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30 Essential Vacation Tips to Maximize Your Trip Experience

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When I first set off to travel the world, I loaded a massive backpack with everything I could get my hands on. GPS locators, more than one padlock, five pairs of jeans, shirts for every kind of occasion, and footwear to match. To say I was overprepared was an understatement.

Yes, long-term travel is a little different from your annual vacation, but the planning and preparation share many similarities. I wish I’d known then the things I know now!

After several years of being on the road, and then several more as a selective, decerning vacationer, I’ve managed to hone my organizational skills to a T. And with some input from my fellow travelers and colleagues, I’ve put together this list of helpful tips so you won’t need a holiday from your holiday. So, whether you’re going off around the world, or taking a well-deserved weekend getaway one town over, I’m sure you’ll find something useful to help ensure your next vacation is a breeze.

Top Travel Tips To Maximize Your Vacation Experience (And Save Money)

1. How to Chose Your Destination

Map on a wall

We all have a bucket list of places we want to go. But taking that arctic cruise, a sabbatical in the Borneo jungle, hiking to Machu Picchu, or a pampering vacation in a Californian resort is not always possible. Two factors can spoil the party – time and money.

When planning your next vacation destination, staying within your budget and timeframe is important. Choose a place you and your family can afford, reach, and comfortably enjoy within the dates given.

Other factors determining your decision include visa accessibility, current incidents, time of year, local customs, festivals, and events, and safety. It’s worth researching all of these things for assistance in choosing your vacation destination.

Aside from this, where you go and what you do will depend on your interests – and the interests of your loved ones. When choosing a vacation destination, you should involve everyone in the decision process. The kids might not like a daddy booking a golfing holiday if there’s nothing else to do.

Sometimes, all you need is some inspiration to get the ball rolling. In that case, try this article on the best spring break destinations. Go here for the 20 best islands to visit. Or try this piece on the top national parks in the US. I like to open Google Maps and pick a random place to dream about. Choosing your next vacation destination is all part of the fun.

See Related: Ways to Get Trip Ideas Without Doing Any Research

2. Figure Out Your Budget

Woman Holding and Counting Paper Bills

Perhaps the most important thing you can do when planning a vacation is to figure out your budget. Sure, you can dream of all-inclusive resorts in the Maldives or backpacking South East Asia – but you need to be able to afford them.

My wife is the math and accountant brain in our house, so I leave this section up to her. But it starts with crunching the numbers of your potential travel costs. Keep a look out for budget travel tips, particularly if they’re specific to where you want to go.

That means thoroughly researching your chosen destination. How do want to get there? How do you intend to travel around? How much does food cost? What do you want to see and do? Where do you want to stay? Use a spreadsheet, a notepad, or one of these dedicated vacation planners.

Don’t be disheartened if the coffers won’t stretch this time. There are plenty of cheap vacation options out there. But if you want to push the boat out for that luxury experience – start saving early.

With your budget locked in, try to stick to it. The best way to save money is to not spend any. Be as disciplined as possible, but set aside an extra bit of cash for unforeseen circumstances – like getting matching tattoos in Bora Bora.

3. Find the Best Travel Deals

Woman looking on a travel brochure

It may seem like one of the most obvious travel tips, but if you want to save money on your next vacation, you must track down the best travel deals. There are many ways to find cheap flights and hotel deals to make your travel money go further.

One way is to sign up for email newsletters from travel websites like Travelocity, Skyscanner, or Momondo. This way, you’ll be the first to know about any special deals or sales for your next round-trip ticket.

Another great way to find deals is to follow your favorite travel companies on social media. They’ll often post special deals and discounts you can take advantage of. Keep an eye out for these deals before you book your trip.

One of our favorite ways to save money on flights is by subscribing to cheap flight newsletters like Going or Thrifty Traveler Premium. You’ll get alerted on incredible flight deals from your origin airport. A few round-trip tickets I booked from their cheap flight alerts were some of the best trips of my life.

If you’re a Costco member, it’s also worth looking into Costco Travel. Not only do they offer exclusive discounted vacations and packages to popular destinations, but they can save you money on hotels and rental cars, too.

4. Read Some (Good) Travel Blogs

Young women planning vacation trip and searching information or booking an hotel on a smart phone and laptop
Kittiphan / Adobe Stock

If the truth be told, I’m not a big fan of travel influencers – I think they do more harm than good, pushing an agenda and waving their lifestyles in our faces. Seeing someone dangle off the side of a cliff in an exotic locale doesn’t make me want to go there any more than I already do. Good travel websites and blogs are hard to find.

