As a kid, I would rent Rick Steve’s Europe 5-hour travel bonanza compilations from the library every visit. I would fawn over the European sights, the enchanting towns Rick would visit, and awe over his dad bod. What can I say? His wardrobe was always so expertly packed with only the most 90’s essentials. “What a perfect man,” I thought, “and what an even more perfect world traveler”.
(For those not familiar with the genius that is Rick Steve, binge watch his episodes on his website. Think of him like the father of savvy travel- the Bob Ross of backpacking.)
Since then, I’ve had my fair share of road trips, backpacking adventures, study abroad liaisons, and weekend trips with my boyfriend. I must admit, through sheer trial and error, not the infinite wisdom of Rick Steve did I get my traveling down to a science. Learn from my mistakes so you can become a master traveler, with no thanks to ol’ Rick.
1. Never spend the night in hotels
For us college-age travelers, every penny counts, and hotels are not the place to drop money. Instead, consider hostels, an extremely cheap alternative, where travelers share dormitories and communal bathrooms in exchange for around 10-30 dollars a night (depending on the city)! What’s more, is that many hostels are strictly youth hostels, and many will host free city walking tours, bar crawls, and excursions. I highly recommend this type of lodging, especially in Europe. Think of it as another few days in the freshman dorms. Lots of partying and little sleep. It’s worth it for the cost.
Another option is the AirBnB route, which lets you rent out a person’s home or private room for a fraction of the cost of a hotel. Plus, you get the comforts of a home, and advice from a local host. Sorry Rick, your boutique hotels for 200 dollars a night is a rip off.
2. Utilize the internet for free stuff
If you’re down to get a little uncomfortable, try CouchSurfing, a site where people let travelers sleep on their couches for free or in exchange for company, or WWOOF, an organization that pairs organic farmers around the world with travelers. Trade work on the property for free lodging and meals. Don’t forget to check out free ride sharing cites like BlaBla Car.
3. Buy travel insurance… seriously
The one thing I will always spend money on is travel insurance. You think I would have learned my lesson the time I went into anaphylactic shock in Denmark after eating kebabs with hidden soy (which I am deathly allergic to) and I was unable to go to the hospital. Or the time that I got my friend’s iPhone and her wallet pushed into a canal in Copenhagen, and I couldn’t call her to tell her what happened. Or the time that my cell phone stopped turning on in Germany and I couldn’t access the directions to my hostel. Trust me, the 20 dollars or so per month it costs will pay for itself with just one horrible travel mistake.
4. Dating apps aren’t only for Netflix and Chill
When I was a young spring chicken traveling in Europe, I used Tinder not to find dates, but to make friends and find locals to show me the nightlife. Don’t be afraid to match with people and ask for a recommendation on the best Friday night spot. If you’re traveling with friends, use the group feature to meet up with other travelers or to make your sightseeing group even bigger.
5. Don’t waste money on guidebooks, paper maps or foreign language dictionaries
Everything is online these days, so the fact that people drop money on travel books and physical maps is insane to me! Many apps including Google Maps will save parts of a map for offline use, and GPS works without data, so you can get around without having service in the foreign place. Any information about the top spots in your destination can surely be found on Pinterest by looking up “best (free) things to do in ____”.
6. A carry-on is more than enough space
Even if an airline gives your first checked bag for free, try to keep everything in a carry-on. You’ll thank me later when you save time at the airport, dragging through city centers, and unpacking in hostels. I have packed for three weeks in a carry-on and I did laundry on the road.
7. Two pairs of shoes are plenty
One pair of walking boots or flats doubles as a shoe for late nights out. Trust me, not only are stilettos not in style in many parts of the world, but they’re impossible on old streets. The second pair should be a comfortable pair of sandals for the beach or water and cute day outfits. Throw in shower flip flops if you’re staying in a hostel with communal bathrooms.
8. Buy experiences, not nick knacks
Not many will fit in that carry-on, and only so many will fit on your bookshelf. Think about when you can use that magnet or blown glass or hand-carved figurine. After a few trips, they’ll take up more dust than the joy they bring. Instead, consider spending money on day trips to different locations on your trip, or extreme attractions like skydiving, helicopter tours, surfing lessons, or dance classes. Those memories will never get dusty.
9. For the love of God, stay in touch with your new friends!
It will be painful to leave the new friends you make at your hostels, on the trains, at the beach resorts, among other places. Don’t leave, though, until you exchange information! Facebook or Instagram are great ways to keep in contact. I myself have gone on subsequent trips just to visit the friends I made in other countries! The friendships will last a lifetime if you keep up with them.
That’s all for now, fellow travelers. My last tip is this: continue to watch Rick Steve for all his dad vibes and entertaining escapades, but not for the out-of-date travel tips. Happy travels!