The following are tips and tricks I have acquired for travelling, and I hope that they may provide you with some help making your trips amazing!
If your travel includes flight booking, I recommend spending some serious time scouring the web. I look at more than ten websites every single time I book, so as to compare.
- Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the cheapest days to fly. It’s likely because no one wants to fly smack in the middle of the week. Sometimes savings can be hundreds of dollars just for booking on these off days!
- www.kayak.com – decent for flights within North America. You can also look at prices in a calendar view to make it easier to find the cheapest day to fly. Still make sure to check other sites as well.
- DO NOT use Expedia. I got in a big mess with them, and, though they are cheap, god forbid anything goes wrong, the customer service is the worst I have experienced in any area. Period.
- Are you willing to take a 35 hour flight over a 13 hour flight so as to save $200? Make sure you really answer this question before you book. For me, it’s worth the savings. For many, that flight is hell on earth and they’d rather fork over the extra money.
- Airplane food is disgusting. That is unless you’re a vegetarian. I have been eating the most delightful airplane food for years, and you can too. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be afraid of the so-called meat they give you on the plane. Just make sure to call at least 24 hours ahead of time to tell the airplane you need a vegetarian meal. Some of them even give you several options of tasty veggie treats!
Cheap Accommodation and New Friends
- www.wwoof.org – I can’t tell you much about this website as I’ve never used it, though I know many people who have. Basically it allows you to find places where you can work in exchange for room and board. The jobs vary, and the amount of time you need to work varies. Make sure to have clear communication with your host so that you know exactly what you’re getting into. There are also different websites for different countries, and this website does charge for use, but the charge is not very high and it can help out a lot.
- www.helpx.net – Very similar to wwoof, but you pay one fee, on one site, to access the whole world of helpx, rather than one country. It’s the exact same idea as wwoofing, though. Remember, helpx and wwoof are suppose to be an EXCHANGE, but there will always be some people trying to get free labour instead. Beware, and find yourself the right place for you.
- www.couchsurfing.com – This is my very favorite website. I swear by it, and I HIGHLY recommend it. As I’ve been using it for years, I have many tips and tricks to help you use the tools it offers to the utmost.
- Fill out your profile as much as you can. You don’t need to answer every question, but try to give people a general idea of who you are. This is important so that hosts and surfers can get an idea of whether or not they will hit it off. It also shows that you’re not just trying to get a free ride, but are putting an effort in.
- Put up a few pictures, too. It doesn’t matter if they’re travel pictures or not.
- Send people personal couch requests, rather than messages or posting in the group of the city you are looking in. Couch requests make it easier for hosts to look at their calendar and keep track of who they are hosting. If you just post that you are looking for a couch in the groups, it doesn’t seem as if you are trying very hard. Furthermore, it doesn’t give you the chance to look at hosts’ profiles and see how much you’d like them. It’s important you get along!
- Try to send couch requests as early as possible. Well, not TOO early. 6 months in advance is way too early. A couple weeks or a month in advance is a good idea for really popular areas, but in general a week is best. Sometimes you’ll have luck a couple days ahead, but don’t bet on it.
- Usually I sent out more than one request, especially for big cities. If someone accepts to host you, remember to tell the others you have somewhere to stay. It’s just general politeness.
- When searching for a host, I never stay with anyone who doesn’t have any references. Try to find someone with at least a few. If someone has any negative or neutral references, read them carefully. For the most part, if someone has any bad refs, steer clear. I have, however, run in to a couple of profiles where the person really didn’t warrant the bad reference. Make sure to actually read at least a few of the positive references, too. Again, it will give you a better idea of the type of person.
- When you are starting out on the website, get any friends you have who are on the site to write a reference for you. It will help you get started.
- Try to pick people you actually think you’ll hit it off with! Who wants to crash with someone they don’t have a thing in common with? Some of my closest friends in the world I actually met through this website!
- Vouches are a very good sign. They are shown as a hand symbol at the top left corner of a profile. Since only people who have been vouched for 3 times can vouch, it is a great security feature. Still take precautions and fully read a person’s profile and check out the references, even if they have been vouched for.
- You can also get verified. I have never done this, and I have been fine without it. Verification means that you pay a small fee (a donation to couchsurfing), and they send you a postcard to verify that you are in fact who you say you are and do live where you say. It is a good added safety feature, but I personally don’t rely on it. A serial killer could post his real name and address while still being… a serial killer. Not that I think you’re going to run into a serial killer. Just be careful.
- Be polite, and clean up after yourself. I like to offer to help out with other things – cooking, cleaning, whatever – but there isn’t always anything you can help with. Some cultures or people just don’t want you to help out with the extras, but it’s always nice to offer.
