12 expert travel tips: things to avoid on holiday

Even the savviest of jet-setters are bound to make a mistake or two while they're on the road. Having learnt from experience, a few of our favourite travel bloggers share the top things they avoid while travelling
Travel tips: Be sure to pack smart
Travel tips: Be sure to pack smart

Top tip number one: don't overpack! Photo: Shutterstock

1. Avoid packing more than you need

“My biggest piece of advice to first-time travellers and backpackers is to not pack too much stuff; it's an easy mistake to make," says Anna Phipps of Global Gallivanting. "But seriously, lugging a huge, heavy bag around will get annoying very quickly – it will weigh you down and hold you back, and there aren’t many places left in the world where you can’t buy a toothbrush, pair of underwear, or a shirt."

Be careful to take the right type of luggage for your trip too. A gigantic, wheeled suitcase is going to be a hassle if you're backpacking around Bali or hiking in Nepal, for example. Alternatively, a tattered rucksack won't look too impressive on a luxury trip to Paris. 

Additionally, make sure you leave enough space in your bag for souvenirs, shopping and other items you might pick up along the way. 

2. Avoid eating at "touristy" places

Half the fun of getting to know a new destination is exploring its food – so do as the locals do and try authentic eateries.

"Never go to restaurants that only cater to tourists; they will always be overpriced and mediocre-tasting," Brian Cox of The Travel Vlogger tells Insight Guides. "Instead, look for restaurants that are serving mainly locals. Or, even better, ask a local where to eat. Sometimes this will mean walking a few blocks away from a monument or plaza."

Eating strictly at "touristy" restaurants also leaves little room to experience the culture: "Please, please, please don't frequent chain restaurants that you can find in your home country (yes, that includes Starbucks)," says Adventurous Appetite's Jennifer Stevens. "Instead, try to break away from the traditional tourist paths."

Insight Guides' local experts can help you avoid the tourist traps in your chosen destination: browse our range of ready-made trips online now to find your next holiday.

3. Avoid a super strict itinerary

Don't get us wrong, there's nothing wrong with having a plan, but leave yourself open to going off-course and experiencing the spontaneous.

"Don't have too many expectations of a place or the experience," explains Kristen Sarah of Hopscotch the Globe. "Go with an open mind, let things happen, and be open to plans changing because that's when the magic happens."

4. Avoid trusting everyone you meet

While going with the flow is often the best way to experience a destination, our experts have mastered the art of doing so with caution.

"It's important to be open in order to not offend people who approach you, but don't let your guard down too quickly as tourists are the easiest people to lure into scams," says Jeremy Albelda of The World or Bust. "Be approachable, but politely say no if you're being offered something you're not interested in."

In other words, some people do target tourists. Does that mean you should scurry away from mingling with the locals? Of course not! It's simply smart to be mindful.

Exploring a country's cuisine is half the fun!Getting to know a country's real food experiences is half the fun of a holiday.

5. Don't exchange money at the airport

Longtime travel writer and photographer Jerome Shaw of Travel Boldly says that with service fees and a likely less-than-favorable exchange rate, you're lucky to get 60% of your currency's value at the airport.

"Even your hotel will beat the airport money changers," he says. "I shop around once I get settled and try to find a small currency exchange business that looks reputable. I exchange a small amount and see how the transition goes. If I feel comfortable and the rate is as promised, I change a larger sum at another time."

6. Don't forget to research local customs

What's considered normal in one culture may be taboo in another. For example: in the US, it's bad form not to leave your waiter or waitress a 20% tip. The last thing you want to do while you're travelling is accidentally offend someone. Do yourself a favour and read up on the country's customs beforehand to avoid making any cultural gaffes.

7. Don't be afraid to haggle

Most tourists are on the hunt for souvenirs from their holidays to bring back home. When visiting markets, be bold enough to counteroffer. If you're haggling in souks, for instance, our experts say to offer about a third of what the vendor quotes as a price (unless you think you're getting a good deal from the outset); then negotiate to meet in the middle.

8. Don't come off as vulnerable

It may be easier said than done, but try exploring a new place with confidence and purpose (especially if you have no idea where you are).

"Act like you know where you are going, even when you don't," adds Shaw, who have previously spent an evening lost in Rome. His salvation came in the form of a McDonald's near the Rome Termini. "Instead of wandering around the streets of Rome dragging a suitcase and looking confused, I grabbed a quick bite and a table," says Shaw. "I sat down with my iPad, mapped out a route to my hotel, and wrote it down on paper so I wouldn’t have to pull out my phone and look lost and vulnerable while I made my way to my hotel late at night."

Don't be afraid to haggle while shopping abroad.Don't be afraid to haggle while shopping abroad.

9. Resist relying completely on your credit cards

What would happen if you lost your wallet overseas? Or your credit cards went missing or unexpectedly were blocked? On his blog, Matthew Karsten (aka the Expert Vagabond) recommends keeping a minimum of $200 on hand at all times. Cleverly hiding your stash in your socks or a toiletry bag is even smarter.

10. Resist being over enthusiastic with your activity plans

"Don’t skip out on an excursion you’ve already paid for because you want to sleep in," says Nadine Sykora, the travel vlogger behind Hey Nadine. "You'd be surprised at the amount of people who do this. If you're one of these people who has difficulty getting out of bed when you're not 100%, don’t book early-morning activities."

Additionally, don't plan too many activities or things to do. You'll want to enjoy each and everyone one of them but if you're rushing from one to the next, it will become more like a to-do list than a holiday.

11. Remember to prep your finances

Last year, while on a vacation that was only a two-hour drive from where I live, my debit card abruptly stopped working. Why? My bank saw the out-of-town transactions and froze my account in case they were fraudulent. Luckily, a quick phone call cleared up the issue – but this could have been a nightmare had I been travelling abroad.

According to The Everywhereist, it's always a good idea to call your credit card company or bank before you leave for a trip. Notifying them of your upcoming travel plans could save you a big headache. Keeping their international customer service number on hand isn't a bad idea either.

12. Remember a reputable travel insurance policy

Facing a medical emergency while travelling could seriously cost you. Forking out for travel insurance is an easy way to protect yourself before leaving for your adventure. If you're heading off for an extended period, taking on activities or travelling with children, it pays to take out a fully-protective policy.

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