Back in December, News Ltd Sunday papers and their online Escape.com.au site were filled with promotion of an article I did on the 50 best travel tips. It’s on their site at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/travel/travel-advice/travel-tips-you-must-know-before-you-go-phil-tripps-top-tips/story-fnjjv72k-1226782177394
in the Melbourne paper but also across all others. I actually produced 111 of which they cherry picked what was appropriate for their readers with the option to use the others. But for my audience, I thought I’d start the New Year with the entire lot.
Here you go! Cheers and Happy 2014
Yes the Internet gives us the power to book, flights, hotels, attractions and much more but for major trips it’s best to use a travel agent who is available 24/7 if you get into trouble overseas and can make changes for you or rescue you if necessary. Though online prices may seem cheaper, they are often subject to fees and restrictive conditions that can come back and ruin a holiday with no one to turn to. Agents can also vet properties, get upgrades and find alternatives to the limited companies many travel sites deal with exclusively.
Before you leave, preferably before you book your tickets, obtain the right travel insurance policy suited to your destinations, pre-existing medical conditions, sport participation and level of coverage for possessions or special conditions. It’s crucial so research the best policies which may not be available through your travel agent but via an insurance broker. Travel agents often only sell one brand, with high commissions, often 30-40% that you can negotiate down or out. Many airline policies are marked up 50%. Brokers can source annual policies with 90 day or longer limits per trip that deal with special medical needs or evacuation flights.
Though you may believe that your credit card travel insurance coverage may be enough, it’s not likely and has so many conditions attached and a paperwork maelstrom that discourages claims as to be daunting. Check the terms, it may only supply additional coverage or only cover items purchased with that card.
Make sure your bank and credit cards companies know where and when you will be overseas by notifying them in advance by phone. This way, your cards or accounts won’t be frozen or cancelled if sudden overseas charges are noticed. It can be a frustrating process to correct this while overseas in another time zone and with expensive urgent calls. Check expiry dates on your cards to make sure they don’t time out mid-trip and record the toll free numbers for lost/stolen cards.
Buy a $100-200 Visa or OzForex debit card in the currency of destination and keep it separate from other cards or ID, perhaps in the bottom of your shoes. That way you have money and supplementary ID in case you are robbed or lose your cards and ID. You can use it to splurge on your last day if you don’t want to save it for another trip.
Ideally, a month before you leave, get out your passport and check that you have at least six months validity from the end of the trip, that you have current appropriate visas and also consider whether you should have vaccinations for your destinations. Some, like a flu shot, need two weeks to take effect and others may require a series of shots. Plus you should leave time to have a new passport or visas issued if you need them. Check, as countries’ conditions often change.
Get a flu shot! It’s another form of insurance when you’re packed into a flying tube of virus-laden carriers and walking in infected crowds at your destination. Leave home healthy and rested, not harried and exhausted making you vulnerable to jet lag and illness. Pack luggage three days out, assemble final bits and carry-ons two days out and get to the airport early without stress. It will make a huge difference in the start of your trip.
For loss prevention or retrieval, engrave your name and contact phone/email on your laptop, phone, iPod or other devices with the words Generous Reward. It works and encourages finders to take the extra step.
Self-adhesive stickers from address label to business card size can be made up for use on easy to lose items such as eyeglass/sunglass cases, cameras, non-engravable tablets and computers, equipment cases, headphones. phone chargers, power plugs and transformers. Vistaprint (vistaprint.com.au) is a fast online source and often has special free introductory offers or deep discounts.
Use your iPhone or iPad, other mobile or tablet to load itinerary or reservation numbers so that you can whip it out at any rental car agency, ticket desk or hotel check in with the confirmation number. All you have to do is convert the file to text format and it is always available.
You know you’ll never go to a gym while on holiday and exercising can be a challenge. But to keep those kilos from packing on and to get your body charged, consider getting jump rope a few weeks before your trip. Get used to using it and pick up speed and endurance on it so when you are in a foreign city, you can easily have some skipping time in your room, on a hotel roof overlooking the city or a private spot in a park. Not only is it cheap, it’s light, packs easily and can be used to tie up your suitcase if the lock breaks or hinges fall apart.
At a minimum, scan and upload your passport photo page and any relevant visas, driver’s license, credit cards (front and back where the toll free number for lost or stolen cards is) onto the Internet in a private email to yourself or as a file in the Cloud. That way, if you lose them, you have instant access to the info and proof for replacing your documents more readily. It’s also wise to upload your travel insurance proof of purchase policy, a doctor’s note on your medical condition or anything you are being treated for as well as a list of all medications you’re taking should you be injured or hospitalized.
