Becoming a travel pro takes time–and lots of trial and error–but it’s not cheating to learn from the experiences of others. The folks at Nat Geo Travel know that as much as anyone. And while we have a lot of road miles under our belts, we’re students of the world, too.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
“My best piece of advice would be to take old clothes and shoes on your trip. Wear things one last time and then leave them behind. You’ll have so much room left in your suitcase for purchases, and you won’t have to worry about getting blisters on your feet. A second piece of advice: Take an early morning walk before breakfast; that’s when the locals are out.”
– Caroline Hickey, Project Editor, National Geographic Travel Books
“Travel with the kids as soon as they’re born. Don’t wait until they’re ‘the right ages,’ or you may be waiting forever. At six weeks old my firstborn came with me on a road trip to Canada. I took my other son to the Dominican Republic before he could walk. And they have since traveled with me to Kenya, the Galapagos, London, Italy, the Rocky Mountains, Mexico, and British Columbia. A tip for parents with younger children: pack special toys that only come out during travel.”
– Norie Quintos, Executive Editor, National Geographic Traveler
“I have five simple travel tips to live by:
1. Don’t overplan. When I can, I book my first and last night’s hotel and sample different places in between.
2. Don’t be afraid to engage the locals. And learn key words and phrases. A good shortcut: A translation app.
3. Rent an apartment and shop at local markets.
4. Check out ex-pat websites for your destination.
5. Chat up your taxi driver; many speak English and they know everything about a place.”
– Keith Bellows, Editor in Chief, National Geographic Traveler
“Instead of lugging around your cellphone, tablet, and laptop, purchase a portable keyboard that works well with your tablet. In addition to lightening your carry-on load, many keyboards double as ‘tablet easels’ that are great for watching TV and movies on the road. I bought this one for my iPad 2 and love that it also serves as a cover for my screen.”
– Carolyn Fox, Director of Digital, National Geographic Travel
“My dad gave me the best piece of travel advice, which I still religiously follow on every trip: roll your clothes. He could stuff a staggering number of items into his luggage–packing, taking stuff out, and repacking until everything fit tightly and elegantly. My father’s gone now but whenever I roll up that button-down shirt or stuff a rolled-up pair of socks into a dress shoe, I think of him, my first travel guide.”
– Amy Alipio, Associate Editor, National Geographic Traveler
“Make friends. Talk to the people sitting near you on the plane; they are often from wherever you’re going. And when you arrive, introduce yourself to locals and ask them what you need to see. Share your interests so they can home in on more specific recommendations. If you’re earnest and considerate (e.g. don’t interrupt people at a restaurant while they’re eating) and show your appreciation for advice received, you’ll find that most folks are more than happy to talk up their town.”
– Leslie Trew Magraw, Intelligent Travel Editor, National Geographic Travel
“Put yourself in the middle of things. For instance, when I’m in Europe, I’ll find an exquisite Old World church and quietly duck into a Sunday service. I’m not particularly religious, but this is a great opportunity to live and breathe the local history and culture. It’s also a welcome chance to slow down and reflect while I’m on the road. ”
– Jerry Sealy, Creative Director, National Geographic Traveler
“Slow down. So often we’re too worried about checking sites off our bucket list, but you’d be surprised what you discover when you’re not so worried about being on the go. Sleep in. Get coffee, read a book, pack a picnic and people-watch at a park you discovered. Just slow down.”
– Jeannette Kimmel, Editorial Business Manager, National Geographic Traveler
“When I’m preparing for a trip, I try to leave my itinerary as open as possible. Being fluid and open to new experiences frees me to become swept up in the current of local life as it unfolds around me—which is nothing I could have possibly planned for in the first place. Adopting this mentality has led to some of the most enriching and exciting moments in my travels so far.”
– Tyler Metcalfe, Associate Digital Photo Producer, National Geographic Travel
“On road trips, look for historic districts to stop in for lunch. On a recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina, we pulled off the highway to visit Lexington, Virginia, where we came upon general Stonewall Jackson’s house and gravesite, and enjoyed lunch at a local cafe on Main Street filled with young uniformed cadets from nearby Virginia Military Institute.”
– Susan O’Keefe, Associate Editor, National Geographic Traveler
“Spend a day roaming around a city without an itinerary, reservations, or scheduled activities. On a recent trip to Lisbon, my traveler partner and I skipped a day of museums and castle tours in favor of wandering the streets and ended up running into friends who were visiting from Paris in a quiet alleyway. The four of us spent the rest of the afternoon photographing street art and lounging at a park café listening to fado music and taking in the most incredible views of São Jorge Castle and the Tagus River.”
– Andrea Leitch, Associate Digital Producer, National Geographic Travel
“To capture a unique sense of place through pictures when you’re traveling, be sure to seek out the not-so-obvious. Everyone takes pictures of the Eiffel Tower, but by letting yourself wander away from the the crowds, you might just stumble across the most authentic and surprising spots a destination has to offer.”
– Ben Fitch, Associate Photo Editor, National Geographic Traveler
“Always have a pen accessible. On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic I became the most popular person in the customs line, because I had a handful of pens with me. You never know when you will need to write something down the old fashioned way (sans smart phone), and if nothing else, you can use them to pin your hair up in a moment of need.”
– Megan Heltzel, Associate Digital Producer, National Geographic Travel
“The buses in Sri Lanka might be slow and the subway in Mexico City might be crowded, but take public transit anyway. It’s the best way to get a glimpse of workaday life wherever you are. It will also save you a few bucks while putting less stress on the environment.”
– Christine Bednarz, Researcher, National Geographic Traveler