In this post we share the transformational travel tips we’ve learned after 20 years of international travel. These tips not only make for more exciting trips but they’ll also help you use travel as a tool for transformation. Read this before your next trip!
This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.
It’s been more than 20 years since we took our first international trip together. And it’s almost 8 years since we sold everything we owned to become full-time nomads.
In that time, we’ve travelled to more places than we can list and met more people than we can remember.
We’ve seen incredible sights and had amazing travel experiences.
We’ve also seen incredibly dull sights and eaten some meals that made us violently ill.
In between these highs and lows, there have been plenty of boring times, too. (Yes, travel can be boring sometimes!)
The one thing all of these experiences have in common is that we learn something from every one.
When I was hospitalized for malaria in Thailand, I learned.
When we left our passports behind at the hotel in Chefchaouen in Morocco, we learned.
When we got completely lost cycling in rural China, we learned.
When we ran out of cash on the Gili Islands and the ATM was broken, we learned.
- Got caught in a typhoon in Hong Kong
- Couldn’t find a place to sleep in a small town in Poland
- Caught dengue fever in Bali (and Malaysia and Bali again)
- Were scammed in Beijing
- Robbed in Spain
- Locked in an ancient site in Greece
- Chased by wild dogs in Croatia
- Were stranded on the side of a volcano in Indonesia
We learned. We grew. We changed. Each of these “bad” experiences, and all the good ones too, made us slightly different people. Now, we couldn’t be more different than those innocent kids who left home to see the world.
You’ll definitely make your own mistakes while travelling and that’s a good thing. Mistakes are a huge opportunity for transformation. Use the travel tips we share below to learn from our mistakes so you can get busy making your own!
What is Transformational Travel?
In a nutshell, transformational travel is travel that changes you.
It’s the kind of experience that:
- Widens your perspective
- Challenges your beliefs
- Wakes you up if you’ve been sleepwalking through life
Transformational travel will help you get to know yourself better, to understand your strengths and your weaknesses. It helps develop you as a person while you learn more about the world and the way it works.
Transformation doesn’t just happen by accident though. You have to make it happen.
The tips in this post will help you take control of your next trip and make it truly transformational.
Tips for Finding Travel Inspiration
Whether you are going away for the weekend or for weeks, every trip starts with inspiration.
You see a photo on Instagram or hear about your friend’s spectacular trip and you want to go too. After a while, it’s not enough just to dream… you have to experience the world yourself.
When trying to decide where to go, it can be tempting to go somewhere just because you heard from friends that it was nice. Or because that’s where everybody goes. Well, you’re not everybody, and you shouldn’t pick your destination based on what everybody else says to do. Because, more often than not, other people are wrong!
Don’t plan a trip Europe just because everybody goes to Europe. Don’t decide on Bali because everyone says it’s paradise. Don’t pick Bhutan just because Lonely Planet says it’s the best.
Instead, combine soul searching with research to pick the travel destination that’s perfect for you. Hint: It probably won’t be the same destination as your best friend would pick or your neighbour.
The tips in this section will help you pick your destination.
1. Understand Why You Want to Travel
Before you pick where you want to go, spend some time figuring out why you want to go.
Is it to challenge your body? Is it to restore your mind? Is it to escape the dullness of your everyday life? Is it to learn about the world? Is it just to relax?
These are all perfectly valid reasons to want to travel but each desire will be fulfilled with a different kind of destination. Before you go destination hunting, spend a few minutes writing down your travel wish list — what you hope to get out of your trip.
2. Use Pinterest for Inspiration
You might be used to using Instagram to find pretty travel picture or Google to get details on places to go. They both work fine — but Pinterest is even better because it combines the best of Instagram and Google into one platform.
On Pinterest, you’ll find all the jaw-dropping images that you see on Instagram. Pick any travel search term you want and you’ll find an endless scroll of inspiration.
Unlike Instagram, most of these fabulous pictures lead to detailed articles about the destination pictured.
Unlike Google, which usually offers up articles from generic and outdated sources like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, on Pinterest, you get info from some of the best travel bloggers in the world. That means you can find travel tips and details written by people who share your travel goals and will give their honest opinions!
