10 International Travel Hacks to Save You Money, Time, and Misery

Traveling internationally is truly one of the most exciting and exhilarating experiences you will ever have. International travel is something many people never get the opportunity to experience. But, WHEN you are one of the lucky ones, (because there is no reason why you should not be) take this list to heart! These are some of the most reoccurring and potentially detrimental travel mistakes international travelers make. (And how to avoid them!)

By properly preparing and using these travel hacks, you will be able to focus on beauty and wonder of the world around you and and fully immerse yourself in the adventure! 

 

1.) Don’t put any valuables in your checked baggage

It’s no secret that checked baggage does not get handled with an overwhelming amount of care. Airlines lose luggage. A lot. Especially when you have connections to other flights and airlines. Be prepared for this to happen to you. It probably won’t, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to be prepared. It is important to make sure any medication you need is in your carry-on, as well as a change of clothes and anything else you wouldn’t be able to live without for a few days. (Or indefinitely.) I go more into detail about packing your carry-on below.

Your checked baggage is also not exempt from searching. What that means, is that your baggage can be searched. And things can fall out… or make it into someone else’s pocket. Make sure any jewelry (or other valuables) is either on you or in your handbag or carry-on bag. Don’t put cash or anything sentimental that you can’t afford to lose in your checked bag.

2.) Pack your carry-on strategically

There are a couple of reasons to take a bit of extra time packing your carry-on. The first is, that international travel can be exhausting and is not especially cozy. Your carry on is your opportunity to make your journey as comfortable as possible for yourself.

And you want to be prepared in the case that your checked bag gets lost. Of course you can (and will probably) purchase things to supplement your necessities in this case. But wouldn’t it be nice to save that money and time for more important travel things? Like drinks on the beach and souvenirs?

If you pack your carry-on well, you will be able to live off of it for a couple of days if you need to. I will elaborate on how to pack the perfect carry on in a later post and dig into specifics. But in the mean time, here are a few items to always have in your carry on:

  • Any medication you regularly take
  • Your passport
  • Any valuables you are bringing
  • Any OTC medication or vitamins you may need (Here are my usuals: asprin/ibuprofen, dramomine, tums, sleep aids, Emergen-C, allergy stuff.)
  • A book/magazine/kindle/ipad… whatever form of entertainment you may need
  • Headphones
  • Your phone charger and an adapter for foreign plugs
  • A change of clothes
  • Lotion, moisturizer, face wash, deodorant (to refresh when you need)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste (Also to refresh, or if your checked bag gets lost)
  • A few snackies (fruitsnacks, granola bars)
  • A bottle of water
  • A cozy sweater/sweatshirt (You can use this as a pillow or blanket if you don’t want to use the airline ones… which you probably don’t)
  • A travel pillow… this one is optional. I often don’t feel like carrying it around.
  • Makeup…only if you can’t live without it in case your carry-on gets lost.

Holiday suitcase

3.) Resist the urge to overpack

Do you really need your full size hairspray, shampoo, and conditioner on this trip? How about that 14th pair of shoes in your suitcase? The answer is probably no. Chances are good that you are traveling to a civilized place. And they will probably have stores. SO, if you run out of your trial sized hairspray, you can go buy another! Or maybe you buy a shirt for a souvenir and you can wear that on your trip. I promise it will be okay if you put back that third pair of jeans.

One of the beautiful parts of traveling is that you aren’t at home. A little bit of displacement and fear of the unknown is totally normal…and can actually be fun! Once you adopt this mindset, you will find packing light much easier. Even if you feel like you can’t do it and need to bring everything you own with you, take a chance! Step out of your box and feel the freedom of traveling light. It is liberating! And again, there will be opportunities to purchase what you need if you forgot. You will always and forever forget something every time you travel. It’s just the way of the world. Don’t let it stress you out. Just plan accordingly and roll with the punches. Let it be an experience! 

4.) Don’t bother renting a car

It has been my experience that people in many foreign countries drive like maniacs. But this is not why you shouldn’t rent a car. The fact of the matter is, that you don’t have to. And most of the time it ends up being more of a hindrance than a help. Imagine relaxing on a train while taking in the beautiful views of lavender fields of the French countryside, versus trying to navigate your way through foreign roads with foreign rules and maniac drivers. The first option sounds more like a vacation right?

