Before we get into my best international travel tips, let me first explain why I’m writing a list and the importance of happiness in travel.
I’ve sworn off lists from Getaway Girl because I believe they don’t fit GG’s brand and voice. Today I’m breaking that rule.
Do you have those years when nothing seems to go your way? The 2017/18 academic year was that year for me. Most days I felt as if my hard work went unnoticed, my passions would never become a career, and the people I counted on didn’t support me.
None of this is true, but that’s the kind of thing you realize in retrospect.
Good things take time, so I continued to express positivity and hope positivity would come to me in return. It did.
2019 has blessed me tremendously. My hard work has tangible results, my passion is slowly becoming a career, and I’m surrounded by people who love and support me (and vice versa).
On my birthday last week, I reflected a lot on my life and my intentions for the future.
Have I saved the planet from irreversible environmental danger or made a million dollars?
Nope. I’d like to one day, but until then I have other accomplishments to celebrate, such as graduating college and running my first half marathon.
International Travel Tips to Maximize Happiness
You might argue the purpose of life is to be successful, but our definitions of success are based on what brings us happiness. That happiness might be found in money, material possessions, a career, memories, friendship, love, knowledge, or service.
No matter how we find happiness with ourselves and the world around us, it is our purpose as humans to find happiness in the little things and the life accomplishments every day. Sometimes we forget our accomplishments and lose sight of our purpose.
That’s why the pursuit of happiness is a never-ending and challenging journey. Happiness doesn’t just come to you; you must search for it daily and hold it tight.
So how does all this relate to international travel tips?
Many people experience happiness through travel. No matter if you backpack, road trip, or stay in luxury resorts, there are ways to amplify the happiness you feel through travel. These international travel tips teach you how.
Are you ready to learn how to maximize your happiness while traveling? Then these 22 best international travel tips are perfect for you.
1. Eat the Local Food
Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between touristy and local restaurants. Other times the local restaurants look sketchy.
While in Peru, I mostly ate at touristy restaurants. I knew markets were the local and budget food option, but they were chaotic and probably don’t meet the Western food regulations I’m used to. With literally a few hours left in the country, I visited a market in Cusco.
A few other travelers and I wandered the market while Peruvian ladies waved their menus and yelled for us to eat at their stand. The meal I eventually ordered was absolutely the best meal I ate in Peru and ranks as one of my favorites ever. It burst with flavor…and cost less than $1.
I was surrounded by chaos and ate food I didn’t know the name of, but I was finally getting to know Peru intimately (not the stuff showcased specifically for tourists).
Eat the local food. You’ll be happy you did.
Are you a picky eater? I overcame my picky-eater syndrome by swearing to always eat three bites. If I don’t like the food, I won’t eat it again.
2. Travel Zero Waste
Most travelers have some level of desire to protect the planet’s beauty, even if protecting the environment is not an explicit passion of theirs.
Whether you’re wandering the wilderness or navigating through a city with minimal or outdated infrastructure, it’s our responsibility as traveler’s to minimize our impact of the places we visit.
This means taking “leave no trace” one step further. Leave no trace in landfills or the country’s overwhelmed infrastructure. Travelers can, and should, minimize their effect on countries.
Nothing makes me happier than knowing I’m preserving destinations for future visitors, locals, and my future visits. Plus, now that I don’t travel with liquids, my toiletry bag is smaller and I get through airport security easier.
Check out my favorite zero waste travel gear here.
3. Travel in Low or Shoulder Season
Nothing is more annoying than waiting in long ticket lines and then, when you’re finally inside the museum, feeling like every single traveler in the city happens to be in the same exact spot at the same exact time as you.
London is always busy, but it was a lot more manageable in January during its low season.
The weather was better than expected and I hardly waited in lines. Lots of places were cheaper, too, making my bank account happier.
It’s easier to feel happy on the road when you can easily capture prominent photos, find a place to eat, hop between museums, and have more freedom.
In my experience, locals are kinder towards travelers in the low season. Who can blame them? It’s probably annoying as heck bumping into a thousand people on your way to work. A lost little tourist freezing in the middle of January, though? That’s a lot less annoying.
4. Be Kind
Things will go wrong while traveling, but everything will be okay.