Print out your itinerary with dates, flights, hotels, local contacts where you can be reached, your email and mobile numbers as well as home address. Tape it to the inside lid of your suitcase or attached in a ziplock bag to the main inside opening flap of a soft suitcase. Often exterior tags and IDs are pulled off in transit so this way, your bags can be returned to you if they can’t be identified by normal means. And check that the exterior tags have the right address, phone and email on them.
For your carry-on, copies of that itinerary can go into an A4 sliding clip plastic folder that also holds copies of tickets and vouchers for sequential destinations along with a page containing images of your vital ID documents including medical information.
If travelling as a couple, pack half of your clothing in each other’s suitcase so if one is lost or delayed, you won’t be without fresh fashion. Because it can take hours to get luggage to cruise cabins or hotel rooms when on tours, pack a small cloth bag with book, swimsuit, sunscreen, your mp3 player or even a dinner change of clothes, just in case.
Carry an insulated travel mug with a fitted top for taking hot beverages in the morning from the buffet instead of paper cups or for making your own soups, noodles or keeping iced drinks cold. You can also use it to pack small breakables or jewelry in your luggage.
The Swiss Army knife is the one tool that is invaluable on the road, but only if packed in your luggage, never the carry-on. From opening bottles, cans and uncorking wine to repairs and even tweezers or toothpick inserts, it’s crucial. You can engrave the side with contact info for recovery too.
Pack two pads of Post-it notes; one small square to leave messages for staff on mirrors, sinks or bedside tables as well as family on the door. And the other a lined, postcard size pad for lists, directions and addresses or numbers of where you’re going. Pack them into a ziplock bag with a texta or pen to keep them handy and unleakable.
Whether at the counter or the curbside check in, always check the routing tag that goes on your bag. The three letter airport code dictates where it’s headed. For example LGA is New York’s LaGuardia Airport, LGB is Long Beach Municipal in California, LGK is Langkawi in Malaysia and LGW is London’s Gatwick.
Wear comfortable, worn-in shoes, never new ones that need to be broken in. You’ll walk far more on holiday than at home making you vulnerable to blisters and pinching. Wear slip on shoes to easily get through security rather than unlacing and retying and also to have under your seat when you need to walk or use the bathroom. Never go barefoot into an airliner bathroom.
To avoid jet lag, adjust your watch to the destination’s time zone once on the plane and sleep only during the appropriate time there. Eat lightly and forego alcohol, drinking plenty of water throughout the flight. Get up often to exercise and stretch, moisturise your skin and use a facial water spray. Awaken at dawn for your destination and don’t take a nap on arrival, wait until the evening. Go into the sun and walk without sunglasses to retune your circadian rhythms. Take melatonin and perhaps carry a prescription light sleeping aid like Temazepam.
If you don’t have an iPad, Kindle, ebook reader or tablet, now’s the time to buy one and load it up with videos, ebooks and other media content. Great for use on the plane and also in your overseas hotel room where CNN International may be the only English TV option or at the pool. It’s also handy for queues and dining alone.
Noise cancelling headphones such as the Bose Quiet Comfort over the ear or in-ear isolating earphones are a blessing for blocking out babies, engine noise, chatty neighbours, snorers and other nasty sounds as well as enhancing your music or films. They have adaptors to use with airline seat systems so you always have clean earpieces and working sound.
If travelling overseas, don’t exchange currencies at the airports, change bureaus, hotels or non-bank ATMs. Arrange with your local bank to have a delivery of currency in the denominations you request sent to their bank two weeks out from your trip and get a number of low denomination bills or coins for tipping purposes, pay phones, vending machines or parking meters. If you need money overseas, only use bank ATMs. At the end of the trip, round up any coins or bills and ziplock in a bag for a future trip.
At the airport check in, remove change, jewelry, keys, phone, wallet and other pocket items and place in your carry-on so as not to have to fumble at security. Have your ticket and ID ready and remember in the US, an Australian driver’s license is not acceptable, passport only.
Airline seat comfort is crucial and booking your preferred seat ahead is the best way to assure you get space. Seatguru.com is the ultimate source for airplane seating maps by plane type and flights of carriers with amenities and restrictions. It details the location of good, fair and poor seats, powerports and other info to let you pick the best seat for the flight or best plane for the sector. It has seat maps by aircraft type so you can be aware of 2 seats by themselves that are gold locations or five seat row horror spots so you can confirm ahead. Always check a week ahead of your flight to reconfirm your seat as they may have changed aircraft.
