Some Travel Tips for a Leisurely, Memorable, and Impactful Adventure

Last Updated on January 29, 2020 by Alex Birkett

I travel a lot for both work and pleasure, and I’ve developed some idiosyncrasies and some wisdom as well.

I won’t write any basic advice down here such as “eat local food,” “get travel insurance,” or “slow down and enjoy the scenery.”

Here I present some things I’ve learned about travel (as well as some nice advice I’ve shamelessly stolen, but cited of course, from others). This is mostly travel for pleasure. My business travel looks much different (it’s a lot less freewheeling).

I’ll add to this list sporadically as I learn more stuff, but for now, here’s my wisdom


1. If you’re working on the road, opt for an Irish pub over a coffee shop. Irish pubs are almost always open during the day, somewhat empty with lots of table space, have outlets available, and have great WiFi. Plus, you can grab a delicious Irish coffee for any creative work you need to get done.

2. Also, Starbucks at home is the middle road, but it’s awesome when you’re traveling and need WiFi and a big ass cup of American-style coffee (often a luxury we take for granted). Their cold brew really isn’t bad either (clearly, though, get good coffee in places where that is possible and preferred, e.g. Panamá).

3. Build a cumulative playlist for your travels. I have a Spotify “discovery” playlist that I always add to and listen to when I’m traveling. It’s become an emotional memento of my travels. When I listen to it at home, I can often connect a place or time with a particular song. I also create playlists for all of my favorite cities (including of course my home city of Austin – check it out).

4. Eat at off-times. If you want to get to nice restaurants with no wait time, hit them up at like 430pm. Especially if you’re on vacation, use your flexibility to your advantage (I do this at home with remote work, generally, too). Do everything at off-times. Throw a wrench into your routine. Don’t be such a slave to your itinerary and routine.

5. Skip tourist stuff that sounds dull to you (especially the Hollywood walk of fame and stuff like that). Don’t like art much? Don’t be ashamed and feel like you have to check out the art museum (unless it’s super famous like the Louvre. Go see stuff like that – there’s a reason they’re so well known and loved). Traveling isn’t a checklist; do what you want to do.

6. Actually, fuck it – if you don’t want to see the Louvre, you don’t have to go see the Louvre. I always tell myself, when I visit a city, that I’ll come back again (and in many cases that’s actually been true). So it’s not the worst thing in the world to leave a couple things for next time. For instance, I’ve done Amsterdam like 4-5 times now and still haven’t seen the Van Gogh museum. However, I’ll be there this February again, so I can change that if I desire.

7. Spend as much time as you want doing the things you do want to do, and don’t feel like you need to rush or hurry them up. I’ve been to London countless times and I’ve spent several hours in the Winston Churchill war rooms every time I’ve been (as well as pub crawling in Shoreditch, hitting up my favorite heavy metal dive bar, Crobar, and hitting up the Madison, but those are other stories).

8. Being able to speak the language is way cooler than not being able to speak the language. Completely different travel experience. Learn at least another language so you can experience this and feel the difference. It really feels like you ‘unlock’ something completely new. Mein Deutsch hilft mir jetzt in der Schweiz (writing this sentence in Switzerland – I’m being slightly facetious, as I’ve not really had to use any German. English is prevalent. Still, cool to understand what people are saying a bit.)

9. lets you book living space for a few hours if you need a nap or something. Breather lets you book workspace on demand. Regus is an office space company that has a $99 plan where you can use their lounges across the world (pretty much in every major city). All excellent options for the working traveler.

10. Airhelp helps you claim compensation for flight delays, cancellations, and other mishaps. I also just write angry emails to customer service every time I have a really bad experience (also, it’s *always* on American Airlines. High probability of abysmal experience with AA).

11. Scott’s Cheap Flights is worth the premium membership. Flightfox also helps you optimize your flights and get the best deals.

12. Solo travel is generally better (but different) than group travel, especially if you plan on meeting up with friends in your destination place. Group travel is good for partying, bachelor parties, and all that, but if you don’t have the right group, it can get annoying. I do like traveling with one or two friends though, as long as they fit the bill of a good travel friend (flexible, adaptable, few annoying habits, socially intelligent, etc.). I’ve got a short list of friends like that (Neal Gordon, Mark Lindquist, Ryan Farley). Solo traveling is my favorite though.

13. If you’re solo traveling, do a pub crawl. They’re usually led by hostels, but you can go even if you’re not staying in the hostel. It’s a good way to get acquainted with the nightlife in a city. I like to get good and drunk on these and meet a bunch of new people.

14. Bring healthy snacks and drinks with you. I’m a biohacker/nerd/fitness freak, so I bring with me Four Sigmatic mushroom coffees, Pique Tea products (love this stuff), nootropics like TruBrain, Bulletproof protein bars, and more. My suitcase is ⅓ clothes, ⅓ books, and ⅓ supplements and food items. It really helps when it comes to energy and maintaining health and fitness while abroad though.

16. Fly back to the states through Dublin if you’re in Europe; you get to do all your US border control stuff in Dublin, saving you time on the other side. This is especially awesome if you have a connecting flight in the states.

17. Don’t stay in a boring expensive hotels surrounded by tourists. Use Airbnb and stay with a local host, Couchsurfing if you’re really down for a cheap stay, or try to book a hostel or boutique hotel. The weirder/more unique the lodging, the better (to a point, obviously).

18. Go see weird stuff you find on Atlas Obscura. I find this vastly more helpful than guidebooks and especially TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor is the absolute worst for discovery. It’s only useful for avoiding bad spots).

19. Spend time flaneuring in local cafes or pubs. Listen in and meditate on your surroundings. Wander around the city aimlessly.

20. Also, fuck naysayers who criticize your reasons for travel because they’re different than their own. If you want to travel for Instagram photos, go for it. I question your reliance on external validation for happiness, but hey, who am I to judge? Do what you want. I think that getting lost and exploring can have unintended benefits, as well. Good TedX talk on the subject:

21, Stop lining up to board the plane so damn early. It’s unnecessary and makes me feel second hand anxiety. Go grab a coffee and a book or something.

22. Don’t take your shoes off on a plane. It’s not your living room.

23, Be a generally courteous traveler. I’m going to steal a bunch of rules from Ryan Holiday here, all of which I agree with:

  • The middle of places is not a good place to stop
  • Yelling at anyone says more about you than it does about them
  • Get on the plane quickly, get off the plane quickly—actually, do everything quickly
  • The middle seat gets both armrests
  • Passengers must help each other
  • No one should buy anything from Cinnabon. Ever.
  • Until the technology improves, the honorable thing to do is to print your boarding pass before you go through security
  • The place to wait for your gatechecked bag is against the opposite wall in a line

All good stuff.

24, There are many ways to find good food, and everyone has their own tip. I like to watch a Bourdain episode about the destination (if there is one), ask friends who live there (if I have them), and then ask the hotel/Airbnb host or locals for recommendations if I don’t have the first two options. And then sometimes I still like to just wander around and stumble into a place that looks great, which has worked out both very well and quite poorly for me in the past. But I love variance, especially so when I’m traveling.

25, Guidebooks are usually unhelpful, but sometimes they’re not.

26, Exercise as soon as you land, especially if you don’t feel like it. It’s a great way to beat jet lag. The best possible action is to jog around the city, as you also get to know it much better.

27, Just walk around different neighborhoods and be mindful.