1. Buying Plane Tickets: Some may view it as a golden rule: when booking your flights, ALWAYS book in advance! The earlier the better. Though, there are always exceptions, I’ve found that whether your flight is international or domestic, buying early can save you hundreds (and even thousands in some cases). For students, teachers/professors, and travellers under 26, I highly recommend using the booking agency, STA travel for long distance trips. They are a small agency that offers deals for students, youth and educators. I have saved myself over a 1,000 US dollars (about 2,230 Turkish Lira) on my last trip by using this website for my international flights. But never limit your search to only one site. Always spend a significant amount of time finding the best deals. Usually, the first price you find listed on let’s say Skyscanner or Expedia, will NOT be the best deal. You really have to dig deep. My top go-to sights for domestic flights, or flights within Europe include e.dreamsand tripadvisor. Both of these search engines include fares offered by budget airline such as RyanAir or Pegasus Airlines. Before I book with these search engines, I always check the airline’s website itself to see if they offer a cheaper fare than the search engines. For example, if e.dreams finds that the cheapest airline serving my flights is Turkish Airlines, I then go to Turkish Airline’s website and compare rates for my flight.
2. Where to stay: If you’re like me, you don’t mind roughing it sometimes. There have been nights I’ve slept in the dirt of an Arizona desert with only a sleeping bag to keep warm and a backpack serving as a pillow. “Cowboy camping” as this is often referred to, can be a free and easy option if you’re travelling to a place where this kind of thing is legal, practical and safe. But if you’re like most people, you prefer to sleep in a nice comfortable bed, protected from wildlife and all the critters that can make their way into your sleeping bag. In that case, hostels are very cheap and are very common in most countries. Booking.com makes it convenient to search for hostels in your destination. If you’re travelling during the summer or spring, I advise you to book early. Many hostels nowadays offer discounts for those who book online. If you’re travelling in the the fall or winter, booking early is not as crucial. If you prefer to stay in a place with a bit more privacy and desire to get a feel for how the locals live, I recommend Airbnb.com. This website offers you the opportunity to rent either someone’s entire home, a private room, or a shared room in their home. I’ve used this site in Greece and in Turkey and was able to get a real grasp on what its like to be a local resident.
3. Language barriers: For Americans, Aussies, Brits, and anyone who was raised in a country where english is either the native language or english is taught in school at an early age, travelling internationally is often much easier than it is for the rest of the world’s citizens. English seems to be a standard language in most touristy parts of major cities. It is the language of business and often times the only common language of which people have to communicate. I travelled to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey and was shocked at how many different accents I heard and people from so many different parts of the world speaking english while they bargained with the Turkish merchants. Though this is true for tourist areas, it is often not the further you venture away from large cities. Regardless of where you go, you should never expect people to speak your language when you’re in their country. Have respect for the citizens of the country you travel to and make an effort to learn at least some basic phrases in their language. If you plan to stay in an area that is not a tourist hot spot, it is absolutely critical you spend time learning what I call “survival phrases” in the spoken language before you travel. During my stay in Turkey, some of the most important words and phrases for me were: how to say numbers, how to ask how much something costs, how to say the words “right” and “left,” words for bus, tram, subway, etc. If you plan to stay somewhere for an extended period of time, I recommend studying the language using some sort of program such as Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur. These programs teach a more vast array of phrases you may need to assimilate such as greetings and ways to make friends, but if you are only in a country for a short time, I wouldn’t bother with phatic communication and just learn the essentials.
4. Getting from A to B: In any big city, there are multiple ways to get around. Taxis are the most convenient but are almost always the most expensive. Subways are cheap but sometimes are very limited as to where they will take you. City buses and trams are likely to be your best bet. They’re cheap and easy and are likely to have stops at where you want to go if it is a popular destination. Of course, public transportation can be different from country to country. If travelling on the outskirts of town, or are travelling at a longer distance, hitchhiking is also an options. Yes, of course it can be dangerous, and though it is unfortunate, the degree of caution you must exercise is heavily dependent on your size and most of all gender. I am a very petite, young female. I never hitch hike alone and though some may deem this discriminatory, I almost always avoid taking rides from men. In the US, I feel that most people fear the idea of hitch hiking due to all of the Hollywood movies and news that provoke hysteria about killers, and rapists. Yes, these are always potential threats; I am not denying that but I strongly believe that people are generally good and that most are willing to help others in need. In more collectivistic countries like Mexico, or Georgia (both places of which I’ve bummed a few rides), hitchhiking is not seen as a taboo or threatening. It’s merely people helping other people. There is a stronger sense of empathy and community within these collectivistic cultures. I strongly believe that with trust comes freedom.
5. Managing Money. If you are traveling to a country that uses a different currency than your own, you will have a variety of ways to exchange it. The easiest way to do so is to exchange it at your port of entry. If you enter a new country by plane there will be a booth within the airport that will exchange your money but this is likely to be your most expensive option. Bus stations sometimes have these booths as well but they are less common. I recommend finding a place somewhere in your home country and exchanging your currency beforehand. This way you pay a lower exchange fee than you would at an airport, and you will have money ready to pay for a taxi or food once you enter a new country. I highly recommend downloading an currency exchange calculator app like XE to your smartphone or mobile device. XE allows you to view the currency exchange for multiple types of currencies at the same time. For example, I traveled to Georgia, Greece, and Turkey all within the same month. It became a bit overwhelming having to convert the value of each Lari, Euro, and Lira in my head. XE does the work for you and the best part about it is you can use it even when you’re not connected to the internet.
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