Written: Matthew Karsten
It’s now been 6 years since I sold everything and left the United States to travel the world. These are the best travel tips I’ve discovered along the way.
16. Pack Ear Plugs
This should actually be #1 on the list. I love my earplugs! Muffle the sounds of crying babies, drunk Australians, barking dogs, honking horns, dormitory sex, natural gas salesmen, and more. A traveler’s best friend. These are my favorite earplugs for comfort & effectiveness.
17. Don’t Be Afraid
The world is not nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. Keep an eye out for sketchy situations but don’t let that be the focus of your whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll be ok. Most people are friendly, trustworthy, generous, and willing to help you out.
This goes for women too. I realize I’m not a woman, but I’ve met plenty of experienced female travelers who agree.
18. Get Lost On Purpose
If you want to see the parts of town where real people live & work, you need to go visit them. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Write down the name of your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.
Don’t worry too much about stumbling into dangerous neighborhoods either, as locals will generally warn you before you get that far.
19. Eat Local Food
Think you already know what Mexican food tastes like? You’re probably wrong. Taste a bit of everything when you travel, especially if you don’t know what it is. Ask local people for recommendations. Eat street food from vendors with big lines out front.
I’ve been very sick only twice in my travels. Don’t be scared of the food.
20. Say Yes Often
Be impulsive and say yes when someone randomly invites you to meet their family, try a new activity, or explore a place you didn’t know existed. It’s these unexpected and unplanned situations that add spice to your travels and always turn into the best stories later.
Accept the kindness of strangers when you travel — you’ll have plenty of opportunities.
21. Slow Down
Please don’t try to cram 6 countries into 6 weeks of travel. All the good stuff happens when you really take the time to explore. You’ll learn about activities that aren’t in your guidebook and meet people who are eager to show you around.
I can honestly say that NONE of my best travel experiences happened within the first few days of arriving somewhere. Spend more time in fewer places for maximum enjoyment.
22. Keep Good Notes
My memory for details sucks. When I first started traveling the world 4 years ago, I didn’t keep a good journal, and now I’m regretting it. Information like the names of people I met, conversations I had, feelings about a new experience, or what a particular town smelled like.
If you ever want to write about your travels, these details are handy. These days I use an incredible note-taking app called Evernote, which I use as my 2nd brain. So useful for all kinds of applications — from planning trips to journaling about them later.
23. Break Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Challenge yourself to try things that normally give you anxiety. The more you do this, the more that anxiety will fade away. Not a hiker? Go on more hikes. Have trouble talking to strangers? Talk to everyone. Scared of weird food? Eat the weirdest thing you can find.
The reason this works so well while traveling is because everything is already so different, what’s one more new/uncomfortable experience?
24. Don’t Plan Too Much
I cringe when readers ask how many days they should spend in a particular country or city. The truth is I have no idea what you’ll enjoy or who you’ll meet. I thought I’d rocket through Nicaragua in a week or two, but ended up living there for 4 months.
My advice is to pick a starting point, 1 or 2 must-do activities, and an ending point (or not). Then just let the universe determine the rest.
25. Pack Less Stuff
You don’t need 1/2 the gear you think you do to travel anywhere. We’ve all done it. It’s a right of passage for travelers to slowly become better at packing less. My first backpack was 70 liters packed full, my current bag is only 38 liters.
As a full-time vagabond, everything I own fits on my back. If you’re not sure about packing something, you don’t need it. It’s also possible to buy most things at your destination country if you discover you need them.
26. Listen To Podcasts
Podcasts are awesome. It’s like creating your own personal radio station and filling it with shows and music you always want to listen to. I never thought I’d actually look forward to a 10 hour bus ride. But with podcasts, it’s possible (well, as long as the seats are comfortable).
Time will fly by as you listen to incredible storytelling, fun music, or interviews with experts. Here are some of my favorites: This American Life, The Moth, RISK!, Radiolab, Smart Passive Income, and Electro-Swing.
27. Treat Your Body Well
Travel can throw your body out of whack. When you’re moving from place to place it’s difficult to maintain a workout routine, and many of us slack off. Or we don’t sleep enough. Or we eat too many cupcakes. I’m guilty of not flossing my teeth.
Remember to be nice to your body. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy, use sunscreen, and exercise often (check out this bodyweight routine, no gym required!). And, yes, flossing too I guess.
28. Stay In Touch
Remember to call your family & friends from time to time. Maybe surprise them and go old-school by sending a postcard (it’s in the mail, Mom!). Travel isn’t lonely, far from it. You constantly meet other people. But many of those relationships are fleeting. So maintaining a strong connection with the people who know you best is important.
29. Get Off The Beaten Path
I know it’s cliché, but you should still attempt it. Seek out interesting and unusual places that don’t see much tourism. Many memorable travel experiences have happened to me in areas that are not easy to visit. By all means travel to popular sites, but don’t rule out other locations just because they’re not on the tourist trail.
Although please realize that just because an area is remote or dangerous doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a life-changing experience.
30. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
No one ever thinks they’ll get sick, injured, or robbed while traveling. But it happens. I’ve sliced up my head on a volcano, contracted Dengue fever, and lost my laptop to thieves. With travel insurance you don’t have to worry about huge hospital bills or stolen gear when it eventually happens.
For all kinds of trips ranging from a weekend up to a few months long, I always recommend World Nomads Insurance.
31. Travel More!
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past 6 years, it’s that many people back home love to tell me how lucky I am while making excuses why they can’t travel. It’s too expensive. They can’t get time off work.
Who will feed their pets?
When I suggest solutions to these “problems”, they still don’t take action. Why? Because they’re often hiding behind the true reason: they’re scared.
Unfortunately most people who wait to travel the world never do.
You don’t need to sell all your worldly possessions and become a homeless vagabond like me. Just get out there more than you do now. Start with a weekend in a different state. Then maybe try a week in the country next door.
The new car, remodeling project, and iPhone can wait. If you truly want to travel more, you can make it happen. Career breaks are possible. You have friends who would love to watch your pets.
It’s a big, beautiful, exciting, and fascinating world out there.