When things go wrong, don’t lose your temper. You’re a guest in the country and you should act like a guest who wants to be invited back again. Even if you won’t return, nothing good comes out of being a jerk. Hatred only hurts yourself.
Be kind to the locals, flight attendants, hotel workers, restaurant staff…everyone. Their day won’t be ruined by
By being kind, patient, and understanding, your travels will be happier.
A good way to avoid bad scenarios is to set low expectations. You can’t be disappointed if you didn’t expect much to begin with!
Also, stop judging. Stop judging the culture, the country, its customs, and other travelers. It doesn’t matter if the country is poorer or richer, the other travelers carry a backpack or a suitcase, or if people are staying in a hostel or hotel. There’s not one right way to live or to be a traveler, but there is a way to be a rude and intolerable traveler.
5. Laugh At Yourself
This goes along with tip #4. When things go wrong or you make a mistake, laugh at yourself. You’re discovering a new country and you won’t get it right every time! Learning the ATM, gas pumps, hotel room key cards, and toilets can be frustrating and hilarious. You’ll make dumb mistakes, but it’ll be a good story later.
I’ve slipped on stairs, accidentally said a less-than-ideal word in
6. Maintain A Routine Abroad
Humans thrive off routine, so feel free to keep key aspects of yours while abroad.
Even though I might not feel tired, I know my body needs sleep when I’m impatient. If everything starts feeling lackluster, I know it’s time for a sweaty workout. My mornings always start with a big, healthy breakfast; otherwise; I’d feel unenergized all day.
Routine keeps the spark alive while traveling and decreases the potential for travel burnout. The routines you “pack” might look different than mine, but be sure they maximize your happiness abroad!
It took me several international trips to finally figure out what works best for me, so be patient and listen for cues from your body.
7. Travel Hack Already!
As much as I love traveling, my main priority is to secure my financial future. I have a strict annual budget for travel, so I’m constantly scouring for new ways to maximize my travels with a limited budget. Travel hacking is one way.
If you don’t already know, travel hacking is the art of using credit cards (without going in debt) to collect airline or hotel loyalty points to later redeem for free flights and hotels around the world.
Sounds incredible, right?
Travel hacking is the secret sauce of budget travel and one of my top international travel tips.
Money isn’t everything, but it’s easier to splurge on epic travel adventures when I know I got the best deals possible.
8. Schedule Daily Time to Log Off
Technology is awesome. It’s also distracting. Before leaving for a new country, decide when you’ll take a daily digital detox.
During this time, if you’re lost, use a map or ask a stranger. When you’re hungry, walk down side streets, look for crowds, or ask a local.
Several times while traveling, I’ve caught myself mindlessly scrolling. There’s always something better to fill my time, especially while traveling. This scheduled “log-off” time reminds me
We rely on technology to avoid talking to people, then question why we didn’t meet anyone abroad or experience the culture! Put down the phone and talk to people. Turn off your music and hear the city’s sounds.
Turn off social media during this digital detox time, too. Trust me when I say you’ll feel happier experiencing your vacation through your eyes and not your phone screen.
If you’re only going to take one of these international travel tips with you abroad, I suggest
9. Travel Slower
I’ve done the fast and furious Europe tour and I’ve stayed in cities for three weeks or more. Without a doubt, my slower travels are more fulfilling.
While the grand Europe trip is fun and drastically increases your country count (which shouldn’t matter anyway), it’s also exhausting, expensive, and lacks the cultural education many people travel for.
With little time to rest physically and mentally between cities, no wonder many people return from vacation needing a vacation. The increased amount of transportation drastically increases transportation costs and carbon output.
Plus, if you’ve spent less than three days in a destination, it’s hard to argue you know the city or experienced the local culture. A few days in one destination is a good introduction, and I believe “phase one” travel is beneficial, but you probably missed a lot of the local culture and tradition.
Maybe three weeks is too long for you in one city, and that’s okay. Some cities might not interest you very much, requiring less time there to check-off the few highlights (or you could skip the city entirely–see tip #16).
Whatever traveling slow means to you, I encourage you to spend more time in each city you visit. You’ll have a higher chance for happy accidents to occur the longer you are in one place.