Plus, Pinterest allows you to save your favourite pins so you can keep them all in one place for future reference.
So if you’re still trying to decide where to go, bookmark this post then head over to Pinterest to discover the world.
3. Find Personal Inspiration on Blogs
I love seeking out bloggers who have a similar travel style to my own. They are my number one source of travel inspiration these days!
As you may have noticed, most travel blogs are more personal than mass-produced guide books or travel magazines. Bloggers are far more likely to share their personal experiences than the sanitized version of events you get from corporate-owned publication.
Because of that, I find I can trust the information and opinions shared by my fellow bloggers far more than I trust a faceless magazine writer or guide book author.
Finding bloggers is easy. Pinterest is a good place to start, or you can check out some of the adventurous women who have inspired me.
4. Try Some Long Reads
Books are another great way to get inspired to travel.
Whether you read novels, biographies, histories, or travelogues, books will give you a deeper understanding of the places on your shortlist. Or they might even introduce you to a whole new avenue for travel.
I never even thought about going to Bosnia and Herzegovina until I read The Cellist of Sarajevo. Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island inspired me to move to Britain early in my travel career. And A Room with a View taught me how to travel in Italy long before I would first set foot there.
5. Watch TV & Movies
It’s not just books that can inspire the travel bug. Travel TV is a great way to get inspired and understand what kind of experience you might have in a destination.
We have Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round to thank for our desire to travel the world on two wheels. Before I’d really been anywhere, Rick Steves was teaching me how to travel in Europe and Micheal Palin inspired me to see places I’d never even heard of before.
Movies can be inspiring in a different way.
Films where the setting becomes a character, like Out of Africa, The Motorcycle Diaries, Lost in Translation, or Amelie, can feed your travel bug.
If you’re not sure where to travel, just start watching Netflix until you get that aha moment.
Looking for more Inspiration?
Find out about our 20 best travel experiences from 20 years of travel, discover the world’s best eco retreats, and find out where to go for the best yoga travel on Earth.
Transformational Travel Planning Tips
Now that you’ve picked a destination, the next step is to plan!
Careful planning is the key to creating a great trip. Over-planning is the key to ruining a great trip!
Our transformational travel planning tips will help you strike that balance.
6. Expect Some Skepticism
Before you even get started, you’ll probably face some backlash from friends and family. They might not understand why you picked the destination you picked or why you want to travel at all.
Don’t expect everyone to be as excited about your trip as you are. Naturally, your loved ones will be worried that you’ve lost your mind, and they might even be right.
But, if you have lost your mind, I bet you’ll find it somewhere on your travels.
7. Don’t Over-plan
Planning for travel is fun. So fun that it can be tempting to plan every single minute so you don’t miss a thing. Don’t fall into the over-planning trap!
It’s better to plan a loose outline and leave room in your itinerary for unexpected delights and delays. This will help you avoid burnout and lead to much more fulfilling experience. We promise.
8. Don’t Under-plan
Lots of experienced travellers, myself included, hop on a plane with literally no idea what to expect when they land. In my experience, this can lead to a disappointing trip.
Avoiding planning altogether is a recipe for missing out on the most thrilling or interesting opportunities. Instead, you’ll end up hitting the most obvious tourist sites or just wandering around aimlessly.
Spend a little time doing your research before you’re in the air to avoid an under-planned disaster.
9. Make a Bucket List
If you’re going on a long-term trip, then throw that itinerary out the window. Instead, make a bucket list of the experiences you are dying to do and see. You might not get to every one, but your bucket list will keep you motivated and excited, even when you have a bout of homesickness or a bad day.
10. Enlist a Home Crew
Before you leave home, ask your most responsible friends to be your home crew. Get them to open your mail and keep an eye on your house plants.
If you’re travelling for a long time, ask them to hold onto extra contact lenses and medications. They can mail them to you periodically around the world.
Offer your eternal gratitude as payment for these services!
11. Slow Down
The number one travel planning mistake I see people making is packing too many places into too few days.
Instead of planning a full-tilt pace for your trip, slow down. You’ll have a much more fulfilling, inspiring, and transformational experience if you’re not in a perpetual rush to get to the next sight or the next destination.
