Doing maths in the morning is never a signal that the day will go well (for me). But when it means working out exactly how long I’ve been hopping on planes to the other side of the world, there’s a slight silver lining. Yes, I’m older than I feel or remember, but that also means I’ve got a lot of scope to give travel tips.
My family stepped onto a plane for the first time back when I was 7-years-old, but I’m not counting that. Unless you want the experiences of a motion-sick child stuck on a plane for 20-odd hours. Instead, I’m using my first family-free plane ride when I was 15, as a marker. It spans the gamut of landing in airports where security forces use AK47’s as their weapon of choice to flight delays and cancellations. Then there’s forgetting things at home, not looking exactly the same as your teenage passport photo, and negotiating stop overs. I’ve done it all (except lose my passport *knock wood*).
If you’re a little scared at the prospect of taking your first flight, or going on a trip on your own, there’s no need to worry.
TRAVEL TIPS: BEFORE YOU GO
If I’m feeling overly-organised, I’ll divide a holiday or trip into three parts: Before, the flight, and the actual holiday. So that’s how we’re tackling these travel tips today as well. That way you know exactly what you have to think about as you go along.
1.Take Time Zones into Account
When you’re looking to book flights overseas (and even interstate in the US), don’t forget to take time zones into account. The date and time the flight leaves will be set in your departure state time zone, while your landing date and time is shown in your arrival state/country time zone.
2. Leave Enough Layover Time
When you’re booking flights that aren’t direct to your destination, look carefully at the layover times. An hour between flights at an airport like LA International is nowhere near enough time to disembark from one plane, collect baggage, go through security and board your next flight. Remember to take the possibility of late departures or longer flight times into account. Give yourself enough time to get from one flight to the next without having to be stressed. If you’re not sure, call your airline for advice.
3. Don’t Book More Than 45 Days Out
Having said that, I do this all the time. But apparently flight prices are more prone to fluctuation and deals if you book less than 45 days before departure. Of course, don’t take this to the limit, because booking a week ahead is usually going to result in sky-high prices.
4. Check Your Passport First
Whatever you do, don’t book an international flight without first checking your passport’s expiration date. Some countries won’t let you in if you have six months of less left before your passport expires. Many Consulates offer emergency passport renewals for an extra fee, so don’t despair if you’ve forgotten to check before booking.
5. Read the Fine Print
It doesn’t actually have to be the really fine print either. These days, lots of airlines not only offer different classes of flight – they also offer packages with different terms and conditions. That could mean baggage isn’t included in the fee or a particular class of ticket doesn’t allow refunds or changes once booked. There’s always the possibility of the unexpected coming up (illness, a house fire etc) that may put an end to your trip. Make sure you know what you signed up for beforehand.
6. Get Insurance
I can’t stress this enough. By conservative estimate, I’ve been a passenger on at least 50 planes in my time, and I’ve never once gone without insurance. Check if one of your credit cards offers a free insurance policy if you pay for a flight with that card. There’s no point doubling up on policies. If you’re buying insurance, don’t just go with the first company or policy you find. Make sure it covers what you want or need it to before handing over any money.
7. Choose a Seat
If you definitely want a window or aisle seat, your best bet is to book it while booking your plane ticket. Sometimes airlines will charge an extra, minimal fee for this service. But if you’re dead-set on a certain seat, or flying long-haul, this is the best way to guarantee you won’t be stuck next to the loo. Use websites like Seat Guru to help choose your seat properly.
8. Don’t Overpack
Those three bags you’ve packed have to get from the baggage carousel to your hotel somehow, and usually that means you’re going to have to lug them around. Especially if you plan on taking public transport once you arrive at your destination. Also, do you really need five pairs of shoes? Lay out everything you’re planning to wear on a flat surface. Subtract anything that doesn’t pair with at least two other items of clothing. Think about how many days you’ll be away. Be reasonable!
9. Bring An Extra Tote
This seems to be going against Travel Tip #8, but that all depends on the type of traveler you are. If you’re heading out with a half-empty suitcase, then you can probably ditch the extra tote. But if you’re a keen shopper or like to bring a few knick knacks home and your luggage is already full to the brim, this is your ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. I can’t tell you how many times my tote has saved me on trips home from Melbourne.