To make flight connections at foreign airports or estimate time needed to get through security between gates, check on the real time status of present flights or the historic past performance of specific flights as well as airport security delays via Flightstats.com. It s time period’ feature shows within a three hour window the arrival and take off averages for any airport. It has information on most airports, parking, delay reports and security wait times with a graph to show best and worst times as well as average number of minutes to go through security–especially valuable in the intense US airport queues. There are also travel advisories on destinations and even monthly carrier on time performance reports.
TripIt.com is an app that organizes your electronic travel reservations into one master itinerary for phone, tablet or laptop. When you receive a confirmation e-mail—for a flight, hotel, rental car, dinner reservation, show, or event—forward it to TripIt and the site will consolidate all of your plans into an itinerary that fills in many blanks, adding links to online check-in, flight status updates, seat advice, gate changes, maps, directions, and more.
If you travel frequently for business within the Asia Pacific region, get an APEC Business Travel Card from the Australian Department of Immigrations and Citizenship. It allows entry to most countries via special APEC lanes or diplomatic channels as well as fast tracking immigration queues. It saves time and trouble for up to three years in applying for individual visas or entry permits each time you travel for business. It’s now being adopted in the US and Canada. http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/business/apec/
Book a private car service in advance for your destination city’s airport to assure a clean, comfortable ride after a long flight rather than a queue for a smelly taxi and obnoxious, scheming driver. It’s a relief well worth the extra few dollars which may turn out to be a fixed-rate bargain rather than being given a run-around taxi fare.
One stellar on-demand car service that does not take reservations but books in real time off your mobile is Uber (uber.com), available in Sydney, Melbourne, 22 countries and over 50 cities including most major US urban areas. Bypass local cab monopolies, credit card surcharges and tips, simply tapping you’re ready to be picked up without having to enter your destination. You can see your driver, cab number and photo in less than a minute as well as its progress to you. An SMS on approach and not having to pay in-car (your details are stored) and you get a receipt by email with all details.
Learn a few key phrases of the country you are going to such as hello, how much, thank you, I’m lost, where is a bathroom, I need medical help, etc. You can have a phrase book or have them on your mobile which has apps available for speak and say translation. It makes you look considerate and respectful if not a little dorky. But it will make a tremendous difference.
If you have a long-term holiday, get to know your destination’s food culture, markets and culture better by staying in serviced apartments or condos instead of hotels so that you can cook and entertain rather than simply rotate restaurants. You can also go to Vacation Rentals By Owners (vrbo.com) to choose one of over 500,000 homes worldwide.
Before you go, clean out your wallet of non-essential local loyalty, affinity, library, gym or other cards you use at home. Replace these with ones you may have from your previous trips’ destinations above. Take your Medicare and private insurance cards and a note card with insurance details of home policies that may apply for travel.
If you are going to be in a town or country for an extended period or return often, get the local supermarkets or retail chains free membership cards for discounts and specials. Often valid for deep savings on individual items or two-for-one deals, the savings can easily be 20% or more over non-card purchases. Costco Wholesale is another great example of savings with their cards valid in the UK, US, Canada and Japan.
Look up local tipping customs and a guide to amounts and for what services. While the US is notorious for tipping protocols, other countries may have gratuities added onto bills already or don’t encourage tipping. A handy guide is http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2013/05/16/your-ultimate-tipping-guide
For calling home or office, international calling cards are ubiquitous and available at newsagents, supermarkets, retail stores and online. They are also reloadable and the cost for calling home from the US, UK and Europe is 7-10 cents a minute. But make sure that you are not charged a flagfall fee per call, a monthly fee or long minimum call charge. Best to use major carrier cards. In the US for example, a Verizon IDC costs $30 and holds 480 minutes with no expiry, with extra charge only if a pay phone is used.
Aside from being heavy to carry, bulky and thief-bait, DSLR cameras are more for the pros than tourists. Take a top compact camera that rivals the quality and clarity of DSLRs and can take video too. Best bets are Fuji X100S or cheaper X20; Canon Powershot G1 X or cheaper G15; Nikon Coolpix A or cheaper P7700; Olympus XZ-2 or Sony RX100.
Carry extra memory cards and make the investment in faster, higher capacity cards for your camera. Download each day’s shots and upload them to Dropbox, the Cloud or other online storage service as well as backing them up on your laptop. Change cards every few days and don’t delete older photos as you’ll be unlikely to fill 32 Gig cards anyway.
Buy a pair of rechargeable battery walkie-talkie devices from an electronics store before you leave and extras for children or travel partners. Set to the same frequency, they are lifesavers on cruise ships where mobile phones don’t work out of port (or have massive charges); at airports when passing through security, customs or wandering before flights; in shopping malls when splitting up or on the street; at hotels between pool, gym and room. But they’re especially handy when one spouse speeds out to pick up the rental car and the other wrangles the luggage to meet out front of the arrivals hall.