If you’re interested in slowing your travel down, read my post about slow travel that includes everything you need to know to get started going slowly.
12. Shoot for Shoulder Season
No matter what time of year you’re planning to travel, it’s shoulder season somewhere in the world. Travelling during shoulder season helps you avoid crowds and save money. Plus, it means you are not contributing to over-tourism as you travel!
13. Use Your Travel Dollars Intentionally
Travel should not only be about transforming yourself, it should also help transform the world around you. When you’re planning your trip, think carefully about where you travel dollars will be going. Who profits from the tour, hotel, or other experience that you just booked?
We always do our best to support eco-friendly small-business owners. This means avoiding big hotel chains and some of the big ticket tours that attract the masses. It also means you’ll get a more personal and caring experience from the providers you choose. Everybody wins (except for soulless corporations). Yay!
If you want your travel to have a more positive impact on the earth, check out our tips on how to be a greener traveller and the benefits of eco travel.
14. Add a Little Adventure
For travel to truly have an impact on you, it’s essential that you get out of your comfort zone at least a few times on your trip. While you’re planning, be sure to seek out adventurous activities that will get your heart pumping and leave you feeling exhilarated.
Want to travel full-time?
Don’t miss our post, Could You Handle Being a Nomad?, to find out if the nomad life is for you. Use our pre-travel downsizing guide to get everything in order before you leave.
15. Start with a Little Luxury
Unless you’re independently wealthy and can afford fancy accommodation indefinitely, at some point on your trip, you’ll probably stay in budget places to save a little money.
For your first few nights on the road, spring for somewhere a little bit nicer.
If you’d normally stay in a hostel, get a private room. If you’d normally book a bare-bones Airbnb, stay in a comfortable hotel.
Those first few nights of comfort and good sleeps are invaluable when you’re dealing with jet lag, a new language, foreign customs, and the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar place.
16. Don’t Overspend
Here’s a little secret the hotel industry doesn’t want you to know — there’s really not that much difference between a $200/night room and a $2000/night room. Or between a $20/night room and a $200/night.
We have stayed in all of them and can confidently say that the added benefits are not worth 10 times the amount of money.
You don’t have to book luxury 5-star accommodation to get comfortable beds, extraordinary service, and a fantastic place to stay. Now, I’m not saying you should book the cheapest rooms you can find — just explore the options and you can rack up big savings without sacrificing comfort.
17. Book Ahead in Peak Season
We recommend you try to avoid travelling in peak season. But if, for some reason, you have to go to the same place as everyone else at the same time, get online and book your accommodation early. The best rooms at the best prices sell out quickly and you might get stuck paying too much for too little.
18. Plan Ahead for Big Cities
On our travels, we’ve found that in small towns it is usually easy to find a room by wandering the streets. But in big cities, the internet is an invaluable tool.
It might sound adventurous to slog around a city hunting for a place to sleep, but after a few times doing this, we decided that isn’t the kind of adventure we are after.
Booking ahead for big cities makes everything run a little smoother on your arrival and gives you more time to actually enjoy the city.
19. Book Hotels Online
There are lots of websites that offer “the best hotel deals” and after trying almost all of them, I ended up becoming a loyal customer of Booking.com.
Their site is easier to use than most, offers discounts for frequent bookers, has a generous cancellation policy, and usually turns up the best prices.
Many times I’ve found that front desk staff at hotel won’t even match the price being offered on Booking.com! (No, I don’t understand why but it’s true). In that case, we use the hotel WiFi to book a room online and then check in at the better price.
Finally, the couple of times I needed to contact Booking.com, their customer service has been outstanding.
Need a place to stay?
We use and highly recommend Booking.com for hotel, guest house, and hostel bookings around the world.
Packing Tips for Travel
Nobody really enjoys packing for travel, do they? It’s just that annoying chore between planning and departure. With our travel packing tips, we hope to ease your packing pain a little and set you on the right track.
If you’re looking for complete packing lists, our posts on Travel Essentials for Men and Travel Essentials for Women outline exactly what’s in our suitcases when we travel.
20. Carry On Luggage Only
Perfect packing always starts with the perfect bag.
We refuse to travel with any bag that is too big to be carried on the plane.
