Tips

General

Get out at the crack of dawn or soon thereafter. The best time of day is when the sun is rising and earth’s creatures are waking up. The temperature tends to be more agreeable, especially in the tropics, where mornings tend to be dry and afternoons and evenings can be wet during the rainy season. The early morning is the most photogenic segment of the day. Like before dusk, after dawn provides the best natural lighting for photography.

Ask for an unobstructed window seat at airplane check-in. If you like to look out the window when flying, you may be able to set this up online beforehand. I almost never do this as it tends to cost extra. More often than not I get a window seat upon request at check-in. The same is true for buses and trains when there is assigned seating. When using buses or trains, try to sit by the window to take in the outside surroundings.

Always maintain your EQ. If you do not like a situation, remain calm and patient. As is often the case in warmer climates, day-to-day existence operates more slowly than what you may be used to. Never show anger. If you do, the situation could likely get worse. Try to smile as often as possible. This will enhance contentment among you and all those you come in contact with.

Learn as much of the local tongue as possible. Many people in the world speak at least some English but anything you can whip out in their language will earn you respect and add to your pleasant experience. Start with hello and thank you, and slowly build from there. If you like to travel in Latin America, studying Spanish is a boon that will change your whole experience. Although English is growing, and it is common to find in tourist towns, many parts of the world still have a low rate of English. In my opinion, learning and using another language is fun. And as travelers, we ought to be respectful ambassadors and learn and use what we can while in the foreign land.

Budget

Know the numbers This greatly reduces the chance of being taken advantage of. Whatever it takes, even if you have to drill the numbers in, do it! Once you learn one to 10, the rest tends to go fast and easy. Also learn the how to say: ‘How much?’ This is beyond doable even though the majority of travelers typically overlook it.

Almost everything is negotiable. Often try to haggle a little bit with hotel rates, tour costs, and bus tickets, etc. I have a general rule: I do not negotiate over small change. It is not worth the energy. And the behavior of bargaining varies greatly from country to country and is less prevalent in richer countries. I generally set a goal of getting 20% off bus tickets and hotel rooms, and more than that for items from street hawkers. This does not apply to food unless I think I am being overcharged, at which point, I make it a point to not purchase from a person or business that has tried to take advantage of me.

Depending on where you are, discounts from street hawkers can be as much as 50% or even more in some situations. Read up on the place you are in and ask locals how much you should pay for something. Once you know the actual cost, you can haggle down to that price or close to it and walk away calmly if the person refuses. Chances are they will then adhere to your price. If they do not, it is perfectly OK to walk away with a smile and a thank you.

Get a TD Bank account in the US. As long as you can maintain a balance of $2,500 or more, you are reimbursed for ATM fees accrued anywhere in the world.

Take buses not taxis if possible. This can save considerable amounts of money. Research airports, bus and train stations where you will be arriving to find out about local transportation options. Ask hotel or hostel staff which local bus you should take to get somewhere. Bus rides can be a great method of inexpensive sightseeing and transportation.

The most inexpensive and often the easiest way to get around Guatemala.

Walk away from the station or airport to a main road if you have to get a taxi. Outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s train station, I knocked 75% off the asking price by walking two minutes away from the main entrance. At the airport in Lima, Perú, I saved about 25% in the same fashion.

Avoid hotel booking sites if possible. If it is not a busy season or holiday like Easter week in Latin America, or Loy Krathong in Thailand, you can typically save money by walking into the hotel instead of having a reservation. You can save as much as several dollars per night as the walk-in rate is often different from the rate the website can give you. Depending on supply and demand you have the ability to haggle a cheaper rate when you walk in. This can be country specific. For example, in Perú or Colombia, if you speak Spanish, it is often possible to get the cost down by 10 or 20%, whereas in Thailand that may not be the case.

There are two situations where I feel it is a good idea to have a place of lodging booked in advance. If you are arriving in a mega city or a big city in general, it is a good idea to have something reserved. Also, if you are arriving somewhere at night, I would have something booked ahead of time.

Buy water at the supermarket if your place of accommodation does not provide refillable drinking water to its guests. Water in semi bulk at the grocery store typically costs less than half of what you would pay elsewhere. This savings can add up in a month’s time. For example, in Santa Marta, Colombia, you can get a liter of water at the big EXITO store for a fraction of what a smaller convenience-like store would charge you.

