As my long time readers will know I travel to India every year for a holiday. Over time I have picked up some excellent travel tips which have allowed me to make the most of my overseas adventures. As the holiday season is looming I thought it would be a good idea to share some of these tips to help you have a holiday that is truly amazing.
18 travel tips to make your holiday truly amazing
1. Prepare (REALLY) early
Something I always intend to do but never end up doing is early preparation. I leave Visas and immunizations to the very last minute even to the point where I jeopardize not being able to travel. Take this year for example. I knew I needed an Indian Visa but I still left it to one day before the cut off deadline. This meant I had to race around and beg the Embassy to be kind to me. I got the visa but it caused me a lot of stress.
If you want to make sure your holiday is stress free and enjoyable it is a good idea to prepare a few month in advance. Yep, that’s right. Months in advance. Go to the doctor and get immunizations. Go to the Embassy and find out when to get Visas. Make photo copies of your credit cards, passports, plane tickets and book your accommodation as early as possible. Many a holiday has been ruined due to late preparation. You always forget something.
2. Tie up loose ends at home
Something that I always do now is make sure I prepare my home as much as I do my holiday. You really do not want to be worrying about your dog or your birds or your gardener or your letterbox while you are supposed to be relaxing in the sun.
The first few days of my most recent trip overseas were marred by the fact that I had arranged a business meeting with an important client while I was supposed to be on an international flight. He rocked up to the cafe and I never showed up. I felt terrible. Make sure you tie up all loose ends at home before getting on that plane.
3. Keep your mind open
One of the worst things you can do to yourself and the people you are traveling with is keep your mind closed. Closed minded people are the WORST to travel with because everything bothers them and nothing is good enough. This is especially true if you go to an Asian country where hygiene might not be up to your standards, customs are completely different and the food might make you sick.
I have traveled around India with a few closed minded people. They hated all the con artists and the food was never as good as it should have been. The homeless beggars annoyed them. They spent their whole trip fighting everything that happened.
On the other side of the coin I have traveled with people who are incredibly open minded. They enjoy their trip 100 times more because everything is an adventure or an experience and as such their holiday is a truly magical event full of treasured memories.
My advice: if you want everything on your holiday to be exactly as it is at home then save some money and just stay at home.
4. Don’t sleep in
Okay so you have four weeks off work and you are in a country that you have always wanted to visit. You have no work to go to, no deadlines to meet and no traffic to beat. Why not sleep in? Because there is a lot to see.
I used to sleep in on my holidays because I thought I needed the rest. “That’s what holidays are for” I would tell myself. But as I got more experienced I realized I was wasting a lot of time. You don’t get to go overseas everyday and it would be a good idea to get out and experience the place. You will find your holiday is much more eventful if you don’t sleep in.
5. Be careful who you travel with
Four weeks alone with someone can kill a relationship. If you go with a friend who mildly annoys you when you are in your home situation you will hate them after a few days of traveling. Traveling brings out the most annoying in people. Their neurosis’ come out for everyone to see. Tiredness, fear, fatigue and over stimulation. All of these things lead to a cranky travel companion.
On the other hand, traveling can really strengthen a relationship. I have been to India with my girlfriend and my best mate and it didn’t cause any problems at all. We respected each others needs and desires and as such created a lot of experiences that we are now really fond of. Pick your traveling companion wisely.
There is a rule in traveling – pack the bare minimum and then half it. I tend to agree.
One of the worst things about traveling is the luggage. Waiting for it in airports, checking it hasn’t been stolen, lugging it from place to place. It is the pits. I much prefer to pack lightly and buy anything I need when I am over there. Of course this strategy doesn’t apply to everyone. I go to Asia where everything is cheap. If you are traveling to Europe you might want to avoid buying things you can bring from home as you will soon be wishing you brought more money.
7. Pick your season
This year I went to India in July. Monsoon time. 85% of the trip was spent indoors because it was raining far too much to go outside. The year before that I went in January. Winter time. 70% of the trip was spent indoors because it was snowing outside.
There are certain times of the year where it is markedly better to travel. These times depend on where you are going. For example, you want to avoid monsoon season in Asia, summer in the Middle East and Africa and so on.
And I am not just talking about the weather. In Borneo there is a place called Turtle Island where you can watch turtle eggs hatch on the beach. The problem? We went in the non-hatching season. Make sure you check with your travel agent as to whether you are going at the right time.
8. Get a (REALLY) good travel agent
My travel agent is ‘da bomb’. He is the kind of guy who would go above and beyond to look after you when you are traveling.