10. Do Visa Research
Visits to different countries will require different visas. I thought that travelling to Canada on my Australian passport would be a breeze. Unfortunately I arrived at the flight check-in counter early that morning only to find out that I wouldn’t be allowed to board a plane without a tourist visa for Canada (which the website said I wouldn’t need). It’s best to double check these things well before your flight so you’re not barred from boarding at the last minute. Get more information on the US tourist visa here.
11. Don’t Exchange Too Much Cash
You don’t want to be stuck with too much foreign currency when you return from holiday. Plus some countries aren’t big on accepting higher denominations of cash. I learned that the hard way when I tried to pay for something using US$50 when I first arrived. I still don’t understand exactly why it’s so frowned upon. Just get a bit of money to help with tips and small purchases.
12. Alert Your Bank
You don’t need lots of foreign money because you’re most likely using a bank or credit card to pay for items overseas. What you don’t want, is for your bank to assume your card has been stolen and block it. Lots of financial institutions allow you to input any travel dates and destinations in your personal online portal. If they don’t, you can always call customer services to log your travel plans with them.
13. Check Your Mobile Phone Plan
Don’t be surprised by enormous global-roaming fees once you arrive home to your cell phone bill. Call your mobile phone provider and ask them what you’ll be charged and if you can switch to a plan with better rates for the duration of your time away. If you’ll be overseas for a long period of time, you can always buy a sim card from the country you’re visiting (as long as your handset is unlocked).
14. Make Copies of your Passport
Losing your passport mid-trip is stressful to say the least. It’s always a good idea to have a colour photocopy of the identification page of your passport and visa with you just in case. They’ll make it a little easier to file police reports and get your new passport quickly. Doing this for other important documents doesn’t hurt either.
TRAVEL TIPS: IN THE AIR
If you’re a nervous flier, this is when the butterflies start to form. You can find some great tips on conquering anxiety or fear of flying here. But the more prepared you are, the less likely you are to start to have butterflies. For first time, or new fliers, check out this list of things you should avoid on a plane or in an airport.
15. Weigh Your Baggage
There’s nothing worse than finding out that your luggage is overweight at the baggage drop. It’s happened to me twice. Once when I was moving to the US, and a couple of months ago when I was trying to bring every single Australian lolly, chip and cereal in existence back with me. Shuffling things between your carry on and suitcase is stressful and annoying. So weigh your bags at home before you leave and triple check your allowances.
16. Doing The Luggage Shuffle
If your scales were out or you just didn’t have time to weigh anything, don’t panic too much. There are a few easy items that you an shift from your luggage to your carry-on that will make a fair bit of difference to the weight distribution. To reduce weight in your luggage, try moving any pairs of jeans and shoes into your carry-on first. They often weigh the most and can save you a lot of dilly-dallying.
17. Leave Early
Think about the time you need to be at the airport, and then consider the time of day it’ll be. Will it be in the middle of rush hour traffic? Would it be smarter and quicker to catch a train in? Is there track work that day? You don’t want to be stressed or feel rushed at the airport, so make sure you’ve got plenty of time to get to the gate.
18. Be Ready for Check-In
Don’t be the person who’s rummaging around in a backpack for a passport or form of ID at the check-in desk. That’s if you’re not using the check-in kiosks that seem to be in every airport. Have your passport ready, bookmarked to the ID page, or whatever form of ID is acceptable. Don’t make everyone wait because you’re disorganised.
19. The Security Line
It can snake for hours. In Toronto I waited an hour and a half to get through airport security and to my flight gate. This is where all that extra time you accounted for might get sucked up. There are a couple of things you can do to make the security dance go a little faster. Whatever you do, if you can avoid it, don’t line up behind a family. Especially if there are more than one or two young kids involved. It’s not their fault that the poor harassed parents need to wrangle their little ones while simultaneously removing jackets, shoes, iPads and everything else. It takes awhile. Your best bet is to find a business-looking traveller and fall in behind them. Not only can you copy them if you’re not sure of the protocol, but things generally move a bit faster.
20. Got Toiletries? Check The Rules
Since the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, airport security has clamped down on exactly what you can bring on a plane with you. Lots of them are commonsense: no flammable objects or weapons. There’s also a certain quantity of liquids you can bring on board in your check-in. Make sure you’ve accounted for it before hitting the security desk, otherwise you’ll find yourself saying goodbye to your favourite foundation or cleanser.