Even though we almost always check our bags these days, we still stick to this rule. Why? Because it makes life so much simpler for every other part of travel — taking taxis and buses, checking in, packing and unpacking.
Having a small bag naturally limits the amount and weight of the stuff you bring, forcing you to pack light and bring only the essentials.
If you need a new bag for travel, our guide to the best minimalist backpacks for travel should be your next stop!
21. Should you Bring It? No!
When you’re packing, create two piles:
- Must-have items
- Maybe items
Then, leave all of the maybe items at home. All of them.
You do not need a bunch of ‘just in case’ things weighing you down as you travel. Buy your maybes on the road, if and when you need them.
22. Don’t Pack Based on What You Use at Home
Your favourite sweatshirt or jeans might be the perfect thing when you’re relaxing at home, but on the road, they’ll feel bulky and uncomfortable.
Soon you’ll grow to detest these old favourites. Leave them at home and bring travel friendly clothes instead. Your comfy faves will be waiting for you on your return.
23. Don’t Buy Lots of High-Tech Clothes
It’s easy to get sucked into buying all sorts of specialized travel gear: quick-drying shirts, fancy socks, bag locks, pants that convert into shorts… the list is endless.
Before hitting the road for our 2-year bike trip we spent a lot on fancy Merino wool clothing and it turned out I preferred biking in my old t-shirts from home.
As much as possible, make do with what you already own and save the money for extra fun on the road.
P.S. Travel has a way of trashing your clothes, so don’t bring your nicest clothes.
24. You Don’t Need All Those Toiletries
Hostel bathrooms are filled with big bottles of shampoo, moisturizer, and other potions that people brought and then discarded when they got tired of carrying them around.
Travel is the perfect time to explore beauty product minimalism. You’ll be surprised at how soon your at-home essentials seems excessive.
Start your trip with the bare (very bare) necessities: a bar of soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a small bottle of SPF moisturizer. If you absolutely must, you can also bring essential makeup.
Guess what? If you find you really can’t survive without an item you didn’t bring, you can always buy it!
25. Pack for One Week Away
No matter how long your trip is, pack the same amount your would for a week. That’s all you need, even if you’re on the road for a year or more.
And no, that doesn’t mean 7 shirts and 7 pairs of pants, socks, and underwear. No matter how laundry-dependent you are today, on your trip, you will wear the same t-shirt for days on end and you will wash things out in the bathroom sink.
Bring less to enjoy yourself more.
26. Buy it There
Far from being an inconvenience, finding yourself without an essential item when you’re on your trip can be a window into a whole new world.
We have explored the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur searching for specific electronics and struck up bargains in markets in countless countries when we needed new clothes.
Buying scarves, sarongs, or other needed items can give you a great excuse to talk to the locals and practice your bargaining skills!
27. Bring a Bottle Opener
You know those little keychains that also open beer bottles? Bring one. You will use it constantly. Even if you don’t drink beer, it’s a great way to become the most popular person in the hostel.
Finances on the Road
Keeping your money organized while you travel can be tricky.
Bills and bank accounts are pretty much the last thing you want to think about as you explore new places and experience new things. With our tips below, you can keep your finances simple and secure while you travel.
28. Bring Back-up
If possible, bring two credit cards and two debit cards from different financial institutions.
That way, when you’re paying for dinner in Tomşani, Romania and your bank decides to lock your account, you can pull out your spare card and settle the bill. And when you’re at the only ATM within a 100 miles in the mountain of Laos and your bank card doesn’t play nicely, you can whip out the other card for some fast cash.
Yes, I speak from experience!
I usually keep my debit and credit cards secured in various spots around my bags, so that if one I lose one, I’ll still have the backup to use.
29. Choose Your Debit Card Carefully
While travelling, you will be drawing money from ATMs around the world.
The most important thing to know about a debit card is “will it work everywhere?” Our Capital One cards work 99% of the time, no matter how remote the village (it’s amazing where you can find an ATM these days).
The second most important thing is to check what fees you’ll be charged for foreign transactions. Find a card that will give you no or low fees on the most foreign ATMs.
30. Automate Your Finances
Do you still pay bills manually every month, write checks for things, or (god forbid) actually go inside the bank?