No need to carry heavy extra batteries to last a trip, and possibly get them confiscated under a vague rule on packing them in the US. Use reliable brand rechargeable AA and AAAs with a charger—most of which work on 110-240 volts—and always have fresh power available for your devices. Add a battery powered mobile top-up device to this.
Make sure you have all your mobile phone, dental, device and laptop chargers, all suitably labelled, and carry along a multi plug powerboard with surge protection. This ensures you only need one plug adapter for it and can charge all your devices at once. Also purchase your plug adaptor for countries you are going to before you leave from electronics stores. Australian adapters are rare overseas and are more expensive once you hit the airport.
Take your own pillow in a colourful case with your name, email address and Reward for Return in texta on the edge of the pillow inside. A fluffy goose down pillow is best, can be rolled up tightly with a bungee around it to attach to a carry-on strap and can be used to cushion that special bottle in a suitcase on the way back. Well used, it will have the smell of home, spouse or even pet on it and provides the ultimate sleep comfort instead of the rubber ones in hotels.
Digital luggage scales are essential to beating the airlines extra weight charges and allow you to pack right to the limit with accuracy and ease. Battery operated, less than 100 grams and the size of a cigarette pack with hook or strap for baggage handles, they have a capacity of 40 kilos. Then make sure you know the luggage and carry-on rules for each sector of your trip in advance so as not to get hit for fees. These change often.
Another way to beat the weight game at the gate is to have an outergear coat with 6-8 pockets into which you can stuff the following as an example: iPad, iPod, iPhone, capped camera body, camera lens, zoom lens, video recorder, paperback book, snacks—whatever it takes to reduce the weight in your carry-on bag to bypass the baggage fascists. Simply pack the coat into overhead or hang in the closet onboard.
Thankfully, garbage bags come in all sizes and many colours, pack flat with easily cut out arm and head holes for use as an instant raincoat. And they are reusable if not fashionable. Pack an extra couple uncut in case they’re needed to protect luggage, perhaps with one in the bottom of your carry-on.
You might get a strange look from the customs agent going through your luggage, but having a dozen disposable latex gloves in a ziplock bag may be very handy for retrieving objects from places you’d rather not reach into. They are also great for hygienic wound cleaning as well as cleaning up tragic messes, as long as your name is not Dexter.
Ziplock bags are an essential item in a variety of sizes. Pack liquids into smaller ones and then into a large one. Another trick to prevent expansion is to squeeze some air out of liquid bottles, resealing them firmly before packing them away. Carry extras in case yours wear out, get punctured or you add more potions.
Use snack size ziplocks for rounding up change in various currencies for use next trip. Sandwich size keeps a passport dry and safe in rainy weather or during water sports. Heavier duty bags can be used to protect electronics such as iPod, iPhone or iPad and the latter in gallon size can be hung from the tray table clip on an aircraft seat for hands free viewing of movies or reading while still being able to use controls. Use a big bag to hold receipts and warranties for new purchases.
While you may want to have a carry-on stash of small bandages in various configurations along with alcohol or antiseptic swabs in a ziplock or lolly tin, you should pack a first aid kit with vital items, especially if you are travelling the tropics, third world or rural areas. Include standard bandages, a rolled ACE bandage, small bottle of Dettol or other antiseptic, anti-fungal cream, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, gauze pads, butterfly closures, large needle and perhaps a small Swiss Army knife. The container to use can be as simple as a compartment organizer from a hardware store or sealable plastic food storage container.
If you want to pack additional health care compounds, think about anti-diarrheal medication, antihistamine, decongestant, anti-motion sickness, mild laxative, pain or fever medications, antacid tablets, cough drops and severe painkillers. Get your GPs advice on this.
For prescription medicines, check with the consulate or embassy to make sure you can carry your drugs into the country. Even non-prescription painkillers such as Panadeine Forte, Mersyndol and others containing codeine can get you instantly arrested and confined in some countries, most notably Turkey. For Singapore, you have to apply for permission to bring in any controlled drugs, even anti-depressants or anti-anxiety tablets. Be aware that some over the counter brands such as the B & C megavitamin Berocca in Australia can only be dispensed with a prescription in the US.
If you are carrying prescription drugs, insulin needles and other medicines, you need to declare them on entry into a country, have a signed note from your doctor as to your use and dosage, carry them in their original containers (not broken out into pill-packs or daily dosage containers) and carry only the amount you would need for the period of your trip plus a reasonable amount extra in case you are stuck, delayed or detained. A couple of weeks extra is fine.
