Tips

Preparation before you travel ensures peace of mind when you travel. Tips for the Trip.

Whether you are going away for a weekend, a week, a month or a year, interstate or internationally – on business or simply for pleasure - how well you prepare will have a direct effect on how safe, successful and enjoyable your travels are.

For the last 50 or so years, Dinah and I have travelled the world. At last count we had visited over 50 countries, with many more still on our ‘to visit’ list. For us, it stated in the early 1970’s when the travel bug bit and we set off for England. That was the beginning of our fascination with travel. Since then we have visited countries all over the world. Along the way, we have learnt from experience the ‘dos and don’ts’ of travel and specifically, the importance of robust travel preparation. With many of the stories I have posted on this blog, I have offered tips for travel to the destinations written about. I have compiled these tips into one concise guide that I trust will help you to prepare for travel.

1. Where do you want to go?

Fundamental, but deciding where to you want to travel to is really the first step. The world has never been so accessible, and travel has never been so affordable. When Dinah and I made the decision to travel to London in 1972, a one-way airfare cost AUD$418, the equivalent of 5.5 weeks income. Today, a return airfare to London can cost as little as around AUD$1,000. For most of us, less than a single week’s income.

If you are planning overseas travel for the first time, it may be wise to start by choosing a ‘safe’ destination, one that is easily accessible and idealy, one where English is widely spoken. From Australia, the Pacific islands of Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and South East Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia (Bali) all offer exciting travel opportunities within relatively safe environments. Airlines and travel companies continually offer discount flights and package holiday deals that are excellent value for money. I have an app on my phone called I Know The Pilot. It is constantly alerting me to great flight and accommodation deals. The app is definitely worth checking out: www.iknowthepilot.com.au

2. Organising your travel

Using a travel company is great way to make travel organisation easy. They will book your flights, confirm your seats, book your accommodation, organise land travel, including airport pick-ups and in-country tours and can even organise visas for you. If you are organising the travel yourself, make sure you double check your arrival and departure dates when booking your flights online. If you want to upgrade to more legroom or request specific seating arrangements, you can also do this online when you book. Budget carriers generally charge extra for meals, entertainment and checked luggage. Make sure that you are familiar with their requirements, particularly in terms of luggage weight, including carry-on luggage. If you are planning to take additional luggage, pay for it when you book your seats, not at the departure counter where you will pay a premium.

Generally, the earlier you book, the better the deal but sometimes last-minute deals can provide real savings. These are great if you have flexibility in terms of when you can travel.

Once the travel is booked and confirmed, print out hard copies to take with you. You should also enter the details into your mobile phone. A good way to store your travel information is to download a ‘travel wallet’ app such as Trip Case. This can also be used for airport and accommodation check-ins. Some travel companies will have a favoured app and will load the information for you when you book through them. I also save the travel details in my mobile phone’s Microsoft Outlook calendar as a back-up.

3. Do your homework

Research where you are going. There are any number of travel guides on almost every country and you can supplement these by going on line for more information. The tourism authorities of most countries have websites designed to provide travel and sightseeing advice for tourists and visitors. Some of the things you should seek information and advice on are:

  • Entry and exit requirements: Some countries require you to obtain a visa to enter. In many instances you can apply on line, as is the case for example when obtaining a ‘visa waver’ for entry into the US. However, in other cases such as entry into Vietnam, you will need to send your passport away to get a visa. This is where a travel company comes in handy.  The time it takes to process visa applications varies greatly, country to country. So, check early and leave plenty of time to get the required documentation.
  • A valid passport: For Australians travelling overseas, make sure that you have at least 6 months remaining on your passport from the date you exit the country.
  • Health requirements: Ask your doctor whether or not you need specific immunisation for the countries you are visiting?
  • Money: What is the currency of the country you are visiting and are you best taking that local currency with you? Can you get a bank travel card for this country that will allow you to access funds via their ATMs.
  • Mobile phone: It is generally far cheaper to purchase a local SIM card for your mobile phone when you arrive than use your own provider overseas. You can purchase the SIM at the airport on your arrival or at a mobile phone retailer. You pay upfront for data and phone calls and you get a local telephone number. Make sure that you keep your own SIM card and reinsert it into your phone when you arrive home. The local SIM will allow you to access Facebook, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. These are the best and cheapest ways to communicate locally, as well as with friends at home. If you don’t have Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, make sure you download them before you travel.
  • Language, customs and religions: Learning a few well-chosen words in the local language is a great way to establish a dialogue with the locals. Most travel guides and websites will list basic conversation words and phrases such as “Hello”, “Can you help me?” and “Thank you”. Familiarising yourself with local cultures and religions is also a good idea and avoids any unintentional faux pas and prepares you in terms of what is expected when attending cultural events and visiting religious sites.
  • Medical assistance: Contact details regarding access to medical assistance and services (doctors, clinics, hospitals) in the cities you will be visiting is also important if you are travelling with any pre-existing medical conditions. If your mobile phone has a 'Health' app, you can store important medical information here, including any medication you are taking.

