So this is kind of a comprehensive mini-guide to traveling, inspired by my travels around Southeast Asia. These are the best tips and tricks for quick, easy, and affordable travel; good for everything from studying abroad to weekend trips and road-tripping around your state. Special thanks to Michelle, Annie, Britt, and Eileen for contributing ♥ you guys are great.
You can also check out my photo journals for Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Cambodia!
Preparing for a weekend trip
1. Get a good credit card - This is a good contingency plan to have for emergencies. Of course, if it’s just a one-time trip, it may not justify committing to a credit card, but if you’re a frequent traveler, I highly recommend it. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is extolled as one of the best cards for travelers, because you get 50,000 free points if you spend $4,000 in three months (use it to book your flight and that’s easily a couple hundred dollars in a day), and you get one point for every dollar you spend and 2x points for food and travel, even grocery shopping. But the best part is that you can use it almost anywhere in the world, without foreign transaction fees, which can add up over time. I swear I’m not sponsored by Chase (although @Chase if you wanna get on that, I’m all for it).
Disclaimer: The link above is an affiliate link, so I get a lil something if you sign up for a card, too! Win-win.
2. Get cash beforehand - Always a smart idea. And a lot of smaller countries, especially in Southeast Asia, won’t accept credit cards at a lot of locations. If you want to be really smart about it, change currencies where the exchange rate is most advantageous to you.
3. Print stuff - Print everything! Your hotel/Airbnb reservations, your airline check-in confirmations, your itineraries. You never know when you’ll need it.
4. Do your research - Check travel blogs, Wikipedia pages, government websites. Get a general sense of the rules, customs, and attitudes of the country you’re visiting. You don’t want to go to the Vatican wearing shorts (ask me about the time I wore my cousin’s baby blanket around my waist so I could see the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica). You also don’t want to be fined, arrested, or offend the locals.
1. Book early - This one goes without saying, but you really can save a lot of money by booking in advance. Tickets are usually cheapest six to eight weeks before your trip.
2. Look for deals and compare - See: Why Flying is So Expensive, for a dissection of airline ticket prices. Check budget airline sites like Scoot or Tigerair if you’re in Asia and EasyJet, Ryanair, or Vueling if you’re in Europe. Good options (for the US and internationally): Google Flights, momondo, SkyScanner, Kiwi, and STA Travel (I like Google Flights for the clean and easy-to-use UI).
If you’re super-into planning, most of these websites let you set up price alerts where they’ll email you when the flight you’re eyeing drops, or set specific dates with apps like Hopper to get notifications for cheap flights tailored to your itinerary. Or you can subscribe to travel sites like TravelZoo, which uses your area code to send you special flash deals on flights and hotels. You can also go to SkyScanner and input the destination as “everywhere” if you want a cheap flight and you’re not picky about where you go.
3. Book on a Tuesday or a Sunday - Airlines find out if their flights will be full on that day and adjust their prices accordingly, and lower their rates on weekends to attract leisure travelers, so plan to book on a Tuesday, and if there are no deals, try the following Sunday.
4. Browse in incognito - Anyone who has studied economics has probably heard of price discrimination, but it’s applicable to flights as well. Airlines reserve some seats at low prices to attract customers initially, but if the tickets up selling well, the airline can increase the price. It is debatable whether or not your browsing history or cookies actually have an effect on this, but it is common knowledge that airlines offer several different price points for each seat which can change by the hour, so just to be safe, I’d recommend it anyway.
5. Don’t travel on peak days or during peak hours - Try to avoid weekends (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays) and after-work hours (6 pm to 9 pm). Flights outside of these times will likely be cheaper, less crowded, and less likely to be delayed. Another basic economic principle: supply and demand.
6. Book separate flights - Sometimes booking a trip in parts is less expensive than booking a round-trip ticket (see my trip to Chicago and New York). Or, fly to a different destination first and find alternative transportation (I did this in Cambodia when I took a six-hour night bus to Phnom Penh).
7. Check out alternative transportation - In some places like Europe, it can be cheaper and less hassle to take a train. The U.K. has an underwater train that is much faster, cheaper, and often more convenient than flying.
Packing for a weekend trip
1. Pack light - It’s best to carry as little as possible when you’re going on short trips. Take a backpack for clothes and things, and then a small bag for walking around. Checking bags on a plane is expensive, and sometimes the only place you can put your belongings is a locker, so it’s smartest to keep all of your things together.
2. The basics - File these under “Crucial to Survival,” because these things should be in every solo traveler’s arsenal. These are your absolute essentials. These things will save your life because you will find that if you have them and don’t need them then it’s a minor inconvenience, but if you need them and don’t have them…it can be a major crisis. And you never know where the next convenience store will be.