Buy sunscreen before you go or carry your own proven brand as those sold overseas may be inferior, counterfeited, cause allergic or skin reactions and may not be available in the strength or scent you prefer. Aloe gel may be a lifesaver too for burns.
Never pack your prescription drugs into luggage where they can be lost or stolen. Use a food storage container and add to your carry-on, making it easy to declare at customs.
Never pack cash, jewelry, expensive or delicate electronics, or cameras into luggage as airlines do not cover loss or damage without a massive amount of paperwork or denial. Your travel insurance may not cover it either. Before leaving home, take a photo of the contents and also of the bag itself that will help ID it in case of loss.
Packing a few celebratory cigars and perhaps a bottle of Absinthe to enjoy on your trip? If the cigars are from Cuba or the green fairy fluid has the word Absinthe in the brand or alone on the label, be prepared to have them confiscated in the US where they are banned.
If you’re travelling in the US and are suddenly hungry, ask a police officer or parking officer the best place to eat locally. They eat out all the time, usually in non-chain restaurants and know the area intimately. Otherwise, use sites like yelp.com, urbanspoon.com or tripadvisor.com to plan out your eateries by destination in advance.
If you are planning to bicycle while overseas, best to bring your own helmet and gloves as those supplied by vendors with bikes may be shoddy, broken or not available. The same goes for child safety seats for rental cars that can be an exorbitant extra.
If you have a portable GPS device that can be plugged into a car lighter or carried with you, check with the manufacturer’s website to see if they offer maps of countries you are travelling to for your model.
Carry a small box of a dozen little Thank You cards to leave behind for special service on your flight, your hotel room or for the concierge, restaurants or other special people and replenish as necessary in other cities. Also consider sending emails to the managers of staff who impressed you so they get special recognition and encouragement.
Snap a photo of your cruise ship cabin or hotel door with number as well as your parking spots in malls or garages. It makes it easy if drunk or lost to find your way back in endless corridors or locate your car in bewildering parking areas.
Carry your own personal lanyard or a carabiner clip with a few split keyrings on it and have the front desk of your hotel or cruise ship punch a hole in your plastic room key card where it won’t interfere with the magnetic strip or insertion edge. That way you can clip your car keys onto it or wear the card around your neck so as not to lose it when swimming. Also keep key cards away from mobile phones that can wipe them. Dispose of key cards when you leave to avoid confusion at future hotels.
Taking a cruise for relaxation? Then you don’t want to find yourself under the gym, a breakfast area where metal chairs are scraped across the deck or next to elevators. Check the cruise ship layouts at booking to avoid noisy areas and congestion. You can also place yourself close to stairwells for easy access to other decks and the exercise it brings rather than waiting for slow lifts.
Going on a cruise or long trip with multiple hotels? Bring along an adjustable tension rod for doorway hanging of clothes or drying. It’s light, takes up no space in the suitcase and fits most doors. Another handy item to carry along is a length of retractable ‘bungee’ cord (two metres max) or hooked stretch cables that can be used for the same purpose or to hold open a balcony door.
Good, small binoculars or a monocular are as useful indoors for seeing details in museums, cathedrals and artwork/sculptures as they are outdoors for architectural elements or cultural events.
Are you an expert in some popular area, a professor or authority, perhaps a newsworthy know-it-all? Cruise ship lines provide free passage to guests qualified to lecture on board and resorts often plan to have speakers on hobbies, culture, history or other areas of expertise. Contact the entertainment office of the line or resort and see if you could be the one for free passage or room and meals.
When taking a cruise, always allow an extra day or two before sailing in case of transport delays or weather cancellations. You want to start the cruise refreshed, not miss the boat or panic on the way and the embarkation port may have its own attractions for the curious traveller in addition to markets for loading up on refreshments and beverages to bring aboard.
Paranoid about pickpockets? The best nylon body safe is worn over the neck on the chest or under the arm, about the size of a DL envelope and has zip pockets for cash, cards and passport. The adjustable strap can be reinforced with wire and the body of the wallet with slashproof mesh in some models.
For computer security in a hotel room or for a bag in a public place, the Targus Defcon 1 Ultra Laptop Security System is a 200 gram device that has a wire cable that zips out, slots into an anchor point on most computers or can be looped through baggage handles to keep bags together. With low and high motion sensors to detect movement and a loud alarm, it can also be placed on inside hotel doors for intrusion protection. (for photo and details http://www.targus.com/us/productdetail.aspx?sku=pa400u)
A combination lock and slim bike cable can also be used to secure luggage in a hotel, airport or train station and keep bags from being snatched if you are waiting and distracted in public places.
