Most people aren't born savvy travelers. It's something that only comes with on-the-road experience. In the beginning, you make a lot of mistakes. Travel savviness is a process born of missed buses, foolish behavior, cultural unawareness and countless tiny errors.
Then, one day, you begin to seamlessly move through airports and integrate yourself into new cultures like a fish to water. I want to help speed up the process and help you avoid my mistakes (and I often make a lot of them), so I put together this giant list of 61 travel tips to help you reach your full travel ninja potential:
1. Always pack a towel. It's the key to successful hitchhiking and plain common sense. You never know when you will need it, whether it's at the beach, on a picnic or just to dry off.
2. Buy a small backpack or suitcase. It will force you to pack light and avoid carrying too much stuff.
3. Pack light. It's OK to wear the same t-shirt for a few days in a row. Take half the clothes you think you will need; you won't need the rest of it.
4. Take extra socks. You'll lose a bunch to laundry gremlins (and traveling really ruins socks) so packing extra will come in handy.
5. Take an extra bank card and credit card with you. Disasters happen. It's always good to have a backup in case you get robbed or lose a card. You don't want to be stuck somewhere new without access to your funds.
6. Make sure to use no-fee bank cards. Don't give banks your hard-earned money. Keep that for yourself and spend it on your travels. Charles Schwab is the best no fee ATM available. There are a plethora of no fee credit cards to choose from too.
7. Travel by yourself at least once. You'll learn a lot about yourself and how to become independent. It's a cliché, but it's true. Traveling solo taught me how to fend for myself, talk to people and handle unfamiliar situations with ease.
8. Don't be afraid to use a map. Looking like a tourist isn't as bad as getting really lost and ending up in the wrong neighborhood.
9. But don't be afraid to get purposefully lost. Wandering aimlessly through a new city is a good way to get to know it. You might be surprised by the hidden gems you find.
10. Always visit the local tourism office. They know about everything going on in town. They can point you to free activities, special events happening during your stay and everything in-between. Use this resource.
11. On international flights, book window seats so you can rest your head on the bulkhead. Also, book seats close to the front so you can beat everyone to the passport control line.
12. Don't buy a money belt; they're stupid. Thieves know they exist and being seen with one basically shouts, “Look at me, I'm a tourist with money. Rip me off.”
13. When you go out, take only what you need. Limit the amount of cash and bank cards you carry with you. This way, if something does happen, you haven't lost everything.
14. Always carry a lock. They come in handy, especially when you stay in dorms and need to lock your stuff up.
15. Make extra copies of your passport and important documents. Don't forget to e-mail a copy to yourself so you'll almost always have access to them, one way or another.
16. Look both ways when you cross the street. Especially in countries where traffic flow is different from what you're used to.
17. Ask hostel staff for information, even when you aren't staying there. They deal with budget travelers all day, every day. They know exactly where to go for cheap meals and attractions.
18. Learn basic phrases in the native language of your destination. The locals will appreciate it, and it will make your interactions easier.
19. Read a history book. You can't understand a place in its present day if you don't know anything about its past. Read up on the destinations you are visiting.
20. Don't be ashamed to walk into a Starbucks. Sometimes, familiarity is comforting and they have free WiFi and bathrooms.
21. But do be ashamed if you go into McDonald's. Seriously. That sh*t is gross and unhealthy for you.
22. Find a cheap flight. When booking flights, sometimes it is cheaper to fly into airports close to your final destination, and then take a train or bus to where you need to go. Moreover, you can use sites like Google Flights to see what destinations have the cheapest flights from your town, and go there.
23. Always get behind business travelers when in security lines. They move fast. Try to keep up.
24. Never get behind families. They take forever. It's not their fault; they just have a lot of stuff.
25. When you check in at the hotel, don't be afraid to ask for an upgrade. They have a lot of flexibility, and it can't hurt to ask.
26. Libraries, Starbucks and most cafes have free WiFi if you're staying somewhere that charges you to connect.
27. Lunchtime is the best time to visit historical sites. The sites empty out as the tour groups leave and you'll have fewer crowds to fight.
28. Never eat in a touristy area. As a general rule, I walk five blocks in either direction before I find a place to eat. That way you don't get touristy quality food and tourist prices. It's a good way to find a cheap local meal when you travel.
29. Locals don't eat out every night, and neither should you. Go grocery shopping. You can learn a lot about locals' diets by seeing the type of food they buy.
