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by Santorini Dave • Updated: November 17, 2017

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15 golden rules to live by while traveling the world

Family Travel: Tips and advice for a great vacation.

1. Don’t eat at corner restaurants — they don’t have to be good to get a lot of traffic so they probably aren’t.

2. Eat different cuisines than the country you’re in. And I’m not referring to the lasagna from your hotel restaurant. Thai food in India is different than in Thailand – obviously. But it’s also different than Thai food in Seattle. I’ve had great Mexican food in Athens, great Greek food in Bangkok, and some stuff I didn’t recognize on a Biman Airlines flight while over Pakistan. But more than good, these meals were interesting — and that’s what travel should be.

3. Steal soap from your hotel and give it to kids in developing countries as a present. Studies have shown that distributing soap to kids in poor countries saves lives. Travelers are always thinking up things to give to kids that ask for handouts (pencils, erasers, candies) but nothing beats the gift of clean hands. And don’t just collect 1 or 2 from your hotel bathroom. Hit the hallways while the cleaning staff are having a smoke and grab a couple handfuls from the service carts. When you’re saving lives, Go Big.

4. Arrive and depart from different cities. Time and money are to the traveler what cigarettes and phone calls are to the political prisoner, and you’ll be spending both of these as you return to your departure city for the flight home. Tailor your trip around two big cities, say Paris and Rome, and work your way from one to the other — and then fly home directly.

5. Read a local newspaper. Most countries and big cities have at least one english language newspaper. You’ll be amazed how involved you’ll become in local affairs in just a week or two of following the current scandal, or election, or controversy about school prayer (that’s not just an American thing).

6. Don’t take any one person’s advice for important decisions. This is called anecdotal evidence. “I went to Kenya and didn’t take malaria medicine and man, I was fine.” All this means is that it’s possible to visit Kenya, without anti-malarials, and not die. It doesn’t mean it’s smart, advisable, or even likely. Just possible.

7. Err on the side of inexpensive hotels. This goes against most travelers’ natural inclinations. We talk a good game above traveling frugally, but once we get on the road we tend to spend up a bit, and treat ourselves. And that’s fine. This rule isn’t about saving money. It’s about having an interesting trip and the more expensive a place is, the more likely it will have package tourists and people traveling on 7 or 14 day tickets. Nothing against these people but if you want to swap stories about taking a boat through the backwaters of Kerala, go with the cheap place. If you want to talk about who’s going to win the Superbowl this year then go with the package tourists.

8. Don’t shy away from big events. It’s tough to fit this into a rule as there are so many variables. If the Olympics are on and you show up looking for a room, yeah, you’re screwed. But many events scare away more people than they attract. Especially if the locations bounce around a bit (e.g. the World Cup of Soccer).

9. Only travel with people you live with. If you want to hook up with your old buddy’s family, don’t do a trip through Tuscany. There’s just too much to negotiate. This is hard enough between two adults who share, uhm, a marriage. Throw in two more adults, a couple more kids and it becomes impossible and not much fun. If you really want to do something special with friends, book a place for a week or two, roast a pig, eat leftovers. No trouble.

10. Don’t be afraid of admitting what you don’t know. I was traveling once through the Sinai to Israel and I caught myself thinking “Is English the main language in Israel?” Nah, it couldn’t be, but, what is it then? When the bus stopped and I hopped out, I heard the border guards talking and no, dear reader, it wasn’t English. I could be embarrassed about this, but I’m not. Everyone is ignorant of something but some people sit at home watching Fox News and have their opinions confirmed and some people go out into the world and look stupid and look naive and learn and grow and become better people. (And Gosh darn it I’m gonna be one of them!)

11. Do what you want to do. Don’t let someone else — or a guide book — decide. If you don’t want to see the Louvre then don’t see it. Do Paris or London or Rome the way you want to do it. I went through Cairo and didn’t see the pyramids. And while this isn’t a great example, seeing as I’ve regretted that egg-headed decision every day since it occurred — I can live with it. It makes it my trip and my memories and my damn stupid decision.

12. I’m going to have to be the one to break this to you. If you’re taking a trip — especially an extended trip — you’re going to have hard days, challenging days, lifeless, languid, listless days. (Thank you Webster’s New World Thesaurus!) That’s fine. Just don’t blame your bad days on traveling. You have bad days at home. You wake up and feel groggy and grumpy and lazy and lethargic. (Those were mine.) It’s not necessarily the trip that is making you feel this way. It’s the fact that you’re human. Process it. Deal with it. Accept it. — Now go get yourself a banana pancake.