When flights are overbooked, the gate agent often asks for volunteers to be bumped with the reward of a free flight later, upgrade on a later flight or other inducement. Don’t take the first offer and make sure you get the offer in writing if you do accept. Ask if the airline will pay for your meals and beverages while you wait. Can they get you into their lounge to wait out the time in comfort? Will they pay for a hotel room, meals and ground transportation if you have to stay overnight? Beware of free flight vouchers that have restrictions of blackout dates, expiration or from using them within a time frame or flight that suits you.
Even if you’re not driving up in your rental vehicle, you can still check in with the curbside porter service and have your bags put onto the conveyor, seat assigned and checked through to your final destination. You have to tip for this service ($3-5 per bag assures great treatment) but it’s worth it to avoid the check in lines inside the terminal and go directly to security. It pays to check your baggage claim tickets to make sure they are routed correctly.
American department stores such as Macy’s offer VIP shopping discounts of 10% to foreign customers in-store and many shopping malls have VIP voucher booklets for the asking that offer individual deals. Keep an eye for coupons in local newspapers but you can also go online to DealsPlus (http://dealspl.us) to check daily/weekly coupon codes, discounts and deals including free shipping. These include Macy’s, Nordstrom, Victoria’s Secret, Neiman Marcus, Target, Walmart and many more. Best example is a Macy’s purchase of two Tommy Bahama $100 Aloha Shirts–50% off in store on sale, combined with a 15% daily special and the 10% VIP card for $25 each.
Know what you want to buy before you head overseas and don’t want to waste time in shopping malls or store queues? Think CDs, DVDs, books, kitchen tools, toys or other items that don’t require trying on for fitting. Simply order online from companies like Amazon, Zappos, department stores or brands and have the purchases shipped to your last hotel in country before you return. That way, you can get discounts often with free shipping, track packages, have receipt records and not have to haul your purchases around in luggage until you leave.
If you are allowed two bags free or cheap on your international fares but have to pay hefty fees on domestic flights with several sectors, use FedEx Ground offices to ship a suitcase by truck to a mid-trip hotel if on a long journey and ship back one to your final hotel with accumulated buys and souvenirs. These take 3-7 days in the US depending on distance and are surprisingly cheap, insured and trackable.
Using your Australian phone in roaming mode overseas can be horrifically expensive. Best to get a SIM card for a carrier in the country you’re going to. You, or a friend, can purchase it in advance and have it sent to you so that you know your number ahead of the trip. For example, T-Mobile in the US has a T-Go service which is $50 for the card and 50 minutes, but for an extra $100, you get 1000 minutes, the phone number for a year, renewable, with voicemail, caller ID, call waiting and three way calling. For business people, it’s a virtual overseas office. Verizon and AT&T have similar plans with no monthly fees.
For laptop or tablet wireless internet access, some of the phone plans have add ons which allow you to access their national networks 30 days at a time with no contract. AT&T is the best for the US at $29 a month and Boingo.com is another service that gives access to 700,000 hotspots in many countries with a base plan of $11.95 a month. It automatically checks for free wifi wherever you are as well as its own nodes.
If you’re at an airport and want to access free wi-fi, stand outside most any airline membership lounge and you’ll find that the free wi-fi signal used by members within can be accessed through the walls by turning on your computer and tuning in. You can suck up bandwidth without paying or being inside. With hotels, you’ll find that many of the chain hotels may charge for wi-fi or cable internet access in the rooms but have free wi-fi in the lobby or even accessible by driving up. You’ll find coffee shops galore and bars that offer free wi-fi if you order a beverage. Of course all Apple stores offer fast free wi-fi. Same with McDonalds and most Starbucks, but you’d be better off at a public library without the smells.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a UN sanctioned document recognized in over 150 countries available through the NRMA over the counter or by mail before you head overseas. It’s useful as an additional form of identification and is vital in countries where your Australian license may not be enough alone to drive or rent vehicles. The cost is $39 and requires a passport type photo.
You don’t have to fly return to and from the same city. Check on making an open jaw booking which may be the same price or less than a simple round trip fare, possibly only a bit more. For example, fly into London and out of Paris or Rome for a European jaunt using trains intercity. Rather than landing in frantic Los Angeles Airport from Australia, perhaps fly nonstop to Dallas/Fort Worth and then return via New York or LAX. Customs and immigration are far less crowded and more welcoming in DFW coming into the US.
Carry a few small packets of tissues that are handy when public toilets lack the paper. Pre-moistened antiseptic hand or baby wipes also come in compact pull-up containers for the purse as well as individually foil wrapped packs for quick clean-ups. You can always carry a small flat kitchen storage device to make up your own scented towelettes from folded paper towels.
