Archive for the ‘General Travel Advice’ Category

  • If you’re taking your phone, be sure to organise international roaming before you leave and iPhones need to be unlocked.
  • It’s often much cheaper to buy sim cards overseas than use your local one.
  • At the end of your trip if you have any small amounts of foreign currency hang on to it. You never know when you might return to that country or even have a brief stopover where you might want to buy some food or a coffee.
  • Learn basic phrases in the local language. There is nothing more offensive than hearing someone immediately start speaking English in a non-English speaking country assuming the local person speaks it. Learning hello, goodbye, please and thank-you is not only polite but you’re more likely to be helped or served. Of course it helps to learn the phrase “do you speak English” as well.
  • Walking or cycling tours are a fantastic way of seeing and learning about a city or the countryside and don’t limit yourself to just doing them during the day.
  • NEVER offer to carry another person’s luggage or accept gifts from a stranger. You may inadvertently become a drug mule.
  • Never leave your luggage unattended. It may either be stolen or something put in it.
  • If you have concerns about your luggage being tampered with en route, many airports offer a service whereby your bag is wrapped in plastic for a small fee. It makes it time consuming for a thief to get into and they are therefore they are more likely to pick another bag.
  • Don’t assume your bags are safe once in a hotel room. I always keep them padlocked because unfortunately there are dishonest people all around the world who wouldn’t hesitate to go through your bag given the opportunity. If you are really concerned and travelling in a dodgy place you could use a bag cover (made of steel) and a small cable attached to something immovable. Refer to the following website for more information http://www.pacsafe.com/www/index.php
  • Read the fine print on your travel insurance documents to make sure you are covered for any adventure activities like skydiving, white water rafting and riding a motorbike. Each company varies in what they do and do not cover.
  • If you’re travelling on a longer journey take a little sewing kit you never know what you’ll need it for.
  • While many travellers love them, many hostels and hotels frown on the use of a sleep sheet because they risk the transport of bed bugs from place to place. Yes it is less likely you will be bitten but they can easily sit on the outside of your sleep sheet and be carried to your next accommodation (and in you luggage). Bed bugs are typically associated with dingy, dirty places but they can be found in any accommodation and this is often the case because of sleep sheets.
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  • Join a frequent flyer club. Most don’t charge you and if you travel a lot the points quickly add up.
  • As a shift worker I don’t seem to experience jet lag or at least I don’t feel any different to when I’m working. What I have found helps when I work that may help with travel is a product called Melatonin. It is a hormone naturally secreted in the body and helps to regulate sleep. The tablet form is a synthetic melatonin and may help with jet lag. It can be obtained over the counter from pharmacies.
  • If you arrive at an airport early in the morning and aren’t able to check into you’re accommodation until that afternoon make the most of the airport showers and freshen up.
  • Know how to get to your accommodation before you arrive at your destination. Don’t rely on travel guide maps as they don’t always include small streets and if you want to use the internet at airports be prepared to pay more than a reasonable price. It’s much easier to print out a map before you leave home; this can also be helpful for non-English speaking taxi drivers who can’t understand where you want them to take you.
  • Get a local map as soon as you arrive at your destination. Mark out your accommodation and the places you plan on visiting.
  • Have the number of your accommodation if you need to call them at any stage.
  • Ask someone to write down the name of your accommodation in the local language; you never know when you might need to use it.
  • Know the emergency number for the country you are visiting.
  • If using public transport always remember the name of your departure station so you remember where to get off on your return journey. It’s very difficult otherwise when all the stations (particularly in the underground) look the same and are written in a foreign language.
  • Be aware of how different countries use tickets and public transport. In some places you need to validate your ticket for it to be recognised. If you don’t validate it you risk a fine.
  • Don’t be tricked into giving out your address or phone number to locals in third world countries.
  • In some countries they have been known to use these details to contact your family and falsify a kidnapping for money.
  • Some people who want to immigrate to your country may try to use you as a sponsor if they have your details.