13. Buy your own fruit. It sounds simple. It is simple. Just do it. You’ll love it. And I don’t mean, if there happens to be a fruit stand outside your hotel door you should buy some, because you need to have 9 servings a day.  What I mean is, find fruit and buy it. Make it a daily task that you’re going to track down a fruit stand, a farmers’ market (they’re not just in San Francisco) and get some good fresh fruit. The entire process will expose you to elements of daily life you would have otherwise ignored. Trust me: You’ll have memories from your trips to buy fresh fruit.

14. Use a small pocket camera. Leave your 10 pound camera that’s the size of a football at home and take a point and shoot model that isn’t much bigger than a deck of cards. Yes, you’ll miss some shots — not enough light, too much light, won’t focus quickly enough — but you’ll have it with you all the time, you won’t be as reluctant to take it out in an intimate or awkward setting, and people will act much more naturally even when they do notice it.

15. Send postcards. They’re fun. People like getting them. If you must send an email put all the contents in the subject line: “Mom — I’m alive, in Italy, not going back to school next semester. XO”

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  1. Rosemary

    Who wouldn’t want to see Louvre in the first place? But it’s not something you want to go back to over and over with a dedicated album just for Louvre background. But I agree, don’t let anyone dictate you what to do. It will kill the thrill. Most especially if you are a thrill seeker or adventurous type. If you are traveling with a person you know is very organize, either go separate ways and meet just in time for your flight back home, or let that person see how enjoyable it is to be impromptu sometimes. Long post but interesting. :-)

  2. Agnes

    Ummm… steal soaps from a hotel so you can give it to street kids? You advocate stealing??!!! Or…how about you quit stealing and buy those soaps with your own money? Can’t believe this is even given as advice and that people would find it laudable? You wouldn’t be amused if I stole stuff off you to give to others while you were on your smoko!!
    Yes, do the soap thing but stop thieving of others so you can look good. Spend your own money.

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Excellent point. Now that you say it, can’t believe I didn’t think of the contradiction myself.

  3. Sausage Sarah

    Some good, some not.
    I don’t quite get why you would eat any food other than the local cuisine? One of the most wonderful elements of travelling for me is eating only local foods?
    Also I don’t get the corner thing? Street food is pretty much always on corners? Also I can think of many places in SE Asia, Central America where the best food shacks are always on corners…. are we talking touristy travelling here?

  4. Grainne

    Just found your website today and am only 2 pages in but can tell the afternoon in work will fly by while I troll through the rest. Heading to the Greek islands in 3 weeks and jotting down loads of little mental tips to myself ;)

    As to some of the nasty comments – If you can’t say anything nice, at least make it constructive. Noone’s making you read this and you can just go elsewhere instead of making nasty comments.

    Have to agree about taking soaps from the maid’s carts though. Everyone has to make a living and will take that tip with a pinch of salt.

    Thanks again for a great site ;)

  5. krishnan ganesh

    great tips.

  6. kent

    Definetly agree on point one about not eating at the corner restaurant. Especially when you are in the hi tourist spots of the city you visit. Take Prague for example. We were there with the kids and getting ready for a bite of lunch. Ate at a grumpy, horrible overpriced spot right in the centre of town…. bad experience…. The next day, when exlopring for a second time,,,, we said , heh,,, lets walk one or two blocks out of the centre and see what we can find. Found a great little restaurant,,,, with much nicer staff,,,, and best of all LOWER PRICED food… At least 30 % less..

    So go away from centre tourist spots when needing to eat…

  7. ysha

    My one big rule for traveling is that I will not eat at any restaurant that I can eat at in my hometown. Chains are fine, as long as they don’t have a location here.

    I will only flex on this if there does not seem to be any “strange” options.

  8. penguinlady

    The best Indian food I’ve ever eaten was in Tokyo (and the worst Mexican was in Paris) – so I love to try #2!

    I’d also add “go into a supermarket”. You would be astounded what you can find in a grocery store in another country. In Morocco, I found those awesome little tea glasses for the equivalent of $3 for a set of 5 (including tea). In Turkey, fantastic rose-scented soap. Yeah, you get funny looks from the cashier when you don’t know what the heck you’re doing, but… it’s so much fun! Plus, you can eat on the cheap if you buy bread/soda/water/whatever at the grocery store to supplement your food budget. We were in Morocco during Ramadan, so most places were closed for lunch; we ate a ton of olives, soft cheese and pita that we got from markets.

