Travelling can sometimes be a daunting experience. Not only are you dealing with booking expensive flights and hotels in unfamiliar places, you are dealing with a vast amount of opinions and suggestions for your trip. This can be extremely overwhelming for even seasoned travellers.
When I went on my first backpacking trip, the people around me were suggesting things like guide books, money belts and Tourist Information Centres. One person advised me against Paris because their friend read a post on Facebook that said Paris was “unsafe” and “dirty”. I ended up ditching most suggestions pretty quickly, and learnt that there are some hacks that don’t work for everyone. As a side note- Paris is one of my favourite cities.
Lesson learnt: travel is ever-changing and entirely personal. Things that work for others, might not work for you.
I have narrowed down my list to five simple hacks that are essential for every smart, savvy traveller.
Take more than one credit card
Always be prepared to lose your credit card when travelling. Keeping one credit card in your hotel’s safe and another in your wallet will ensure that you are never stuck in a foreign country without money. Cardless withdrawals and purchases are not a common thing outside Western countries, and many countries are still operating on cash-only. I keep some cash in a third location as well, just to cover all bases.
Choosing the right card:
Choosing the best credit card for your travel needs will be largely dependent on your home country’s availability. I only choose banks that have great online apps, so I can freeze or cancel my card in less than a minute. I keep all cards frozen and back in the hotel, and only carry a card with about $200 on it. This is also the only card I have set up for online purchases and Google Pay. My recommendations for banks are Revolut and Wise. Both allow you to open wallets up in multiple currencies and avoid paying ATM currency conversion fees.
In North America, it is always advised to use credit cards with points, whereas many other countries use debit cards for travel and daily expenses. Australian and UK debit cards offer fraud protection, chargebacks, point accumulation and travel insurance just like credit cards in North America do! You will just need to shop around and use an online credit card comparison tool to find out what works best for you. It is worthwhile finding a card that gives free international cash withdrawals, with no commission and market-matched exchanges.
Paying with a credit card:
Always select to pay in your destination’s currency. For example, if you use an ATM in Thailand choose to withdraw in THB and do not select your home currency. The fees are enormous and borderline scammy. Try to use ATMs that are attached to banks, cover your pin and ensure that the keypad has not been tampered with. If you aren’t sure, just use another bank. If you are paying at a restaurant with a credit card (lucky you!), don’t allow the server to take your card away. Go to the counter instead.
Leave your passport locked up
Before you embark on your journey, take two photocopies of your passport.
The first photocopy can be carried in your day bag, and the second can be tucked away in the depths of your luggage. If your passport is stolen or lost, this will help to apply for an emergency passport at your embassy. Countries like Japan do require you to have your passport on you at all times, but I have never run into this issue before. Using a digital copy or a printed version has always been fine for me. I keep my digital passport copy in a locked folder on my device.
I do not advise that you carry your passport around with you. It should be kept in the hotel reception’s safe or in your room safe. Take your licence with you instead!
Lastly, keep your passport in the same place every time you travel between points A and B. Personally, I don’t need to go digging through dirty clothes and souvenirs to find it immediately. I know where it is, and can check in on its whereabouts very easily. Crossbody bags with hidden pockets are an amazing invention!
Download rideshare, transport and food delivery apps
Travelling has been made so much easier since the invention of travel apps. I have apps for everything, from the best vegetarian restaurants to currency converters.
Before going to a new country, I spend more time exploring the apps available than I do activities! I want to know the train system, the best way to avoid the taxi mafia, the greatest food delivery services, communication apps and (if possible) local payment apps.
For travel in Asia, some basic ones to use are 12goAsia, LINE and Grab.
Of course, to use these delightful travel adaptations, I also look into the best SIM cards for the country I’m going to. Airalo is also a great app for e-sims!
Download Google Maps so you can still navigate offline
If you’re driving or walking between places and don’t have a data connection, use Google Maps’ offline mode. It’ll still give you directions and useful information like the distance to your destination, what streets to take, and how long it’ll take to get there.
You can also download a map of your places of interest ahead of time, and then you get to use it anywhere – even on things like metros!
All you need to do is expand your search to see the whole area and type in “ok maps”. Once you hit enter, it will give you the choice to download the map to your phone.
Always travel with insurance
If you are travelling to another country, travel insurance is an absolute must-have. As my mother likes to say: if you cannot afford travel insurance, you cannot afford to travel.
At the very least, you should purchase a plan that covers medical expenses. As a slower nomad, I am perfectly happy with medical-only insurance.
People who have pre-booked travel, are not flexible with travel plans or are going somewhere risky should always have travel insurance that also includes theft, lost baggage, flight delay and personal liability.
Travel insurance is highly dependent on your age, nationality and whether you are in your home country. I recommend shopping around and always, ALWAYS, reading the PDS. The amount of GoFundMe’s for backpackers who have crashed in Thailand, not realising that driving illegally without a licence voids your insurance is incredible. Seriously…look it up.
For medical-only insurance, I recommend Genki.
For affordable backpacker insurance, I recommend SafetyWing.
Both of these choices are made for backpackers who aren’t in their home country and have limited coverage. If possible, I would get a mid-range insurance issued in your home country.
These five hacks are essential to keeping you safe and happy while travelling overseas. These are fundamental to every trip I’ve planned and have enabled me to never have an issue travelling (touch wood).
Your first time travelling can be a stressful and terrifying experience, but it doesn’t have to be.
By following these simple tips, you will be prepared for any challenging situation and also avoid travel difficulties.
What are some of your own best travelling hacks? Share them with us below!