  • There are pickpockets all around the world and they prey on tourists who are distracted or careless. Just be careful; never leave you bag unattended, don’t leave your bag open even if you have it on your person. Try to avoid constantly opening and closing your bag to pull out money, camera and other valuables.
  • Be aware of the various scams in the countries you plan on visiting. If you’re prepared you’re less likely to fall victim.
  • If you want to wear makeup and nice clothes and a different outfit everyday then be prepared to carry around a lot of luggage! Some tinted mineral powder, lip gloss, mascara and eyeliner will do. As far as clothes are concerned…you’re travelling, just enjoy it. Take a little bit of jewellery in a small, clean hand cream container and some funky scarves and you can mix your look with these.
  • Dress modestly and look at what the women are wearing in the country you’re visiting.
  • Be aware of cultural expectations of male-female relationships. Some countries have strict rules about the interaction between men and woman and other places frown heavily on overt displays of public affection.
  • Make use of toilets at every opportunity, you never know when your next loo stop will be. And always carry a little bit of toilet paper.
  • Some toilets in Asia & Africa do not have doors and some are only one long trough lined up against the wall. Nothing you can do about it so just saying…be prepared.
  • If your taking the oral contraceptive pill while travelling you can safely skip your periods for up to three months (speak with your doctor about this first) by skipping the sugar pills. If for whatever reason you can’t take the pill and will get your period while overseas, there is another option to pads and tampons called menstrual cups made of reusable silicone or gum rubber. I haven’t used them myself so I can’t review them but just do a Google search if you want more information.
  • If you want to swim in countries that frown upon exposing too much flesh look for modest bathing wear at http://seabirdswimwear.com, http://www.cwear.com.au or www.onestopplus.com
  • If your travelling for a while, avoid shaving your legs every few days by getting them waxed (if you don’t already). Take along some ready made wax strips to use when needed.
  • If your on a tour with a lot of early starts, save yourself having to wash your hair by alternating normal shampoo with spray on shampoo every few days – works a treat.

Dealing with men

  • Men in any country will try and attract the attention of a solo female particularly if you “look” foreign. Most of the men are harmless so treat these situations as you would at home. Don’t be rude but don’t be naive either. Either walk away or give a firm “no”. In most cases this will work but if at any stage you feel threatened go to a cafe or shop and wait there. You can even talk to the owners to let them know what’s going on and they may help send him away.
  • Wear a fake wedding ring.
  • Don’t stare at men, this may be seen as an invitation.
  • If you’re walking around at night, stick to the crowded areas.
  • Don’t put yourself in situations that could lead to danger ie: isolated areas, the back of shops, alone in a bar or club, our alone late at night.
  • Don’t EVER let a stranger buy you a drink unless you see the bartender pour it yourself and hand it to you! And never leave your drink unattended.
  • Having said all that don’t let this discourage you from talking to men overseas. Most of them are friendly, helpful and you can learn a lot about their culture and country. I spoke with many men inAfricaand if I thought the conversation was heading in a direction I didn’t like I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in pursuing anything or simply ended the conversation.
  • Take a couple of packets of noodles or muesli bars etc… if you’re arriving at your accommodation late at night. You might find you are hungry and room service is not available. Just don’t forget to declare them at customs.
  • Many hostels and hotels offer all you can eat breakfast. Unless otherwise indicated, save yourself some money and consider taking a piece of fruit and making yourself a sandwich for lunch.
  • Alternatively, pop into a local supermarket or deli for lunch. Many stock hot food or you can get a bread roll and some meat.
  • If eating out, look at where the locals eat. The food here will often be much better than the tourist haunts.
  • Some countries, like Spain, will place bread or appetisers in front of you. This is not always free so if you don’t want to pay, don’t touch it.
  • Other places such as Italywill charge you more for your coffee if you sit down, so unless you actually want a leisurely hour, drink it at the “bar”.
