Lessons Learned by Amateur Travelers

Traveling overseas for the first time as a couple was a whirlwind of excitement, nerves, and a whole lot of fun. Even though our first trip was only 7 days long, we knew were instantly hooked on extended travel and exploring as many new places with each other as we could. Being our first big trip, we definitely learned a few valuable lessons that will certainly apply on our next trip.


In the US, it seems like everybody has been conditioned to accept credit cards at every turn and people just transfer money electronically to each other, rather than shelling out cash. At restaurants and outings, tips are usually just added on after swiping your card. Plus, you never have to worry about having a fat stack of money in your back pocket.

Overseas, that’s just not always the case. You may get lucky and get to use your credit card once in a while, but in general, most vendors and services only accept cash. Bring enough cash for your daily purchases, especially for food, drinks, local transportation, and small souvenirs. It’s nice to have a variety of bill sizes, because some vendors will claim they don’t have change for big bills and force you to pay a little extra. Who knows if it’s a tourist trick and they are just pulling your leg.

On that note, its best to get cash in advance, either the day before planning to spend it or all at once when arriving in country to save on exchange rates. We learned our lesson and found it’s no fun wandering around after dark, starving after a long day of diving and have to walk past all the delicious food vendors in search for a stupid ATM. You just have to hope you can find your way back to the one place that looked and smelled especially good or isn’t too busy when you get back.

It is also important to research the local tipping policy. Tipping at restaurants isn’t always customary, but it is always encouraged to tip tour guides for excursions and activities. Trust me, it’s worth it to bring a few extra bucks to splurge on a cold beer after a long day on the dive boat.

We also learned that it could be convenient to have some local currency even in airports. While our layover in Guangzhou International, we only found a few places that sold food: Starbucks, convenient store with random snacks, a sit down Chinese restaurant, and a McDonalds. Surprisingly, the McDonalds (that we tried to order) ONLY accepted local RMB, despite their atrocious line and minimal offering of chicken sandwiches. We just stuck with snack foods, because we didn’t feel like exchanging cash in the airport just for fast food.


We happened to stumble upon this great looking package deal for our 7 day trip to Thailand on Groupon. At the time, it looked like a great deal, with all airfare, accommodations and shuttles included. We thought all we had to do was pick our dates, book the trip, and show up at the airport… wrong!

We should have known that Groupon offered the deal through a separate travel agency, which turned out to be mediocre at best (no offense to Groupon). We ended up emailing and calling the travel agency multiple times trying to confirm our trip. Turns out that the ‘package deal’ was no cheaper than if we were to book directly on the hotel website with normal rates. We were also able to find cheaper flights and probably easier to use travel insurance, if we were to book independently.

Lesson learned. Do your research and see if you can book yourself and find your own deals. Verify that the ‘deal’ is actually better than average market value. Check your credit card providers for special promotions and use the card that gives you the best travel rewards. Keep building those rewards points and hopefully your next trip will be cheaper or even free!


Getting up early is great sometimes, and especially exciting when there is a fun activity on the agenda! Some cities just don’t get out of bed that early! We found that getting up early helped us get the best selection and freshest food at the hotel buffet breakfast. However, we didn’t realize that most local shops weren’t even open until 10:30-11am. On the flip side, it was easy to catch a ride in to town and have a nice stroll through the relatively empty streets. Once the shops finally opened, it was fun to get the ‘first customer of the day’ deal at around 11am. Shop owners also have relatively little interest in fighting for customer attention that ‘early’ in the morning.


Do yourself a favor and take a cooking lessons at your next destination. Chances are you already want to try the local food. Why not take it to the next level by learning how to cook the local food?

Taking a Thai cooking class was one of the highlights of our trip. We learned how to cook a couple authentic dishes and got a fun lesson on ingredients, culture, and customs. After the class we even went on an interesting tour of the local market. I’m not the biggest fan of cooking (Nichole certainly is), but it was fun to learn how other people cook. We also bought a nice cooking book and supplies to wow our family and friends later. The instructors helped along the way, so I couldn’t really mess it up. If you are going with somebody else, just make sure that everybody cooks different dishes. That way you can try each other’s food and figure out what you like best. Also, arrive hungry, because chances are you will have to eat everything, or at least most of what you cook!

See our Gallery (Thailand Pictures Coming Soon) for a closer look at our whole Thailand adventure!

Comment and let us know your top lessons learned from your latest trip.