Even though Travel To Blank is a relatively new site, we have been traveling by different means for the past 3 years in a budget. Our first adventure was when Steven finished college and I quit my job in Colorado.
We took our car and start driving to different National Parks in the United States. We drove more than 15,000 miles in less than 2 months and added just as much milage to our tent. It was too fast but we already had bought plane tickets to move to Ecuador.
While in Ecuador we traveled to different places such as Bogota, Panama, Buenos Aires, Boston and pretty much all the Ecuadorian coast, highlands, and Galapagos. In September 2015 we moved to Madrid, Spain to start a masters in Visual and Digital Media at IE University.
Since then we have been traveling non-stop every other weekend or break we have. Before we started our masters we went on a mini EuroTrip and this taught us a lot, as we got robbed. Since then a lot of things have gone wrong, yet we have learned to manage and plan better, so we would love to share with you some tips to make your travels more enjoyable and safer.
1. Keep your documents ALWAYS with you
I know this might sound too obvious and something you are already careful about, yet sometimes we can get distracted and things can go wrong. If you have a safe in your room, keep the documents in there at all times, unless you are using them.
Therefore, we recommend you to pack a pair of pajamas and pants that have zipper pockets or something similar to it. Not only when you are sleeping but also while traveling unless you have a safe in your room do not leave your documents wandering around. Trust me I have lost credit cards for having my wallet in my sweatpants and my passport for living it in a bag in my backpack while I went to the bathroom in our hostel room. Not only travel with your passport but with another ID as well in case you lose your passport.
2. Have 2 credit cards in different places
It is really important to have a backup credit or debit cards in case you lose one or get robbed. Always keep them in separate places. While we were traveling in Vienna I lost my wallet with all our documents because they felt out of my pocket. I was so thankful I had my other credit card in my backpack at the hotel. We had a few more days before our return ticket and having that extra card was a miracle to us.
3. Keep extra cash separately
Emergencies can happen anywhere at any time, so let’s be prepared for that. Even though there are ATM’s or Western Unions sometimes you need the cash right there and it is always better to not having to worry about it. Some places only accept cash and you might not know until you are there, even if you did some research before hand.
ATM’s might not work or your credit card does not work, it is better to ALWAYS be prepared. So, use your cash carefully. Use your credit card as much as possible (keeping your budget of course) and keep the cash for smaller things/emergencies. We have a Bank of America Travel Rewards Card, which does not charge for international transactions. You should consider getting one of those if thinking about traveling for longer periods of time or even if you are thinking about traveling often.
We normally keep the money and the cards in different places. We “hide” them in the toiletry bag, the bottom of our backpack or in one of the internal pockets.
4. Buy a lock
I do not think I could emphasis how important is to have a lock. When we started packing for our mini Eurotrip Steven kept telling me let’s buy a lock but we never ended up doing it. It was our worst mistake!
We lost almost $8,000 in belongings including my engagement and wedding ring because we did not have a lock. A couple of dollars can save you more in the long road. Now we do not travel without a lock. If your lock does not fit in a specific locker it is better to go and get a new one that does. I rather having a code one instead of a key one, so we have no keys to lose. In the end it is what fits you the best and makes you feel more comfortable.
5. Wake up early
If you love taking good pictures waking up early is key. Normally, tourists do not wake up too early in the morning as they are on vacation, so your pictures will be void of the normal tourist crowds. We try to normally wake up around sunrise to get the best pictures, plus the light is gorgeous.
Summer is perfect because by 7AM it is already dawn, so you get the sunlight you would have later on, but with no tourists in your photos. Also, if it is the weekends even the locals are not out yet. Go to places that are normally crowded first to take the perfect photo and then go to the ones that you do not need to go inside the building until they open up.
6. Back everything up
We lost nearly all of our Eurotrip photos when we got robbed in Sweden, because I did not back up our photos. Even though my gut told me several time to go to a cyber cafe to upload my photos, I never got to it. Now, I regret it.
I recommend you either get a external hard drive or to buy space in Google Drive or any other online platforms where you can upload your photos on the web. The only issue with online backups is they can require a constant internet connection for a long period of time, something not always available when traveling. Not only can you backup your photos but also keep a digital copy of your important documents such as passport, ID, insurance, visas, telephone numbers, etc.
7. Keep an open mind
Do not be afraid of new adventures. Be careful, but try to enjoy the ride. Sometimes there are things that you wish you dare to do but we get ourself out of it.
For example, I went to Toledo, Spain with Steven and Mohsin, our friend in Spain. Mohsin really wanted to zip-line, but I have always being afraid of heights so I normally would not want to do it. Our friend convinced us to do it and told us to be open minded, and honestly it was one of the best decisions I took. I loved it so much.
Try to learn from new cultures, religions, and lifestyles. The book of life is so big and only by traveling you can read it. Try to learn and interact with different people, including locals or other travelers like you. It is part of the charm of traveling.
8. Traveling on a budget be open to new destinations.
If traveling in a budget try to not have set destinations. My best travels have been when I am open to new adventures and have not restrained the time we stay or places we visit. Pick a starting and finish point, buy your tickets and go from there. If you need to catch a flight at the end and you are not yet there, just take the next bus and finish your trip.
Yet, do not forget to treat yourself from time to time. A drink out might be expensive if you do it every day but once in your trip will not break the bank.