  • Tip varies from country to country so be sure to find out what the custom is before you dine.
  • Find out what the local specialities are and try them. You will discover a whole delicious world out there.
  • As I mentioned in my health post, be careful when eating in third world countries. Cooked well, no ice, no salads and be wary of seafood. Also be very cautious of food stalls. They smell delicious but the cooking and cleaning techniques will often leave you unwell.
  • As a traveller you will often find you do not eat as well as you do at home. Junk food often becomes a staple which will leave you feeling run down. Many hostels have cooking facilities so if you’re travelling for a while take a small empty container (a filled unlabelled one might not make it through customs) and once at your destination fill it with some cooking oil so you don’t have to carry a big bottle with you. Take a list of simple quick meals that you can easily make. This will save you money as well.
  • Avoid headaches and cramps by keeping well hydrated. A lot of site seeing and walking will deplete your fluids more than normal particularly in places like Africa.
  • Travel forums such as the lonely planet, world nomads, travellers point and virtual tourist are a great way of finding out what the everyday person thought of where they went as well as getting loads of tips and advice. On some of these websites they provide you with the opportunity to ask locals questions about where you’re going such as safe areas to stay in, good local nightspots, places to eat and sights worth seeing.
  • When looking for accommodation I search using a hotel or hostel booking website that lists thousands of accommodations. Then I always use trip advisor to read independent reviews from people who have stayed in the places I’m looking at. Many reviews include photos. Keep in mind that some people are completely unrealistic about what is and is not acceptable accommodation. If you pay for one star you should not expect four star! There are also reviews for attractions and restaurants.
  • While web based flight agencies often quote cheap airfares, places like flight centre will actually match the quote and they do all the work for you including organising visas and providing invaluable advice.
  • Don’t limit yourself to tours. A lot of countries now offer a hop-on-hop-off way of exploring. Generally a bus will pass through a town every second day and you notify them (online) in advance if you require a seat. That way you decide how long you’ll stay in one place. There are also rail passes available or the option of flying between countries (obviously this depends on your budget).
  • If you’re booked on a tour or going to a special function plan to arrive a day earlier in case there are delays in your flight.
  • Research the weather of the places you plan on visiting. It would be so disappointing to book your trip and arrive only to find it’s the rainy season, monsoon weather or a grey winter.
  • Consider travelling when there are beautiful seasonal changes ie: March/April in Japan to see the cherry blossom, early spring in South Africa or Western Australia for the vast display of wildflowers, autumn in Switzerland to see the magnificent array of colour on the deciduous trees etc…
  • Don’t plan your trip around only the cities. There is much to see in the country and in small towns.
  • When planning your itinerary:
    • Use a travel book and the internet to do your research but also talk to people who have been there before because they will know what is worth seeing and what isn’t. Just make sure you ask them why they didn’t like something because it might not apply to you.
    • Allow some flexibility (unless you’re on a really tight schedule).
    • Be logical in your planning – avoid backtracking – and be realistic. There is no point in adding destinations to your list that you will barely see just so you can say you’ve been there. Aside from giving you a lengthy detour, it adds expense and cuts down on time you will spend in another place.
    • Consider flying in to one country and out of another rather than doing a round trip.
    • For longer trips, plan for rest periods. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Constant sight-seeing is tiring and a half or full day of lounging in a café or a park can make a huge difference.
    • Don’t overload yourself on cathedrals and museums inEurope. Believe me you will get sick of them if you do too many!
    • Look beyond the frequented sights for something a little different ie: a bike ride tour of a countryside, day boat trips, hiking, night time walking tours, markets etc…
    • Find out what days and times tourist sites are open (most places close for one day of the week).
    • Write out your itinerary list using excel (makes it easier to work out a budget). You will be ready when you arrive with estimated budget and know you have back up sights to see in case of unexpected hindrances like weather, public holidays and unplanned closure of sight-seeing places.
    • Look for tourist cards (ie:Londonpass) that offer entry into a certain number of tourist sites at a discounted price.