It’s time to automate your finances, because when you’re travelling, you won’t know what day it is, let alone remember that your credit card bill is due.
Make sure you can access all your money online and transfer it between accounts easily. Practice before you leave home, so your money doesn’t stress you out on the road.
31. No Money Belt
Money belts are as ubiquitous as they are outdated. They made sense when you had to carry piles of travellers checks and couldn’t just go to the ATM for cash. But now that money is mostly digitized, a money belt is mostly useful for tipping off every pickpocket in 100 miles that you’re a rube with something to steal.
Instead of carrying a money belt, just carry small amounts of cash and store your passport in the hotel safe. That way, if you do get pickpocketed, you don’t have much to lose.
32. Stash Some Cash
If you’re in a big city in most countries, there’s little need to carry more cash than you need for the day.
But, if you’re travelling to somewhere remote, like a small island or into the mountains, then it’s a good idea to stash away some American dollars or Euros in a hidden pocket of your backpack or suitcase.
Having a small emergency fund in dollars or Euros will come in handy in case you lose your wallet, are pick-pocketed, or need a few bucks to bribe the border guards in Cambodia.
33. Keep a Budget
Just like in everyday life, people who have a budget make better use of their money. If you hate budgets, then think of it more like a plan for your cash.
Decide how much you want to spend every day and do your best to stick to it. That way:
- Your money will go farther.
- You won’t end up being a bunch of cheap tat you don’t really want.
- You won’t come home to a pile of travel debt.
Need help estimating your travel budget? Use our simple travel budget formula.
34. Don’t Be Too Cheap
There is such a thing as being way too cheap.
On our first backpacking trip in Europe, we were guilty of this. We wouldn’t pay a dollar for the bus, even if it meant walking for several kilometres. We always at the cheapest food and we skipped some incredible sights because we were too cheap to pay the entry fee.
Spending a few extra dollars to save hours of time is always worth it.
Spending on big ticket items is only sometimes worth it so choose wisely!
If you are travelling on a tight budget, save money on your flights so you have more to spend on travel experiences. Also, use the tips in our guide to saving money for travel to save buckets of cash quickly.
Before you get on that flight…
Make sure you use our Pre-Flight Travel Checklist to ensure you have everything all tied up before you go.
35. Track Your Spending
One of the best ways to stick to a budget is to track your spending. Before smart phones, we budget-conscious travellers had to log every penny in a small notebook and add things up at the end of every day.
Now, we just pop every expense into the Trail Wallet app and it keeps track for us. We’ve been doing this for more than 5 years now – it’s one of the best travel habits we’ve ever developed. We always know what things cost, how much we’re spending, and what we’ve got left.
Health & Safety
There are two things we’ve learned not to mess with when we travel. Heath and safety. (Actually, this applies whether you’re travelling or not!)
Unlike small travel SNAFUs, health and safety problems can completely ruin your trip and make you wish you’d never left home.
Use our tips below to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
36. Get Travel Insurance
OK, I get it. Travel insurance is annoying and boring. Nobody wants to think about the things that can go seriously wrong! But do you know what’s worse? Facing a major emergency without having any idea how you’re going to pay for it.
While we have rarely used our travel insurance, we still won’t leave home without it.
We were sure glad to have it that time I got malaria in Laos and had to be rushed to hospital in Thailand. Or when Stephen scraped his elbow in Ireland and got an infection that landed him in a hospital in Berlin!
Things go wrong sometimes.
If they do, insurance will help you set them right.
SafetyWing Travel Medical Insurance is our number one pick — it’s the travel insurance we use and recommend to friends and family.
We like it because it:
- Covers lots of adventurous activities.
- Covers all the standard travel emergencies that might come up.
- Is super easy to sign up.
- Can be purchased or extended while you’re travelling.
- It’s one of the cheapest options, starting at just $37/month.
37. Get Vaccinated
Once you have travel insurance, it’s time to research travel vaccines. You’ll probably only need to get shots if you’re going somewhere exotic, but you definitely don’t want to skip this step if you are.
Just ask my friend who got typhoid in Bali! Not a great experience and so easily avoidable.