  9. nahanni

    These are great tips, and I really love your blog. We are travelling to the UK for my sister’s wedding next year with our kids (3 and 7) and I keep coming back to your blog for advice. thank you!

  10. Usha

    This is a practice that I follow. When I am on a tour, I send an email to my family everyday. In this I include all that we saw during the day. Once I am back from, say a 7 day tour of Kenya, all the details on the email can be consolidated into one document which then becomes the travel details that one could refer to at a future point of time when we may tend to forget details of which hotel we stayed in or which place we visited.

  11. Chrystal

    I love the “send postcards” golden rule, but I elaborate a little. I make a point to get at least a few of my own pictures processed near the middle of my trip, slap a postcard backing to it (, and Ta Da! I’ve made my own postcards that are personal and say something about my own adventure. You can even fill out addresses on the postcard backing before you leave so that you don’t have to track down that little address book that always seems to get misplaced…

  12. Prajakta

    Hi David,
    I have subscribed to your blog and its good to read your posts on Thailand. I am going to Phuket for 4N5D. Need to know which tour should i take-Phi Phi Island or Phra Nang +James Bond Island. Have heard that Phi Phi Island sound very common and has crowds where as Phra Nang is more peaceful and scenic.
    Pls help me with this as I am flying today eveing. The costs are very high for both nothing less than 2500-3000 THB pp, so need to freeze on one. Our plan also has one eveing of Fanatsea show, one day City tour, ONe days any island trip, and one day we have kept for ourselves to expleore the place. Any suggestions on what we can do on 4th day? Pls revert.

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      I would definitely do the Phra Nang tour as yes, Phi Phi is a bit overrun. Sounds like you’ve got lots planned. I’d leave your last day open as something unexpected will surely pop up. Good luck.

  13. Ariadne A

    #13 is good advice, especially if you are travelling for a long period of time. I also bring a multivitamin.

    #2 Don’t waste your time looking for good Mexican food in Eastern Europe. The cheese will be wrong and the “salsa” is often nothing more than plain ketchup. Italian food is risky as well unless you like ketchup on your spaghetti. : )

    #1 As someone who works in the restaurant/pub business, I have to disagree with you on this one. Rent is very high on corner spaces. They need your business every bit as much as someone in the middle of the block. Restaurants near or in train stations and airports have a captive audience and often let the quality slide.

  14. Mice Aliling

    I adore the list. I have some few rules myself. I actually enjoy traveling alone. No need to wait for someone and I really get to do what I want. If it sucks, no one to blame but me ;)

    I alo do not spend so much in hotels because I really want to experience the destination: food, parks, highlights, must-dos and must-sees. I did not travel to stay the whole day stuck in a hotel.

    And yes, I do send postcards :)

  15. gribbly

    Re: #10 one of my favorite sayings is “he who asks is a fool for five minutes. He who doesn’t ask is a fool forever”

    I totally skipped the Louvre when I visited Paris. I simply didn’t care that much. Had much more fun (for me) poking around in shops devoted to music boxes!

    1. Scott

      Might I add never book a room in a hotel or resort you find out about merely because they posted a generic comment on a blog, with a link in their name back to their site. Koh Samui is beautiful by the way. Try Rocky Resort, we loved it.

  16. Rebekah

    I like this blog very well. I hope you don´t let the anti- ——- (fill in nationality) trolls take over the comments area. Self-righteous nationalists are very boring, no matter where they come from.

  17. Sören

    I didn’t like any of those tips. They’re all very american, yet trying not to be.

    1. Four Letter Nerd

      Have any tips or URLs of tips that aren’t ‘very American’? I learn a lot when I can see the world through the lens of another’s culture.

  18. jenjenk

    Love the list!! great advice!! I never even thought about #3…from now on…i promise! although I don’t adhere to #9. I usually travel with people I don’t live with…some days are good, some days are not as good. The important thing is to make sure you build in free/on your own time!

  19. LisaG

    Great advice overall, but as for #2, do not eat Chinese food in Cremona, Italy. I would add: unless you’re heading to the middle of a jungle or desert, buy local toothpaste and other toiletry stuff. OK, it might be Colgate, but the foreign-language tube will be a great souvenir.

    And here’s a tip from an old Kiwi buddy: If you are lost, ask directions from an old lady with a dog. You may not figure out where to go, but you’ll learn something.