4. Put together an itinerary

I always put together a travel itinerary which details our travel: airline, flight numbers, departure and arrival times, terminal information and allocated seats.  The itinerary also details any airport pick-up arrangements and contact numbers as well as all of our hotels, accommodation dates and contact numbers. Providing a copy of your itinerary to a family member at home is also a good idea in case they need to contact you.

5. Accompanying documentation

You will need to carry your passport and all travel documents on you. You will need these at airports and in some cases, hotels will require a copy of your passport when you check in. Additional documentation:

  • Passport Copy: A photocopy of the personal identification pages of your passport.
  • Medication: A photocopy of prescriptions for any medicines you are carrying with you. Most countries have strict drug laws relating to what drugs are considered ‘legal’, and these vary from country to country. Copies of prescriptions will help authenticate the medication you are carrying. Its also a good idea to travel with medication in its pharmacy packaging, further verifying its authenticity.
  • Doctor’s letter: A letter from your doctor detailing your prescribed medications for any medical conditions is also a good idea.

6. Travel Insurance

This is a plan you purchase that protects you from certain financial risks and losses that can occur while traveling. These losses can be minor like delayed or lost luggage, or significant like a last-minute travel cancellation or a medical emergency overseas.This insurance is an absolute must.You should never travel without it. Medical and hospital costs overseas can be incredibly expensive and are usually payable at the time of treatment. Without travel insurance, you will have no means of recouping any cost. Your travel agent can help. They can organise your travel insurance for you. Or, you can organise it yourself. Some credit card companies offer complimentary travel insurance when you book your travel on their card. There is usually a minimum expenditure required. For more information on the reasons why travel insurance is essential, visit: www.travelinsurance review.net

For Australians travelling overseas, it is also recommend that you register with ‘Smart Traveller’. This is a Federal Government initiative as part of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The website provides you with the latest advice regarding the countries you plan to visit as well as providing information on support if you require it while you are overseas. You can register your trip online at: www.smarttraveller.gov.au

7. Create a realistic travel budget

The last thing you need when you return home after your trip is ‘credit card shock’. Preparing a realistic budget before you travel is one way of avoiding this. Create a spreadsheet to capture all information relating to your travel costs. Cost categories could include:

  • Return airfares (including all loadings)
  • Travel to and from airports (including any long-term car parking costs)
  • Accommodation
  • In-country travel (taxis, buses etc)
  • An allowance for in-country tours
  • Daily living expenses allowance
  • Contingencies such as gifts and unexpected costs)

I load the spreadsheet onto the mobile devices that I take with me (iPad, laptop computer) so I can update the data as I travel.

8. Accommodation

Most of us prefer to have our accommodation booked and confirmed before we depart. This provides a sense of security and also helps in formulating a realistic travel budget, as accommodation costs are known up-front. There are myriad travel and accommodation package deals available. Your travel agent can advise you on these. In most cases, they represent good value when you consider the individual costs of airfares and accommodation. Alternatively, you can organise and book your own accommodation. Booking sites such as booking.com, expedia, trivago and wotif are an easy and convenient way to book. These sites also provide a star rating and include comments and reviews which are helpful in choosing where to stay. Alternatively, you can use these booking sites to do your research then book your accommodation directly with the hotel. Booking sites usually charge the hotel a significant booking and commission fee, so dealing directly with the hotel may result in you getting a better deal than the rate promoted on the booking site, or value-adds such as room upgrades and breakfast being included.

9. Land travel

Getting from the airport to your accommodation on arrival is a key consideration. After a long flight, it’s great to have someone at the airport to meet you. Your travel agent can book an airport pick-up for you when you book your trip - done and paid for. Or you can contact your hotel directly. In most instances they will be able to organise an airport shuttle for you. Alternatively, you can simply grab taxi at the airport when you arrive. Make sure that it is a reputable taxi service and agree the fee before travel. Airport information counters can help here.