A small lock (a lot of hostels have lockers, but you have to bring your own lock)
Portable phone charger
Tissues (in case you need napkins or toilet paper because some places in Europe and Asia you need to pay for it)
Sanitizing wipes (hotels/hostels = so many germs)
3. The extras - Boy Scout’s motto: Always be prepared (ALSO the Girl Scout’s motto!). These things aren’t 100% necessary, but they’re nice to have, and they’ll definitely make your trip more comfortable.
Money belt/fanny pack
Microfiber towel (this is very useful if you’ve got limited space in your bag)
A plastic folder (to keep your passport, your ticket, and paper documents in one place)
Weekend trip accommodation
1. Hotels - A standard choice. Except now there are so many smarter ways to book, like through apps like Hotel Tonight, which offers last-minute hotel deals for cheap.
2. Airbnb - Airbnb is a great option, easy-to-use, and super-convenient. This is usually a safe choice, because the owners are vetted, and you can read community reviews. You can choose to rent out a room, a whole house, or even just a bed in a hostel.
3. Hostels - Hostels perfect for budget travelers. They’re generally cheaper than hotels, they sometimes offer free meals, and they’re an excellent way to get to know the area around you and meet other travelers. “Designer hostels” are becoming very popular; they’re clean, safe, and often very centrally-located. Many of them can be booked through Airbnb or Hostel World.
4. Map it out - Before you book anywhere, consider how accessible it is. Is it close to the airport or the train station? Is it near restaurants or convenience stores or any of the things you want to see while you’re there? Make a plan on Google Maps so you have a relative sense of how far everything is.
1. Uber/lyft - Honestly, on-call cars are a great option. I took five Ubers in one day while I was in Malaysia. But you can download local taxi apps as well (in the Singapore there’s Grab, in Budapest, there’s Fotaxi, etc.)
2. Public transport - In Asia (the richer countries like China, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan), the MRT is super efficient and pretty reasonable, so it’s worth it. I’ve never taken public transport in Europe, but apparently, the buses are excellent.
3. Apps - Use apps to determine the quickest way to get around. CiyMapper, Transit App, Moovit, and even Google Maps are all great options.
4. Safety - Be careful! The public transportation in some countries (like Malaysia) is very unreliable and/or dangerous. It’s worth it to spend extra money for the sake of safety.
Things to do on a weekend trip
1. Make an itinerary - Do a quick Google search for “things to do in [country]” and start there. If you have limited time, it’s best to have a plan, even if you don’t end up following it. But it’ll give you an outline of what your day will look like, and help you determine the most efficient way to get around.
2. Read travel blogs - I read a lot of these. They show you where other people have been, and where good places for travelers are.
Leave Your Daily Hell: I really like this one. I feel like a larger percentage of bloggers are female than male, so sometimes a guy’s perspective can be refreshing. He’s also a professional travel planner, so his sample travel itineraries are super-informative and inspirational.
LonelyPlanet: One of the most comprehensive travel sites.
Nomadic Matt: He writes a lot of good articles on real travel advice, like “Why It’s Never The Right Time to Travel” and “The Ultimate Guide to Traveling When You Have No Money.”
Be My Travel Muse: A great travel blog written with a focus on solo female travel and little-known destinations.
Travelettes: This one is written by all-female contributors, who share stories about their personal experiences in different countries.
PROJECT INSPO: Jinna started writing this blog after her father died, quitting her Manhattan job as a fashion photographer, and spending 11 months traveling the world with one suitcase and a cardboard cutout of her father. She has a lot of good tips on minimalist/solo traveling, and also some inspiration pieces to get you moving! (Check out the article I wrote for PROJECT INSPO about working holiday visas here!)
3. Ask locals/natives - Most people will do this anyway, but if you have any friends, family, or family friends who are from the country or state you plan on visiting, ask them! They know their country/state better than anyone and can likely give you the best recommendations that won’t be on TripAdvisor. It’s also how I decide where to stay.
4. Instagram - My friend mentioned that this is a good place to find food recommendations, and it’s definitely a good option if you want to find out what other people are doing (or eating). It’s like getting personalized recommendations from 600 million of your closest friends.
5. Tours - Lots of tourist destinations and landmarks are easily traversed by bus, like in the U.K. or some major U.S. cities. Ever been on a Hop-On Hop-Off bus? They’re spectacularly touristy, but also awesome because you can get to a bunch of different locations on a single route. Or you can use sites like FreeCityTour for more ideas/pre-planned routes.