April 18, 2019

Ten Universal Travel Skills


While travel skills in general are likely too numerous to list efficiently, these ten are the ones Trek Hound consider to be universally helpful. What are they?

How to drive a stick shift.

In many parts of the world, automatic transmissions are the exception rather than the rule. If you don’t believe me, just ask a few of the folks who have gotten bitten in the butt by this on the Amazing Race.


It’s amazing how many people are uncomfortable with maps and their use. Particularly where automobile navigation is concerned. One of the main perks of having a travel partner, in addition to getting assistance with problem solving, is having someone available to tell you where to go while you drive. While it isn’t technically impossible to read the map and drive at the same time, it’s difficult under the best of circumstances and unsafe under the worst of them. Be sure to take a good navigator if possible. Another travel tip? Placing a map that needs to be re-used a great deal inside a page protector keeps it from getting unnecessarily tattered and water damaged.

CPR / first aid.

I’m no medical expert, and the first to admit I have more to learn. However, I’m more than capable of cleaning a wound and know when to use ibuprofen for pain and swelling. As I said, I know I have more to learn. But the point is, you never know when you might need to perform first aid on yourself or a travel companion. Having some basic working knowledge of the subject is a smart move.

How to drive a motorcycle.

I have to come clean. I have absolutely no skill in this area. However, it has bitten me in the tush enough times that I know I need to make learning this skill a priority. In many parts of the world, small motorbikes are the norm. Bonus? They are way less expensive to rent and fuel than automobiles.

How to cook on the fly.

One major way to save money while traveling is to prepare your own food. Trying to make your own meals in unfamiliar kitchens with unpredictable access to certain tools and appliances can be more than challenging. Having a repertoire of simple, low ingredient recipes and travel menus can help. A few specific ideas would be caprese kabobs, quesadillas and Polynesian chicken.


Seriously, I mean it. The trials and tribulations of problem solving in a foreign language, unfamiliar city, or developing country can be as taxing as they are enjoyable and exciting. A good supply of patience will go a long way towards helping you make the most of your travel experience.

Driving on the left (or for some the right) side of the road.

While the need for this may be less prevalent in global travel than the manual shift capability suggested earlier, there are still a fair number of places in the world where you’ll require the know-how if you choose to rent a car or bike there. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I have not mastered this yet. However, it’s on my list and I intend to develop the skill as soon as my life situation permits it.

Deciphering international train and bus schedules / routes.

This might sound like a “well, duh” type of item to include here. But honestly, these things can get incredibly complicated, particularly in countries with highly developed mass transit systems. The more basic a route and schedule chart is, the more likely I am to roll with it. When we were in Italy though, there were some train charts that would have made anyone’s eyes cross. My husband is much more of a rock star when it comes to figuring things out. Even if you don’t have time to make yourself into a self-taught guru in this area, developing some basic skills will serve you well. Trust me.

Alternative communication.

Short of learning the language of every country you travel to before you hop on the plane, I highly suggest developing a comfort zone with the following:

  • Sketching – no major artistic abilities are needed. Simple Pictionary skills will get you by. If you need something specific at the store or have a medical ailment you need to explain, a sketch pad and stick-man drawing can get you out of a jam more often than you might think.

  • Charades – Again, no need to be a world champion. But basic pantomime ability when asking or directions or time to come back to a particular place is way more universal than a language that might only be spoken on a handful of islands in the entire world. Not that there’s anything wrong with learning those languages for education’s sake.

  • Calculators – Finding room in your bag for a calculator or asking a salesperson or waiter for theirs is a great way to go. This comes in handy while shopping in souks or bargaining for a price on hired transportation. If you didn’t bring one with you, pantomime one. It’s a fairly international gesture.

Foreign language training.

Again, nobody has time to learn them all, and very few people have time to learn even a country-specific one before traveling to that particular destination. However, a few have a fairly broad reach. English, Spanish, Arabic and French come to mind. Also, if you happen to be growing up in a school system that still teaches Latin, consider signing up. It’s the basis for several languages and make deciphering them easier.

These are the top ten skills, at least in my humble traveler’s opinion, that will help you out most often, and in the greatest number of countries. Got another skill or tip you wish you’d known about before you hit the road?

Recommended Reading: Sight-Seeing Tips for Bolzano, Italy.

Photo Credit: TrekHound.Com


  1. Anthony says:

    Patience has to be the most valuable skill. Whether it is waiting for a bus for 6 hours or getting cut in front in a line for the bank. You will learn patience whilst abroad. Great Article!