Bon Voyage!

Rather than writing or books, I thought I would devote this entry to travel advice, tips and things I’ve learned over many years of travel all over the world. Wherever you’re going or hoping to go or planning to go, I hope your trip is fabulous and these tips might help keep things smooth.
Travel safe tips from an inveterate traveler
I know there are lots of sites and people offering travel tips to stay safe. Some of them are common sense which seems to be anything but common, others are specific, like making sure your travel insurance covers the things you expect to be doing. Just for example, if you are planning extreme sports, better make sure your policy covers it because many don’t. I’m not going to deal with those issues but pass on some of the things I always keep in mind. I’ve traveled all over the world, had more than a few adventures and hiccups along the way, with and without kids. Travel with kids is a whole different ball game so I’m going to confine myself to adults this time.
Well in advance of your trip, start making lists. I make loads of them. The lists might be what is essential to pack and where to pack it (carry-on or suitcase), contact phone numbers, all the things you need to do before you leave, like arrange mail pick up, pet boarding, etc. It’s also a good idea to spend a bit of time to figure out the security restrictions in any airport you will be using because they are anything but uniform. Some allow liquids, some do not, including sealed duty free purchases that might be taken away, particularly in Europe, much to your annoyance. Better to check and pack items accordingly.
Another list should be what you really want to see and do. Once you’re sure of the absolute must-sees, check opening hours and days. Many museums in Europe close one day a week and if that’s the day you planned on the Uffizi to see Michaelangelo’s David (DON’T MISS THAT!) or any other museum, you could be out of luck. Depending on the season, many castles in Great Britain close down in the winter and sometimes, most of the rest of the year, other than summer, so make sure they’re open before you make the trek only to be disappointed at the gate. If you plan on using ferries, check the schedule and season because they change from summer to the rest of the year. Ferry travel can be fun. I’ve used them and thoroughly enjoyed the trip, especially to Skye.
If you’re travelling with a friend, companion, partner or anyone else, decide in advance if you’re going to divide your time rather than quarrel over what you’re going to see or do. Nothing wrong with splitting up during the day so each of you can do what you really want and arrange to meet up for dinner. It will save a lot of heartache and aggravation if you set ground rules before you hop on that plane. On the other hand, if you are travelling solo, don’t worry. I’ve done it plenty of times and always find people to talk to or have lunch with. If you wait for someone else to get their act together to be able to travel, you might still be waiting. (I’m still waiting on a few friends planning trips with me while I’ve already been to wherever and back).
Before you leave, try to get the name of a doctor and dentist who speaks English if you are traveling to non-English speaking countries. The last thing you want is to deal with illness and play charades. Yes, I have had to call a doctor out at midnight for my son. Fortunately, I spoke the language in that country well, but I would not like to think what could happen, wasting time trying to explain to a doctor who didn’t understand me. You can call your embassy and they should be able to give you names of these professionals and then hope you don’t need them but better to be prepared.
Check the weather and pack accordingly. I’ve left summer climates looking like an idiot dragging a winter coat on the plane but believe me, you won’t be happy if you arrive in a cold climate and your suitcase is lost. It’s happened to me so I always make sure to pack those garments in my carry-on bag or, if too heavy and bulky, wear clothes for the destination climate. You might feel silly at the start but you won’t at arrival. If it’s the height of summer, put the winter clothes in a shopping bag, change in the airport where you won’t roast alive thanks to air-conditioning and toss the summer gear in your suitcase for arrival back home before you wave good-by to your luggage. You won’t regret that, believe me, and make sure your shoes will be appropriate too. I arrived in Denmark in the middle of a snowstorm and was really happy after leaving a hot Sydney summer, to have my heavy winter coat, sweater, jeans, boots, hat and gloves. I might have looked silly in Sydney but I sure was nice and warm in Copenhagen. Plus, if you wear those heavy clothes and carry the coat, you won’t weigh down the luggage with more bulky garments.
If you can afford to travel business class, that’s great. I have a few times, but most of the time I’ve had to travel economy, packed in on full flights. Don’t count on empty seats to stretch out. Nice if it happens but not a given. I recommend an aisle seat for several reasons but primarily because I get up and walk every hour or so to prevent DVT. I also stretch as much as I can. Usually while everyone is sleeping, I head to the back of the plane, where there’s space and completely extend and stretch my legs and arms. It will help enormously if you do that every hour or two. If you do yoga, Pilates, or dance, some of those moves will come in handy if you’ve got room. I always manage to find the space when others are asleep. It’s also a good idea to carry a small flashlight in case you need it for any reason when lighting is off during flights. (Hint: Very helpful if you have dropped something and can’t find it. You won’t get dirty looks from everyone if you try to put on those hopelessly small overhead lights and you’ll avoid tripping over all sorts of stuff that has rolled into the aisle while everyone is dozing.)
Hydrate. This is a trick I’ve been using for years and never fails. Check the number of time zones you will cross. Ensure that you have a full glass of liquid for each time zone as minimum fluids during the flight. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine. I do have a coffee if I’m arriving in the morning since that would be normal for me. I’ve done 24 hour flights and been able to get off the plane and go to work. Honestly. I stay awake and get on the right time zone instead of hitting the bed. I might go to bed early that night, but more or less, this takes care of the jetlag so don’t forget the fluids.