21. Eat Before Boarding
As mentioned somewhere above, I am notoriously travel sick. Which is not the right way to word that. But I spent the first 10 plane rides with my face mostly buried in a sick bag, which is embarrassing if you’re 16 and flying on your own. Those poor people I sat next to. Anyway, my trick now is to have something small to eat before boarding (nothing too heavy or stodgy) and busting out the travel sickness meds. That gives them time to work their magic and I can get through a flight without reaching for the dreaded sick bag.
22. Get To The Gate On Time
Don’t leave it till they’re calling your name over the PA and telling you that gates will close in a few minutes to amble up to your boarding gate. It’s annoying for everyone else sitting on the plane waiting to go. Also, while you’re sitting at the gate, waiting to board, why not get out the things you’ll need on the flight so you can just stow your hand luggage as soon as you find your seat?
23. Stay Hydrated
It’s so much easier to get dehydrated during a flight. So make sure you’re sipping water – bring your own onboard if you don’t want to be bothering flight attendants. While you’re at it, make sure you stretch your legs every now and then.
24. Leave The Money Belt At Home
You heard me. That thing that’s supposed to save you from pick pockets, is actually putting a big neon ‘tourist’ arrow right above your head. They’re just as easy to cut off you and run away with as a purse, and they’re also annoying. So I recommend leaving them at home. Not only because my dad forced me to wear one on every trip I took for years.
TRAVEL TIPS: HOLIDAY TIME
This is what you’ve been waiting for! Time to kick back and relax, get out and be adventurous, or pack in all the tourist destinations possible. Depending on the type of traveller you are. Personally, I’m a mixture of the second two options. But whatever your flavour of travel, there are still a few things you should know.
25. Visit Tourist Information
I swear by these guys in every place I’ve ever visited. If you’re at a loss for things to do, or want to know how to get the best bargains, find the tourist information office and ask them loads of questions. I found myself in Santa Cruz on a whim one Sunday with no clue where to go or what to do. Within 10 minutes of entering tourist information, I had my whole day planned.
26. Lost? Find a Hostel
Further to the tourist information goldmines, you can always count on hostel front desk staff to be a fountain of knowledge. Not sure where you are or whether there are any good cafes or restaurants around? Ask at the hostel front desk. Honestly, they’re usually seeing heaps of people everyday. I doubt they’ll remember (or really care) if you’re staying with them or not.
27. Get Lost on Purpose
This isn’t usually a directive I have to think about, if I’m honest. I could get lost in a paper bag. And obviously use your discretion – some cities and towns are safer than others. What I mean is, go for a little wander. You’d be surprised at the gems you’ll find that weren’t necessarily mentioned in the three blog posts you read (we can’t cover EVERYTHING), or in the guidebooks. Of course, if you don’t have GPS enabled on your phone to find your way back, maybe take this tip with a grain of salt.
28. Ask For an Upgrade
Especially if you’re travelling for a special occasion in the off-season it doesn’t hurt to (nicely) ask for a room upgrade upon check-in. Obviously it’s at the hotel staff’s discretion and often hinges on availability, but you’ll never know unless you try!
29. Try The Local Delicacy
Within reason, I guess. If you’re a vegetarian you get a pass on the meat-heavy options. But I think it’s always nice to broaden your horizons and try some weird and wonderful food. I think I’ve eaten horse as a child somewhere or other, and frogs legs and snails in Malta and France. But if you’re lucky enough to be somewhere like Brussels, you get the good stuff like Mussels and French Fries or waffles.
30. Don’t Be Afraid To Look Like a Tourist
I don’t mean amble around like a clueless fool, trailing passports and money belts. There seems to be a push to do everything ‘like the locals do’ lately. As if going on holiday to see another country and its wonders is somehow uncool. People suggests not visiting ultra-touristy spots, and things like that. But frankly, some places are ultra-touristy for good reason. Why go to Rome and miss out on the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain? They’re beautiful works of architecture that are appreciated for their history. Having said that, there are plenty of ‘off-the-beaten track’ spots to go, but don’t do them just because you don’t want to look like a tourist.