Often package holidays include a range of sightseeing options. You can book these with your travel agent when you book your trip. Hotels can also book trips for you. Their Concierge or Travel Desks can assist here, with the trip being included in your hotel bill. Or, you can book your own trips through external trip companies. In places such as Bali, a great option is to identify where you would like to go and then book a driver for the day. For around AUD$60 your driver will take you wherever you wish to go and wait for you while you are sightseeing. The advantage here is that is just you in a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle, not a minibus full of strangers. Additionally, you benefit from the driver’s ‘local knowledge’ in taking you to places off the usual tourist track. Your hotel can assist in booking a driver for you.

10. Carry-on or checked luggage?

Packing for travel has become an artform and is the topic of countless online blogs. The general rule of thumb is to depart light and return heavy. If you are right on the maximum weight allocation when you depart, you will have no weight allowance for anything you want to bring home. You may end up paying an exorbitant amount for excess baggage.

What you pack really depends on where you are going and what you plan to do. If you are going to a cold country or if your trip entails business or formal entertaining, you will need to pack accordingly. Dinah and I have learnt to travel light. For 2 weeks in Bali and all we take is carry-on. The current maximum 7 kilograms is sufficient for t-shirts, shorts, a sarong or two, bathers, wet-pack and casual shoes. If you do need jeans, sneakers and a light coat, wear them on the plane. Carry-on also means fast airport check in and getaways - no waiting at luggage carrousels! For business travel we generally take a suitcase, which means checked luggage. We still aim to keep our departure weight as low as possible (11 to 15 kilograms) making our luggage lighter and easier to handle. And that leaves plenty of room for the ‘goodies’ we will want to bring home! Checked luggage weight allowances vary from airline to airline, so make sure you check when you book.

11. What to take. What to forsake?

Err on the side of frugal. Bringing home a stack of clothing that you didn’t wear and knowing that you lugged it all over the country, is really annoying. Be realistic about what you plan to wear and what you need to take. Think about the climate you are going to and what your activities will entail, then pack accordingly.

Before you pack, lay everything out on the bed and then review. If in doubt, leave it out.

  • Select the right size suitcase. No point taking a huge suitcase if you are only spending a week at the beach. You might be able to get away with 7 kilograms of carry-on. The best way to fit more in is to have suitcase that grows with your packing needs. Expandable suitcases can be enlarged when needed, helping you to make more room for your belongings.
  • To roll or to fold? An individual choice. Rolling your cloths allows for much tighter packing that fits more items in your suitcase. It’ll also help you avoid turning your clothes into wrinkly drabs.
  • Use packing cubes. Dividide your belongings into different zip-up packing cubes. This allows you to better organise your suitcase and helps you find whatever it is you need easily. Label the cubes according to different items such as toiletries, socks or t-shirts, so you know exactly what is where. Plus, you can easily move your packing cubes in and out of the drawers of your hotel dresser and instantly be done unpacking or packing in one go. An additional advantage is that packing cubes allow you to pack more compactly, saving space.
  • Use all available space. The inside of your shoes is a great place to cram socks, jewellery, power and charging cables. Put your shoes in shoe bags to keep them separated from your clothing.
  • Essential items to take with you. Power adaptors for the countries you are visiting; charging cords for your phone, tablet, computer and Kindle; a bottle opener and corkscrew (not all hotels rooms will provide them) – but packed only in your checked luggage; a lightweight rain jacket; small LED torch; a spare copy of your essential paperwork.

Travelling Alone

Recently, I read an interesting article in an international airline's in-flight magazine about travelling alone. Headed, ‘Safe and Solo – How to achieve peace of mind when travelling alone’(Jetstar Magazine, March 2019, p. 032), the article provided sound advice on how to travel safely and enjoy your trip. Acknowledging Jetstar, I’ve précised the article.

1. Have three ways to access funds

Don’t rely solely on your travellers card. Carry an emergency stash of cash in a safe place.

2. Download a virtual chaperone

Download a safety app such as bSafe (getbsafe.com) or Watch Over Me (watchovermeapp.com) to provide an SOS facility at the touch of your phone keypad.

3. Make new friends

Put your phone down and start talking face-to-face with people you meet on your travels. You’ll pick up handy travel tips and you might just be able to strike up a new (and lasting) friendship.

4. Be smart with accommodation

Forget expensive hotel rooms. Book a private room at a next-gen hostel. You’ll save money, meet lots of people and have fun.

5. Keep in touch

Grab a local SIM card upon arrival with pre-paid data and phone calls. Apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger allow you to stay in contact cheaply.

6. Travel safely

Take advantage of ride-share companies such as Uber with their Safety Toolkit facility – the icon on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, for any emergency.

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Plan ahead, relax and enjoy your travels.