Top 10 Travel Tips

I know people who hate traveling. I am sorry that I know them, but I do. I know others who take travel in their routine as what has to be done has to be done, deriving neither pleasure nor pain from it. And then I know people who travel because they just love to do so, at any and every opportunity. They can eat any food, have no issue with adjusting to time zones in a matter of hours, thoroughly relish experiencing new cultures, sights and sounds and make it a point to ‘see’ a country well beyond your standard half or full day city tour. These are people after my own heart, for I must confess that I have the travel bug.

Some fifty eight countries later, my desire, fast morphing into a fantasy as the years go rapidly by, is to ‘hit’ a hundred countries before I am one with the earth.

Let me tell you that it is not easy to draw up a list of the top ten travel tips, leave alone rank these. Each traveler’s needs, objectives and circumstances can differ quite widely, influenced by any number of factors ranging from budgets to personal disabilities to religious considerations to other limitations. Nevertheless all travelers do also have common issues to face, like flights, airports, immigration, meals, accommodation, unforeseen happenings and so forth. So to make travel an enjoyable experience, one needs to just think ahead and manage certain things in a manner that makes the sojourn to a
foreign place an enriching happening. So without further ado, here are my top ten travel tips.

# 10: Dollar Power

For a number of years now, I pack 2 or 3 hundred dollars in 100 dollar bills into a side pocket of my wallet every time I travel abroad and forget about it. This is my insurance for the worst of times, and protects me from the ‘worst case scenarios’; when anything unexpected happens and hard cash is needed to save the day, those dollar notes you tucked away and forgot about will be like a blessing from heaven. It is without any doubt the U.S. dollar is one currency that still has universal acceptability on this planet.

# 09: Choose your flights

I have never understood why people leave it up to their travel agents to choose the airline and book their flights. Perhaps it is a habit of yesteryears when flights information was something of a specialist trade only knowledge bank. My standard procedure is to research all available airlines and flights to the given destination on the Internet, and then choose the flight, which is preferably a direct flight from point A to point B, and a flight that gets me to the destination at a decent hour.Don’t get onto a flight that has a several hours stop-over at some lousy airport, or a flight that gets you to your destination at an unearthly hour. Your travel stress relief strategy starts with choosing the right flights.

# 08: Pack wisely

Your business shirts and suits apart, pack clothes after doing a quick check on any weather website what the local weather is at the destination. Then there are what I call the essentials of packing wisely – a pair of joggers or soft shoes, a ‘world’ plug which goes into any socket in any country of the world, a foldable umbrella if your pre-travel weather check confirms rain at destination during the days you are there, a swimsuit, and a plastic bag of pills. Sounds paranoid? Well it is not. Last thing you want is to be writhing in pain in a hotel room in a foreign land, and then paying a lot of dollars for the doctor called by the hotel, for something quite basic as a painkiller or a muscle relaxant, which you should have been carrying with you in any case.

# 07: Stay downtown

Letting your travel agent book your hotel for you, especially in a new city you are visiting for the first time is as naïve today as letting the agent choose your flights. Not only do you get the best hotel deals on the Net today, it also conveniently guides you to choose where you want to stay to start with. I am a strong believer in downtown hotels. Downtown is where the action is. The best restaurants; entertainment places; the best shopping; and transport is easily available at all hours and so on and on.

In most large cities there is a fair choice of hotels to suit all tastes, and all needs and budgets. Also, in downtown, hotels staff is much more experienced and efficient. For me a good hotel has the basics facilities – and it is within walking distance of seve-ral food and entertainment places and a mass transit station.

# 06: Forty Winks

I like to extensively explore each city that I visit, mainly on foot. Most of my walking and soaking in of the local pulse is done in the late evenings as the day time is taken up with business affairs. So what I try and do whenever possible, is to grab a quick nap, Forty Winks,at any time of the day when I return to the hotel. Half hour maximum and you wake up feeling refreshed and it is like a new day all over again! So after a hard day’s work, when you must go out and chill, those forty winks have prepared you fully to tackle just about anything!

# 05: Walk a lot

I mentioned my penchant for walking in the point above. This is really the very best way to see a new city, to absorb all the sounds, sights and smells with an open mind and to get to know the local culture, lifestyle, customs and people. I call it Immersion Travel – IT. Dress comfortably and casually, walk out of your hotel, refuse all offers of all touts that may be lounging around just outside and just start walking. You will learn much, much more about that place and the people in an hour’s walk than you ever will from any tourist guidebook. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes, the urge to explore, a yearning for new learning, an affable personality, a keen sense of observation, the ability to have your wits about you, and above all, an open mind. Accept each new place as it is, for in each new place, odd as it may seem in some respects, there will always be a unique attraction and a very individual beauty.

# 04: Obey the law

Getting stuck in a foreign country because of some infringement of the local laws is about as unpleasant and undesirable as it can get. Just obey the local laws while you are there, however silly some may seem to you. If the sign says do not cross the road except at the zebra crossing, then DO NOT cross the road at any point except the zebra crossing, even if the zebra crossing is quite far, even if there is no traffic, even if you see locals crossing the road at any point they like. You will be amazed at the number of countries where the local police has made it into a fine art to surprise stupid tourists ‘breaking the law’ and then turning their visit into a veritable nightmare. No kidding.

# 03: Ask the price

Taking the stress out of traveling is really a simple matter of conditioning the mind to think ahead. So in a foreign country, always ask the price before you purchase anything; even a bottle of ‘mineral’ water. Ask the price BEFORE you enter a club; ask the price when you have ordered seafood; ask the price when you order a taxi to the airport; ask the price for a late evening check-out; ask the price for everything. Save yourself both money and embarrassment.

# 02: The last day

The last day has to be yours. Largely if not fully. I usually try to return home on late afternoon or even later flights from the city I am departing from. To start with, it allows you one last party on your last night without having to wake up early the next day and make a mad rush to the airport. Then, I like to have several hours absolutely free to do whatever I really want to do before leaving that city or country, without having any business appointments to still do. What’s the point of all the slog if you cannot take half a day out for yourself, is what I say?

# 01: Confirmed return flight

This really has to be travel tip numberouno. Before you fly out excitedly to that exotic new destination, be very sure that your return flight seat is confirmed. Ignore your travel agent’s assurances to fly out on a request return booking and he will ‘take care of it’ by the time you get there. It’s not going to happen. Oh yes, he will take care of it a number of times. But you know what? One time he will not be able to. The time when you absolutely must get back by a certain date. The time when you are on a really tight budget. The time when you fall sick while abroad. Desperate to get back home, you are stuck with an unconfirmed return ticket, with the options being to stay 4 extra days till the next available seat/flight, or purchase a highly expensive new ticket that takes you from A to C before going to B. The trick to leave with a confirmed return ticket is to book well in advance. This may not be possible always, but then, pay that little extra before you start for a confirmed return ticket, rather than going for what seems like a super deal ticket, but with an unconfirmed return.

There you go! Bon voyage!

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Author Information

Zohare Ali Shariff is CEO of Asiatic Public Relations Network Ltd. & Editor-in-Chief of tbl. A graduate of the London School of Economics, he is a published author and winner of National Book Foundation wards. He is based in Karachi.

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