10. Keep a Travel Journal
I must admit, I’m bad at consistently journaling while traveling but it’s incredible to read the ones I have. One of my intentions for this next year is to journal more on my travels.
Write the good experiences and the bad ones. Record what you saw, ate, and did. Explain your feelings and describe the people you met.
As time passes, we forget details and emotions. Don’t let your travel memories fade! Pictures help, but they’re more of a supplement to journals rather than an alternative.
I love rereading my journals when I’m unable to travel because it satisfies my travel bug. Sometimes I’ve given my journal to friends to help them on their journey. Now, journals assist me in writing blog posts. I can’t wait to give my journals to my children one day.
Take 15 minutes out of your evening to journal about your day. You’ll thank yourself later because j
11. Reserve Something Only for Travel
If you reserve one thing only for travel, you’re able to keep the travel spark alive, even if you’re facing backpacker’s burnout.
For example, I only play my travel playlist while flying. This keeps me entertained, excited for the upcoming adventures, and sets me in the proper mood for traveling.
You can reserve anything you want–a food, playlist, specific book, or activity. Ensure whatever you reserve maximizes your happiness abroad and doesn’t reduce your happiness at home with its absence.
12. Bring a Good Camera
Photos are my favorite souvenir and bring me happiness long after the vacation is over.
It’s worth investing in a good camera, but this doesn’t necessarily mean a DSLR. DSLRs are powerful cameras with a lot of capacity to capture incredible photos, but only if you know how to use the settings. DSLRs don’t capture better photos; photographers with DSLR and photo editing know-how create better photos.
Point-and-shoot cameras and even cell phones capture incredible photos and are perfect for the average traveler.
If you’re ready to upgrade your photography skills, buy a DSLR and sign up for a photography course. I took one at my university and am still practicing those skills. Check out your local community college or university for beginner photography classes. Or, try out this online photography course by professional photographer Laurence Norah. I swear by the Superstar course series!
Check out my photography set-up here.
13. Travel Solo
If you wish you could travel more often, but can’t find anyone to go with you, travel alone.
You are smart and capable of traveling alone and you’ll never actually be alone (there are thousands of new friends waiting for you at your next destination).
I encourage my friends to travel solo at least once because it’s
If you’re in a relationship, travel solo. I’m a firm believer you can’t love someone else until you love yourself. I
The confidence you’ll find in yourself while abroad will boost your happiness long after you’ve returned home.
14. Color Coordinate Your Outfits
If you’re looking for more practical international travel tips, here’s one for you. Avoid the stress of overpacking and not knowing what to wear by color coordinating your outfits beforehand. I hate disorganized bags and
Create a packing list, pick out what you’d like to bring, figure out all the outfit variations you can wear with each piece, snap pictures of the outfits, and pack only what you know you’ll wear.
Another good packing tip? Only pack clothes you can wear several times before it actually being dirty and avoid packing clothes that wrinkle easily. There’s rarely time for laundry and ironing while traveling!
Avoiding stress leaves more room for happiness, so spend the time before your international trip to ensure your time abroad is as seamless as possible. And when things go wrong, at least your suitcase is a source of relief.
Read about my buying philosophy here and check out my recommended fashion brands here.
15. Say ‘Yes’ to Strangers
This goes against conventional wisdom, but sometimes you should accept a stranger’s kindness. Just be smart about it.
After riding on a train for 22 hours to Kazan, all I wanted was to throw my stuff on the floor and sleep in an actual bed. I planned my bus route but arrived to find the bus station closed for repair.
My Russian wasn’t good enough to figure out where the sign said to go, but I understood the closest bus stop was about 3 kilometers away. I didn’t bring a translation book and my phone was dead.
One of my train cabin-mates offered me a ride downtown. He said his girlfriend was around the corner waiting to pick him up. With few other options, I accepted and thankfully safely arrived at my hostel.
Could things have gone wrong? Probably. But I had talked to this man for a few hours on the train and the other Russians in the cabin seemed to like him. He probably saw me walking in circles for five minutes trying to figure out where to go and offered his kindness.
My travels taught me strangers are (mostly) kind and to say ‘yes’ every now and then. You should be smart and critical on the road, but trust people sometimes.