38. Recognize Jet Lag
It can take up to a week to get over the discombobulation created by jet lag. Recognize that and be extra patient with yourself and your travel companions after any long- distance flight.
Jet lag time is a great time to get a spa treatment or relax on the beach, rather than taking long day tours or adventure activities.
Every time you do something stupid or get irritated for no reason just say “jet lag” and move on. After a few days you’ll be back to your normal loving self.
We’ve gotten really good at getting over jet lag quickly. You can find all our tips in our post about how to beat jet lag.
39. Carry a First Aid Kit
A small travel first aid kit is always in my bag. To be honest, I’ve never used it to save a life, but it has come in handy to disinfect scrapes and cuts and plaster over blisters before they become a problem you can’t ignore.
40. Wear Mosquito Spray
Between us, Stephen and I have had at least 4 cases of dengue fever, a suspected bout of Zika, and an almost-fatal run-in with malaria. So, unless you want to experience those disasters, wear mosquito spray every day if you’re in a tropical climate.
41. Take a Photo of Your Passport
So far, we’ve never lost a passport (if you don’t count the time we forgot them in Chefchaouen, Morocco and didn’t realize our mistake until we had already driven the 5 hours to Fez where we couldn’t check into a hotel because we didn’t have our passports).
But if we did lose our passports, we’d be ready.
Before you leave home, take a picture of the photo page of your passport and your travel companions’ passports. That way, if one goes missing (a passport or a companion), you’ll have a place to start the process of getting it back.
42. Do the Idiot Check
Speaking of leaving things behind, here’s how to avoid that.
But first, a story. In China, when you check out of a hotel, they always make you wait at the front desk while the staff check to see if you have destroyed anything in the room, drunk the whole mini-bar, or thrown a TV out the window. Incidentally, they also check to see if you’ve left anything behind.
Be like Chinese hotel staff. Once your bags are packed and you’re ready to leave, do a final sweep of the entire room — inside drawers, under beds, and in the bathroom — to make sure you haven’t left anything behind.
43. Strike a Balance
When we first went travelling, we were wary of everything and everybody. We had been told that the world was dangerous and scary, so we faced every place as if it was to be feared.
After years of travel, we’ve learned that people are mostly kind and generous, especially if you treat them that way.
That’s why you need to strike a balance. Try to be open and friendly with people, accept random invitations, and trust offers of help. But equally, don’t be so gullible that every scammer can spot you from a mile away.
44. Wear Sunscreen
The one toiletry I’d recommend bringing from home is sunscreen.
In Europe, we found that the familiar brands from back home were breathtakingly expensive and we ended up buying a German bottle of sludge the consistency of white glue. In Asia, it can be extremely hard to find sunscreen that doesn’t also contain whitening chemicals. Yuck. Definitely bring some from home.
I also like to pack a face moisturizer with sunscreen so that I am covered every single day, whether I forget the regular sunscreen or not.
45. Take Care of Yourself
This is the number one health rule for travel. Take care of yourself!
It can be tempting to burn the candle at both ends so you don’t miss out on anything. It can be tempting to skip the fruits and veggies so you have more room for tasty but unhealthy meals.
Avoid the temptation!
Getting lots of rest and eating well can make the difference between a spectacular trip and a miserable one. It can also mean the difference between staying healthy or catching whatever flu is flying around that season.
Transformational Travel Tips
Travel can be a truly transformational thing to do. Or it can be kind of uninspiring. It all depends on how you approach it.
The travel tips in this section will help you make the most out of your travels and come home a little bit different (better!) than when you left.
46. Guide Books are the Enemy
Guide books point you in the direction of the biggest sights and the most obvious restaurants — and that’s about it.
If you are chained to the book, plodding around from sight to sight every day, eating only in the recommended restaurants, staying only in the recommended hotels, you will experience the exact same thing every other tourist experiences.
Instead, get off the bus in a town the book doesn’t cover, wander a neighbourhood that’s never mentioned, and seek out food in non-touristy neighbourhoods.
These are the places where true transformation occurs.
47. Walk Walk Walk
After years of travel, our firm favourite activity for our first day in any new place is to just walk.
