Over the years, readers have given travel tips for cities all over the world. But some tips keep popping up for city after city and should be part of your general travel habits. Not every tip works for every city, but you should run through this checklist next time you’re headed somewhere new.
Don’t get into unmarked cabs at the airport
Unless it’s the only option, it’s more likely to be a scam than a deal. One friend paid $US100 ($135) to a guy in an unmarked black cab, because she didn’t know any better. This was in New York, where she could have grabbed a yellow cab, an Uber, or the AirTrain to the subway. While it’s not impossible to get scammed or mistreated in a licensed cab or rideshare, it’s less likely and you’ll at least have some recourse.
Look for student and senior discounts
Plus discounts for the military, locals, EU citizens, or any class of visitor into which you fall. Google around and you can find unadvertised discounts at museums and other attractions.
Some of these discounts are more fudgable than others. Disney World is famous for finding any excuse to give you a pin to wear, which will prompt its workers and costumed characters to give you some special treatment.
Eat in the residential areas
When in doubt, get outside the tourist areas for dinner. This varies wildly! If you know exactly where you’re going in Times Square, then by all means, enjoy the several excellent restaurants in the area.
But in general, especially if you want to get away from big chains, head to a neighbourhood where people actually live. While suburbs and small towns might not have restaurants next to people’s homes, cities do.
And if you do eat in a busier area, skip the places that pay someone to stand outside asking you to come in. It’s not a big red flag, but it’s usually a point against it. If you want to get really picky, get off the main avenues and only eat at side-street restaurants.
This isn’t snobbery; it’s a way to find a restaurant that has to earn its keep with good food and experience instead of easy foot traffic.
Cook your own meals
Or stay in a place with a kitchenette, like an Airbnb and buy groceries and cook. This is especially smart for long stays and group or family trips, where restaurant meals get expensive and in expensive cities or places with mediocre restaurants.
Research the local holidays
Once my wife and I got stuck in Madrid, because we didn’t realise that a national holiday meant all the trains out of town would fill up early. Don’t make our dumb mistake! Look up national and local holidays, big parades and even religious calendars. Some places take Easter, Christmas, Ramadan, or Passover much more seriously than others.
Some cities host giant annual conventions or conferences; you wouldn’t want to get stuck in the middle of SxSW if you just wanted a calm weekend in Austin. And different cities have different customs about which businesses close on a holiday or a weekend.
Be prepared for closures, crowds, or both. Check with your hotel or rental host and with any restaurants you’re booking in advance.
Research the local scams
Australian cities usually don’t have pickpockets, so it can take some adjustment when travelling to the European or US cities that do. Think about how you carry your stuff. Do a quick search for what scams or petty crimes are common at your destination. Do people offer to take your photo and then demand payment? Do scammers all tell the same story about buying a bus ticket?
You don’t need to be scared of the locals — just a little savvy.
Talk to the locals
Most people, in most cities, are good and kind and nice to visitors. Some of us are extra nice because we resent our city’s reputation for unfriendliness and we want to prove it wrong. And the rest of us are easily disarmed if you’re just friendly and you don’t act entitled to our time.
People are proud to recommend their favourite bar or restaurant if you just ask politely.
Use your credit card’s concierge
One of the more obscure advantages of a good credit card is a concierge who can recommend and book restaurants. And while you’re at it, let the company know you’ll be travelling, so they don’t flag your card and check whether your card will work at your destination. Do you have a chip and PIN? Is there a transaction fee? God this stuff gives me a headache, let’s just book dinner.
Ship your clothes home
If you plan to buy a ton of stuff on your trip, then pack a flat rate prepaid shipping box in your luggage (with your clothes inside). Near the end of your trip, ship your clothes home separately. Now you have room in your luggage for all your souvenirs and duty-free goods.
Book it yesterday
Your holiday is in just two years and you haven’t already bought tickets!? Things really do fill up faster than you think. If you don’t have to pay hefty deposits, book as early as possible. But you can always watch for cancellations too.
If you’re worried about a cancellation window, many places will let you push your reservation forward without a penalty, then cancel without a penalty right after. Sometimes even on the same phone call. It’s stupid, but sometimes it works.
Leave your own travel tips below, or your exceptions to the tips above.