    • Don’t be afraid to use public transport to get around. Just remember where you need to get off at the end of your day.
  • Research festivals and celebrations that might be occurring at your destination. There is nothing as exciting as taking part in a community or national celebration in another country.
  • With this is mind, if there are festivals occurring at the time you plan on visiting be sure to book your accommodation in advance or you might be sleeping on the street. ie: Most cheap accommodation inMunichis well and truly booked out come Oktoberfest.
  • Be aware of laws, cultural differences and customs in the countries you plan on visiting. Not only is it wise to respect another’s culture in some places you could be arrested for blatantly ignoring cultural traditions. Just because you are a visitor there does not mean you will be let off lightly. This can be as simple as not taking photos of law or military officers and their buildings.
  • If you plan on driving overseas your own licence may not be enough. Make sure you get an international drivers licence before you leave.
  • Know the emergency number of the country you are visiting, you never know when you might need it.
  • If you plan on undertaking any activities such as sky diving, white water rafting, scuba diving, riding a moped etc… make sure your travel insurance covers you for this (many don’t).
  • Most international flights now allow online check in 24 hours prior to your flight. And if you do this you can arrive at the airport 2 hours before the flight rather than 3 hours (check with your airline first to confirm this). Checking in online also means you can choose your own seat.
  • Some people like a window seat for the view but you will be too high to see anything once you’re cruising and half you’re flying on a long flight will be in the dark so it’s pointless for that reason. Others like it so they can lean against the wall but if you have a good travel pillow you won’t need to worry. I suggest an isle seat as you can get up and down without disturbing the other passengers.
  • Seat guru is a website designed to help you find a seat that suits your preferences on your airline. http://www.seatguru.com/
  • Don’t leave any of the tags on your bags from previous flights. This can lead to your luggage being inadvertently placed on the wrong flight.
  • Keep a little pouch for your passport, tickets, boarding passes, GP letter so they are easily accessible and all in one place but always keep it in your bag so you don’t accidentally leave it behind.
  • For Australian residents: If you spend $300 in one transaction on something you will be taking with you overseas (ie: camera, MP3) within 30 days of travel, you can claim back the GST. Just take your receipt and the goods and go to the claim desk once through customs. http://www.customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/travellers___english1.pdf
  • At boarding time there always seems to be a rush for the plane. Wait until most people are on, then you can stroll on and to your seat straight away rather than wait in a cue and then sit for 20 minutes while everyone else boards.
  • What to take on board:
    • Take a little refreshment bag on the flight. Include:
      • Chewing gum or lollies to reduce any ear pain during takeoff and landing.
      • Toothpaste and brush for long flights.
      • Deodorant.
      • Hand cream & lip balm (your skin and lips will dry out on long flights).
      • Take all your electronic equipment, including charging cables on board the plane. You don’t want to risk them being stolen or lost.
    • Take all medications (especially prescription) on board in case your luggage gets lost. Make sure you have your GP letter handy to show customs if required.
    • I’ve mentioned the lowepro camera sling (for a DSLR) in another post. This has extra space that I use for my electronic equipment and it can be considered a handbag meaning you can take that plus another bag on board (providing combined, they fall within the onboard baggage allowance).
    • A blow up travel pillow is a life saver on long flights. Get one that wraps around your neck so you don’t wake with pain from sleeping awkwardly.
    • You never know when your luggage may be lost so take a spare pair of underwear & a top just in case.
    • A pair of silicone ear plugs will help block out a lot of noise if you’re a light sleeper.
    • Bring a book and an MP3 player. There are only so many movies you can watch.
  • Before your seated take out the things you think you’ll need and either keep them in a bag under your seat or in the seat pocket. That way you won’t have to keep getting your bag out of the overhead locker and rummaging through it.
  • Most good airlines provide socks and sleep mask to block out light.