And you really do not need a rental car to get around most of the world. I continue to be seriously impressed by the availability and ease of public transportation in foreign countries. Everywhere I have been actually, outside of the US, public transportation is the way of life. In Tokyo, Paris, and London, the subway systems are clean, safe, and easy to navigate. To get around in Italy, the train is the way to go. (Maybe it’s not quite as clean and new as the others … but it gets you there all the same.) The Euro rail is an awesome option for traveling within Europe from country to country. And many cities have coach buses that go around the city and even around the country.

This doesn’t mean that you should never rent a car while traveling internationally. There are many locations and instances in which you may have to rent a car, and you will have fun with it! But…especially for first time International travelers, avoid it if you can. It will save you a ton of stress I promise.

London traffic

 

5.) Don’t carry around a large handbag (and don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket)

Do yourself a favor and bring a small cross body bag or travel pouch (a flat fannie pack that goes under your clothes.) There are many professional pick-pockets throughout the world; and they love an unsuspecting tourist. Having your belongings close to you makes it more difficult for pick pockets to access, and therefore less likely they will target you.

It is also important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know where you are, and observe people. This is half the fun of traveling anyway! Also, always have your bag on your person. NOT on the back of a chair at a restaraunt, or on the seat next to you. In crowded areas, hold your belongings close. Pick pockets thrive on naive and distracted tourists, and busy crowded areas.

Also be cautious when carrying things around like your passport or multiple credit cards. Most of the time, these things are much safer in your hotel room than on your person if you are out for the day.

 

6.) Avoid paying with credit or debit cards at street booths, markets, small local shops, etc.

Many of the booths on the streets, food trucks, and markets these days are able to accept credit or debit cards as a means of payment. They do this to make it more convenient for tourists. However, I would advise against this. I am sure that the vast majority of these businesses are honest and ethical. But it just takes one not-so-ethical business to create some serious strife and chaos in your life.

Many small businesses will have handheld machines to accept your credit or debit card. These machines can hold card information, to later be lifted and used to create a fake card. The fake card may not have a working magnetic strip, but it has the correct card number etc. This new, fake card can be used online, over the phone, or at any store that is willing to manually enter the card number because the magnetic strip doesn’t work.

The machines that are not handheld can also be a threat. Just because their credit card machine looks high tech does not mean it is more safe.

There is also a terrifying amount of personal information that can be lifted off of a credit or debit card. At the very least, your name and billing address. In sticking to cash for most purchases abroad, you are taking one more precautionary measure towards protecting yourself.

 

7.) Become ATM savy

ATM machines should be a part of your international experience, as you really want to use cash as often as you can, as I explained in #6. And ATM machines are actually one of the better options when it comes to exchanging your money. Most of them offer great exchange rates.  There will be a transaction fee, but usually it still ends up being a better deal than exchanging at a currency exchange. However, if you are going to use an international ATM, it is a good idea to be aware of what to expect and how to avoid any scams.

  • Use an ATM inside a bank.  Never use an ATM located on a street corner, in a public place, or completely out in the open. This is good rule of thumb in general; as you are much more exposed outside. But there are numerous reasons to use an ATM in a bank. ATM machines inside banks are more difficult for thieves to access. But, a criminal does not have to rob you at the ATM to get your money. There are many other options for them unfortunately.

 

  • Find one ATM to use frequently. Try to use the same ATM for as many transactions as possible. Maybe there is a bank near your hotel or on the way to the train station you will use quite a bit. Try to find a place that you tend to frequent. This way you will become familiar with the area and the machine. Now, keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Thieves use skimmers to lift your number off the magnetic strip. A skimmer can be placed on the side of an ATM machine, or even sometimes they will put it directly outside of where you swipe your card. If it looks strange, or says “Swipe here first,” DO NOT use the machine. When I was in Europe, I actually used a machine that had been tampered with by a criminal and got my card number lifted. They used my debit card number to make their own purchases and it quickly became a nightmare.

 

  • Beware of ATM imposter machines. There are actually fake ATM machines that are located in public places. They will take your card number and then tell you the machine is out of money. If this happens, contact your bank immediately. (I mean, you probably would anyway since you didn’t get your money.) Again, stick to ATM machines in banks. By doing this, you are taking action to avoid having any of this happen to you.

 

  • Be very observant of the machine and your surroundings. If you absolutely must use an ATM in a public place or an ATM room, do a visual scan of the area, the room, and the machine. Look for any cameras that are not in plain sight (like in a brochure holder), any strange signage, anything that seems out of the ordinary for a machine. Because you are abroad, you may think that ATM machines just look different there, but they really shouldn’t. When in doubt, DON’T use the machine.