    1. David Adams

      A dentist friend also clued me in on the fact that outside the US, the toothpaste has a higher fluoride content. (FDA regulations) My dentists recommends high-fluoride toothpaste that requires a prescription and costs $10. The regular toothpaste overseas has elevated fluoride content and costs way less.

  20. MissMaryMc

    Definitely an enjoyable read, and full of suggestions I can’t wait to try. Thanks!

  21. Ed

    Nice list! #13 is something that my wife introduced me to. Now I always do that when on the road.

  22. KingCranium

    And in #10, one statement informs a percentage of the potential audience the author does not want them to read the blog. This is my first time here, and it looks like a neat site with a lot of interesting stuff, but a cheap shot like that reveals the writer’s expectations for their audience and opinion of the group being insulted. I understand that sometimes it’s very important to feel like you are among a community that shares your values, and the author is under no obligation to make everyone feel welcome, but it is a pity.

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Not sure if this confirms your expectations or not, but I probably would have put Huffington Post in there (the single worst media outlet in the country) but it didn’t sound as good as Fox News. I think anti-intellectualism should be mocked and if you got a problem with that then you should go read … uhm, … I’ll let you fill in the blank.

      I do agree it was a cheap shot and if creating the biggest blog possible were my ultimate goal then it would probably be wise to leave opinions off the page.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      1. David Adams

        One of the more interesting things about the Fox News set is the persecution complex. It’s like the whole world is out to assault your values, with the War on Christmas, and athiests running rampant and eating babies. Want to know another news outlet that attracts the occasional derision? The likes of Us Weekly and celebrity tabloids. But people who read those, by and large, have good humor when people give them a hard time about it. They know it’s a trashy, guilty pleasure. Fox News is also a trashy guilty pleasure, but its viewers aren’t in on the joke.

        1. Scott

          Just Fox news viewers, or the conservatives and right wingers in general?

  23. Katerina

    I have a 16 month old that has passport stamps from 7 countries! But I must ask, as I live in Athens, WHERE did you find good, much less “great” Mexican food here???

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Hi Katerina. In Xalandri, just a few blocks from Craft Brewery. It’s located in a little house. Can’t remember the name.

  24. Mikey

    Great list! I have another: Don’t let taking pictures get in the way of actually experiencing what is going on. It’s great to bring home some snapshots, but remember that every second you spend framing a shot is one in which you are not fully experiencing your surroundings. Tell yourself it is OK (nay, preferable!) to leave the camera in your pocket so you can fully take in that beautiful sunrise.

    1. Tom

      Nicely put, when I get home I always feel like I never have any pictures of the most enjoyable places I visited. And I’m ok with that.

    2. valleycat1

      That’s why I buy postcards of major attractions/iconic images. I know I can fully enjoy experiencing the sights without interrupting to take photos (other than ones of people/myself). Some cards to mail, but many for my scrapbook – saves me trying to capture the same shot someone else has already done better! Also great, easy to transport souvenirs.

  25. giles

    Just got back from 6 months travelling (sth america, italy, japan, indonesia), these are great rules to live by. Thankyou!

  26. mjcarrabine

    Great list. I like #13 Buy your own fruit.

    Just be careful if one of the fruits in the area is durian! You’ll definitely have memories of it.

  27. Peter

    Is English the official language in Israel…well I get your point that you don’t have to feel guilty about not knowing, and learning makes you better, but c’mon – you can’t argue around the fact that not knowing the most basic things about countries you travel to is pretty embarrassing and a sign of laziness.

  28. Four Letter Nerd

    Wish I’d read this before I started traveling after retiring 3 years ago. Agree with 13 of 15 because they work for me (people LOVE getting postcards in the email era).

    > 2. Eat different cuisines than the country you’re in

    In poor SE Asia countries this almost always results in a plate of calories I’ll never order again, and most consider me an adventurous eater.

    >3. Steal soap from your hotel and give it to kids in developing countries as a present

    Commit a crime in a foreign country? While traveling with your family? That’s more kinds of stupid than I can describe.

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert


      #2. I assume you’re meaning western food ordered in a tourist joint. I mean authentic (or the local interpretation of authentic) cuisine at a non-touristy restaurant.

      #3. The real intent of this, was to encourage travelers to grab a few sticks of soap from their hotel room (that would likely be thrown out anyways) and give them to kids while traveling. (There’s no reason you couldn’t buy a similar product.) For the sake of humor I embellished a little but I think the main point is a good one.

