portable hard drive, upload them to online storage or put them on your computer or store them on Smugmug.
Takeaway: Don't take a chance with your memories.
25. Tell your Partner/Husband/Friend How Much You Appreciate them
Travel can be all consuming.
You'll find that you are busy taking on exciting adventures, seeing incredible sights and trying scrumptious foods.
It's easy to forget about the person you are traveling with and become self absorbed. Be it your spouse or friend, it's important to let them know how much they mean to you.
You chose to travel with them because you love them and enjoy their company. Never take that for granted and let them know how much you appreciate their support, the noodle soup they brought you when you were sick, and the inspiration they gave you to try something new.
Takeaway: Don't let travel be only about you.
26. Buy Things and Send them Home
We know a lot of people who say they don't buy anything from anywhere when they travel because they don't have the space. We say, buy it and send it home.
We love having talking pieces at home that we have gathered over the years. While we don't have a home now, we've decorated my parents place with a lot of our travel souvenirs.
These mementos are something you'll cherish forever. And once again, it goes back to supporting the local economy. It feels good to know that you are supporting a local artist or shop.
We always buy from the local market and have a story for nearly every item we've bought. Plus, when you get home you'll see the same thing in a shop and realize it costs a fortune.
You can make your home look like a museum for cheap from buying local art and crafts during your travels.
Takeaway: Don't let lack of space keep you from buying, just send it home via snail mail. It still exists.
I've seen way too many people complain about tours, argue at check-in, and grumble over meals for absolutely no reason. Instead, be in the moment and take it all in.
Travel is a privilege and often times the people you are complaining to or shouting at have very little. They are catering to you with a smile on their face wondering why on earth you are so upset about something so small.
Many people feel that travel gives them the right to leave their manners at home. Be nice, keep smiling and don't sweat the small stuff.
There's a lot more in this world to worry about. This is your time to enjoy!
Takeaway: Hey, it's not brain surgery or rocket science. If things don't go as planned, who cares? You're on vacation!
And that ladies and gentlemen, is a list of our best travel tips.
All the things we learned from 7 years of traveling the world and 8 years before that. I could go on and add more, but as I write these words, I've glanced at the bottom of my post and see my word count is closing in on 5000.
I hope that you stayed with me during all this time. We had a lot to say and a lot to share.
We'd love to hear your words of wisdom too. Got some travel tips to share? Tell us below.