In the internet’s fledgling years, they were a fascinating resource for learning about exploring our planet. These days, blogs are ten-a-penny, often dreadfully written, and full of fluff.

That said, plenty of excellent resources are out there if you need help planning your vacation. The trick is being able to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Good travel articles will be written by people with an authentic experience, by writers who have genuinely visited the destination they’re writing about. And that experience can be invaluable to someone who has never been there.

With practice and a critical eye, you can tell the best blogs and websites for travel tips and tricks, travel hacking, and ways to save money. Here’s a hint – you’re reading one right now.

See Related: How to Start a Travel Blog and Make Money

5. Consider a Solo Vacation

Stuart Jameson on a solo travel with sunset view
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

Many people are so intimidated by going somewhere on their own that taking a solo vacation is almost unheard of. But they are missing out on memorable, thrilling, and potentially life-changing experiences.

I remember one morning nursing a coffee in a hostel in Bulgaria when a giant group came in. Nobody could decide what to do or where to go. It was like herding cats. Heated arguments ensued, and as I left to explore the city alone, I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t ever have to deal with that.

That is the best advert I could ever give for the merits of traveling solo. You don’t have to wait for anyone. You can decide where you want to go and how long you stay there.

There is no need to pander or cater to anyone else’s tastes or interests. You’re on your time – so you do you.

People have only recently normalized going to dinner or the cinema alone. But my best vacation happens every year when I blissfully travel to my favorite music festival by myself, and I have the time of my life. Check out this article on solo travel tips to be inspired and informed.

Family holidays will always be special, but I highly recommend trying solo travel occasionally. You’ll learn much about yourself, make new friends, and have a blast. And with the number of solo travelers rising, you’ll never be truly alone, anyway.

See Related: Essential Sol Travel Luggage & Accessories

6. Be Flexible

New year resolution and the desire to travel more concept with a calendar with january first circled and famous world landmarks
Victor Moussa / Adobe Stock

Apologies for another feline analogy, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. There are almost limitless possibilities when taking a vacation, including where you go, how and when you get there, where you stay, and what you do when you arrive.

Being flexible, open-minded, and up for an adventure has several advantages. Not overspending is one of them.

Sometimes, if you can change your departure time by as little as one day, you can save a small fortune. When using Skyscanner, for example, check the whole month for cheap flights – rather than a specific date.

Typically, when planning my holiday, I’ll choose my destination, figure out my budget, and then have a lot of fun trying to find all the ways I can get there for the lowest price possible. You don’t always have to fly direct, especially when it comes to the crazy fares some airlines charge depending on routes/ dates/football scores/the color of the pilot’s underpants.

When booking flights, consider flying to the next town or city over from your final destination. A bus or train might be more affordable to negotiate that final leg, and they might even arrive at a similar time.

Budget airlines are very useful in this practice, as they often fly to lesser-known airports or smaller destinations. Give yourself some room for maneuver, and you will reap the benefits.

See Related: The Traveler’s Guide to Europe: Exploring With A Flexible Itinerary

7. Prepare and Organize Travel Documents

Collection of Travel Documents and International Driving Permit
Ken Durden / Shutterstock

Over 50% of Americans do not have a passport. Thankfully, that number is decreasing, as it used to be significantly higher.

One of the most important things you can do with your life is to see the world and experience other cultures. In that case, a passport is essential.

If you are planning a vacation abroad, a passport will be your most important travel document. But it might not be the only one you need. Even in this day and age, not all tickets are digital.

Do you require a visa? If so, how difficult is this to get? You might be part of the NEXUS program for traveling between the US and Canada.

If you want to rent a car abroad, some countries require an international driving permit. You might, like me, carry a permanent resident card or similar.

Once you’ve gathered all your important documents, I highly recommend you keep them organized. This includes making hard-copy and cloud-based backups.

Get yourself some extra passport photos, and keep everything together in a secure location. A travel document holder is worth considering, but I would advise keeping your actual passport somewhere separate.

I lost my passport on a trip to Russia many moons ago. And while it became a life-changing, formative experience, not being allowed to return home was heartbreaking at the time. With due care and attention, you can avoid such an upsetting occurrence (if you want to).