If a problem requires you to complain to an airline, hotel, car rental company or other supplier, go through the appropriate channels to start with, whether it’s the desk staff, management or a toll free call—noting the names and asking for employee numbers of each person you deal with. Have photos. Take notes or record the conversation for later reference. Get promises in writing on paper or by email. In the end, you may have to call corporate headquarters and deal with the assistant to the CEO or public relations department.
Another option is to use Twitter to complain directly to the corporate accounts that are monitored regularly or constantly to detect and solve problems. If you’ve used a travel agent, you can get them to intervene as well as posting complaints online at the Facebook or social networking sites of the supplier in addition to your own.
One of the hardest disciplines but with the greatest rewards is being able to travel with only a carry-on bag. The airline can’t lose your luggage if it’s with you. You can hop off the plane and into a vehicle without breaking stride. If a delay makes a tight connection, your luggage doesn’t get left behind. And if you want to take an earlier flight, not having any luggage means you’re more likely to get onto that flight. And if you’re forced to gate check it due to packed overhead lockers, at least you know it’s on the plane where the last loaded are usually the first off.
Dress for the climate you are going to, not the one you are coming from. Heading for Hawaii in our winter that is their summer? Better to sacrifice the jacket, long pants and shirt at home before departure and be dressed in shorts and aloha shirt already than sweat through long queues in customs hall, in a bus or cab to your hotel. And pack the extra pair or underwear and socks in your carry-on, just in case.
If you’re on a mobile plan in Australia and want to use that phone overseas with a purchased SIM card, make sure to get the phone unlocked here a few days before leaving so the SIM can be used. If you decide to take your own phone with you but still on your Australian number, be sure to have roaming turned off and call your carrier to determine how much call charges are to call out or receive calls on it and to send and receive messages should you decide to turn on briefly and use it. Best to carry a separate phone for the foreign SIM in that case.
For urgent repairs, wrap a metre of 5cm self-adhesive grey duct tape (also known as gaffer tape) around a pen to take in your carry-on. It’s amazing how many things it can fix like luggage handles or fabric rips.
Carry a small bowl with tightly resealable lid and plastic cutlery for those times when you want breakfast on the go, microwave noodles or soup and other snacks. A couple of snack packs of peanut butter and crackers may be just thing in case of delays or to stave off hunger. You can also pack salt, pepper and condiments in it within your luggage.
In some cities or transit points, you don’t want to be IDed as a tourist by unfolding a map. Using your cell phone or tablet, take photos of local maps or sections of city maps as well as metro subway, bus and other transport maps for use without attracting attention.
Make sure you are using the right plastic. Call your bank or credit card company and determine their fees for using ATMs, foreign withdrawals and exchange rates with commissions. Compare them to see which is the cheapest to use and also ask if fees are lower or waived for using other partner banks’ ATMs. Be aware that American Express and Diners Club are often not honoured overseas and that withdrawing cash through your credit card rather than your bank account accumulates interest immediately until the entire balance is repaid.
Consider a pre-paid travel money card which you can use to lock in the currency rate and different currencies you choose. Be aware that of the dozens available, there is a wide disparity in rates and fees as well as currency exchange calculations which can add up to hundreds of dollars on a five thousand dollar loaded card. A recent study is at http://mozo.com.au/travel-money
Car rental excess damage reduction is a rort for the company and it may already be covered by the credit card you use to rent, your own travel, car insurance or even some home policies. You should check if your rental includes full collision damage waiver (CDW), third party liability for the other vehicle in an accident and roadside assistance protection. Purchasing them in advance saves considerably over buying them on arrival. In the case of Alamo, a Silver Inclusive advance rate available to Australians includes all insurances, fees and taxes, locked in at the current currency rate.
There are many ways to save on rental cars. Don’t rent from the airport and save the daily ‘Airport Recovery Fee’, opting to rent from a city office. You may even be able to have any one-way fees waived in advance by asking. If you are renting in California, there are no one way fees for any location in that state, Nevada or Arizona as well as Seattle with several companies. California also allows for a free second driver where in other states the fee may be $15 or more a day. Best to only have a second driver paid for a reduced number of days that is done by returning to the depot to change the contract for specific days.
The best time to look for airline sales is Tuesday afternoon in the country you’ll be flying in or from. When one airline puts up a special on Monday, the competition usually matches or lowers their rates by Tuesday.
The time to stay in hotels in business districts of major cities is on the weekends from Friday to Sunday nights when occupancy is low. Monday to Thursday generally fill up and the hotels charge higher rates.
