Tuesday, April 12, 2011

5 Top Tips to Frustration-free Travel

It’s common for many travellers to suffer post-travel regret. Whether it’s because of lost or stolen belongings, being taken for a ride, getting lost, or just suffering a poor travel experience. No one wants their memories of a long anticipated trip to be peppered with bad experiences, and fortunately there are some incredibly simple things you can do to lessen the chances of it happening.

1. Prepare before you go.
Obviously the more prepared you are for your trip; the less likely you are to suffer frustration when you arrive. A good start here is ensuring you have most of your plans pre-booked, particularly your accommodation. Usually when you arrive you’ll be exhausted, and often it will be in the evening, so as a minimum it’s a good idea to have your first night or two in each city booked. And check the city tourist websites prior to booking to see if there are local events being held at the time of your travel, as this can affect availability & price. Otherwise you can still bargain-hunt when pre-booking, by using a price-comparison site, or last minute engines.
Here are a few other items you shouldn’t leave home without.
- At least one power adapter for the country you’re visiting.
-Local guidebooks are invaluable for determining places to see, times & days of sight openings, places to eat, and the basic & words phrases you’ll need in that language to get by. If it’s a heavy guidebook, you may find removing the language pages & jotting other day trip details down is a good option. You can then carry them separately in your bag, which is a much lighter option to the whole book.
-Printed directions for the hotels you’re staying at. Google maps are perfect for this whether on foot or by vehicle.
-At least 2 ATM cards. Preferably 2 per person if you’re travelling with a mate. This way if one is rejected in certain countries, or worse gobbled up by a machine, you have a back-up. It’s usually worthwhile to take a credit card, but there are some cautions here. See more on this below.
2. Pack light – Pack right
One of the major frustrations when travelling can be either having too much luggage or the wrong kind. The all-time most important tip any regular traveller will give you is to pack light. Inevitably at some point even with planned travel, you will need to pull or carry your luggage. If there are two of you, this makes it somewhat easier. But remember there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a few souvenirs or other items while you’re there, so starting with a lot of luggage, will only make it more difficult later. Layer clothing is the best kind to take, with a good mix of easy wear t-shirts & singlets. Check expected temperatures before you go, but inevitably you’ll almost always need at least one warmer jacket. Choose one that is warm, but not too bulky. If you are travelling with a mate or spouse, combining your luggage into one medium or large case can be a great decision. If you find you’re picking up items on your travels, and running out of room, it’s usually extremely easy to pick up a cheap knock-off bag on wheels that will see you out til you get home. Starting out with just one main piece of luggage, makes sharing the load with a companion easier. This is also a much safer option, see more on this below.

3. Get the right travel gear
If you are travelling through a westernised country and are likely to be in built up areas, luggage on wheels is almost always the best option. It’s easier to pull luggage than carry it, and it’s more secure against serious thieves.
However for rural, remote areas or under-developed countries, a backpack is definitely best. It’s not only more practical if you’re getting around on foot more or transporting via boat or bus, it’s also a lower security risk in many of these places. You don’t want to draw attention to expensive-looking baggage, which could imply you have expensive contents. If you take a back-pack, make sure it’s sturdy, and can be kept secure. Don’t keep items of value in any external pockets.
The other major key to having fuss-free daily adventures is to make sure you have the right carry-bag. A long-strapped sling bag is best. Small backpacks of any description are a shining beacon to thieves, where your belongings are easily reached conveniently behind your back. You should have a bag you can cross over your shoulder. Ensuring it has a comfortable, strong strap. This bag will do a lot of walking with you, and hold most of your valuable items, so getting it right is a high priority. A zipped bag is mandatory, one which allows no gaps for sneaky hands. If it has a flap, ensure the zip under it is always fully closed, and the zip opening facing to your front. In this way, your valuables are carried at the front of your body, and near impossible to access by another person.
If you are travelling as a male & female, a satchel which is more uni-sex is ideal, because you can share carrying the load.

4. Be travel wise
By following the above suggestions on luggage, you should hopefully have a limited amount of it which is always a far more secure way to travel. If you stop at anytime to make arrangements, always stay with your luggage, and if possible always keep a hand on it. Un-attended luggage is the No.1 kind to go missing in high traffic areas, such as train & bus stations. For this reason when travelling on trains over longer periods, you should keep your luggage close to you, or at least where you can see it. Ideally, get a compartment where you are guaranteed to have it with you.
Where possible you should carry your passports with you at all times. Even many hotel safe’s, unless it’s a reputable hotel, are not very secure. So aim to take things of value with you throughout the day. You should keep your valuables at the bottom of your carry bag, and in an internal zip compartment if you have one.
In many parts of the world credit card fraud is still rampant. Whilst you’ll usually want to take a credit card with you, try to use it sparingly to lessen the chances of the number falling into the wrong hands. It’s a good idea to try and pay for transportation, dining etc with cash withdrawn from an ATM. Do your best not to let your credit card leave your sight.
In certain countries, over-charging tourists is common, so be cautious. For hotels, take all paperwork detailing the room type with you, to help ensure you get what you’ve paid for. Scams can also occur in cafe’s, particularly with getting wine inferior to that which you’ve paid for. If in doubt query it before you consume it. If you are blatantly overcharged, stand your ground. And try to give close to exact money, so there’s no opportunity for them to conveniently keep the change.
In most under-developed countries, you can expect scams around every corner. From travel agencies, to people approaching you on the street. When you arrive, read the hotel information or speak to them about what dangers there may be in that area. Guidebooks will usually indicate which tour agencies don’t offer products as displayed, so peruse these before spending your money.

5. Be travel safe
In many cities all over the world, you can find yourself a target for those who prey on un-wary travellers. Be sensible, do your best not to look like a tourist. Pulling out maps in the middle of the street is a clear sign you’re a tourist, and an easy target. So try where possible to find a convenient spot to do this discretely, or make your plans over lunch. Waist bags worn outside your clothing are to thieves like a red-flag to a bull. There are far better ways of keeping your money close. If you’re not carrying a bag, choose a belt that goes under your clothes.
When walking from place to place, try to stick close to others, and avoid dark streets at night & quite alleys in the day. There’s usually another way you can go that’s populated, or catch transport.
Being street smart is fairly common sense. Stay aware, and cautious..and you’ll likely ward off any potential incidents. This doesn’t mean you have to be paranoid, but just remember you’re away from home, and as a tourist you’re at risk.
If you keep these few basic rules you should find you enjoy fairly fuss-free travel. Inevitably there will always be things that go wrong, and can’t be avoided. But don’t let them spoil your dream trip. Prepare well, be travel wise, and you’re very likely to have an adventure full of wonderful memories.

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