Travel Tips and Tricks

Traveling is one of my favorite things. It’s amazing to experience a new culture, hear a new language, and try local customs. More than that, I feel the more I experience in the world, the easier it becomes for me to relate to and empathize with people. It becomes easier to find common ground and use that as a basis for a new relationship or improving an existing one. I arguably went a little overboard during my business school time and traveled to 20+ countries in two years (currently at 32 total). I typically organize trips for my friends and they join knowing they will see some of the best sites in a pretty tight timeframe.

Here, I’ve assembled a set of insights that I have discovered over the years to help traveling more manageable and fun.

  • Money:
    • I highly advise a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Always pay in local currency – the card will give you a much better conversion rate than other options. Not all money exchanges are created equal – some offer fair rates with no commission (ask if there is a commission); others have hidden fees they won’t tell you about and just imply that you don’t understand the conversion – they prey on tourists and you need to be wary of this.
    • I try not to carry more than $100-worth of cash on me. The further away from a big city you go, the more you would need to bring: many merchants in rural areas in Europe don’t accept credit cards.
    • Everything is negotiable. I can’t stress this enough. I have gotten discounts in coffee shops in Iceland and Thailand just by asking nicely for them. You could use levers such as calling the person by name, mentioning you are a student, or just being nice and friendly (just don’t expect the discount necessarily). My friends have tried this and have been able to get discounts in full-fledged stores like Macy’s at the register. You miss out on 100% of things you don’t ask for – just because there is a stated price or a stated rule, don’t take it as given.
    • To generate money while you travel,  you can consider renting out your place on Airbnb. There are companies out there that manage the listings and cleaning for you for a cut of the profit. Totally worth it in my opinion.
  • Airfare:
    • I use a mix of Momondo, Skyscanner, and Skiplagged. The first one has great deals for students, often 3-4x cheaper than the same fare on the carrier’s website
  • Accommodation:
    • I typically stay at an Airbnb or a hostel to save money and try to experience local culture more than a hotel would offer. Hostelworld is a great resource for the latter. For Airbnb, I first find out the places I’d want to visit in a city or in a region (e.g., beach, particular park, etc.) and then look for Airbnbs either within 15 minutes walking or close to a subway stop 3-5 stops away. This makes it easier to hit all the places I want without spending much time driving around and finding parking.
    • Trick to save money on Airbnb in foreign countries: there is a 3% fee Airbnb charges for foreign currency transactions. To avoid this, scroll down to the bottom of the page on the main Airbnb page and change the currency to the one for the country you’re traveling to. Then the prices will be displayed in local currency and there will be no fee.
  • Cars:
    • It’s much harder to find automatic cars in Europe than in the U.S. Definitely had to bring friends who knew how to drive stick sometimes – not something I have learned for now.
  • Luggage:
    • I try to travel only with a carry on and a backpack as that saves time at the airport and minimizes the odds of your bag getting lost. If possible, advise your group of this and try to get everyone on the same page. I’m at a point where I can travel for 3-4 weeks without a checked bag.