8. Choose Your Season Wisely

Writer Stuart Jameson on a Winter Travel
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

While on my long-term trip, I loved it when the off-season came around. The crowds would suddenly disappear, prices dropped, and accommodation became more readily available. I have no idea how anyone manages to visit Venice in the summertime.

Off-season travel isn’t for everyone. Tourist services and activities might be down to skeleton staff – if they’re open at all.

The weather and conditions can be less than favorable. Notable attractions might appear cold, dull, and grey.

That said, busy season travel can be a nightmare, particularly if you want to visit popular destinations like Paris, San Francisco, and Istanbul. So, what’s the answer?

The ultimate sweet spot is the shoulder season – the time between peak and off. The weather is usually good, the crowds minimal, and services haven’t ramped up their prices yet. You might get that chance to see unique special events happening, such as a cultural festival or celebration.

Shoulder seasons vary from region to region and even country to county. But if you can swing it, I highly recommend taking your vacation during this time, especially if you are afraid of queuing.

See Related: Proven Travel Tips for Visiting Europe in Winter

9. Get Creative With Lodging

Longing on a forest

When visiting me in Romania and learning of our accommodation, my sister incredulously remarked – “we’re staying in a hostel?!” And yet she did and loved every minute of it. We can’t always stay in five-star hotels and high-end resorts.

If you’re willing to get a little creative with where you stay, there are some wonderful experiences to be had. Hostels are just the tip of the iceberg.

Vacation rental websites like Airbnb and VRBO can offer unique, fun, and private places to stay, all without blowing your budget. House sitting is rising in popularity, too, and you can stay somewhere exotic for free in exchange for watering the plants or walking the dog.

Still, if it’s a hotel you’re looking for, then booking.com is probably the best place to find one. They also cover Bed & Breakfasts, vacation rentals, hostels, and other budget-friendly options. Hotels.com is also a good resource. Try to book refundable hotel rooms in case your plans change.

I recognize things like hostels, camping, and Couchsurfing are not for everyone, but they can seriously help make your holiday money go further and give you a memorable experience you never would have expected. Live a little, think outside the box, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

10. Plan Activities With Care

Man Bungee Jumping
volkerladwig / Adobe Stock

Some people like spending their entire trip on a beach. Others need to experience ALL of the things. If you fall into the latter category, here are some tips for planning activities.

Vacation activities vary wildly from place to place, season to season. And the type of activities you and your group enjoy might be equally diverse.

They can range from shopping in Milan to whitewater rafting on the Colorado River. From a free walking tour in Washington D.C. to a wine tour in Burgundy.

Consider your vacation goals when planning activities, and gather the opinions and desires of everyone who will be joining you. You’ll never catch me dead on a zipline, throwing myself out of an airplane, or doing a bungee jump, but my wife would love all those things. Accommodating everyone’s tastes is important.

Two great vacation activity websites to use are Get Your Guide and Viator. They can help you save money, get skip-the-line tickets, experience cultural events, and find exciting entertainment you might not have thought of. Be aware that famous attractions and popular activities will always be busy, so book well in advance – especially if you’re visiting in the high season.

See Related: The Best Activities in Costa Rica

11. Decide if You Need Travel Insurance

Hand singing a Travel Insurance Form

I’ll admit I spent a long time on the road without travel insurance, but I was young, naive, carefree, and didn’t know what it was. This article would have explained everything.

Travel insurance isn’t just about accidents and emergencies. It can cover lost baggage, canceled flights, medical expenses, and more. But do you need it?

It depends on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing there. Probably not if you’re taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Yes if it’s a skiing holiday in South America.

Regardless, there’s little doubt that having the right travel insurance will give you peace of mind on your vacation and allow you to relax properly. You’re covered in case anything goes wrong, which can be particularly useful on non-refundable trips.

You can easily compare the best options at travelinsurance.com. Our favorites include VisitorsCoverage, and SafetyWing which is great for young travelers and nomads. Check out this article on the average cost of travel insurance when deciding if it’s right for you.

12. Pack Light and Pack Smart

A woman is seated on the bed, organizing her suitcase.
KittiPhan / Adobe Stock

This is a tried and tested travel trick. Lay out everything you want to take and half it. Then half it again.

Pack light and travel light, and you will be so thankful you did when you’re on the road. I wish I’d known this great tip before leaving on my long-term vacation.

Choosing the right kind of luggage for a particular type of vacation is essential. You don’t need a matching three-piece hardshell set for a weekend in Los Angeles.