  • They should also have water fountains somewhere on the plane. Every time you get up to walk or use the toilet get yourself a drink. Depending on the country you are in you can carry an empty water bottle on the plane but don’t buy an expensive bottle, just a supermarket bottle of water. Many airlines no longer stock bottles of water, only little cups.
  • Remember that post 9/11 you are very limited as to what you can take on board and you can only carry certain liquids (either 50 or 100ml depending on the airline). Check this out before you pack you bags.
  • Many airlines now have USB sockets where you can charge your electronic gear.
  • ALWAYS declare whatever is asked of you on your incoming passenger form. It’s not worth risking a fine or worse to try and sneak something in. Customs officials will not listen to any explanation you have if you ticked ‘no’ when in fact you should have ticked yes.
  • For long haul flights dress for comfort not style. 24 hours on a plane does not feel comfortable in restrictive clothes.
  • Most airports have showers so if you have a stopover during a long flight and there is time, have a shower, you will be surprised how refreshed you feel.
  • Some airports have free wi-fi just go to the information desk to get the password.

LUGGAGE

  • To take a backpack or a suitcase? Often this will be a personal preference but I have only ever travelled with a backpack unless on short trips. I find it easier to get around with, particularly in places that have only stairs and not a lift. As well there are times that a suitcase will simply not be practical.
  • A backpack with a small separate section down the bottom of the pack is handy for carrying your shoes, dirty clothes and toiletries to avoid your clothes getting smelly, dirty and wet. Those using a suitcase without a divider can use a piece of cardboard.
  • When packing your luggage roll your clothes rather than fold them, you will have more space that way.
  • Packing cells are a fantastic way of keeping your luggage sorted and surprisingly they take up very little extra space. You can buy them at most travel shops.
  • You only need 3 pairs of shoes. Sneakers for lots of walking, thongs (flip flops) for shorter amounts of walking, beach etc… and for the ladies a pair of ballerina slippers which can be used both during the day and if you go somewhere a little fancy at night. Wear the sneakers on the flight to save luggage space. Don’t take hiking boots unless you’ll actually be hiking.
  • Think laterally:
    • Some outdoor clothing stores sell reversible polo’s and jumpers if you want variety but need to keep your luggage small.
    • The same stores also sell pants that have zips on the legs to turn them into shorts.
    • For those who are going on long camping trips thermal tops can be versatile. In places such as Africa where the nights may be very cold but the days hot a thermal top can be used as a PJ top overnight but also worn first thing in the morning until it warms up. Polyester will likely make you sweat and will very quickly start to smell. Instead buy a 100% woollen thermal.
    • A nice sarong can be used for the beach, as a wrap when going out in the evening if not too cold and as a shoulder covering (providing its not see through) for any sites you may visit that requires shoulder to be covered.
    • When packing clothes for cold weather consider high performance warm weather gear that dries easily and weighs next to nothing (gore-tex, polypropylene and nycott). This will take up a lot less space than bulky clothes.
  • Ensure you have at least one pair of clothes that cover the shoulders and knees for those visits you make to religious sites otherwise you may not be allowed in.
  • A little black cardigan is the most versatile item of clothing you can take.
  • If you need to take your own towel use a micro fibre one. Not only do they dry quicker but they take up much less space.
  • Don’t waste space with big bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Take travel size ones and buy what you need when you arrive and then as you need it.
  • Rather than washing your hair everyday use a spray on shampoo (available at any hair shop). Goes on like hairspray, wait 2 minutes then brush. Almost as good as if your hairs been washed.
  • A small round hand cream container is a good item to safely store your jewellery in.
  • Use a combination padlock to keep your luggage safe. A key is easier to loose.
  • Are there things that you might only use once or twice and if so is it worth carrying them around for the whole trip? Consider buying them when you need them and then giving them away.  
  • Take a supply of assorted zip lock bags; they will always come in handy.
  • ALWAYS pack your own bag, you need to know what is in there when passing through customs. Pleading ignorance simply will not work.
  • And remember…pack light!