 

  • Don’t accept help from a stranger. Stranger Danger is real! Yes you will meet plenty of fabulous people abroad, and may even make some lifetime friends. But the chances that you meet your new friend at an ATM machine? Slim to none. If someone offers to help you with something, politely decline their offer and get out.

 

8.) Avoid taking too many pictures… be in the moment instead.

Pictures are so important. They capture a moment and allow you to revisit and remember it for years to come. But if you get so caught up in making sure you capture every moment, you may actually miss out on being present in and experiencing those moments.

Allow yourself to take part in the experience as well as capture it with your camera. Ask yourself every so often: “Am I fully present in this moment?” This will help keep you engaged and build even better memories to look back on!

 

 

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9.) Be weary of taking photos with people in costume

So I am sure there are plenty of legit people in costume to take photos with. But the ones to avoid are looking to trick you into paying them. I got suckered into this at the Colosseum in Rome by a Gladiator. Some other examples are pirates in locations with piers, people dressed in period costumes near museums etc.

This is a typical tourist trap. They make it seem as if they are there representing the monument… like characters at Disney World. They will happily pose for a picture with you. And you think… “why not right? When in Rome”… but then, they will tell you how much money you owe them allowing you to take a photo with them. They also get rather brash if you don’t want to pay. (In my experience.) Stick to photos with yourself and your friends and you will be just fine.

 

Rome

 

10.) Don’t wait to buy souvenirs

Buy souvenirs when you see them. Chances are good that you will not be back to the same place if you are exploring and traveling. You will never forget that one souvenir that you saw and didn’t purchase. It will haunt you forever. (If you’re anything like me at least.) And for anything that is one-of-a-kind, don’t hesitate. I learned this in Rio de Janeiro with a painting that I loved. I took a short walk to think about it, and when I went back 10 minutes later it was sold. Have your budget in mind and allow yourself to indulge in a souvenir when you come across one you love!

I have seen too many people scrambling at the airport to purchase souvenirs before they board their plane home. (And I’ve been this person too many times.)

I know it feels impulsive for most of us to jump on something when you see it. But travel is meant to be this way. Give into your impulses this once. You will be happy you did!

 

And there you have it! Now you are ready to explore the world!

A very important note: don’t let these travel hacks or situations scare you. Traveling is about learning and expanding your view of the world and of yourself. Anything can be scary if you allow it to be. These hacks are meant to bring awareness. And it is with this awareness, that you are able to free yourself and fully enjoy your time abroad. You will surely have magical and memorable travel experience; just take a few precautions where necessary. There is far more good in the world than bad; trust me.

 

Now Go Dahhhling! Adventure awaits!!

 

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  • Great tips! I mean Hacks! ? In college I took only a backpack with a change of clothes, camera, and sleeping bag to Europe. Crazy!! Thanks Sarah!!

  • Great post. Although, #1 made me chuckle because I never check a bag. I want to be able to carry everything around with me on a train, subway, etc. I always rely on public transportation when I travel. And generally, if I can’t get somewhere by public transportation, I don’t go there. (So that takes care of #3 and #4!) I’m bad with #5. I always keep my wallet in the back pocket of my jeans. It’s never been a issue. I really hope I don’t learn my lesson the hard way. Fantastic ATM tips. Tips like #8 always get me thinking because I take lots of pictures. But there are such times as yesterday. I gave myself a walking tour of the murals/street art in the Mission District of San Francisco. I took a ton of pictures, but at the same time I was overwhelmed by the beauty. I was totally caught up in it. So I may have found a balance between capturing the moment and living in it. #9, not a problem! I avoid those characters like the plague.

    • Thank you so much Billy! I love your take on all of these things! It is great to hear your perspective and I greatly appreciate your feedback! I totally agree with you on the checked bag…. I hate doing it too and avoid it if I can! I utilize public transportation all I can as well. The efficiency of it in many foreign places is amazing. Be careful keeping that wallet in your back pocket! Especially in Europe. Just be careful and aware and you’ll be fine I’m sure. And I am so glad (and a bit envious) that you are able to find a balance between all the pictures and taking it all in. This is something I am constantly working to improve. Thank you so much for your feedback and sharing some of your story! I can’t wait to check out your site and all the great insight you have on there! Take care and happy traveling! ~Sarah