  29. Bobo the Hobo

    Wonderful! Actual, sensible travel advice. As as corollary to #11 might I suggest *always* intentionally missing something. It gives you a built-in reason to go back. Or to hold on to the desire to go back.

  30. Jason

    Stealing is now a golden rule? How American!

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      I’m Canadian Jason. We can’t blame everything on them :)

  31. Nick H

    Where are these so called farmers markets, that are not in San Francisco?

  32. Ted

    Um, yeah. Some super ideas there – especially about stealing off the housekeeping carts. Nothing pleased this ex-hotelier more than people stealing our supplies so that we were short on the things our paying guests expected and had paid for. This may be a surprise but we have to pay for this stuff and don’t have an unlimited supply on hand. If you were so concerned you’d go BUY the things you want to give away than steal them.

    While you’re at it, take your own advice on #6.

    1. Bradley F


      I suspect I can guess at the reason you are now an ex-hotelier, and its not because of soap theft.

      1. Mike

        Bradley F:

        Apparently, by your reckoning, sucking up to hipster thieves is a core principle of the “successful business” model. If you can afford airfare to, and lodging in -insert third world country name here- , you can afford to cough up a few shekels to buy whatever giveaways you feel compelled to distribute to the locals. Stealing soap-lets from the man doesn’t make you Robin Hood, just a cheapskate poseur.

  33. manvstech

    Good advice, they all work towards a memorable trip. When my brother and I went to visit China we followed all of them except the soap and separate city ones without even realizing it and it made it the trip of our lives.

  34. Ted Drake

    I would also add to the fresh fruit idea that local jams and honeys are what I bring back as gifts. This is especially true when you can find them in a farmer’s market.

    1. Jody

      Also pestos are great from Italy for gifts or just to remember the great food enjoyed while traveling. I agree with the fruit stand idea. We try to go with 2 meals while on a trip. Keeps the calories down, but have fruit or snacks to fill in when hungry. I always take instant oatmeal to get us started in the morning. Usually very hot water is available for that and a cup of tea.

  35. Alexandra

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing! In addition to the soap, I’ve taken the pads of paper and pens from hotels to give away as little gifts when I go to Africa. When I was kid, my parents would also save our “goodie bag” with coloring books, crayons, etc. that you often get on long international flights and give them to the kids we’d meet in developing countries.

  36. Sherry Ott

    Love the soap idea! Totally agree with all of this – some great advice! And since I don’t live with anyone…that explains why I enjoy traveling solo!

  37. Suzanne McDonald

    I love the soap redistribution idea, mind if I tweak?

    Take the opened soap packages from your room as well. It bothers me that a whole bar of soap, often 2 bars, and the plastic packaging all go in the trash after just a few uses.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Alexandra

      This annoys me (and a lot of other travelers I know) too! But I was happy to read in the news recently that several hotels are starting to shave down the unused soap and melt it down/sterilize it and re-use it to make new bars. Yay! :)

      1. Suzanne McDonald

        Yay indeed! Thanks for sharing Alexandra. Happy Thanksgiving y’all

    2. Rebekah

      Problem with taking the soap from the cart: In at least two of the hotels I know of, the chambermaids must follow a “shrinkage control” regimen (another way of the boss saying “I know the Help is stealing from me!”) they have to count out how many soaps are used in which room each day. The ones taken from the cart by the High-Minded and Kindly travelers are deducted from HER WAGES, and the boss assumes she is a thief.

  38. Zak

    Just awesome! Thanks.

  39. Ashley

    My husband and I always subscribed to this adage when traveling alone, now we are about to embark on an 11 week trip traveling east from the US to live in Australia – we’ll be on the move with a two year old. We would like as much as possible about our old way of traveling to combine with necessities (like quality sleep and milk) for our daughter, so we’re constantly seeking advice from sites we like…..

  40. CC Guy

    I’ve been reading travel sites for days, yours is the most refreshing one of all. You have lots of good tips, but you’ve also got a sense of humor, and some imaginative ways of saying things — thanks to your thesaurus! To your talent of saying things well: Cheers!

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Thanks CC. That means a lot. I never know who gets the humor in some of my crazier stuff, so it’s nice to get some positive feedback. All the best!

  41. johnny flavour

    Excellent, this is my favorite post so far. I can really relate to #2 eating different cuisines, #11 do what you want to do (however your pyramids is my taj mahal doooh!!) good stuff buddy

    1. Santorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Partial disclosure: I owe Johnny some money for a few “favors” he did for me.

      Thanks for the nice comment though John.

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