You see that photo of me on the beach? Half an hour after it was taken, there were a hundred people there. Tulum is a major tourist destination and as soon as the entrance gates to the Mayan ruins open, the beach is flooded with people. By arriving half an hour before opening time, I managed to get in before everybody else. And so, I got to explore ruins of Tulum on my own and without the crowds, simply by being there when it opened. Arrive early for everything and you’ll get to experience major attractions at their least busiest. Plus, sunrises are pretty.
I’m all about travelling on one-way tickets, because they give you the freedom to be spontaneous, change your mind, and extend your trip, if needed. My original itinerary had me heading to Australia after six months, but I ended up going to Thailand instead and stayed for seven months! You can’t get that kind of freedom on a round-the-world ticket. Plus, with so many budget airlines around, one-way tickets are nowhere near as expensive as you think.
Sometimes getting lost is the best way to make awesome discoveries about a place. Sometimes it just plain sucks, that’s true — but you’ll usually end up with a great story to tell, if that’s the case. If you’ve got a spare day in a place and don’t know what to do, start by picking a random direction and following it.
You know those ugly travel-specific clothes? They’re shapeless and made of quick-drying, breathable material, and covered in zips and pockets. Well, I guess they’re great for travel, but you’ll also hate them. You’ll hate every photo of you wearing them. You’ll stand out immediately as a tourist in any place you visit. Instead, just bring the same clothes you’d wear back home. You’ll feel comfortable, you won’t stand out, and you’ll actually like the way you look.
Here’s a confession: I gained around 20 pounds over my first few years of travel, mostly thanks to eating out for every single meal. And I’m only 5’1” — 20 lbs is a lot for such a small-framed human! While it can be tempting to treat yourself to junk food, and Pringles and Oreos will fuel your every travel day, resolve to have at least a few days every now and then when you go for the healthier option. Whole foods, plenty of vegetables, tons of water, as little sugar as possible, and an alcohol detox. Your body and mind will thank you for it. I discovered that my bad travel diet was actually resulting in panic attacks! Five years into my travels, I began to suffer from a reoccurrence of anxiety and I couldn’t figure out why. Once I removed sugary foods, alcohol, and dairy from my diet, I found myself in a fantastic place, mentally. I couldn’t believe how much my diet had impacted my mental health. And travel? It makes it pretty tough to eat healthily.
I pride myself on my memory, and yet, I can’t believe how much I’ve forgotten from my travels. You think you won’t forget anything, but you will. You won’t remember the name of that lovely girl from Oslo you hung out with for a day in Marrakech, you won’t remember the name of the hostel you loved in Beijing, you won’t remember the conversation you had with that dude in a pub in Sydney. You won’t remember how it felt to see Angkor Wat for the first time. You can look back over photos, but they only tell a small part of the story. Keep a journal in order to remember those small details because you’ll treasure them in a few years. I particularly love being able to look back and see how I felt at a specific time. In my mind, I always look back with rose-tinted glasses and think I was happy and joyful all the time, so it’s valuable to have a reminder of the challenges I faced on the road, and how I was able to overcome them.
If you only have three days in a place, it can be tempting to rush around like a madman to try and see absolutely everything, but that’s just a recipe for a nervous breakdown. Slow down, go to a coffee shop and people watch, wander down alleyways, and chat to locals. Sometimes the best way to get to know a place is through sitting and observing.
So many people email me for advice on their itineraries and I nearly always go back to them recommending that they visit half the number of places. You’ll enjoy your trip more if you work in rest days, and you’ll get a better taste for a place if you spend more time in it. Don’t plan a trip that has you jumping from capital city to capital city every few days. And take account of travel time! Don’t be like two nights in Bangok, two nights in Phuket, two nights in Koh Phi Phi, when it’ll take a day to travel between them all, leaving you with one day to actually see those places. Oh, and you’ll likely be jetlagged, too, so you’ll want to take that into account too.
Visit your doctor and dentist for a checkup before you leave. The last thing you want to happen is for you to set off and discover two weeks later that you need to get a filling in India. Not that I’m speaking from experience here…
Your photos will be some of your best memories, so invest in a good camera. And, of course, take the time to understand how it works before you leave.