Top 5 Ways Not to Be an Idiot Traveler

Let’s face it: Despite your high IQ and extreme self-confidence, you can be a little forgetful and clumsy when traveling. You’ve forgotten your toothbrush, your passport — even where it was you were going, exactly. It’s OK; we’ve all been there. But for those times when you find yourself in a moment straight out of An Idiot Abroad, here are some helpful tips so you don’t wind up like Karl Pilkington running for his life from Easter morning fireworks.

man sits in front of taj mahal, daytime,

1. Research Your Destination.

One of the best things you can do when traveling is to simply forget all your preconceived notions and experience your surroundings for yourself. Go somewhere new. Get lost and embrace the culture. But these experiences will only be enhanced if you know something about where you’re going. What language do they speak? What is the exchange rate on their currency? What are the local customs you absolutely do not want to break? Having a good base knowledge of the new world you visit will make you a better traveler and be appreciated by the locals.

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2. Pack Light, But Not Too Light.

There may be nothing worse for a new traveler than realizing you have packed waaaaay too much for your trip and you’re stuck carrying a giant bag of useless stuff. While there is no need to strap your entire life to your back for a long weekend, at the same time, you don’t want to forget the essentials! A clean pair of socks or underwear can be a lifesaver, and a cell phone/computer charger — with the right outlet adaptor — may just be your best friend in a tight spot. Before you start packing, make a list of the things you can’t leave without, and be sure those get packed first. Then, you can see what kind of space you have left in your pack for that amazing set of bongos you picked up on your last trip.

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3. Go Off the Beaten Path, and Know Where to Go.

Of course you’re going to want to see the major sights that any destination has to offer. There’s a reason that hundreds of people are always flocking to see them, right? The Taj Mahal in India. The Colosseum in Rome. Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. But while these places are must-sees (and rightfully so), they are also must-sees for every other tourist in town. Go early to avoid the long lines, and then head to the less-visited places that are just as amazing. Talk with locals to find a hidden waterfall in Jamaica, or head to a marketplace in the complete opposite part of town. Don’t be afraid to get lost and see the places that sound weird and fun. 

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4. Try Something New, and Keep an Open Mind.

Anyone can visit a new place and stay in their comfort zone, but to truly get the full experience, you need to break some of your own rules. Take a chance on that wild street food, even though the line’s shorter at the place that serves your go-to dish. Not a fan of heights? Hike a trail to that picturesque mountaintop view. There’s a time and place to be timid, and a trip is not it. The experiences you create by taking risks will almost always trump those that come from playing it safe. Who knows? You might just enjoy yourself in a way you never thought possible.

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5. Cash Is King.

Sure, we live in a digital world where debit cards and PayPal rule. But nothing ever speaks as loudly as cash. Around the world, cash — not plastic — is king. And there will undoubtedly be a time when you will be happy you have some on hand. But remember: Thieves and pickpockets know this as well, so make sure you have some bills stashed away. Then, if you do happen to lose your wallet, you’ll have backup. Great places to hide money on your person are in your sock or under your shoe insoles. You can also store a few extra bills in the frame of your backpack or the lining of your hat.

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