17 expert tips from travel writers
Forget the idea that “real” travellers are intrepid. After speaking to some of the world’s most prolific wanderers, one thing is clear: it’s OK to be soft.
“I used to love being a taxi ninja and haggling for the best price. I thought hotel transfers were just for wusses,” says Tiger Tales editor Paul Chai, who spends about 1344 hours in transit each year. After 13 years on the job, one of his greatest travel joys is being greeted by a besuited driver holding his name.
It’s the same deal for Lonely Planet guidebook author Kate Morgan: “Even though I fly so much for my job, I’m not that into it,” she says. “Anything I can do to ease the pain is good.”
So what are some tricks to make life easier on the road? Five travel writers offer their tips for a stress-free landing:
Don’t play “what time is it at home?”. When you land, that’s what time it is. It’s easier to beat jet lag if you try to adapt to local time straightaway.
Expect your luggage to roam. “I always pack an extra pair of undies, a T-shirt and any essential toiletries in mini-sized bottles in my carry-on,” says Morgan, whose bags have taken the scenic route more than once.
Organise hotel transfers. Most hotels have a pick-up service that can be organised on booking. It can be up to four times more expensive than a taxi, but, says Chai, a smooth ride into a new destination can make all the difference.
Go with the flow. “It sounds a bit hippy, but travel is messy. It’s late, it’s chaotic,” says Chai, who urges travellers to relax when plans go awry. “Getting angry doesn’t make the plane turn up or the weather improve.”
Post before you pack. “Facebook before you go, like a week out, so people can chime in with advice,” writer George Dunford says. Some of his best must-sees have come from mates via social.
Snack pack. “Seasalt popcorn is snacky and great for watching movies,” says Morgan, who also brings her own in-flight energy bars, rice crackers and herbal tea bags.
Don’t expect Wi-Fi. “There’s a new desperation for Wi-Fi but it’s often not available,” Chai says. “I always make sure I’ve got purchased music, an ‘analogue’ book, and movies downloaded.” And BYO portable charger.
Get appy. Dunford’s faves include Google Translate (especially handy in China and Japan as it shows characters so you can point to the screen), Traverfy, which builds itineraries and imports reservations to your calendar, and XE for up-to-the-minute exchange rates.
Don’t forget the earplugs. Handy if you have snoring sleeping companions or early-morning calls to prayer in Africa which are broadcast “AC/DC loud” with distortion-level at dawn, Chai says.
Carry a pharmacy. Chai packs the lot: children’s paracetamol, cold and flu tablets, sticking plasters, and sleeping pills for long-haul flights.
Back up your pics. Morgan’s brother lost all his honeymoon snaps when his camera got stolen. “Even emailing yourself important ones is good,” she says.
BYO loo. Carrying a mini toilet through international airports is “kind of gross”, says travel writer Peter Barrett, whose three-year-old was potty training in Vietnam. “It didn’t matter what exotic rice paddy-fringed bedroom we slept in, he had his throne from home.”
One shoe fits all. Light-packer advocate Bobby Graham reckons shoes must be all-rounders that work day, night or evening. Bring on the fancy trainers!
Resurrect the phone. “I tend to carry an old smartphone that’s unlocked, and buy a local sim,” Morgan says.
Spring for insurance. Morgan racked up about $2500 in Thai hospital bills and $400 for a doctor’s appointment in the US. Her motto? “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford a holiday.”
Eat the street food. “You’re more likely to become ill from eating a dodgy Western dish prepared at a budget hotel,” says Peter Barrett, whose best Vietnam food experiences were from the street.
Put down the phone. “Sometimes I see tourists, like at a temple, getting the shot, but not actually taking in the experience,” Morgan says. “Not everything has to be recorded or Instagrammed.”
Paul Chai, editor Tiger Tales, Tigerair inflight magazine
Kate Morgan, writer for Lonely Planet, guidebooks and digital
George Dunford, director of Ferrous Digital, freelancer for Rough Guides and Wanderlust
Peter Barrett, writer for Fairfax Media, Jetstar magazine and RACV’s RoyalAuto
Bobby Graham, blogger for planepack.com.au