If you’re booking a hotel, check the prices on Wotif.com, Priceline.com, Hotwire.com or other sites, then check the website for the hotel itself. Using the hotel chain’s toll free number may only put you onto a sales agent who has no authority to offer a better deal. Call the property direct on the local number and ask for their best rate, any specials or upgrade offers and then let them know you checked online and can they beat those prices. You can also ask to be given a room away from construction, elevators or above entertainment areas that the local person would know.
If you can obtain the email address and name of the General Manager or Sales Manager of a particular hotel or resort you are booking into, let them know that you will be staying with them for a significant life event. It might be a birthday, anniversary, retirement, all-clear cancer diagnosis—and you will probably be treated to an upgrade or surprise treat. They want you to share the great memories of the hotel with your friends or online. Just don’t say it’s your husband getting out of jail.
If you’re researching properties on Tripadvisor as an example, you’ll often see the General Manager or other executive responding to a complaint that was lodged. You can easily reply to them and let them know you are staying at their property in the future, giving dates, and you were impressed with how they handled the complaint. Say you are looking forward to staying there and they may think you are a frequent contributor and arrange for an upgrade or special treatment.
Speaking of TripAdvisor and other travel rating sites, there is an enormous amount of fraudulent entries. If you see a rating with all five stars, gushing about the property at length but the reviewer only has done that one review, it’s probably a hotel staffer or PR agent. Look for marketing language. If the review trashes the hotel and again, it’s the reviewer’s only review, it’s likely to be the competition or just a disgruntled customer looking for revenge. Trust multiple review submitters and companies that have a large number of reviewers as a first rule.
Most people don’t know how to use a concierge but they can unlock the keys to the city, get impossible restaurant reservations or tickets to sold out events. As well, they can supply walking routes, priceless advice on local attractions and notes to cab drivers as well as maps printed out for your own tour. If you don’t have one at your hotel, find the nearest four or five star hotel and rock up to the concierge desk to ask for help. They should be happy to assist even if you’re not a guest as long as you are happy to tip.
The exception to the rule on advice from hotel desk staff applies to local restaurants. They are often bribed to direct customers to them, making reservations or sending them with the hotel card. Get your info from locals. Shop owners, bank staff, bartenders or business executives are all good sources to find nearby treasures. But in non-English countries, avoid places that have English menus posted on the window and if they have more than three different language menus, RUN.
If you have food allergies, always print them out in the local language or have the hotel do that for you. If you prefer not to eat certain things like horse, organ meats, fish roe or other exotica, include those as ingredients not to use.
Ask the hotel to clear out your minibar before you arrive or when you move in so you are not tempted to snack or drink the overpriced items in a weak moment. Tell them you are diabetic and a recovering alcoholic. If they refuse, get them to give you written permission to do it.
Check for local walking tours of a city or area to discover the real soul of the place, hidden gems, history and special features. You can also find places off the beaten track or discover gardens, parks and attractions not on the tourism boards’ lists. Using a local guide also gives you intel on other parts of the area that may be of interest including great restaurants and bars.
‘Resort Fee’ is the new profit margin charge that covers local or long distance phone calls, daily newspaper, gym access, pool access, Internet access (usually slow download, not premium) and other sometimes unusable perks. Check before booking if a fee like this is charged and ask to have it waived before you check in. Be firm, they are usually stopped as a courtesy.
Carry a reuseable water bottle that clips onto your day bag. Save the bottled water charges and use it on planes refilling from water fountains in the airport or from flight attendants. Some come with filters and having it in the hotel fridge avoids the midnight $7 small bottle ripoff.
Pack a USB thumbdrive with your maps of destinations, driving routes and other information as well as for backing up digital info like photos on the road. Print out your own copies of road trips before you go and slip into a plastic folder rather than using poor printers on the road at an exorbitant cost.
If you’re staying at a resort or five star hotel and your photos may not be good due to weather or camera problems, find out who the public relations person is on staff and ask if they have digital copies of hotel photos on a disc or thumbdrive so you can tweet them, send them to friends and put up on your Facebook page. You will probably get the drive and a lovely set of postcards.
A great entertainment device that doubles as a lifesaver in an emergency is a small portable, shortwave radio. If you are in a rural, isolated or troublesome area it could save your life in an emergency but it’s terrific for listening to local culture, faraway stations and odd noises of the air.
The two rows not to book on a plane are the first rows of economy or business where the constant swishing curtains of flight attendants and noise from their refreshment areas or kitchen keep you awake. Also avoid the very last row in economy in front of the toilets that may not recline fully and will be subject to the jets of flushing for the flight as well as the odours and queuing masses. Though bulkhead seats may have extra legroom, they are often where the bassinettes are folded up for parents of babies.
Now go find your piece of paradise.