For most vacations, I carry two pieces of luggage. If I’m backpacking, my main bag will be my backpack. One with an easy-access opening like this Gregory Deva is highly recommended. No more angry rummaging, and hauling everything out onto the floor.

For more convenient and comfortable trips, I’ll use a compact hardshell, like this 20-inch Samsonite, capable of being used as carry-on luggage. I also suggest employing packing cubes to keep yourself organized, and this seven-piece set is one of the best. Keep one aside for your dirty clothes.

But regardless of when or where I’m going, the common denominator is a day bag for carrying essentials. I use the Osprey Nebula, which is one of the finest backpacks ever made. It’s particularly useful for day trips, long-haul flights, commutes, and more.

See Related: The Best Packing Cubes

13. Pack the Essentials

Packing Travel Essentials and Travel Accessories

Over the years, seasoned travelers have fine-tuned their packing list and will bring only what they need – or what they think might be useful. There’s nothing superfluous, no wasted space, and everything has a practical job to do.

Taking a domestic vacation is different from an international one, and you can read this international travel checklist if you’re traveling abroad. But no matter where you’re going or how long you’ll be gone, here is a list of staples you should include. Hand on heart, I would not leave home without any of them.

  • A good pair of walking shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking on your vacation, so it’s important to have a good pair of comfortable and supportive shoes.
  • Wireless earbuds: Essential for enjoying music or audiobooks while on the go. Make sure they have noise-canceling technology to offset any screaming kids.
  • Portable charger: A portable charger can be a lifesaver if your phone runs out of battery. Anker makes the best.
  • First-aid kit: A small first-aid kit is always a good idea, just in case you get hurt or have an emergency.
  • Sunscreen: One of the most essential travel tips is to wear sunscreen. Be sure to pack sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from those harmful rays.
  • Reusable water bottle: Having your own water bottle will help you stay hydrated and avoid any potentially unhygienic nasties in foreign countries. One with a water filter is highly recommended.

Finally, if you’re venturing into a less-than-developed region – always carry a bit of toilet paper. You never know when it will come in handy. I learned this the hard way.

See Related: Best Carry-On Essentials for Travel

14. Dress Practically and Comfortably

Author Stuart Jameson with his wife wearing winter clothes
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

You’re not attending a glamorous ball at one of the best palaces in Europe. Unless you are, in which case feel free to don the glad rags. But for the rest of us, travel attire should be about practical functionality and comfort.

Dress for the season and use layers. A winter vacation will need a different wardrobe from a summer one, obviously, but try to choose pieces you can mix and match. Travel clothing shouldn’t be restrictive, but it should be versatile.

One of my best-ever clothing purchases for a vacation was these 5.11 tactical pants. They’ve been all over the world and used (with layers) in all seasons, and they’re still going strong. Cargo pants with multiple pockets are essential vacation apparel.

And here’s a top travel tip when it comes to clothing: try to blend in a little. Tourists (particularly Americans) tend to stick out like a sore thumb when they’re on vacation, which can make them an obvious target for light fingers. Here’s how to not look like one.

Take some time to consider how the locals dress in a particular country. And while that might not always be practical (especially in places like the Middle East), try to avoid wearing the screaming pink Hawaiian shirt and straw hat.

See Related: The Best Lightweight Clothing for Hot Climates

15. Use Travel Credit Cards

Woman using a credit card for online purchase

Savvy travelers know that using a travel credit card can help rack up reward points or miles that can be used for future travel, free flights, hotel rooms, and other benefits.

If you don’t want free travel, use a cashback credit card to get cash directly to your bank account instead of reward points. It’s important to use these cards responsibly. Travel hacking is not about spending more or risking debt, it’s about using your hard-earned money and points strategically to make your finances go further.

Additionally, be sure to take advantage of all the travel perks that these cards offer. For example, many travel credit cards offer trip or rental car insurance. So, if you’re planning a vacation, use a travel credit card for financial protection in case something goes wrong. 

You should also consider using a pre-paid travel card. I used one for many years, and it can be safer than using cash, gives you a better exchange rate, and helps you stick to a budget. I would only load it with just enough money for a particular day, which ensured I didn’t overspend, nor would I be too upset if it went missing.

There are plenty of travel credit cards and pre-paid options out there, so do your research to find one that best suits your needs. But once you find the right card, and if used responsibly, you can start reaping the travel rewards.

