After more than 15 years’ travelling , either solo or as a couple, I’ve picked up a lot of tips along the way. This page is a collection of all the practical travel tips I’ve learned and the products and services I recommend. All should help to make your travels cheaper and easier.
Although some people may um and ah about whether or not to get travel insurance, I think it’s the number one thing you should buy. It’s essential unless you want to risk running yourself into some serious problems and debt. For example, if you hurt yourself while abroad and end up having to have an operation, it could cost you thousands and thousands of dollars. We may think or hope that these things won’t happen to us, but remember no-one ever plans for problems to occur.
These are the companies we recommend. With both, you can buy the insurance once you’re already travelling, which is unusual for insurance companies and particularly useful if you’re a long-term traveller.
This is a great-value and reliable insurance company who don’t require you to have a return ticket to book your insurance – this makes them ideal for long term travellers. It is only available for UK and European citizens, so for everyone else we recommend World Nomads.
World Nomads is one of the world’s most popular insurance companies for travellers and has an excellent reputation for reliability and customer service. It’s available to most nationalities.
Finding cheap flights can be a bit of an art form, based largely on good luck and/or patience. However, there are some key tools and sites that can save you a lot of money and time. These are my favourites.
I never book a flight without first checking Skyscanner, a flight search tool that compares prices from lots of major companies. One of it’s most useful tools is being able to search flights for an entire month, so you can easily see if going a few days earlier/later would save you money. I also love its ‘search fro flights everywhere’ functionality, which I’ve used to inspire many trips abroad.
This amazingly useful website collates flight deals from around the internet. It finds some really incredible deals and I now don’t book anything without checking it first. However, the deals do tend to be limited to specific dates/durations, so you have to be lucky to find something that works for you.
We always use rentalcars.com when booking car rental as we’ve always found it to offer the best deals. It’s super easy to use and searches over 800 rental car companies.
It’s nearly always cheaper to buy your car hire insurance from a separate company rather than using the hire company’s own insurance policy. We recommend Rentalcover.com, which you can use for individual trips or to buy an annual insurance policy, which covers all the cars you hire that year. We use the latter as we tend to do a lot of road trips and the annual policy saves us money.
If you’re travelling in Europe, Loco2 is the easiest way to book train tickets across different countries and it doesn’t cost any more than booking direct.
The best site I’ve found for working out how to get from one place to another by plane, train, bus, boat or car.
Train travel is the best option in Japan and getting a rail pass saves you lots of money. You have to buy the pass before you arrive in Japan, so be sure to order online before you leave. We recommend booking with the JR Rail pass.
If you need a taxi, often the cheapest and easiest way to do it is by ordering an Uber. You can request a car from your phone, it arrives quickly, tends to cost less than a normal taxi, and is charged to your credit card.
I’m a huge fan of AirBnB and have used it as both a host and guest. It gives you the chance to experience life as a local, plus renting a whole apartment is often cheaper than staying in a hotel. If you sign up using this link, you’ll get £25 towards your first stay.
My favourite site for booking hotels is booking.com. I’ve never found a cheaper deal on another site and there are no booking fees or hidden costs. If you book with this link, you’ll get £20 off your first stay.
If you want a true local experience, I wholeheartedly recommend couchsurfing. Create a profile and then search for like-minded people to stay with around the world. While it’s free to use, don’t see it as a way to get free accommodation – it’s much more about meeting people and creating community. Steve and I have stayed with people all over the world as well as hosting people when we lived in London. Many have become lifelong friends.
Staying in touch
Once upon a time, a section on staying in touch while abroad would have been really long, but nowadays it’s easy with smart phones. We recommend getting an unlocked phone and buying local SIM cards abroad. However, there’s another great option if you live in the UK:
If you sign up to Three Mobile’s pay monthly or pay as you go plans, you benefit from its Feel at Home scheme, which allows you to use your data, and call and text back to the UK, just like you do at home, at no extra cost. The scheme covers 71 destinations around the world. However, please note that if you’re on a Three Mobile essentials plan, the scheme only covers its 49 destinations in Europe.
In some situations, it might be necessary to use a portable wi-fi device like a hotspot/dongle. Our iPhones work as personal hotspots, but you can also buy a separate dongle/hotspot if needs be. I have personally found dongles to be very temperamental, but hotspots work well. Both tend to be quite expensive so are best used as short-term solutions. For those who are interested, there’s an article on Lifehacker, debating dongles vs hotspots.
Have you ever looked at your bank statement post travels and been shocked by the amount of fees you’ve been charged? Luckily there are ways to avoid this. You can save a lot of money by getting the right cards or using the right providers and avoiding costly exchange fees and hidden charges. I’ve written a post with detailed financial tips, but these are the accounts, tools and cards I recommend. For every £1,000 you spend, using the right type of card can save you up to £120.
One top tip: When asked if you want to pay in your own or the local currency, say the local currency. If you say your own currency, it means the store/bank is doing the conversion ad the rates are typically very bad.
The Halifax Clarity Mastercard has no fees and low interest charges on withdrawals (18.9% rep APR) and is widely accepted around the world. I don’t tend to use credit cards, but I have one of these, which is very useful when booking car hire as they don’t tend to accept debit cards for the deposit.
If you have a low credit score then the Aqua Reward MasterCard is recommended. It doesn’t have as good rates as the Halifax Clarity, but it’s easier to get. The benefits of this card are only relevant if spending on the card – avoid using it to withdraw cash.
