When I travel, I prefer to not plan the entire trip in advance, but to be open to whatever comes across along the way. Usually I have an idea about the “best” spots and “must sees” and have an idea of where I might go. I feel traveling this way gives me the freedom to chose “moment by moment” what to do next and allows to go with the flow of meeting people and discovering places once I am there. Also it is a great contrast to a scheduled life back home.
In my experience of extensive traveling it has always been worthy to not book any tour in advance. There were very few instances, when a booking would have been smart, but I could still find a way how things worked, organizing it once I was there. So simply get a local sim card to be able to organize some things at a low costs with some phone calls or even internet access.
However, there are some things I do recommend to plan in advance, which have helped me to have a great and smooth experience.
Great hotel for the first night with airport pickup: I always spoil myself for the first one or two nights with a great hotel to recover from the long distant flight and time shift as well as the busy time I usually had before leaving work for vacation. Since most of the times I do not know the place I am going to, I always ask for an airport pickup, as I will arrive with all my valuables without knowing anything about distances, prices and good or bad taxis.
When no exit seats are available, book a seat in the back and enter the plane last person: This is for sure nothing everyone can do and not everyone will feel comfortable with. However, I love it ever since I started doing it. Very often all exit seats are already booked when I check in online. So many times, even after double checking at the counter, where I was again told no free seats, I found out that many times there were seats available in the airplane and very often I see a free row. So finally I came up with the habit of booking a seat in the back of the plane, so in order to get to it, I pass all rows. Entering the plane as last person, I can be sure, that these seats are really free. This way I about 50% of the times I found a full free row or even exit seat and enjoyed the flight with a huge smile on my face.
Double check hotel rates when booking via hotel booking sites: Booking sites like agoda.com or booking.com usually offer hotels at discounted rates. But, there are hotels, who do not like, that they have to give commission to these sites for bringing traffic. Therefore sometimes booking at the hotel directly is in fact cheaper!
Take photos of your bank cards and most important documents: Losing credit cards, passports or other documents is always a challenge and it takes time during your vacation to get them back. So, if you have a picture at hand it is much easier most times. So simply take a picture of front and backside of your bank cards, driver license, vaccination certificate and passport and send it to yourself via email. Also I would highly recommend to have several bank cards and store them at different places. So if one gets stolen or you lose it, you can have this card blocked and still get money from the other ones.
Research reliable and cheap transportation: In some countries there are great local websites to book local airlines at cheap prices. Make sure you research them upfront as the internet connection might be bad at the first destination of your stay and you will not want to waste time researching then. Some websites for example do not accept foreign credit cards. Also in terms of bus transportation, it helps to find out upfront, which companies are reliable and offer busses in good shape.
Bring your entire backpack to the laundry before flying back home: This is one of my favorites. I simply love getting back home with clean clothes. So I started bringing everything to the laundry before I leave, including my backpack, sleeping back etc. Basically everything which can be washed. Usually I “test” the place with just some items before to be sure, they are good. Especially in Asia it is really cheap and such a treat to simply have to unpack but not wash back home.