16. Manage Transport Hubs Like a Pro

People in the hall of the airport security inspection secition
Mariakray / Unsplash

Airports, train stations, bus concourses…they can all be more than a little intimidating if you’re not used to them. Even if you are, poor preparation can make them a nightmare to negotiate.

When it comes to sailing through transport hubs like a professional traveler, the best piece of vacation advice I can give is to allow yourself plenty of time. Remember the Mcallisters barrelling through Chicago O’Hare in Home Alone? Yeah, don’t be those guys.

Getting through security is often the main cause of concern. It can be one of the most stressful aspects of your vacation, but it doesn’t need to be.

Pay attention, stay calm, and take your time. Listen to TSA staff and/or customs officers, and follow their instructions.

Do a little research on the process before you arrive at the airport – there are plenty of resources for doing so. These tips for going through customs are a good place to start.

Here’s a top tip spoken from experience. Try to stay off the booze the night before you travel. You’ll feel fresh, you’ll make your flight, you won’t smell like a brewery, and you won’t lose your passport. True story.

17. Get a Multi-Attraction Pass or Discount Card

I Amsterdam City Card is a sightseeing card that gives you free entry to museums and attractions, as well as free public transportation
lumosajans / Shutterstock.com

A sightseeing pass, also known as a visitor’s, tourist pass, or attraction pass, is a prepaid card allowing the holder to enter one or more tourist attractions within a certain area. The most popular sites that offer these passes are GoCity and CityPASS.

This New York Pass is a great example. It grants you entry into iconic attractions like the Empire State Building and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, as well as must-see sites like the Museum of Contemporary Art and Madison Square Garden. Check out our full New York Pass review.

Sightseeing passes are usually valid for a set number of days and allow the holder to skip the line at key attractions. Additionally, some passes include discounts on hotels, restaurants, and shops.

Even if your holiday spot doesn’t have one, you might find there’s a local equivalent. Ask at your accommodation or visit a tourist information kiosk (more on this, below).

If you’re spending some or all of your vacation in a destination that offers one of these cards, you should take advantage of their discounts while you’re there. As well as saving you money, they can be invaluable when it comes to sightseeing in a new city.

See Related: I Amsterdam City Card Review: Is It Worth the Price?

18. Visit Tourist Information

Front of the Kaunas-Tourist Information
August BigHead (BigHead) / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, and there’s no better guide to a new destination than someone who lives and works there. Don’t be afraid to go pick the brains of the staff at a nearby tourist information.

Even if I’ve diligently researched my vacation online, and planned everything with military precision, I will still pop into the local tourism office for some extra advice.

You never know when they will give you some insider information, a killer travel tip to save money, or point you in the direction of something you’ve overlooked. The web is a useful travel tool, but talking to a local, knowledgeable human has it beat, hands down. They can tell you about the free walking tours, share some safety tips about the area, keep you up-to-date with current events, and provide you with the latest opening times for key sites and major attractions.

Furthermore, if you’re in a foreign country with a language barrier, staff at a tourist information office will be able to help. They are there to make your stay more comfortable, after all.

19. Buy a Local SIM card

Phone Sim Card
tomekwalecki / Pixabay

Sometime in the mid-naughties, I returned home from a short trip to Spain. I nearly had a cow upon discovering the amount of my phone bill, especially considering I had not made any calls. I discovered I was getting charged for receiving texts and calls at an extortionate rate.

The best way to avoid roaming charges and keep your mobile phone costs down when you’re on vacation is to purchase a local SIM card. They’re inexpensive and are extremely useful for staying in touch when you’re abroad.

Local SIM cards are also great if you meet new people in a foreign country and want to exchange details. This is particularly true if you will stay in one place for a long time. Not only that, but a local SIM is likely to give you better coverage when you’re off the beaten path – or even if you’re not.

SIM cards can be found at newsstands, travel hubs like airports and train stations, and even grocery stores. You’ll need an unlocked phone, and usually some form of identification. On some occasions, they might ask you for a local address.

For additional peace of mind, and to avoid any potential scams, I suggest purchasing one from a recognized local network store.

Airport stores will be the most expensive, so avoid them if possible. My travel trinkets box has a nice collection of foreign SIM cards. All completely useless, but nice memories nonetheless.

See Related: How to Use a Cell Phone in Germany

20. Learn the Exchange Rate

Money Exchange Booth
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

When traveling to a foreign country, it’s important to know the exchange rate so you can budget accordingly. The last thing you want is to be surprised by how much everything costs. Use an online currency converter like Oanda that will keep you up-to-date.

