These are just a few lessons that I’ve learned. I am sure that more will come to mind and I will be adding to them from time to time so be sure to check back to this page.
1. Always get to the airport early. I always get to the airport at least 2 hours prior for domestic flights and at least 4 hours for international flights. Some of my travel companions laugh at my early arrivals but the proof speaks for itself: I’ve never missed a flight. Really, what are you going to be doing at home anyways? Watch tv? Take a book, go to the airport, take a seat by your gate and read your book and people watch. There are a lot of interesting people in the airport and you can always find someone interesting to watch.
2. Bring several credit cards and, if possible and at least two different ATM cards. Store them in separate places; I usually have one credit card in a pocket, one in my wallet, on in my passport and one in a waist-band wallet. If someone steals your credit card # (last happened to me in Croatia), your card company will cancel the card and it will be no good for the remainder of your trip. If you have a few backups, you’ll be ok. The same for the ATM card, if it gets lost, stolen, destroyed or the ATM machine eats it (as happened to Anya in Yangsho), you’ll have a backup and won’t be without cash.
3. Store some cash somewhere separate from your wallet. I usually stick a few hundred bucks in my passport, a few hundred in my inside the pants waistband wallet, and two $100 bills in my travel belt with zipper and “secret compartment.” If you ever arrive somewhere remote and there are no ATM machines and credit cards are not used, you will have sufficient cash.
4. Keep your destination flexible. If you have a vacation approaching, don’t think that you can only go to one place. Think of 4 or 5 places you would like to go and then start checking them all for “last-minute deals.” If you find a good deal, make that your vacation destination. I’ve had some insane holidays that cost close to peanuts; eastern Mediterranean cruise comes to mind, the boat ride and meals came to $50 per day – I think we paid $1500 for a 4 week cruise. And, the flight to Istanbul return from Athens was only $700.
5. Travel in low season. I’ve gotten some of my best travel deals over the Christmas holiday – 4 days in Cozumel, airfare, transfers and meals included for $300. Flight left on Christmas Eve. Unless you really have to be home for Christmas, take advantage. Better yet, invite the whole family and make a holiday in a warm part of the world.
6. Don’t ever leave your bags unattended. I’ve had a bag stolen twice, once in Bolivia and once in Holland. In both cases, the bag was within arms reach and the professional thief was able to get it. Why? Because they are professional. Having your bag next to your leg can be defeated if someone distracts you and a 2nd person takes it. Better to have your bag in your lap. If you do leave it on the ground, put your leg through the strap.
7. Back up your photos 3 and 4 times. Have a large memory card in your camera and bring 2 hard drives. Anya was storing her photos on a hard drive and it crashed wiping out months of travel. Don’t delete your photos from your camera unless you need the space. In this way, if your drive(s) are stolen, are lost or they crash, you’ll still have the pics on your camera. Back up your camera to both drives frequently and store them in separate places. While in transit, keep one drive in your pocket in case your camera, camera bag and/or luggage is stolen. With the photos on your camera and 2 drives, this is triple redundancy. For quadruple, back your photos to DVDs and mail them home periodically.
If you meet another traveler who’s on the road, offer to download their photos to your drive and have them do the same for you. If either of you lose all your photos, you have a remote backup. Be sure to friend them on Facebook or else get their email address!
Trust me, you don’t want to find out the hard way that you lost all your pics as Anya did when her drive crashed. Or, as I learned when my camera bag and hard drive was stolen in La Paz, Bolivia on my last day of travels in South America. I lost 1 SLR camera & lens, 1 compact digital, 1 hard drive, and a lot of accessories. I would gladly have paid the thief the $2200 or so in camera value to get the photos back. 4,000+ pics of the Amazon, the Nazca Lines, Cuzco, Lima and Machu Picchu were lost forever. Better safe than sorry.
8. If you are going anywhere that mosquitos are present, BRING A MOSQUITO NET! Jeff and I made the mistake of thinking we could buy nets in Central America. Wrong. We never saw a single net for sale. REI sells a $30 net that rolls up to the size of a small coffee thermos. This single bed net will give you peace of mind and good sleep in tropical areas.
9. If in a malaria area, take your meds. The side effects are not worth dying over.
10. Bring Cipro and Pepto Bismal for traveller’s diarrhea. Pepto for light cases, Cipro for the kind that lays you out.
11. Do meet and mix with the locals. What’s the point of travel if you only hang around with expats?
12. Buy a Kindel; carrying all of your books in one small package beats carrying 10 kilos of books.
13. Do bring a travel guide (Lonely Planet or NatGeo) but also rely on the advice of other travelers. Ask questions and be flexible in your travel plans.
14. Not al Muslims are terrorists. Believe it or not, the western media (American in particular) does not accurately portray the 1/4 of the world’s population who call God Allah. Despite what you’ve seen on TV, Israel is not always to the good guy and the Palestinians are not always the bad guy.
15. You can do a lot on a layover. If you have a flight arriving at 7am in London and your next leg doesn’t depart until that afternoon, don’t sit in the aiport, go into town! It is only a 1/2 hour from the train station to Piccadilly Circus and the Thames by rail; on my last few trips to London on layover, I visited most of the tourist sites in London including the new ferris wheel.
16. Don’t have a layover? Make one! Many international flights have a layover in another country; flights to Eastern Europe and the Middle East may layover in Germany, England or Holland and flights to China and other countries in the East may layover in Japan or Korea. If you have a 4 hour layover, call your airline and see if you can connect the 2nd leg a day or two later. Sometimes they will do this for free, especially if you are a frequent flier, or they may charge a fee.
On return from leave in Iraq in 2005, I had a 4 hour layover in Amsterdam. I called KLM and asked if I could take the 2nd leg a day later. They changed my flight for a $100 fee and allowed me a full 24 hours in Holland. A quick check on Expedia found me a $300 a night room at the Crown Plaza for only $129 and the hotel was 2 train stops from downtown Amsterdam.
I was there by lunch eating a pizza and drinking a pitcher of suds. At the Amstel bar, I met some Scottish and Dutch travelers and we had a grand time drinking beer and telling travel stories!
17. Watch what the locals pay. Nothing screams “gouge me” more than walking up to a vendor and sheepishly asking, “How much?” If at a market, taxi stand, souvenir shop, travel agent or anywhere else where there is not a set published price, stand around for a few minutes and watch what the locals pay. Then, get out that much money, make your order, and pay as though you already know the price. A little confidence will go a long way in persuading the vendor to not charge you the “tourist” price.
18. Always keep small change. It is difficult to get the “local” pice of 4 or 5 (of the local currency) when you only have 500 notes. If changing money at an exchange, ask for as much small change as they will give you. If you pulled your $ from an ATM or otherwise have large change, for each purchase that has a fixed cost (grocery store, bar, etc) try to use your big bills. I usually keep my small change separate from my big bills so that when I pay with the big bills, the vendor can’t see the small bills and automatically makes change. Having small change can mean a big difference in price, especially with taxi cabs who will feign that they have no change so that you will let them keep it as a tip.
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