Walking brings you to ground level, slows you down, and lets you really see everything around you — the good and the bad. Walking without an end goal might not take you to any of the big sights but, if you’re not afraid to turn down small side streets and get a little lost, you will see something far more interesting – real life.
As a bonus, walking is a fantastic way to combat jet lag!
48. Take a Free Walking Tour
If you’re not confident enough to walk around on your own, or you want to add a little depth to your walk, take a free walking tour.
Most major cities offer them these days. They usually run from 1.5 to 3 hours and are themed around a specific aspect of the city, like architecture or history. If you get a good guide, the free walking tour can be entertaining and educational all at once.
Though they’re technically free, you are expected to tip your guide at the end if you enjoyed the tour.
49. Ride a Bike
Feet tired from all that walking? Rent a bike!
If you’re in a touristy spot, say Siem Reap, Luxor, or Amsterdam, the centre of the city might be overrun with tourists and absent of any non-tourist-oriented experiences.
Rent a bike for the day, pedal for ten minutes, and you will be away from the hawkers, the camel rides and the people harassing you to get into their tuk tuk. Before you know it, locals will be laughing with delight at seeing a foreigner pedal by their homes. You never know what you might discover until you get out there.
50. Use Local Public Transportation
You might be tempted to take taxis when you travel but it’s one form of transportation we almost always avoid. To start with, taxis are expensive. Plus, taxi drivers around the world love to rip off tourists.
More importantly, getting on public transport brings you face to face with locals and immerses you in local life. Depending on where you are, you’ll have a chance to chat with friendly residents or, at the very least, get a window into what it’s like to live there.
Our guide to getting around while you travel will let you in on the best and worst forms of transportation.
51. Ask a Local
Our favourite way to discover coffee shops and bars is to ask a local where they hang out. We have asked the advice of people we met on the street, hotel staff, and people working at shops geared towards locals.
You can also find local bloggers online who will be honest about what they love and hate in their city. Who knows, they might even want to meet you for coffee!
52. Forget About SIM Cards
We hardly ever get local cell service for our phones when we travel. Instead, we rely on free WiFi hotspots to get connected. And when we’re not in a WiFi zone, we spend time talking to each other and absorbing what we were seeing, not checking the news and Instagramming.
Minor inconveniences can arise from being offline but they are eclipsed by the many benefits of being out in the world exploring without leaning on the crutch of Google.
53. Don’t Rush
No matter how long you have to travel, going slowly will lead to more personal growth than bouncing from city to city, hitting the big sights and moving on.
Instead of sprinting around the world, take time to slow down, spend days or weeks in one place, or take months to explore a small country. Even if you’re only travelling for a week or two, figure out ways to put the brakes on.
Establish your own favourite local joints and become part of the scenery for other tourists when they rush by on their way to the next big sight.
54. Delay Judgement
I have travelled with people who constantly compare their travel experiences to ones they’ve had in other countries or what they’re used to from home.
Travel isn’t a competition to see which country has better this or worse that. If you’re always thinking “that food tastes weird”, “this service is bad”, “that’s too dirty”, “those people are annoying”, then you’re ruining your travel experience for yourself and the people around you.
It’s totally find to notice the differences. But instead of ranking them, try to enjoy them. That’s why you went travelling in the first place.
55. Say Yes!
It’s become such a cliche that I almost don’t want to write it here but…
Saying “yes” is a huge part of making travel transformational.
When offers come your way, don’t be too quick to dismiss them. Saying “yes” to activities and events that you would normally run a mile from can flip your perspective and teach you more about what you’re capable of and who you are.
56. Taste Everything
Unless you have dietary restrictions, then the world of travel is your literal oyster. Don’t be afraid to try weird-looking (and smelling) foods. Sample all the local specialities and go back for more.
Travel is not a time to seek out the familiar. With three meals a day, food offers an excellent opportunity to broaden your horizons. We wrote a whole guide about finding the best food when you travel — don’t miss it.
57. Open Your Senses
This is a tip I learned only after years of doing the opposite.
When you travel, new and different information bombards you from all angles — it can be tempting to close yourself off from it. I instinctively shut down my senses in busy environments (it’s a self-preservation mechanism) and consequently end up not noticing all the amazing things going on around me.