The world is filled with good people. Get to know them! The experience might make you feel optimistic about the world again.
16. Do Whatever You Want (Even If It Means Ignoring These International Travel Tips)
Have you heard you have to go somewhere before? Or you have to avoid a specific place?
Listen to other people’s experience, and then do what is best for your journey. Sometimes that means ignoring the advice given to you, including some of these international travel tips.
Gather advice on where to go and what to see, but decide what interests you. It’s your experience; make it what you want.
To be honest, I don’t really care about the Tower of Pisa. I skipped it on my previous visit to Italy and will likely continue skipping it. I don’t believe any attraction or sight is truly a “must-do” because we all have different interests.
I believe the Hermitage is one of the greatest museums in the world and a site everyone should visit. Some people don’t like museums at all, though. If you aren’t interested in visiting the Hermitage, don’t go! Ignore my advice.
Fulfill your nerdy dreams. Skip “must-see” museums. Don’t eat the local food if you don’t want to. Travel with a theme, and only visit those places.
Do whatever your travel heart desires.
17. Start Saving for Your Next Trip Now
While you’re stuck at home dreaming of your next adventure, start saving for travel. It’ll keep you motivated and working towards a goal. I deposit part of every paycheck into a savings account specifically for travel. Each deposit makes me happy because I know I’m taking active steps towards my passion.
Even if you can only invest $1 or don’t know where to go yet, start now.
If you want to learn how to start saving, sign up for my budget travel series below.
18. Make Travel A Financial Priority
Travel hacking and the budget travel email series will help you save more to travel and spend less on the road. However, travel is a luxury expense. It might take some people years to save enough money to travel.
Many of us could easily afford travel, though, by reconfiguring our budgets. I’ve met many college students who admired my international travels but believed they couldn’t afford it. Y’all–I’m not a trust fund baby. I prioritized travel financially in my life.
I worked 2+ jobs each semester while in college, competed for a scholarship to pay for my school, and saved my money. Instead of shopping or buying expensive drinks at bars, I participated in free activities at my college and the city. I rarely bought clothes, and when I did they were rented or secondhand. Instead of paying ridiculous movie theater ticket prices, I waited until the film was on Netflix.
Travel is a priority in my life, so I prioritized it financially. I found areas of my life to save
Travel isn’t possible for everyone. It’s disrespectful to believe it is. But, take a deep look at your lifestyle and spending habits to really determine if travel could appear more often in your life.
19. Always Wear Sandals in the Hostel Shower
Flip flops, sandals, thongs…whatever you call them, wear them. Hundreds of people showered in that same stall before you. Protect your feet from nastiness.
One time, I forgot my sandals! I put a washcloth on the ground and stood on that during the shower. This wasn’t ideal, but I made it work because I refused to step on the tile.
20. Stop Caring
Remember how I said earlier to be kind? Well, it’s easier to be kind when you stop caring.
No, I’m not suggesting you be indifferent. I’m suggesting to be comfortable with being different. Stop caring about the unimportant things in life. Reserve your energy and emotions for things that truly matter, such as friends, family, or your purpose in life.
I can’t explain this concept better than Mark Manson, so read his description of this concept here.
This ties in with previous tips, like #16 “do whatever you want.” If people think it’s weird you want to travel zero waste or skip a museum, oh well. Stop caring what other people think. Live your life and reserve your energy for what actually matters in life.
It’s hard to stop caring. I still struggle with this, but this is a habit worth practicing daily.
By the way, you should totally read Mark Manson’s book based on this concept called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.” It’s a great read!
21. Don’t Forget Your Charger
This tip is directed more at me than anyone else.
Every trip I write a packing list. Yet, I’ve forgotten a charger every vacation this year. First, it was my laptop charger. Next was my camera charger. Then it was my phone charger. I forgot my GoPro charger twice.
I’ve probably spent $100 on chargers in the last year. What a waste of money! Maybe this tip should’ve been “don’t be dumb and pack all your stuff the night before.”
One day I might remember my chargers. One day…
22. Travel with Purpose
We’ve come full loop with these international travel tips. If your purpose in life is to be happy, and traveling brings you happiness, then you should travel with purpose.
You can travel with a specific goal (
Let me know in the comments below what your best international travel tips are!
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