Additionally, many credit cards offer dynamic currency conversion, which allows you to pay in your home currency. This can come with a fee, however, so it’s best to check with your issuer before you set off.

Even in this day and age of contactless payments, you should still bring cash on your trip just in case. Cash remains king in many places, and you’ll need it for purchases, public transport, tours, tips, and excursions. If you want to visit a flea market in Amsterdam, for example, you’ll need some change to snap up that quirky souvenir.

Local vendors might offer discounts if you pay with cash, which is a good way to save money during your trip. Be wary of exchanging money on the street, as they will often gouge the exchange rate and try to rush you into making a poor deal.

The best place to exchange money is at your bank or credit union before you leave. Avoid using the currency exchange at an airport as they take advantage of poorly-prepared holidaymakers. And if it looks like the one that used to be in Bishkek airport, Kyrgyzstan (pictured), you never know what you’re going to get!

21. Learn the Lingo

Man teaching a woman

I’m terrible at learning languages – I just don’t have the brain capacity or patience. Maybe I’m just getting old. But at one point, I could say please and thank you in over 17 different vernaculars. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.

When traveling to a country that doesn’t speak your language, it’s important to learn basic phrases in the native tongue. Even if you’re not blessed with being a polyglot, just start with simple words like hello, goodbye, please, and thank you.

You can graduate to asking for a beer later, but to begin with, you should focus on learning words and phrases that show respect, courtesy, kindness, and politeness. “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” are useful examples. “I don’t speak (insert language)” is another.

Remember, you don’t need to learn a local language in its entirety – unless you want to. And it isn’t as challenging as you might think. Try a language learning app like Babbel and you’ll be having conversations before you know it.

Failing that, the Google Translate app is your friend. But you might not always have internet access, so a portable translator could come in handy.

Alternatively, you can wait until they invent a language chip that can be inserted into your brain. Because that day is coming, dear readers. That day is coming.

22. Sample the Local Cuisine

Stuart Jameson's Wife Trying Scorpion Street Food
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

One of the best things I love about traveling is getting to try the local food. I discovered some of my favorite dishes while on vacation, and it’s not all about dining in established restaurants with a Michelin star.

Don’t be afraid to eat street food, step outside your comfort zone, and taste the local delicacies. I sampled some delicious roadside fare in Puerto Vallarta and later contracted food poisoning from a Burger King. In Moscow, I had a tasty shawarma and then was sick as a dog after eating McDonald’s. Go figure.

At best, you might find your new favorite dish, at worst, you’ll have a good story to tell. Sure, you don’t have to try the scorpion in Thailand, like my wife in the picture above, but give the chili crab a go. Just make sure you see your food being freshly prepared in front of you.

If you have time, I highly recommend enrolling in a cookery class to learn how to make some exotic cuisine. Typically, the country’s national or most popular dish is covered, and you can come away with new culinary skills.

And try food tours while you’re there. Led by a local guide, they can be the best way to sample a culture’s cuisine, all while getting to know the town or city at the same time. This European Food Tour article should be enough to get your mouth watering.

23. Shop at Local Markets and Bazaars

Grand Bazaar Market in  Istanbul
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

As much as it’s important to try the local cuisine, it’s just as eye-opening to visit local markets and bazaars. Give the big stores a miss, follow the residents, and you’ll be in for a treat.

Holidaymakers are often afraid of the unknown, and they tend to seek out more familiar creature comforts when they’re on vacation. That’s perfectly okay, but you’re never going to get the full experience of your destination country if you’re wrapped in cotton wool.

Visiting a local market can be a thrilling, cultural experience. They can sell everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to weird and wonderful trinkets you won’t find anywhere else.

Flea markets can be treasure troves for unusual gifts, as well as offering a window into life in another country. Some of the best souvenirs I’ve bought didn’t come from a tourist trap shop, but a little stall on a weekly local market.

Don’t be afraid to barter for a good deal, as haggling over the price is often expected. That said, you should always pay what the goods are genuinely worth. Don’t be a skinflint in poorer countries where the vendors depend on selling wares for their livelihood.

See Related: The Best Christmas Markets in Europe.

24. Public Transport vs Car Rental

Bus interior

Some countries have better public transport infrastructure than others. For example, if you’re visiting central Europe, it’s unlikely you’ll need to rent a car. If you’re coming to the United States, on the other hand, you should probably bring your driver’s license.

