Travelling Tips

Tonight whilst chatting to the Foxtel girl – who was exceptionally helpful by the way –  we somehow got onto the conversation around travel and our respective experiences in seeing the sites this fair planet of ours offers. What quickly became apparent to me was that the average person in the street hasn’t actually traveled that much. I often forget just how fortunate I am having been lucky enough to have traveled quite extensively – Europe, United States, Japan, New Zealand and much of Australia. My partner as well has even lived overseas for a couple of years in Japan of all places, so her understanding of travel is a level deeper than myself.

Last year, my wife and I traveled to New Zealand so that we could attend a wedding down in Queenstown in the South Island. Having traveled there before on several ski trips during the winter, I had a fair idea what to expect, so it was the usual bunch of research for appropriate accommodation, organise hire car, that sort of thing. Follows is my list of how to organise an overseas trip.

Research:
Lots. Not much more can be said – there are so many sites out there and I would expect Google gets a bashing with terms like “[city/country destination], travel, accommodation, cheap/expensive, review, tours” etc. The below travel guide websites, whilst predominantly focused on promoting the print books have in recent years evolved into outstanding information destinations in their own right. A very worthwhile starting place to start your research.

Buy a Travel Guide:
For the small investment of $30 to $40 for the latest guide or one that is 2nd hand for $10 to $15, A travel guide for your particular country/major city destination is an absolute must. Get them at your local book store under the Travel section. It is the difference between a good holiday and great holiday. Ones to look for are listed below, with each varying in format. I personally prefer Lonely Planet as my guide of choice.

Travel Agent – Yes or No?
I often get asked this one – if going overseas, for myself it is an emphatic yes. There is no denying that you can save a shed load of money booking direct, but unless you are expereinced – and have the time – you can miss out on Visa’s, Insurance Costs, Transfers fees or connecting flights. Using a travel agent, they have access to a special computer system that automatic calculates the best path to travel, by a pre defined criteria set, whether that is cheapest cost, minimal connecting flights, minimal stop overs or the “nice” hotels along the way.

A good travel agent is worth their weight in gold – I always use a travel agent, as they just know what sort of pitfalls to avoid. Because they have booked my flights over the years, they are familiar with what I like and don’t like in my accommodation, locale, activities and options from a dining/sight seeing perspective.

Buy Insurance:
Bluntly put, I think that anyone who travels without insurance is totally barking mad and just asking for trouble. I’ll paint the picture – my wife and I had a stunning honey moon – 10 days in London, then 10 days in Paris, rounded off by 3 days in Singapore. We were traveling back at Christmas of 2006, in winter, flying into Heathrow Airport into the infamous pea soup fog which grounded flights in and out of London for 4 days. We spent Christmas in London and planned to spend New Years in Paris. Result.

Fast forward to our departure on New Years Eve into Charles de Gaull airport in Paris and our main luggage got waylaid which is code for: lost – somewhere between London and Paris. I had nothing. And when I mean nothing, only the clothes I was wearing and my camera bag. No clothes, no toiletries, my new wifes shoes, and some of her clothing too. And it was New Years Eve in Paris NOTHING was open. Enter our travel insurance. I rung the 24 hour number and they emergency couriered me $500 cash to the Hotel, which arrived within 3 hours of my phone call. I was able to use this to buy a toothbrush and a change of clothes, a jacket (it was winter and cold). When I got onto my travel agent back home in Australia, she advised me of my ceiling limit and the escalation. If my luggage was returned within 24 hours, I would remain with the $500 and be reimbursed any further expenses around its safe return. If it took 72 Hours, I was entitled to $5,000. If it was 10 days, I would get up to $30,000 to cover replacement expenses and hotels, taxis etc. It took 8 days. I got my $5,000 and bought an entirely new wardrobe for myself, replaced all the items – remember I wasn’t sure if I’d even get my luggage back – our holiday was much improved. All I had to do was keep my receipts and submit them upon my return.

Conservatively, when I was cataloguing my belongings, they added up to an astonishing $14,000. Think about it, between my wife and myself, we had 2 X Goretex Jacket ($650 each), 2 X dresses ($250 each) 2 X Slacks ($300 each), 2X Jeans ($300 each), 3 X Shirts ($150 each), Walking Shows X2, Dress Shoes, High Heels (my wife’s! 4X $300), Both my wifes Undergarments & assorted Bras. Her Makeup. Perfume/Aftershave, my electric shaver, 2nd Camera, iPod X2, Novels, Luggage itself and so on.

Seems to me a pretty darn good argument in favour of insurance.

Be realistic:
Don’t kid yourself with:

a/ what you want to do
b/ what you can afford
c/ what is going to make you happy

For heavens sake you’re on holiday – enjoy yourself! If you want to eat 5 star, ala carte, do it. If you want to try every McDonalds to compare Big Macs in 10 different countries, do it. Likewise, visit the sites and attractions YOU want to see, based upon your research, not that you feel compelled to see. To give you an example, we weren’t that fussed in travelling to see the Eiffel Tower specifically, as its on every major movie, TV show or magazine, being more interested in spending time in the back streets and out of the way places which made up the real Paris. Travelling abroad is the journey and the experience all rolled into one. Everyone has a different way of taking in their surroudings and gains different things. Enjoy it!

Audio Tours
I also highly recommend where possible, to pay the extra $5 or $10 for the automated Audio Tours, like that at the Louvre in Paris, Stone Henge or London Tower. If you are interested in that type of thing, they can seriously occupy you for an entire day, guiding you around the attraction and giving you insight into the history and background. My wife and I love them.

As a variant on this, when we visited New Zealand last year, I found in my research, this little product called a “Kruse” which we rented for 10 days whilst driving around. It plugs into your cigarette lighter and has a GPS device inside it. What it also has is some 2,500 pre recorded commentaries, music and information retold in minute, conversational detail. To say we had our own tour guide for the 2 weeks we were driving around the south island is no small understatement – one of the THE best travel experiences we have ever had. You can book online direct at Kruse New Zealand http://www.krusenz.com

What to Pack?
Not much. If  you travel like me, I guarantee you, that you will end up buying clothes whilst overseas. My general rule of thumb when travelling is to travel with next to nothing, and it forces me to buy an updated wardrobe. Comfortable travel clothes for the flight(s), good comfy walking shoes, a good lightweight rain jacket (Goretex or similar is ideal), pen, paper, camera, credit cards, passport, some plastic bags to put your undergarments in, a bag to house your shoes. I also bring my running gear with me, so that also entails heart rate monitor, sunglasses & peaked cap. Visit stores like Kathmandu, Mountain Designs or Paddy Pallin which specialise in travel gear and you will get garments that don’t require ironing and are resistant to soiling, comfortable, tear resistant and durable. If overseas, try Patagonia or North Face.

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