Nicolas Bouliane

Assorted travel advice Posted on

This is an assortment of travel tips I have picked up over the years. Most of it is geared toward long-distance solo travel.


Most travel advice is written by travel bloggers or content marketers. The former spent two weeks in the country and the latter never left their office. They rehash the same recommendations as countless other blogs.

ChatGPT gives you rehashed advice with half the fuss:

ChatGPT prompt: Give me a list of things to see in [city]. For each place, create a URL that searches for the place on Google Maps.

Do a bit of research about the weather there. If you’re biking across Korea, don’t bring a leather jacket and an oversized hoodie that take half of your luggage. I use Weatherspark to look up historical weather, and Ventusky to see where the weather is currently going.

A good book about your destination can infuse your experience with nuance and understanding. Look for evocative books like “Maximum City” or “Stasiland”. In a pinch, try Very Short Introductions. If you’re not sure, ask the local subreddit for suggestions.

Calm down, pace yourself. We circled the Baltic sea on motorcycles in 9 days. It was a mistake. We dashed through 8 countries, and it was just a blur of highways, truck stops and motels. Travel as a box-ticking exercise is exhausting and unrewarding.

Give yourself room for spontaneity and exploration. Think of how long you need to complete your trip, and double that. I have the fondest memories of the places where I lingered, whether by choice or by force. A dog bit me in Tbilisi and it kept me in Georgia for a month. Between the rabies shots, I was left to explore and meet people. I saw far more of Georgia and the surrounding countries. Out of it came treasured friendships and a mad journey across Central Asia.

Now I just pick a destination, make a map of vaguely interesting things there, and out the rest once I get there.


Always have two different bank cards from two different banks. I forgot my credit card in an ATM in Ukraine, but thankfully, I had a second card (with much higher fees). Ideally have a Visa card and a MasterCard. These payment methods are not as universal as you think. Getting money with a MasterCard was a constant struggle in some countries.

If your card keeps getting declined for online purchases, try using a VPN. Turkish Airlines would not let me buy tickets until I used a VPN. When I appeared to be in my home country the payment went through.

Foreign ATMs can charge you in the local currency, or your card’s currency. You’re basically choosing between your bank’s exchange rate, and the ATM’s (usually bad) exchange rate.

Keep Euros or US dollars with you. In a pinch, you can exchange them for the local currency. My friend’s 100$ bill got us out of a sticky situation in Uzbekistan. We spent the last cents on the cup of petrol that got us to the next ATM.

Keep most of your cash stashed at the bottom of your luggage. Flashing a wad of cash never plays in your favour. I spent half an hour sitting in a Kazakh police car, explaining to a cop that the money in my wallet barely covered the fuel to get me across the desert. The officer started with a bold 200 USD bribe, but eventually accepted my last 500 tenge note – about a dollar. The rest of my cash was hidden at the bottom my panniers.


Be aware of the common tourist scams in the areas you visit. The most common scam is the “random” encounter with a local that slowly turns into a high-pressure sales pitch. If you get cold approached by a young local in a touristy area, they probably want something from you.

Don’t give your passport unless you absolutely have to. If someone has your passport, they hold you by the balls. I give my driving licence, my residence permit or a photocopy whenever I can. Those are easier to replace.


Book directly from the airline. Never use OTAs like Kiwi, Opodo, Expedia and the rest. Everybody learns this lesson one way or another. They make dealing with the airline or hotel harder, they have abysmal customer service, and they take forever to issue tickets or process refunds.


Prepare for the possibility of losing your phone. If it means losing access to your bank and a bunch of critical websites, fix that.

Keep your two-factor authentication keys in a second place. Aegis lets you backup your 2FA keys to the cloud. Keepass too. You can also keep a printed copy somewhere.

A local SIM card is almost always worth it. Solving small problems is much easier with an internet connection. Save your energy for bigger problems. I made my way from Europe to Central Asia and back without a SIM card, but now it’s the first thing I get when I land.

Finding your way

Google Maps is not great for hiking, cycling or more elaborate routing. OsmAnd is a far more detailed map with a lot of powerful features. It lets create very specific routes and shows you bike paths, elevation, surface type, and a lot more. I cannot overstate how useful it is.

Learn to navigate with the sun. It rises in the east, slowly arcs across the sky, and sets in the west. At noon, it’s south if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and north if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. With a little practice, you can roughly find your bearing and stay the course without checking your phone.


Reset frequently. By that I mean eating, resting, charging your devices, drying your clothes, doing your laundry, planning the next day etc.

Long-distance travel is a matter of maintenance. If you neglect it for too long, you expose yourself to a cascading failure. A small problem turns into big one because you have no cash, your phone died, you’re out of water and your tent is still wet.

Mental health

Travel fatigue can make you an idle, apathetic mess. It comes to me as an acute case of decision fatigue. I long for the comfort of familiarity and routine. I usually take this as my cue to wrap up the trip and head home, but sometimes a really good curry grounds me just the same.

Remember that a trip is a vacation. Allow yourself to sleep in and to linger in cafés with a good book. Indulge in idleness; no one is judging you.

Speaking of judgement, don’t post on social media. It can be hard to constantly perform for an audience. Sometimes you’re a sad, homesick mess with fluids coming out both ends. Focus on having a good time, not on proving it.

On the other hand, a travel journal is a fantastic idea. You get to capture how a trip feels in the moment, without fear of judgement. It feels good to unwind, and later you can laugh at your sad, homesick self with fluids coming out both ends.