30. Eat at expensive restaurants during lunch. They offer lunch specials; it's the same food for half the price. That's the smart time to dine out.
31. Pack a flashlight. It will let you see at night, help you avoid stepping on stuff and help you tell ghost stories. Who's afraid of the dark?
32. Carry a basic first-aid kit. Accidents happen, so be prepared. I take Band-Aids, antibacterial cream and ointments for cuts and scrapes.
33. Book flights three to four months in advance to get the best price. Don't drive yourself too crazy trying to get the absolute cheapest fare. Spending five hours to try to save $10 will cause you a lot of stress.
34. Stay in hostels. They are cheap and you'll meet a lot of people. Hostel bars are also very cheap.
35. Use Meetup, the sharing economy and hospitality websites to meet locals. They'll be able to give you the insider's perspective on your destination.
36. Be open to strangers. Not everyone bites. You just might make some lifelong friends.
37. But keep your guard up. Some people do bite, so keep a healthy level of suspicion.
38. Try new food. Don't ask what it is. Just put it in your mouth and see if you like it. If you put your guard up, you might miss out on some unusual and delicious local cuisine. This is how I found out tripe isn't so bad after all.
39. Avoid taxis. They are always a budget buster.
40. Take an empty metal water bottle through airport security and fill it up at your gate. Drink from the tap when you can; you'll save money and help the environment.
41. Take free walking tours. Besides being free, these tours will give you a good orientation and background of the city you are in.
42. Get city attraction cards. If you are going to visit a lot of museums and other attractions in a short period of time, a city pass is going to save you money on admission (most provide free public transportation too).
43. Take pictures of your luggage and clothes. If your bag gets lost, this will help identify it more easily and speed up the process of having your travel insurance reimburse you.
44. Carry emergency cash, because emergencies happen. There was a time I was in Romania and needed money for the bus to the hostel but couldn't find an ATM.
45. Get comfortable shoes. You walk a lot when you travel. Don't beat up your feet. Love them as much as they love you and they'll take you to amazing places.
46. Get vaccinated. Because falling prey to an illness in a foreign country is not fun.
47. Learn to haggle. Haggling is a fun, playful way of not getting charged the foreigner price. It's the art of negotiating and one that will help you throughout life, not just at the market.
48. Use points and miles for free travel. You can go a lot further in the world when you don't have to pay for it. Make sure everything you do gets you miles.
49. Take a jacket. Nights get chilly.
50. Eat street food. If you skip the street food, you miss out on culture. Don't be scared. If you're nervous, look for places where kids are eating. If it's safe for them, it's safe for you.
51. Get travel insurance. Don't be foolish. If something goes wrong, you don't want to be out thousands of dollars in bills. Travel insurance is the most important thing you get that you never want to use. It is a must for any trip.
52. Be patient. Things will work out in the end. No need to rush. You'll get to where you are going in due time. Travel is about the journey, not the destination.
53. Be respectful. Locals are willing to help you out, but there's probably a language barrier. So keep your cool when something doesn't go your way. If you don't, you'll end up just looking like an assh*le tourist.
54. Don't overplan your trip. Let your days unfold naturally. Schedule two or three things and let the day fill in the rest on its own. It's less stressful, and letting the day just take you is one of the best ways to travel.
55. Relax. Similarly to be patient.
56. Be frugal, but not cheap. Don't be pennywise but pound-foolish. Look for deals and don't waste money, but don't miss out on great experiences or walk 10 miles to save a couple of dollars. Time is money. Spend them both wisely.
57. Take earplugs. Snorers are everywhere and you need your sleep.
58. Search incognito. If you are going to be searching for flights, use the incognito feature in your browser to hide your browsing history so booking websites don't track your cookies and raise the price on you.
59. Always have an extra USB charger. Batteries die; your good mood shouldn't.
60. Take photos of and with people. Lots of photos. Years from now, you'll want to look back on those nights you can't remember and the people who made them memorable.
61. Finally, wear sunscreen. For as the Baz Luhrmann song, “Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” goes:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable Than my own meandering experience.
Matthew Kepnes is the creative force behind NomadicMatt.com, the world's largest travel blog on budget travel, as well as author of the New York Times bestseller, "How to Travel The World On $50 A Day." This article was originally published on NomadicMatt.com.