Not so long ago a friend wrote me asking for travel tips. He was headed to a country I used to live, so of course I agreed.
But his first message made me giggle. It read, “So I get to the airport and then what do I do?”
I almost thought he was joking, but then the next one read, “Will my phone work? Do I call my hostel to have them pick me up?”
He was dead serious. Instead of teasing him I gave him all the info I could to help. Once upon a time I didn’t know the answer to those questions either. We all have to start somewhere!
And yeah, I’m sure you’re saying “LMGTFY!” but the internet is soooo big and filled with so much information that sometimes it IS overwhelming and I’d rather ask someone I know and trust for their personal tips.
So! Here it is! My master guide to travel. Admittedly a lot is searching Google (lolz), but I have found certain sites and tricks to be extra helpful during my travels over the years.
This would be a great time to plug the company I work for, Scott’s Cheap Flights. We alert subscribers to crazy cheap flight deals and mistake fares on the daily from your departure city (premium list) or region (free list).
If you’d like to do some searching yourself here are my tips:
- flexible dates
- flexible destination is even better!
- go to skyscanner.net and search from your departure city to “Everywhere” with “cheapest month” selected as your dates
- scan the list and choose where you’ll go! (that’s how I’ve done it a handful of times!)
- find the cheapest dates and then head over to momondo.com and plug in the “To,” “From,” and “Dates” you’ve chosen on skyscanner.net (many times the price will be cheaper on momondo)
If you’re stumped on itineraries, my best advice is to… Google itineraries. Hate to be that guy I said I wouldn’t be, but yes, Google is your friend. I’ve gotten some amazing ideas from searching Google or Pinterest with the words ” *insert country* ___ week/day itinerary”. Amazing, FREE info and trip planning is out there.
For short stays I like to find unique Airbnbs. If those are too expensive I use booking.com by filtering for 8.0+ ratings and organizing by price.
I had a few good experiences with Couchsurfing, but safety and comfort are too important to me these days. I prefer to organize public outings rather than stay in someone’s home. I’ve also graduated from hostel dorms to at least a private room. What can I say? I’m a taken woman! 😉
My tried and true method of getting info about how to not only get from the airport to the city center, but also how to get around once in the city center, is reading the city’s wikitravel article. These articles are regularly updated with info on public transportation, cost of a taxi, etc.
Another great tip is to download the offline app, MAPS.ME. You’ll have to download the city’s map when you have wifi, but it’s saved me hundreds of times when I didn’t have a SIM card. It’s better than using GPS on your google maps because it will actually allow you to search addresses or places of interest (like “supermarket”) and it’ll calculate the route for you.
If you do have data, Uber is all over the world now and a great budget option!
Where to Eat:
Tripadvisor is my first go-to. Once I find the restaurant I like on TA I cross check on Zomato.com which usually always has the menu posted. This way I can be obsessive and decide what I want to eat before being at the restaurant. It’s also a way I can check if the dishes are in my budget because the “$$” on TA is a bit subjective.
Another option is Like a Local. Sometimes they have really cool tips that are a bit off the beaten track. For example, RDA 69 in Lisbon is much more a cultural-social project than a restaurant. It’s not very reviewed on TA, but it serves a nice meal for €3.50 in a cool, alternative atmosphere.
Update: I’ve recently discovered Atlas Obscura for even more off the beaten track recommendations. Highly recommend it!
The itinerary you found on Google or Pinterest should include activities for each day of your trip, but if you find yourself not liking the suggestions or wanting to experience something different, I recommend finding other blogs searching “Alternative things to do in ______” or “Off the beaten track __________”.
I hiked to an abandoned restaurant in the middle of a park with an amazing view of Lisbon by searching just these terms!
Like a Local & Atlas Obscura also usually has awesome tips that sometimes stray from the obvious Things To Do.
Same as above (although considering destinations is more important if you’re planning on living there for a while).
Longer stays call for a different type of planning. When I’m trying to choose a city or country to live for a while I first check Nomadlist.com. It’s not only great for digital nomads, but travellers too! A lot of things that are important to DNs (cost of living, quality of life, safety, internet, fun, etc.) are important to travellers who are planning on staying in a city anywhere from a month to a year.
I’d hope to never stay long-term in a city that doesn’t make its country’s top 3 on nomadlist. Albeit, Rio ranks in at #17 in Brazil! No wonder I quit my volunteer job and ran off to Buzios!
Other than Nomadlist, if I have a country or region in mind I would start searching for DN facebook groups, Girl Gone International local chapters and Meetup groups in the area. If there’s a community, there’s a reason for it. No, I don’t always want to go where everyone is or has been, but active communities means more opportunities for friends (local and expat) and social life. It also just means that the place must be good! Why would they be there if not?
For example, Porto has a DN group of 110 members and Lisbon one of 626 members. I was bored out of my mind the month I lived in Porto with the lack of events and meetups to attend. It’s a lovely city to visit, but I wouldn’t recommend it for living (unless you are looking for that peace!)
Again, different from Short-Stay.
Airbnb is alright, but it gets pretty expensive after all the fees. I try to go a little more “local”. Your best bet is finding local online classifieds, calling and going to apartment viewings. I know — this sucks! But with some effort you could save thousands of dollars during your stay.
In Lisbon we were lucky enough to find a local version of Airbnb, Uniplaces, with a little Google searching. Prices are cheaper than Airbnb, but we could still book online without ever having to call anyone or organize viewings. Let’s hope there aren’t any landslides days after you move in! They don’t have the best natural disaster protection policies!
If you want to work in exchange for accommodation (and sometimes food!), I recommend using Workaway.info or Worldpackers.com. This is a wonderful way to get to know a city and culture on a budget. I’ve served breakfast on a rooftop in Tel Aviv, been a front desk girl at a yoga retreat on Koh Phangan, waitressed at a vegan cafe in Goa and many more through these incredible exchange sites!
Same as above, though you may want to buy a monthly pass.
Where to Eat:
Same as above.
Where to Work:
Co-working spaces are great. If there are many in the city I simply compare prices, reviews and events they host.
If I’m fine working from home and occasionally popping in to a cafe to work, I like to use Workfrom.co to choose which cafes are the most laptop friendly (outlets, strong wifi and staff that will just let you be). They also list co-working spaces if you filter by both private and public.
Same as above +
If you’re staying longer in a city you’re going to want to become part of the community. As mentioned in the pre-planning, I tend to gravitate towards cities with very active social calendars. Facebook groups and Meetups are great ways to meet other travellers and even locals who are interested in other cultures. My favorites are Girl Gone International *insert city* and Digital Nomads *insert city*.
My closest friend when I lived in Paris 5 years ago was a girl I met at a “Ladies in Paris” facebook event.
Couchsurfing can be a useful tool as well, but I recommend it cautiously. In my experience, so many tools are using it as a hookup/dating app. There’s a new option on the app to list yourself available to “hangout”. It was created as a way to share cultures, but so many idiots try to use it as a way to share bodily fluids.
That said, while I was in São Paulo I organized a cafe meetup with a friendly American guy who was traveling around South America. We had a nice time, so we decided to meet again for karaoke in the city’s Japanese quarter. We listed ourselves as available to “hangout” and sing karaoke. To our surprise a local guy joined and it was one of the most fun nights I had in São Paulo!
Anything I missed? Tips you agree with? *gasp* Disagree with?! Let’s hear it!
Also, it’s always some weird coincidence that I’m inspired to write a post on my blogiversary! I’ve kept this baby alive for FIVE years now! Check out my posts from blogiversary 1, 2, 3, and 4. Wooooo!