The trick to a successful journey is to make the rest of your experience as easy as possible. Control the controllables. These 10 tips will make life much easier.
1. Read the fine print
This particularly applies to anyone flying for the first time with a budget airline. What are their rules? Do you need to check in online? Do you have to print your own boarding pass? Do you need to be at the airport by a certain time? Are they strict with baggage rules? Know all of this and you’ve already gone a long way to making your journey easier – and cheaper.
2. Book airport transfers
You’re at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a foreign country. You’re tired from a long flight, probably jet-lagged, you have no idea how taxis work in this country, where you’re supposed to catch them, how much they should cost or whether the drivers are likely to use a meter. People are hassling you. You haven’t got any local currency. The solution to all of this, although it might cost a little extra, is to have a transfer to your hotel or hostel pre-booked.
3. Pack light; use wheels
Ultimately, you won’t even have to check a bag – you’ll be able to travel light enough to only take carry-on, meaning you’ll never have to worry about lost luggage. On longer trips, however, you’ll probably need to carry more. Still, the fewer things you take, the fewer things you’ll have to worry about losing, and the fewer things you’ll have to cart up staircases and around train stations. A bag with wheels, of course, will also make life even easier (except in Venice).
4. Learn the language
Obviously you’re not going to become fluent in Thai before a long weekend in Phuket, but for longer-term travellers, or those going to places where English isn’t widely spoken, a basic knowledge of the local language will put you a huge step ahead. All of a sudden you can read menus, you can ask for directions, you can haggle over prices, you can order a drink. Language skills may not be strictly necessary, but they’re definitely useful.
5. Make your phone your friend
This doesn’t mean checking Facebook all day. It means buying a local SIM card and making use of Google Maps to find your way around. It means loading all of your guidebooks onto a gadget that fits in your pocket; it means having translator apps at your fingertips; it means access to a whole internet full of tips and reviews from fellow travellers.
6. Eat local
I’ve seen plenty of travellers who spend a crazy amount of time wandering around foreign cities looking for “safe” food – the stuff they deem up to the hygiene and cuisine standards of Australia. Don’t bother. All you need to do is find where the locals are eating – if the restaurant or street vendor seems popular, that’s probably for a reason.
7. Do your research
This covers so much: everything from finding the right area of a city to stay, to knowing what you want to see, to paying the right amount for things, to eating the best food, to discovering hidden gems. Do your research before a trip and you’re not only making your travelling life easier, but a whole lot more rewarding.
8. Use a travel agent
I wouldn’t normally advocate this, as the job of a travel agent is something you can do yourself in order to save money. However, if it’s the easy life you’re after, then a travel agent could be the way to go, not least because if (and when) something goes wrong while you’re overseas, you’ve got someone to call to sort it all out. And if you don’t have time to do a lot of research before you travel, harnessing the expertise of a travel agent can also save you a lot of hassle.
9. Know the carry-on rules
On international flights, you can’t take any liquids or gels in containers of more than 100 millilitres. That sounds easy enough, but almost every time I fly there’s someone in the security line in front of me having their toothpaste confiscated, or their moisturiser chucked in the bin. First thing they’ll be doing when they get off the plane? Looking for somewhere to buy toothpaste and moisturiser. Save yourself the hassle.
10. Book in early
What you’ll lose when you book things like hotels and activities a long way in advance is flexibility. What you’ll gain, however, is security. You know you won’t be tramping around a city for hours looking for an acceptable place to sleep. You won’t miss out on that day trip or those tickets if you’ve got everything sorted months in advance. It’s a trade-off, but locking in all of the important parts of your trip before you leave home will certainly make life easier.