If you’ve got a ticket to a faraway destination, study up before you leave on vacation — but not too much.
If you overplan, warns popular travel blogger Matt Long, you may see high expectations for travel unravel.
“I love travel planning, but I tend to get carried away,” Long says. “It’s my Achilles heel.”
After working for years as a Washington lobbyist but pining to spend more time exploring the globe, Long launched Landlopers.com in 2009. Ever since, he’s hung with penguins in Antarctica, dived along the Great Barrier Reef, watched the Northern Lights from a frozen lake in Norway and visited Bangkok and the Galapagos and dozens of places in between.
Long shares his top travel tips so Money Talks News readers can make the most of their experiences and maybe even save some money along the way.
1. Plan your spontaneity
“Some of the best travel experiences are ones we never expected, so be sure to allow time for those to happen naturally,” Long says.
“Some preparation is vital, as long as it’s not too much,” he says. “Be informed without scheduling out every second of your trip. Some of the best travel experiences are spontaneous, ones we never expected, so be sure to allow time for those to happen naturally.”
2. Get lost
“Get mildly but not dangerously lost, that way you discover parts of cities you may never have seen otherwise,” Long says, acknowledging that frequent travel hasn’t “helped my severe inability to find my way.”
Most recently, Long got lost in Venice, “a city that confounds many.”
“Made up of seemingly infinite canals, small alleyways and streets that lead to nowhere, even the best navigator in the world finds himself scratching his head,” he says. “Even Google maps couldn’t make sense of the ancient labyrinth that makes up modern-day Venice.”
Instead of making a straight line between sites in the city that can seem overrun with tourists, Long says, he zigzagged randomly and discovered “quiet little spots.”
“I think to find the ‘real’ Venice, it has to be completely unplanned and getting lost is the best place to start.”
3. Taste the place
“Food memories are what we remember most from any travel experience,” Long says.
Picky eaters are going to find things that are disgusting, but, he advises, be open to new flavors.
That doesn’t mean you have to try guinea pig roasted on a stick, a popular dish he passed on in Cusco, Peru, but look for familiar ingredients put together in ways you’re not accustomed to.
He was most pleasantly surprised in Istanbul, Turkey, when he tried Kavun Dolmasi, a “weird” but delectable cooked melon stuffed with lamb, nuts and spices, a dish passed down from Ottoman times.
A not so pleasant surprise: “We walked into a sweet shop, there were candies, bon bons, truffles, chocolate, but also there was candied lettuce, pumpkin and olive. That’s definitely a taste you have to grow up with.”
4. Shop at the local grocers
Local groceries are more than places to pick up cheap drinks and snacks, Long says. They reflect local culture.
“In a Madrid market, there were two solid rows of olive oil,” he says. “It shows you that in Spanish cuisine olive oil is very important.”
Aisles of beer in the largest quantities he found in eastern Europe markets.
“It shows what’s important to them.”
Markets likely let you save money over restaurant prices, too.
5. Learn to haggle
“For many of us the practice of haggling is an alien concept,” Long says. “It’s a vital skill to possess in many corners of the world.”
Travel sites suggest testing price tags to see if they are firm simply by asking shopkeepers or street vendors will easily pare the asking price. Asking is a time-proven technique.
Ask if cash discounts are available or if buying in bulk will cut a per-item cost.
Often, your desired memento won’t have a price tag and the merchant will ask you how much you’ll pay. Try to get a feel ahead of time for what others are paying. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a price offer if it feels too much; the seller may call out a lower price before you disappear around the corner.
Haggling works mainly with goods, not foods. You can also haggle at times over bikes, taxis and other forms of individual transportation.
6. Travel light
Long says he’s not an expert packer but is getting better.
“No matter where you go and what you do, learning how to be a more efficient packer is a very valuable skill.”
It can also save money, especially if it helps you avoid airline baggage fees, which often start at $25 for the first checked luggage piece and can run $75 for the second.
Learning to pack outfits you can layer, using compression bags and limiting your entertainment and toiletries options can help you save space. Get more light-packing tips here.
Take less and learn to do laundry in a hotel sink.
7. Edit photos as you go
While “taste and smell can bring back memories faster than a word or photo ever will,” Long says, photos best tell the tales of our travel adventures.
“Almost everyone takes photos when they travel, but not everyone takes good photos.” He advises brushing up on your skills before you go.
“You don’t have to have a fancy camera or be an expert to come home with quality photos,” he says.
But you do have to edit yourself and find a way to present, view and share images of your journey.
At the behest of Adobe, Long recently experimented with the software maker’s free Slate platform, which allows users to incorporate words and photos to make picture stories, such as one he did called “Eating My Way Through Istanbul.” You can add photos and stories as you go.
“That way you’re capturing the moment when your memories are fresh, and you won’t forget any of those little details,” he says.
8. Take time to exercise
“Staying healthy on the road is difficult, but given how physically taxing travel can be it’s vital to be as healthy as possible,” Long says. “If you can take even 10 minutes a day to do yoga or exercise in some way, it will make your travel experience infinitely more enjoyable.”
The Mayo Clinic, for example, suggests packing a jump-rope or resistance tubes to use in your hotel room.
Of course, walking is available almost wherever you go or even in an airport while waiting for your plane to depart.
9. Learn to sleep anywhere
Don’t let jet lag get you down. This common sleep problem occurs whenever someone travels between time zones, says the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center. Symptoms include indigestion, daytime sleepiness, insomnia, poor concentration, and irritability.
Take an eye mask and ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones on a plane, train or bus, experts suggest. Even if you don’t fall asleep, you may be less fatigued if you’re protected against distracting light or noise.
“So many times we find ourselves in cars, planes, trains or wherever and a few minutes of sleep could mean the difference between sanity and going nuts,” Long says. “If you can tackle this skill, you are on your way to being a travel master.”
10. Learn how to change a tire
“Many of us will rent a vehicle of some sort when we travel and the chances of getting a flat tire somewhere, anywhere is pretty likely,” Long says.
While modern tire technology has reduced the likelihood of tire failure, road hazards like nails, glass, and potholes present danger enough and could ruin your day.
“Instead of being held hostage to roadside assistance, take some time and learn how to change a tire yourself.”
11. Stash emergency cash
Travel can be unpredictable — and problems, costly.
Long’s partner recently got stuck in an elevator at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, a 75-minute ordeal resulting in missed flights and connections.
“I’ve heard far too many horror stories of theft and loss on the road. I’ve even had it happen to me, so I know the importance of keeping a secret stash of money.”
Just don’t forget where you put it.
12. Get out of your comfort zone and go
Long acknowledges that “most people don’t think as obsessively about travel as I do. I’m in a weird bubble of people who travel a lot.”
Only 30 percent of Americans own passports, and only a third them actually go out of the country — and then just once a year, says Long, himself a self-described cubicle dweller who works in writing, editing and marketing.
Don’t be afraid to go, he says.
“See as much as you can and never look back,” he wrote in his blog. “Every trip, no matter the length or how far away it takes you is important. Even the most prosaic of experiences teaches us something and we always, always grow as individuals. So don’t hold back because you’re afraid you’re not traveling the right way. There’s no such thing, there’s just traveling or not traveling.”
Where will your adventures take you? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.