When I travel, I practice noticing the little details, smelling the smells, seeing colours and shapes, and listening to the sounds of my environment. This allows the true nature of a place to have its full impact and work its magic!
58. Learn Something New
Whether it’s from a cooking class, a cultural tour, or a world-class museum, travel offers the opportunity to learn something new. Stretching your mind like this is a great way to challenge your perceptions of the world and transform the way you see things.
59. Get Lost
No matter where I go, I always spend a little time exploring, purposely getting a little lost. Putting your map away and just wandering is one of the best ways to really let a place seep into your bones.
When it’s time to get unlost, open up Maps.me, or another offline map app, to help you find your way back.
60. Treat Every Disaster as an Adventure
I’ll let you in on a little secret – things go wrong when you travel. It’s as sure as death, taxes, and toast falling jam-side down.
Armed with this knowledge, you can now lay the groundwork to make the most of the screw ups. If you plan to treat every SNAFU as an adventure, every messed up experience as a great story, you’ll avoid getting lost in the misery and discomfort and enable yourself to see the funny side.
That time our boat sank in the middle of a river in Laos, or that time we climbed a volcano in a record-breaking windstorm, or that time we put regular gas in our diesel rental car… those could have all been trip-ruining disasters.
Now, even as the disasters are taking shape, we are reforming them in our heads into madcap adventure tales. It’s all in the attitude!
61. Just Relax
Adventuring and breaking out of your comfort zone is all well and good but it needs to be balanced out. On every trip, there should be some planned time in your itinerary to just relax.
Whether that means slow mornings, afternoon massages, or early cocktails, this relaxation time is vital. It’s your time to absorb what you’ve seen and done so far, figure out what it all means to you, and see how it might be working its magic to change who you are in subtle ways.
62. Keep a Journal
Writing daily about your travel experiences has so many benefits — I am so disappointed in myself for neglecting this practice for large chunks of the last 8 years of travel.
Journalling helps you remember what you experienced, it gives you a chance to understand more about the impacts your trip has made on you, it reduces stress, it leads to better sleep, it clears your mind… and that is not an exhaustive list.
During our 2-year round-the-world bike trip, Stephen and I kept an online journal for every single day of the trip. Knowing that we’d be writing the details of each day made us notice things and remember them as they were happening. It deepened our experience in each moment to know that we’d have to write about it that evening.
I highly recommend bringing a small notebook along on your travels and starting a journalling habit.
Or, you could always start a travel blog… who knows where it might lead?
Want to see elephants on your trip?
Please take a few minutes to read our post about helping elephants when you travel before booking any elephant-related activities!
63. Give Back
Travel is undoubtedly a fantastic way for us to grow and transform as people. It is also undeniably damaging to our planet – especially if it involves flying.
Because of this, we believe that giving back is a vital part of any travel these days. If you can afford to travel, even if it’s on a shoestring, you can afford to give back.
Look for organizations that are trying to improve things for local people or who work to preserve and repair the environment.
We ask that you set aside 1–10% of your travel budget to give back to the people, the animals, and the planet that make travel so amazing!
More Travel Tips Posts
A Final Thought About Transformational Travel Tips
Though much of the world’s knowledge is at our fingertips these days, and it only takes a few clicks to find videos and photos of almost every place on earth, these online experiences don’t come close to replicating the experience of actually travelling.
Travel is about so much more than the places we see and the people we encounter; travel is about getting to know ourselves, understanding where our beliefs and viewpoints come from, and learning exactly what we’re capable of accomplishing.
Not all travel is transformational. But if we travel with the intention of growing, developing, and changing as a person, it becomes an incredible tool for doing just that.
♥ Happy transformational travels, Jane & Stephen
I hope these transformational travel tips help you have a better and more life-changing experience the next time you hit the road! We believe that travel has the power to transform us into better, more true versions of ourselves, and it’s our goal to help more people experience travel in this way.
Get 101 Travel Tips
Get our free ebook, 101 Travel Tips for Mindful Adventurers. It’s packed with our best tips for saving money, planning for travel, booking flights and accommodation, traveling sustainably, and staying on the road for longer! We ask for your email address so we can send you an email about once every month with our latest travel tips, destination advice, and personal stories about life on the road.