If you’re travelling long-term, switching to a current account that doesn’t charge withdrawal fees can save you a lot of money over time. When I started travelling, I got a Santander Zero card, but that’s no longer available. Instead, Money Saving Expert now recommends the app-based Starling Bank. It charges no fees on transaction or withdrawal fees.
Money Saving Expert has a great tool that allows you to compare exchange rates at online bureaux so you know exactly how much money you’ll get and the fees they’ll charge. This is great if you want to bring cash.
My number one tip for dealing with your health while abroad is to make sure you have good travel insurance (see the tips at the top of the page). I’ve written a post with some general travel health tips, but for a good one-stop shop, I recommend checking the NHS Fit for Travel website, which gives a country-by-country breakdown of all the vaccinations you need, plus any specific health warnings. It’s the first thing I look at when I decide to travel somewhere new.
Packing and luggage
In general, for long-term travel, Steve and I both use and recommend backpacks, but for shorter journeys we use wheeled suitcases. This partly depends on the destination and mode of travel. For example, we mostly tend to do road trips, so a wheeled bag is perfect for these, lessening the load on your back. You just have to wheel them through the airport and transfer them to the boot of the car. However, if you’re going to be doing a lot of journeys on public transport, a backpack is likely more practical. For me, I prefer to avoid carrying a heavy backpack whenever possible. The golden secret to efficient packing is to use packing cubes, which I also recommend below.
As for what to pack, this varies for us depending on the trip we;re taking. I wrote an all-seasons packing list when we left on our round-the-world travels, and most of the recommendations still stand. However, we don’t travel for such long periods of time anymore, so my packing style has changed. For example, here’s a detailed packing list for Iceland, with everything I took there for a five-day trip.
Below are some key tips, including the bags we use, the secrets to packing light, and some key products we recommend for travels around the world.
This case is the largest cabin-size bag I’ve found. It can be expanded, which takes it beyond cabin-size requirements, which is useful if you want to add some extras and don’t mind putting it in the hold. There are lots of useful pockets and compartments, including a removable toiletry pouch. And it has an integrated TSA cable local that secures all the external pockets in one go.
I used my Osprey Kestrel 38 for the entire duration of our three-year trip around the world and I loved it. It’s lightweight and has a built-in rain cover for added protection when necessary, as well as a built-in ventilation panel to avoid a sweaty back! The only downside is that you can’t lock it, but I kept all my valuables in a separate lockable backpack, so this wasn’t an issue for me.
Steve used the men’s version of the Osprey Kestrel, which is slightly bigger at 48 litres and has all the benefits of the women’s version.
As a filmmaker, Steve carries a lot of camera equipment with him when travelling. For this he uses, the ThinkTank Shapeshifter. It’s strong, has loads of separate pockets for memory cards, batteries, lenses etc, and it has separate pouch for a laptop. Steve loves it.
Secrets to efficient packing
As I said in the intro, packing cubes are the secret of efficient packing, especially if you want to keep everything cabin-size. They allow you to keep everything organised and avoid the chaos of a messy suitcase/backpack. Steve and I use Eagle Creek compression cubes. One of mine is double sided, so I can keep ups on one side and bottoms on the other.
If you’re keen on packing light and not having to check-in your luggage, I recommend reading Erin’s book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light. I’m no expert at this, but Erin truly is. She’s been doing it full-time for seven years! The book is available for Kindle or paperback on Amazon US, Amazon UK, or your local Amazon store.
Riemann once-a-day suncream is expensive, but it only needs to applied once and is water resistant, so you use much less.
The Riemann suncream can be a bit oily, so if you have sensitive skin, I recommend Altruist, a suncream created by a dermatologist, which is the lest sticky and also the most effective suncream I’ve ever used. I didn’t burn once.
I’m prone to getting acne and sun tan lotion tends to exacerbate it, until I found this one, which is super lightweight and doesn’t make my skin oily at all. I love it!
A Mooncup (or DivaCup) is one of the best inventions ever. The reusable silicone menstrual cup os much better for the environment than tampons or sanitary pads. Pus it saves you money and takes up much less space in your bag.
You can’t buy this over the counter in the UK, but I recommend trying to get a prescription for it before you travel. If you cut yourself, the topical antibacterial cream is excellent for preventing infection.
While a Macbook Air is the obvious choice for travellers, if you need more power, the Macbook Pro is ideal. I’ve had mine for the past few years and I love it.
Don’t forget to back up your computer when travelling! The Western Digital My Passport 1TB Hard Drive is nice and small but robust enough for travelling.
Although I’m a huge fan of paperbacks and read them in favour of ebooks at home, the Kindle Paperwhite is most definitely one of the most brilliant traveller gifts. Gone are the days when you had to rely on the hostel’s book swap, and now you can have every book at your whim. Any traveller will thank you for it.
Steve and I both have an unlocked iPhone 6 Plus, which we use for taking photos, staying in touch, using the internet, directions and using the personal hotspot for our laptops when we don’t have the internet. We’re both on Three Mobile, so we use Feel at Home wherever we can, but otherwise we buy a local SIM card.
This is the ultimate hipster travel luxury – the ability to make a perfect cup of coffee while on the move. It’s not too heavy and is really easy to use, rivalling anything you could buy in a shop. Add a hand-held grinder, and your favourite traveller will be able to grind their own beans wherever they are in the world.
Steve and I love playing games while travelling. They’re a great way to meet new people or pass time while waiting for buses and whatnot. Some of our favourites are Jungle Speed, Bananagrams and Backpacker.
Digital nomad tips
Anything else you’d like to know?
Let me know if there are any questions you have that I’ve missed out. And happy travels!