It’s pretty much a given that you will need something to pass the time. Most flights have a load of movies in personal screens, but not all of them do. Definitely take your i-pad or e-reader fully charged. Make sure you’ve got adaptor plugs for wherever you are traveling. I have a small, multi-use adaptor; just press on the size you want and it pops out. Very handy and you will be charging your phone, ipad, etc. along the way.
For those who knit, check the security precautions but as far as I know, bamboo needles are allowed, and I have a set of plastic needles that have a light on the tips so they don’t bother anyone but provide sufficient light for knitting. Very handy! You can buy them online or probably at some knitting stores.
Slather on face cream throughout flights and keep applying it with a good balm for the lips. Make sure you’ve packed sunscreen and insect repellent, depending on where you are traveling or you could be very sorry and it’s better to take a product you’ve already tried rather than have to purchase on arrival. Despite all these tips, I’ve often said, long haul flights are nature’s way of making us look like our dreaded passport pictures.
If you are stuck with connecting flights for any length of time, check out the airport in advance and see if they have a hotel service within the airport. More and more airports, especially in Europe and Asia do. They range in quality. Tokyo’s Narita has rooms and beds that are so small and narrow, they must be designed for midgets and unless you know where to find the “hotel” you might miss it. The signage is less than ideal. Singapore, on the other hand, has a proper hotel room with television, etc. like any hotel. It also has a swimming pool and gym all located within the airport.
If you have shorter connecting time but a few hours, you’ll find that most of these airport hotels often have a shower service. For a reasonable cost, you can have a shower, change your clothes and feel heaps better between flights. Some of these services book out very quickly. If you can book in advance, it might be worthwhile. You can also try to turn up and take your luck. I’ve done both, so it’s up to you and the time between flights but I highly recommend it. Some of these rooms rent for a full day only (Hong Kong, for example) but others rent for blocks of hours (4 hours or 8 hours) and again, they are really well worth using.
Look alert and carry as little as possible on the street. You’re a tourist and there’s nothing wrong with that but locals can tell. Pay attention to what’s going on instead of gawking. Carry your bag strap across your chest and hold onto it. If you have pockets, divide anything important you’re carrying between your bag and pockets and keep your hands stuffed into your pockets so any unwelcome hands will have a hard time. Make sure you’ve photocopied any travel documents in case they are stolen. It will help expedite their replacement which will be a pain in the neck no matter what. Of course, keep your passport, credit cards and other documents as safe as possible. Many European countries will not accept a credit card unless you use a PIN irrespective of signature so make sure you know it. I had a friend who was stuck because he had no idea of the PIN and ended up having to borrow money from some of us. Pretty embarrassing, although it could have been worse.
Pay attention to your instincts. I was in a part of Krakow that wasn’t exactly the best area. While my friends and the guide were busy talking and looking around, I noticed a gang coming in our direction. I wasn’t going to wait around and see what happened. I got into the street and frantically flagged down a taxi, getting worried as the gang got closer because there were no other people around. I stopped a cruising taxi by standing in the middle of the street just as the gang arrived. Only them did my friends realize what was about to happen but by then we were scrambling into the taxi and the driver slammed the gas. We had no doubt what would have happened if that taxi hadn’t come by or if I hadn’t been paying attention.
Don’t give out your name or room number or hotel to anyone. It sounds dumb, but people do and the next thing they know, there’s trouble. People trying to get into their rooms, people using their names, all sorts of stuff. Not everyone is nice and really interested in you although of course, some are and I’ve made great friends through travels but exercise caution.
Remember you can claim VAT return on departure from many countries so make sure you keep receipts and allow enough time at the airport to get your refund—you’ll be happy you did it.
Take your own medications, clearly labelled and in your carry on. If you get sick in flight, you cannot count on flight attendants to have much available and yes, this has happened to me. I carry anything I think I might need; something for headache or temperature, eye drops for dry eyes on planes, (you should remove your contact lenses and use glasses in flight; eyes can dry out and lead to all sorts of problems), anti-nausea pills, anti-histamines for any allergy. Anything you might need for tummy upset is worth carrying. I don’t take sleeping pills; they make me dopey and I want to be alert in the event of an emergency. I always have Bandaids of various sizes as well and hand sanitizer is a good idea. To be blunt, you don’t know who’s touching what and you won’t go wrong by using the sanitizer more rather than less.
Depending on the country, you will or will not be willing to replenish your stock. No problem in parts of Europe but when I traveled in India, Indonesia, China, etc. I went to see my doctor in advance and together we worked out anything and everything I might need including antibiotics because I did not want to have get them there. It’s a good idea to make sure all your immunizations are up to date and check any health issues for the areas of travel. For example, you may need cholera immunization or to update Hepatitis A or B and all that takes time and needs to be spaced over several weeks. Same applies for anti-malarial medications which must be started on time and continued after arrival home.
I could say a lot more, but this is enough to think about until another time. Travel well, travel safe and have a great trip!

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