Every person travels different so plan little by little. You might think you can do Madrid in 2 days and other people might need a month. Go to the city see how long you want to stay there and then decide what next place is cheap to visit. I am starting to do it this way. Sometimes it can be more expensive but it can also be cheaper, not only for the tickets themselves, but because you do not need to come back if you did not plan enough time.
Traveling is not about how many places you have been, it is how much you have enjoy in each place.
9. Pack only what is necessary
Do not take more things that you need. I used to have so many things with me until I had to carry everything during our 2 month Eurotrip. Then I realized I only need underwear, shirts and a pair of jeans and shorts (or jacket, depending on where you are traveling). Even if you want to bring some more formal clothing one or two shirts will do.
You can always do laundry, so do not take too much clothing. If traveling for more than a month pack enough clothes for a week and a half and then do laundry or wash your cloth at your hostel/hotel.
In terms of accessories, keep track of what you use during a trip, and if you never use something, keep it out of your luggage next time.
10. Be in contact
Be in consistent communication with your family or friends. Let people know where you are just in case something bad happens so they at least know your last location. This does not mean keep your head in your phone all day, but update them from your hotel or during a break.
Also, it is nice to share your experiences with other people and, in a way, travel with them. Let them enjoy your adventures with you from around the world.
11. Patience is the best virtue of a traveler
This is one is a hard one for me, I am not patient. Yet, I have learned that this is a virtue that I needed to learn. Do not freak out when things are wrong while traveling. There is always a way out and things ALWAYS get better.
For the first time in years I have followed this advice. In our trip to Santorini we lost our flight because we bought the wrong ticket. Instead of buying it at 00:30 of one day it ended up being a ticket for the previous day, so we lost our flight along with 10 other people.
One of them, a girl in her early 20’s started crying. She had no money or credit card and had no idea what she was going to do. I told her to relax, I was laughing because of course that had to happened to me. I told her to calm down that everything was going to be fine. She was still nervous. After talking to all the people who lost their flight I manage to recollect enough money to buy her a new ticket.
Half of the people needed to go to Athens because they had an early connecting flight. So, as always I had to ask for a solution. Yes, I am the one who loves asking questions all the time and never settle down until I figure out what I can do. We were lucky enough that there was a ferry leaving to Athens at 1:30AM for much cheaper than a new flight. So, I grabbed everyone and told them let’s go.
We went and stopped a van and asked the guy to take us to the port. He did although he told us we might not have enough time to get there. We barely made it but no one had cash so we had to ran around the port to find an ATM at that moment when every second was crucial. We were lucky there was an ATM and that we could stop the ferry. That is why you should always keep emergency cash with you!!
All this was possible because we remained calm and knew that by freaking out nothing was going to be solved, you need to act quick and get things done. There is always going to be someone that will help you and sometimes you need to be that person who helps others. In a way we are a community and even if you do not get to see that person again you at least know that you are being a good traveler and that someone will be able to help you in your time of need.
12. Research what you want to see
Sometimes we see photos of places and then we finally get there and get a little disappointed because we were expecting much more. Spend time researching and see what is there to see and ask other travelers what they recommend doing.They have already being there therefore they have more experience than you. Ask more than one person so you have a better perception, as everyone has a different taste in travel.
Contact the local tourism boards; for example in Ecuador you can contact the ministry of tourism for information about what is there to see in each city/country/state. The more info you have the better your experience is going to be in the place. Once you get there, stop in a tourist office and ask locals.
Do not be afraid of looking like a tourists, that is what you are so embrace it. Take advantage of all these resources and have a blast.
13. Being lost is not bad
Getting lost might be the best thing that happen to you during a trip. Try to go to the places off the beaten track, that are not in tour guides. We love walking and we try to do all our travel guides for people who do not mind getting lost and exploring the city. We have found rewarding things along the way; sometimes it can be street art or a delicious cheap restaurant between others.
We must remind you to be aware of your safety though. Do not risk too much and ALWAYS ask about an area, locals will tell you if you are entering a dangerous area. If there is no one to ask make sure you feel comfortable with where you are walking, and do not be afraid to turn around and walk back.
14. Pace yourself
This is my husband’s favorite and my least favorite advice. He prefers going to one place and actually getting to know it fully rather than me which I like discovering as many new places as possible. You need to find your balance.
My husband likes to stay longer than me because it is true you get to see new things and have better experiences when you pace yourself. You have the chance to meet new people and learn more about the culture of each place. For me is more about walking and getting to see many cultures. I make sure interact with people when I have the chance and spending time having a good conversation with them to learn more about life.
15. Why notes are important
I have traveled since I was 2 years old, of course I was not going to take notes then but I regret not having a journal to write notes of the places I visited and the people I met. Now, for us it is really important to get notes for a blog post, but in general it is important so we can share our adventures and have them recorded forever.
Steven uses Gmail to take notes, he does it as a draft so as soon as the phone/tablet connects to the internet it is saved. I on the other hand, use Evernote, my best friend, for everything including school work. You can do so many things with these apps, the only problem with it is that if you lose your phone/tablet you lose all your private notes are in the hands of another. We would also recommend Google Drive to keep track of all your documents.
As electronics only have limited battery life, we always bring along a paper notebook and pens as well, just in case. The only downside is its legibility all depends on how nice our handwriting is looking.