Avoid restaurants in tourist zones. Often it doesn’t take more than walking a few blocks to find comparable and more authentic food for considerably less of your hard-earned dinero. NOTE: If you are a person who works anywhere from your laptop, you may want to hang out in a café and connect. In that case it can be worth splurging a little on food for a more ergonomically friendly laptop experience.

Read as much as you can about a country. While in Colombia for the second time, I read that all bus tickets are negotiable. After that I almost always saved around 25% off the asking price. I usually find whatever the cheapest travel book is and download it to my Kindle. Or if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, that is a great way to find books too. I go with any book I find, whether it is an independent source, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, or Moon Guides, etc. These books provide quick and useful information about the place you are. A novel or non-fiction set in the country is a great way to get insight too. While in Nicaragua, I read a fascinating book called: The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli. The book provided copious knowledge and history that I had not known about Nicaragua.

Get your teeth cleaned or any other dental work you may need done. If you are from a country like the US where dental work is expensive, try to get it done when abroad. I always try to get a cleaning done when I am in a country where it costs considerably less. In both Saudi Arabia and Colombia, a cleaning can easily cost one-fifth what it would in the US. And not once have I had to fill out paperwork, and there are no consultation fees. They often take you right in and look at you. More important than saving you considerable amounts of money, preserving your teeth is great for overall health and well being.

At Codes Caribbean in Santa Marta I walked-in and paid $31 for a cleaning and polishing, a process which took over an hour.

Health

Stay Hydrated. Sip water as frequently as possible. It will enhance your overall health, well-being, and keep your body filtered. Carry a non-plastic bottle around and fill it up when you can. It will help to remind you to stay hydrated. It is easy to forget, so make it a mantra. My current hydration incantation is: noa because I am in Laos at the time of writing, where noa is the word for water. Focus on water flow. Equate this with life flow.

Wash your hands before eating. Make it a habit to wash your hands before eating. Do your best to find a sink with soap and water. If it is not available, use hand sanitizer or a refreshing tissue. This will decrease the chances of swallowing bacteria that could be passed on from a dysentery-laden finger to your food. The poorer or less developed an area, and the cheaper the food there, the greater your chance will be of developing a food-borne illness. Usually when you get sick it will just be a 24-hour bug which requires vomiting, diarrhea, rest and re-hydration. If you find yourself with lighter symptoms but sick for more than a couple of days, get to the nearest medical establishment for a stool test. Trust me. I have lived this.

Eat as many fruits and veggies as you can. This will help your immune system. Whole, nourishing food can compliment a travel and life experience immensely.

Cover sun-exposed skin. Be aware of the sun, especially at higher altitudes as the sun is closer and can burn your nose, face or forehead quickly. Just in case burning occurs, traveling with a bottle of lavender essential oil can help soothe burning skin.

Bring mosquito repellent. Pay specific attention during dusk and dawn, especially if the weather is wet. Eating garlic (the less cooked the better) and putting citronella oil (mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil) on your skin also helps defend against these flying pests. Try to avoid DEET. It is not only toxic to the mosquito but to you too.

Do pushups and stretching exercises. You will feel better. In many places you can find free workout machines. Gyms are popular almost everywhere and tend to have weekly and even daily, and hourly rates. Renting a bicycle can be a fun option. Power walks can be therapeutic. Yoga is typically available wherever there are travelers. You don’t have to go as far as India, although that would be a great place to do it too. Try to get whatever exercise you can. Your body craves it. And let us not forget that the brain is an organ too. It responds to cardio-exercise like the rest of your physiological makeup.

Tech

Keep electronic devices charged as often as possible, especially in areas where power outages happen often. Having an often cheap local SIM is a great way to have Internet, which then can easily be tethered to a laptop or other device. Having a power bank is also a great option.

Purchase a local adapter for plugging in your laptop. Not all outlets are universal. These seem to always be available and inexpensive in a local hardware store. Often your place of accommodation will let you borrow an adapter and/or tell you where you can obtain one. In Chiang Mai, I had to hunt around the city a little bit, until I found one at Computer Plaza. The one I purchased there also works now in neighboring Laos.

Ask for a room that is close to the router. It’s often best to check to make sure the Wi-Fi works before you pay for the room, especially if you’re in a developing land or cheap hotel. That said, solid Wi-Fi access continues to be more common and automatic in places of accommodation worldwide.