12 Travel Tips
• 03 Feb 2017
For stress-free overseas travel you need to plan ahead. This may seem obvious but a little thought before you go could save a lot of grief later. Most of these tips are well documented but there may just be one you haven’t thought of.
Do not buy currency at the airport, they can charge up to 13% on the exchange rate. Ignore all marketing which says “commission-free”. They make their money on the rate. Get some cash in the high street or post office and load your SWAPX multi-currency card at least a week ahead of your flight. Loading funds costs just 1%; swap now is an additional 1% but with enough time to swap with another traveller it’s completely free.
Flying and Jet lag
Everyone has their own theories about jet lag but there are some rules. Hydrate! Avoid alcohol. Avoid naps. Eat breakfast when you wake up on the plane or at the airport. Don't 'shift time' for short trips. If your trip is less than 48 hours you could stay on 'home time'.
When flying long-haul get an aisle seat and walk about a lot; stretching helps - don't worry about looking ridiculous in the aisle! And bring your own quality (ideally noise-cancelling) headphones. And don't sit in the rows near the engines if possible.
Again, you will have your own ritual on this but we have found some ‘bonus tips’ such as avoiding jeans if you can. They absorb odours and take ages to dry if you wash them ‘on the move’. Click on this link for more detailed advice.
It is a good idea to carry essentials in your carry-on luggage such as basic toiletries, all your prescription medicines and a fresh set of underwear. Take something warm to use on the plane such as a thin jumper as airlines can get chilly on long flights. The other rule of packing is to pack what you think you need and then reduce it by half. In colder climes it is better to layer than pack bulky sweaters. You can fill shoes with socks and phone chargers (make sure you have a universal travel adaptor).
Don't pack anything you have not worn. Its a waste of space if it doesn't fit or you decide you don't like it. Roll clothes up. "3 tops and 3 bottoms make 9 outfits".
Think about where you will be carrying your bags. If it's just airports and taxis, use a case with wheels. For rougher terrain the other end, a backpack is obviously better.
Buying flight tickets
Use Skyscanner to locate the best fare and then book on the airline website or call a travel agent and ask them to match it. Travel agents usually have a lot of flexibility but without a target price from you, will try and charge you as much as they can get away with. Try to avoid booking on the Skyscanner link to a travel site. Skyscanner is a price comparison site and not a travel agency so a few of the links are dubious.
Most airlines and travel sites will increase prices if they detect you refreshing the screen or looking at the same itinerary several times so clear your cookies by deleting your browsing history. It has been proven that the best time to buy airline tickets is Tuesday afternoon. Theres an old wive's tale that some sites will hike their prices if you are using a Mac (wealthier consumer). We have no evidence to back this up!
Computers and phones
Make sure you back-up everything. If your laptop or tablet is stolen or lost you will regret not doing this. Turn off your data roaming before you land or you could get a nasty shock when you get your phone bill (this is to stop your phone updating emails and social media automatically using expensive local data networks). Use a Kindle instead of packing bulky books. Take a (charged) battery pack for your phone/tablet.
Make two copies of your passport and leave one with a friend at home, keeping the other along with some emergency cash hidden in the lining of your suitcase/bag. This may come in handy if you lose it on your travels. Never carry your wallet in your back pocket - there are pickpockets everywhere but especially in tourist hotspots (Las Ramblas in Barcelona is notorious) but a crowded subway train is classic.
“They cost nothing” is the saying but in reality bad manners could actually cost you either time, money or both. Border control guards often enjoy the power they hold over you. They don’t appreciate sarcasm so always be polite. If you are ‘bumped’ off a flight because it is over-booked be very charming with the airline staff. They usually have significant discretion over they type of hotel they assign you and emergency spending cash compensation. Remember it is not their fault, they are just doing their job and will be more helpful if you control your anger.
If you have forgotten your toothbrush or other ‘essential’ items always ask at the reception desk before you go and buy a replacement. The hotel cupboard is often ‘free’ depending on the item and the hotel. Never use the hotel telephone in your room to make calls as they are usually very expensive. Equally go to a local shop instead of raiding the mini bar (for obvious reasons). One tip to avoid an upset stomach is to keep your mouth closed in the shower if you are somewhere with unreliable water.
Never get into a cab that does not have a meter clearly displayed. Always ask roughly how much the fare will cost to your destination to avoid a shock the other end. Before you leave a cab always check the seat incase you have left your phone or other items - and count your bags before the cab drives away.
Some online reviews are unreliable and often written by ‘complainers’ so do read between the lines. Frequent posters are often more reliable.
Buy travel insurance! Medical bills can be significant abroad and cancelled flights or lost cameras become much more annoying if you aren’t covered. But avoid buying insurance from your travel company. Shop around for a third party provider.