Some Americans who travel to a foreign country will freak out at the prospect of public transportation – especially if they’ve never set foot on it. Going the other way, the same can be said, and car hire can be intimidating to the inexperienced.

If a country has a solid public transport infrastructure, then you should take advantage of it. In many towns and cities, you can travel a long way for very little without the hassle of hiring a vehicle.

If you do have to rent a car, choose a reputable service to do so. I opted for a budget service on a recent vacation in Jamaica and was very nearly fleeced by a fueling scam. Try websites like Rentalcars.com, Sixt, and Alamo. You should also consider ridesharing apps like Zipcar as an alternative and cost-effective way to get around.

Try to avoid taking a cab unless necessary. Sure, the taxi driver might know their way around and it’s convenient, but it’s also a fast ticket to blowing your holiday budget.

Plus, they will see a tourist coming a mile away, and suddenly the meter is on a “special” rate. If you must take a taxi, negotiate the fare before entering.

See Related: Public Transportation in Germany: Tips to Get Around

25. Stay Healthy

Girl Wearing Mask
Satjawat / Adobe Stock

It’s sod’s law that you’re fit and healthy for most of your working year, and then you come down with sickening flu a day into your vacation. For almost the entire time I was trying to learn to scuba dive in Honduras, I was bedridden with a stomach bug.

Staying healthy while traveling/on holiday is important – especially if you only have a short time away. You can start by drinking lots of water, eating fruit and veggies (well-washed), and maintaining regular exercise. Now is a great time to get into yoga for travelers.

Malaria isn’t a fun souvenir, so ensure you’re up-to-date on all your vaccinations. This includes jabs you may need to get for the specific destination you’re visiting.

The CDC has this excellent resource for checking travel health requirements and issues for every country. And please consider wearing a mask in crowded and confined spaces full of people spluttering their germs into the air.

One of the worst creations in all of nature is the mosquito, and not only does this little bugger live in top vacation spots like the best islands in the world, but they have a nasty bite and carry disease. Pack a good mosquito repellent to keep them and other bugs at bay.

Jet lag can also eat into your vacation time, especially if you’re taking a long-haul flight. Stay hydrated, say no to alcohol and caffeine, and be sure to set off after a good sleep.

When you arrive, try to stay awake until the typical local bedtime. For more tips, check out this article on how to stay comfortable on a long flight.

26. Stay safe

Man Opening a Safety Lock Box

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had something stolen while traveling. I’ve been robbed at knifepoint, had my bags raided in a hotel room, and had to barricade a door shut to prevent any unsavory types from getting in. I’ve been aggressively locked in a bar until I paid an overly inflated tab.

Travel is not without its risks, but there are many things you can do to sidestep any insalubrious encounters. Avoid walking alone at night – especially when drinking.

If in doubt, keep to populated tourist areas, and be aware of your surroundings. And ditch the money belt – they’re just silly.

Don’t put all your cash, important documents, wallet, backup debit card, and other essential items in the same bag. Spread things around, so that if your bag or purse does go walkabout, you’re not completely stranded. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry, or anything that can draw attention to you.

Many hotels have a safe in their rooms, or similar secure facilities on-site. I highly recommend you take advantage of them if they are provided. For more information, this article explores 25 essential safety travel tips to help you avoid any unpleasant events on your vacation.

Just remember – these travel tips are not meant to fill you with fear. The vast majority of vacations are trouble-free, and with a bit of care, attention, and common sense, you can avoid any issues. Don’t let the thought that something might happen stop you going in the first place.

See Related: Is Prague Safe? Important Safety Tips for Travelers

27. Use Travel Apps and Websites

Phone screen showing different apps

I traveled for seven years without a smartphone. Consequently, technology has passed me by, and I’ve no idea how to use it properly.

I open apps like a baby trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Yet today, I don’t know how I ever managed or what I did without it.

That’s largely thanks to the ever-expanding world of useful travel apps and websites. There’s something available for every step of the process – from finding the best hotel deals to highlighting alternative attractions. From calculating exchange rates to providing translation services.

Tripadvisor is probably the most famous and well-followed travel website/app, and it can be a valuable resource for finding the best things to do, places to eat, and activities to enjoy in a given destination.

I use Skyscanner to find my flights, but recently, I’ve discovered the joys, trials, and tribulations of using airline-specific apps. Yes, they can be hit-and-miss, but they are useful for keeping your boarding details all in one spot and updating you with any flight changes or adverse conditions.

