Travel Blogger Ashley Smith Shares Her Best Travel Tips and Her Favorite Packing Tools

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in New York City, USA

I’m Ashley Smith and I’m a travel blogger/freelance travel writer. I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee, USA but now call Boston, Massachusetts my very cold home. You can usually find me hiking, canoeing, museum-ing, trying desperately to learn a new language, or failing miserably at Zumba. But let’s be honest, you can always find me in front of a computer.

How and why did you get into traveling?

I grew up taking standard domestic summer vacations with my family but it wasn’t until my husband’s job took him overseas that I got my first passport 10 years ago. My first few trips out of the US were to Venezuela and I did absolutely nothing to get in shape for it. Not that I didn’t need to — I was just so naive I had no idea what was in store for me. I didn’t attempt to learn any Spanish and I couldn’t even have pointed out Venezuela on a map. To say my travel planning skills have taken a complete 180 over the past decade is a serious understatement. 

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in Canada

How do you prepare for your adventures and travels?

To physically prepare for traveling, I maintain a regular schedule of gym classes when I’m home in Boston. These range from pilates, barre, Zumba (sorry, everyone who has to witness this), and something called, Pure Strength that leaves me unable to walk for days. But like, in a good way. 
For planning preparation, I almost always get the guidebook. I’m a guidebook fanatic and use them for everything –hotel/hostel recommendations, restaurant recommendations, safety tips, maps, and hours of operations of popular sites. Besides guidebooks, I base the majority of what I do and see on my trips on other travel blogs. I scour my favorite travel blogs for the best sights to see (and avoid), tips on getting the most out of my time, and real-life narratives of what to expect. 

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in Florence, Italy

 How do you finance your travels?

I finance my travels through freelance writing projects and my own travel blog that somehow, by the grace of a benevolent god, makes me an income. From time to time I will take on sponsors if what they’re offering is a place to stay I am already interested in or an activity I really want to do. I never take sponsors just for the money–what good would that do my readers? 
It’s hard to say how much my travels cost me because they’re all so different and this information is mostly determined by location. Five days in Mexico is going to cost far less than five days in Paris, no matter how you spin it. However, I mix it up with stays at both boutique hotels and higher-end hostels. I enjoy street food when it’s available and, honestly, I don’t eat all that much, anyway. I search for free museum days, discounted admission, and off-peak seasonal deals whenever I can, regardless of my destination.

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in Switzerland

 Why is traveling important for you?

At one point in my life, traveling was something I did once a year and always to somewhere my family could drive to. Now, I can’t imagine my life without travel — it has completely consumed me. I find travel important for so many reasons and not all of them personal. I need travel to feed my soul — my curiosity, my creativity, and yeah, my tummy. But the world needs travel to get a better view of the bigger picture. Wouldn’t the world be so much better off if we all understood each other? Different countries, continents, and cultures. Traveling is the best way to immerse yourself in unfamiliar cultures and see that what the mainstream media tells you is almost always wrong. Travel helps explain the fact that we are all of the same species.

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in Mexico City, Mexico

How do you bring your things with you?

It used to be even thinking about traveling with just a carry-on made me laugh, but for the past year or so, I’ve really focused on dialing it down. Except where seriously low winter temperatures are involved, I mostly travel with a small carry-on suitcase and a small backpack. After getting robbed in Italy (yup, that happened), I try to emphasize that less is always more. 
My carry-on is a no-name suitcase I bought as part of a set of three almost a decade ago. (I told you, I never used the carry-on so it’s in pristine condition.) And the backpack I use came from Target since I only needed it last minute. However, as far as larger luggage goes, I just bought a new medium-sized suitcase from Away and I can’t wait to use it. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this company.

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in Oaxaca, Mexico

How do you organize things in your bags?

In general, I am hyper-organized so naturally my luggage is no exception. Packing cubes may be the single greatest things that have ever happened to me. I got a five-pack from TravelWise and in one goes tops, in another goes bottoms, there’s one for shoes, one for toiletries, and one for whatever else I need to bring. I’m able to stay organized for my ENTIRE trip and that’s priceless. 
Water resistance isn’t something I need 99% of the time, but when I do (like for trips to Belize), I’m obsessed with my 10-liter dry bags. 

How do your bags and gear hold up?

So far, so good! I just replaced my old medium-sized suitcase that had been to about 20 countries. It was battered and scuffed, the zippers were barely hanging on, the handle was duct-taped together, there was a gaping hole in the corner. But it held on! I replaced it more out of fear of it bursting open on the tarmac than out of necessity. 
Luckily, I’ve never had to repair anything while traveling — most of the time it can just wait until I’m home. If I’ve ever had to buy new luggage on the road, it’s because I bought one too many new outfits or souvenirs. 

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Packing cubes weren’t around when I started traveling seriously, but even so it took me way too long to jump on the packing cube bandwagon. I don’t know why I was dragging my feet — they’re the most amazing tool!

What has been your best travel-related purchase below $100?

I think it’s obvious what I’m going to say here–packing cubes! I got the TravelWise set of five various sizes (in teal, if you must know). I also have a memory-foam travel pillow I bought in the Baltimore airport out of momentary desperation that now never leaves my traveling side. The ends snap together so I can attach it to my backpack and forget about it and it has a machine washable cover. 

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith

What is your best advice for other travelers?

What I always tell people–don’t listen to the naysayers. There will always be someone around to tell you a place is too expensive, too dangerous, too touristy, too boring, or any number of other negative things. For starters, this kind of advice usually comes from someone who hasn’t personally visited themselves. Someone else finding a place “too boring” has no bearing on your own personal enjoyment of it. Just because certain cities like Paris or Rome aren’t known for being wallet-friendly doesn’t mean you can’t do it cheaply. Just because your old Aunt Ida visited somewhere once in the 1970s doesn’t mean that country is at all the same now (it’s most definitely not). And that story about city XYZ that your mom saw on the news isn’t indicative of an entire country’s safety record. Be smart, obviously, but keep your travel plans in your own hands. 

Travel Blogger Ashley Smith
Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

 What will the future bring?

New countries! New regions of the world! I spent a couple years diving into European travel but over the past year working in some spots like Central America and Mexico. This year, I’ll be hitting up more of Asia but, of course, there will be more Europe. Because Oktoberfest. 
One piece of gear I’m dreaming about but that’s still pretty far off is a drone. I thought they were kinda nuts at first but now I see the footage and I’m hooked! It’s an entirely new way of looking at and photographing locations and it’s always beautiful from up there.

Visit Ashley Smith on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

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