Coug couple Phil and Diane Ohl run Open Door Travelers and share their around-the-world adventures on a travel blog, Instagram, and Facebook.

As countries re-open and more and more Americans become comfortable with traveling again, Washington State Magazine asked the Ohls to offer their tips for successful trips—from what to bring to their favorite travel apps. Here are their suggestions and recommendations.

Lighten up

There are hundreds of cool travel gadgets and gimmicks out there, from multi-function voltage converters to high-tech water bottles and ultra-light carry-on bags. Our biggest travel tip is more of a philosophy than a series of gadgets: travel light, and buy or trade local clothes and accessories as we go. We typically start an eight-week adventure with half-empty carry-ons that we fill with new and exotic clothes and treasures from afar.

Packing list must-haves

  • Two WSU Cougar-head flags. One large, and one compact.
  • WSU stickers to spread Cougar love all over the world.
  • Sturdy walking shoes. Form over function on this one.
  • Bottle of Tabasco sauce.
  • Camera with 7X zoom lens. To supplement iPhone cameras.

Seven key words and phrases

We always try to learn a minimum of seven words in the local language: yes, no, hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me. A close eighth: toilet. These help us tremendously when introducing ourselves to taxi drivers, hotel staff, servers, and strangers.

Humble confidence

It’s a very fine line between behaving like an “Entitled American,” who will get ignored or, worse, sabotaged, and a “Hayseed American,” who will get fleeced. We try to strike a balance by feigning confidence as international travelers and genuine humbleness and respect as interested newbies.

Picture perfect

We both carry iPhones and have a small, mirrorless DSLR with a 600mm-fixed (12X zoom) lens. Learning to use your phone’s camera and editing app before you leave will save a lot of frustration. We like to create a running theme throughout each trip, such as gelato, beer, the same selfie-pose, or waving the WSU Cougar-head flag in front of every landmark. A good rule of thumb with travel photos is: Less is More. Simply dumping 30 to 40 photos a day on Facebook doesn’t tell a very good story. One or two thoughtful images each day is much more interesting. We have also made photo books for our coffee table from some of our travels.

Social media

It’s easy to get so caught up with posting pictures and interacting with friends at home that you miss the interesting sights and sounds before you. We see many travelers trying so hard to get the perfect Instagram shot that they are totally disconnected from the experience at hand. Rule number one: Don’t try to become a social media influencer in a single trip.

Walk this way

We have found free walking tours in English in every major city we have visited. As a first introduction to a new city, these tours rely on your generosity to tip at the end and provide a solid foundation to move deeper into the city or country with more confidence.

Get cooking

Nearly every large city we have visited has a company—or someone who has a side gig—selling cooking classes or market tours. This is a great way to immerse yourself into local customs and culture with a patient instructor who probably speaks English. This is also a great first day activity if you are trying to adjust your circadian rhythm to multiple time zones.

Eat and drink fearlessly

One of the greatest joys of travel is to experience different cultures through their cuisine. Whenever possible, we like to get off the beaten path and explain through hand gestures that we would like the chef to choose for us, and we’ve never been disappointed. For the most part, we travel with a pact to not eat at any international chain restaurants. If we can find a local Michelin-starred restaurant, we clean up as best we can and dig deep into our credit limit to enjoy, literally, world-class cuisine.

Plan to be spontaneous

We tend to plan and pre-book most of our lodging and transportation before we leave for extended travels, but we only pre-book about half of the activities we want to experience and research a large list of possible activities in the areas we are exploring. Our best research tools: Instagram and Pinterest. Really. Go ahead and type #VisitIceland or #TravelVietnam to find thousands of ideas for things to do and places to see.

Favorite apps and sites

  • Rome2rio
  • Skyscanner
  • Whatsapp
  • iTranslate
  • Pinterest
  • TripAdvisor
  • Visited
  • Instagram