The XE Converter has been my go-to currency app for figuring out the exchange rate. I don’t have a head for math, so anything that takes that pain away has got my vote. Kayak is great for car rentals, and of course, booking.com will find you the perfect hotel room.

For more information, check out this article on the best apps and sites for travel. Alternatively, you can go here for the best travel apps for Europe.

28. Road Trip Tips

Author Stuart Jameson on a Road Trip in San Francico
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

Taking a road trip can make for a truly memorable vacation, providing you do a little planning beforehand. The first thing to do is make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape.

Fill the tires, check fluids, fix the wipers, and ensure all the lights work. Inspect the battery, air filters, belts, hoses, and air conditioning/heating. If you’re not mechanically minded, drop it into the shop for a once-over.

Give your car a thorough clean inside and out. In my experience, you accumulate a fair bit of clutter on a road trip – so don’t start with that as your baseline.

Pay particular attention to your windshield, dash, and cockpit area. You can download offline maps for navigation, but keep a hard copy road atlas on board just in case.

Take the time you learn the rules of the road where you’re driving. It might not always be the country you learned to drive in. I’ve driven in Iran, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan, and Mexico – to name a few – and they’re not all singing from the same song sheet.

An invaluable bit of tech for road trips is a universal adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Try this one which is great for camping. For more must-have gear, check out our complete guide to road trip essentials, and don’t forget your driver’s license!

See Related: Travel Tips for Road Trips With Dogs

29. Realize You Don’t Need to See Everything

Woman standing and looking on a beautiful scenery

This is one of the most underrated travel planning tips there is. I’m often overwhelmed by how much there is to see on our planet, which comes with the dreadful feeling that I won’t be able to see it all.

But that’s okay. Life will go on if you don’t make it to all of the best museums in Europe. If you don’t see the animatronic T-Rex at Wall Drug in South Dakota. If you don’t manage to hitchhike to India.

One of the best travel tips I ever learned was to go slow. When visiting a new destination or country during a typically short vacation, packing loads of stuff in can be tempting. Don’t do that.

It’s better to do one place and do it well than to shoehorn the whole map at once. You’ll have more time to relax and less stress and anxiety, ensuring you have a proper vacation. Traveling slowly will save you more money, too.

30. Enjoy Yourself

Woman wearing a hat laying on a sand

Last, but by no means least, getting the best out of your vacation means enjoying yourself. Going on holiday and stressing as much as you might already do daily is no good. It’s okay to allow yourself some pleasure.

Leave the laptop behind. Turn your phone off every once in a while. Tell your employers or anyone who depends on you that you’re “out of the office” – even if you don’t work in one.

Look at the trees. Breathe in the air. Get yourself to the water’s edge.

But ahead of all that, it’s vitally important you address any pressing issues or assignments before you leave. There’s nothing worse than something hanging over your head for the duration of your time away, and all you can do is fester and ruminate on deadlines and to-do lists. That’s a bonafide joy-killer right there.

If you struggle with worry and anxiety, and find it difficult to unwind on holiday, I recommend seeing a therapist. They can give you the tools and coping mechanisms you need to be able to switch off and let the world float on by.

You should come back from a vacation feeling fresh, rejuvenated, and able to tackle whatever shit the world is about to throw at you. So when you’re ready to fire up your computer and open the inbox, you’re not filled with a sense of impending doom.

See Related: Essential Tips and Tricks for Stress-Free Travel

FAQs

How can I make the most of my vacation?

Some great tips for getting the most out of your vacation include things like proper budgeting and planning, taking your time, trying new things, getting off the beaten track, and learning a few words and common phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting.

What are some common mistakes people make when planning a vacation?

Not writing things down. I would say that making notes or creating a spreadsheet when you’re planning a vacation is essential to keep track of everything.

However, I would encourage some mistakes, as that’s how we learn and grow. But with adequate planning, you should avoid the more serious ones.

What are the best ways to save money on vacation?

Food, accommodation, travel expenses, and activities are the main factors that will drain your holiday bank balance. Try to avoid eating out – make your meals where possible. Shop for the best deals on places to stay – and think outside the box.

Consider camping, or staying in hostels/budget accommodation. Watch for free activities, cheaper flights, and discount travel. And keep the partying to a minimum – the booze is a surefire way to drain your funds dry.

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