- I wouldn’t recommend asking to stay with one host for too long. Many people write on their profile in the section that describes their couch (or bed or floor or whatever the case may be) how many days is alright. I generally ask people if I can stay for 2-4 days. This is definitely not set in stone, and you can do what you want, but I think most hosts wouldn’t be okay with hosting you for more than a week. That being said, sometimes you will really hit it off with someone and they will be happy to let you stay longer once you’ve been hanging out already.
- You should NEVER have to pay a host to stay there. Period. This is totally and completely against the couchsurfing spirit. It’s totally alright if you want to take your host out for dinner or something like that, but they should never charge you for staying.
- Even if you are not looking for a host, you can use couchsurfing for tons of other things. Obviously you can become a host in your own city, but there is lots more. You can find people to just go grab a drink with, hang out, or show you around. Find rideshares, second hand camping supplies, events, advice – the options are endless! Just press the Discuss button at the top of the screen, and search for your region. Join the group to allow you to post in it or look through other posts.
- Lastly, you are NEVER trapped! If you ever feel uncomfortable with a host, get out of there! It is better to have to splurge on a hostel or hotel than to be in a bad situation. Plus, other couchsurfers will always help you out!
- Hostels – many have work for stay programs. You can contact them in advance or ask about it when you arrive. It really depends on the hostel as to which would be better, so you’ll just have to play this by ear. Work and hours will vary, so make sure you’re clear on what’s expected and that you’re okay with it.
- When traveling I like to use a fanny pack instead of a purse. Little backpacks are not the best if you’re in a crowded city, or really anywhere other than hiking and such where you don’t run the risk of being pick pocketed. You can get some really cool fanny packs these days, too. When I walk around with mine, I just lightly rest one hand on the place where the fanny pack opens. Pickpockets want easy targets. Don’t let yourself be one. A note about fanny packs – there are some really cool utility belt type things out there these days. I have one and absolutely love it, but it’s no good for traveling. You don’t want several pockets to keep track of, unless you have extra arms to cover them, too. If you have four arms, go hard!
- Never bring anything you’d be really upset about losing when you travel. If you have a big fancy camera, either don’t bring it, or accept it’s going to get stolen or broken before you leave. Then if it doesn’t you’ll be happy. But it probably will.
- If you are on a bus ride and you don’t know the person next to you, be safe. I find this easiest if I’m in a window seat, especially if I’m going to want to sleep on the ride. I always point my fanny pack/purse towards the wall and keep it on me, and sort of hug it. This goes for little backpacks, too. Never put them in the storage above the seats. You can put it under the seat and keep your feet on it. I also try to point it with the zipper away from me (so it’s way under the seat in front of me), so it’s even harder for someone to sneakily steal something from it. If it doesn’t fit under the seat, suck it up and cuddle it. It makes a good pillow, too.
- I hope this goes without saying, but don’t wander down dark unpopulated streets with people you don’t know, especially at night. Try not to walk down dark streets at night alone either. Once you know a place, though, and especially if you meet locals, you’ll have a better idea of where it’s totally ok to walk down the road at night. Until you know, though, don’t do it. And for god sake, don’t go to someone’s house you met on the street. There are better ways to meet people. There may be an occasional exception, but use this as a general rule.
Comfort and Happiness
- Always carry duct tape and toilet paper in your suitcase or backpack. Always. You will thank me later.
- Depending where you are, for long bus rides, I highly advise asking if the bus has a bathroom. I’ve been on a 14 hour bus ride in Peru that had no bathroom. It is not fun. If you’re somewhere like North America, though, this isn’t really an issue.
- Wear comfy clothes for long bus, plane, or boat rides. I recommend comfy pants that are not jeans (I use the same ones I sleep in, and I can roll them up if I get too hot), shoes instead of sandals, and a tank top plus sweater. This way you can layer up and layer down. Even in hot climates I dress like this for journeys, as it gets cold on the busses and such.
- Get a good SIM card justtttt in case. For tips on getting a SIM in India check out this article.
- You tell me! I don’t know it all, throw some tips love in the comments!
Lastly, things WILL go wrong. Try to just take it as it comes. You can sit at home not seeing a thing, and chances are you’ll be pretty safe. But where is the fun in that? Sometimes the worst things at the time make the best stories later on!
These things apply to absolutely anywhere you travel. Some places you will need to take more care than others, but this is all universal.
If you have any advice that I haven’t mentioned, please share in the comments and I would be more than happy to add them to this blog! Happy safe travels, everyone!