One of my favorite hobbies is traveling, especially to more remote parts of the world where the land and infrastructure are less developed and the local population still engages in more intimate commercial activity and the family unit is still quite tightly knit. On these journeys I find that the less billboard advertising and Starbucks coffee shops the better, although the occasional flush toilet is much appreciated (especially when confronted with food poisoning, which regrettably has happened once or twice).
Throughout my travel across 4 continents and over 30 countries, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that make the whole process a little more affordable, efficient and enjoyable. This is not an exhaustive list, but some of my favorites are detailed below.
You’ll likely find these useful whether you’re planning a road trip across the continental US or hiring a camel caravan to trek the western Sahara desert.
Please do share any of your favorite travel tools, technology, or hacks in the comments below. Happy journeys!
Maybe you have a budget of $2500 and know you want to travel in June, but you are open to exploring a brand new city or country. How do you decide? I’m a fan of using the tools and websites below for trip planning specifically when you’re flexible on the destination or just want to discover new places to explore.
Boss Lady Tip for Hotels —> Never underestimate the comfort, convenience or affordability of Airbnb both here in the United States and when traveling abroad. Use my link and you’ll get $25 off your first Airbnb booking.
That said, when booking traditional hotel accommodations, I typically use an aggregator site like Momondo.com and then I call/email the hotel directly to get the best rate. They will often rate match or beat what you see on sites like Priceline, Hotels.com, Booking.com, etc. and may even throw in a little something extra since they won’t have to pay a finder’s fee. You will also find that the cancellation policy will be more forgiving and your ability to get a room upgrade is enhanced when booking directly.
Adioso.com, (web only)
This site offers a flight search aggregator that I like better than what I typically find on Orbitz.com or Kayak.com. You can even explore options based on your travel interests by using the dropdown menu under the “Destination” field. This tool allows you to match your desire to experience the world’s “Best Music Festivals” or the “Best Waterfalls” or the “Best Cities for Active Couples” with your available travel dates.
Momondo.com, (app/web, free)
I love this comparison website for domestic and especially international flights and hotels/vacation rentals. IMHO, they do the best job aggregating real-time availability and pricing from travel providers and travel sites around the globe. They also offer a fun “choose your adventure” type Trip Finder tool which helps to narrow down potential destinations based on your budget, interests, and even time of year.
Google Flight Search, (web only)
What I love about this tool is the ability to explore and visually move around a global map to view the current flight pricing between your city and all the other major cities in the world.
Yelp, (app/web, free)
While I certainly enjoy using TripAdvisor to plan future adventures, I may actually rely on Yelp’s photos, recommendations and mapping features even more.
I find Yelp especially helpful when digging into a city for the best food, cultural highlights and local favorites. With content in close to 30 countries across the globe, Yelp is becoming a valuable travel companion, especially because I also use the app to map out walking/transit directions to local businesses/attractions.
How do I love thee, let me count the Waze… this is actually a killer navigation app for traveling in new cities as well as for use in your daily commuting at home. The idea behind Waze is that you can crowdsource traffic and road information in real-time, which according to the app’s creators ends up saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute. It beats my car’s navigation system and Google Maps every single day.
Will you be visiting a city with a vast mass transit system? In cities like New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, etc. the HopStop app will prove invaluable, because you can easily assess the best mode of travel based on the schedules, cost, and availability to you. Some of the app’s features include:
- Get directions or find nearby subway stations and bus stops
- Estimate travel time and cost for a taxi,
- Find wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly routes
- View transit maps and schedules
Uber, (app/free, but you pay a set rate for the trip)
Uber is a more affordable, better smelling taxi alternative that also eliminates the need to fumble for payment or calculate a tip at the end of your ride. This is especially useful in foreign countries where dealing with currency exchange (especially in smaller denominations) can be a source of anxiety. Uber is available in hundreds of cities around the world.
You simply download the app, save your credit card details, and Uber will match you up with local drivers to transport you from point to point. One thing to consider is that you’ll need a cellular or Wi-Fi connection in order for the app to function. When in Paris, we simply located a free Wi-Fi hotspot (see below) and used that to order an Uber. It was a life saver when the Paris metro had already closed for the evening.
Staying in Touch
Free Wi-Fi Finder, (app/free)
Wi-Fi Finder’s best feature is the ability to download a Wi-Fi hotspot directory to use offline. So download it while you still have Internet access and then once you’ve saved the map directory locally you’ll be able to search the database without having to be online. This is super useful if you need to find Wi-Fi hotspots while traveling abroad.
Viber, (app/web, free)
You can make free calls and send free text, sticker, photo, voice and video messages to other Viber users, on any device, in any network and country. With the recent update of Viber Desktop, you can even make calls to a friend on a desktop. IMPORTANT: you’ll need a mobile number to validate Viber; the access code is sent via SMS to your phone. This means you need to download and validate the Viber app BEFORE you leave the country unless you plan to upgrade to an international text messaging plan (and why would you do that, since the whole point of using Viber is to avoid having to pay to upgrade to an international text messaging/call plan).
Skype, (app/web, free but can pay to make calls to non-Skype users)
Skype is free when you message and call other Skype users, but for me it’s a great solution when I’m traveling internationally and need to make a call to an international number but don’t have an international plan on my phone.
For example, when in Costa Rica I suddenly needed to book an extra hotel and some excursions so I just found a free Wi-Fi connection and used Skype’s reasonable rate plan to call the Costa Rican business numbers and finalize my new plans. I’ve also used it to call friends and family members back in the States while I was traveling abroad.
I would highly recommend setting up your account with some Skype credit prior to departure. I usually keep about $10 credit in my account in case of emergencies. It takes a long time to use it up.