Let me illustrate with an example. One year in India I got quite sick after being there for only a few days. I cracked and spat the dummy and decided that I wanted to come home. I’d had enough! I got on the email to my travel agent and told him that I wanted to come home and even though my tickets were non-negotiable I wanted him to find me some earlier ones. Within five minutes he had written back saying he had rung the airline and got me an illness exemption and I could leave tomorrow, the next day or the day after that. I didn’t end up going home but I learned what kind of travel agent he was.
Shop around when you are looking for a travel agent. Make sure he/she is going to get you the cheapest flights and continue their service to you while you are on holiday. Many agencies ‘set and forget’ – if you need something changed while you are abroad it is your own bad luck.
But my travel agent is busy… sorry. 😉
9. Make sure your bank card has a four digit pin
Many people choose a lengthy bank card pin number because they think it will be safer. This is probably a good idea but when you are traveling you need a four digit pin number otherwise your card won’t work in the overseas ATMs.
Go in to your bank a few weeks before you leave and tell them where you intend on traveling to. They will tell you whether your card will work in all the machines and how much it will cost to make withdraws. Quite often it is very expensive.
10. Check Smart Traveler
The Australian Government publishes an extremely well managed website called Smart Traveler. This website is run by the Government Foreign Affairs Department and gives daily updates on the situation in every country around the world.
For example, if you are in a country where there is a high chance of a terrorist attack you can check the website and it will tell you if there is any credible information that points to an imminent attack. They also tell you about other dangers such as natural disasters, diseases and so on.
Of course, the Australian Government won’t get it right all the time. They don’t have a crystal ball that automatically uploads any dangers to the website. But, it is a good way to check out the general climate in your destination and make an informed decision about whether it is a place you really want to go to.
11. Get a mosquito repellent with DEET
In Australia we have the biggest mozzies in the world. Our mosquitoes are often as big as small birds. Only joking. In all honesty though, the mosquito repellent industry is quite advanced in Australia due to the fact that we do have a lot of big mozzies. And what we have found is that the best repellents are the ones that have DEET in them.
DEET is short for N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide and it is the active ingredient in a few really powerful insect repellents. In my experience in India it is only the products with DEET in them that do any good. Without DEET you will still get bitten. If you are going to a tropical destination do your research and find a repellent that includes this substance.
Warning – prolonged use of DEET is not healthy. Make sure you read the instructions carefully.
12. Don’t visit too many places
Okay so you are on holiday and you have a few weeks to visit as many places as possible. You rush around, see everything but then on your way home realize that you haven’t really taken any of it in.
As I get older I see more value in spending longer in fewer places as opposed to rushing around and seeing as much as possible. I like to experience the culture, meet the people and really get a feel for the place. I am a little bit over sightseeing. One of my biggest pieces of advice for you is to take your time and really absorb each place that you visit before moving on. Don’t feel like you have to see everything.
13. Watch out for sun burn
Imagine spending thousands of dollars on your dream holiday to a tropical beach only to get burned on the first day and spend the next week in bed in agony. It is not very nice.
Many people from colder climates head to a tropical destination with the aim of getting a bit of sun and relaxing by the beach. You have to remember that the sun is bloody powerful and your skin will burn easily. I new a girl in high school who was hospitalized because she spent a few hours asleep on the beach. Sun burn is a good way to ruin your holiday. Slip, slop, slap.
14. Learn a bit of the language
Most places speak English but quite often you find yourself in a scenario where you need to know a little bit of the local language. It might be a market place where you are trying to barter with the shop owner or it might be trying to tell a taxi driver he is going the wrong way. Get a small phrase book and try to use it as often as possible.
I have actually made a lot of friends overseas whilst trying to speak their language. It normally ends up with everyone having a good old laugh at the terrible accent but it is worth a try! You will be surprised how handy a few words can be.
15. Don’t be afraid to rough it
It is amazing how much you learn about yourself when you are forced to rough it in a foreign country.
When I was 17 I was in the middle of the Indian state of Bihar which has one of the world’s highest crime rates. I was alone and had to catch a midnight train despite everyone’s repeated warnings that I might get mugged or kidnapped and never seen again. But I had to go otherwise I would miss my flight home. So I booked a taxi to the train station with a driver I knew and asked if he would come in and wait for the train with me. He agreed but then at the last minute chickened out! So there I was – alone by myself in the middle of the night in one of the shadiest places in Asia.
Needless to say I made it home and the experience taught me a lot about what I am capable of dealing with if I need to. If you are forced to rough it in a foreign country do not be afraid. Don’t fight it. Just do your best and enjoy the experience.
16. Get a Lonely Planet
The Lonely Planet series of travel books are amazing. I always shrugged off suggestions that I needed one for India. “I’ve been there heaps of times,” I would say. “Why do I need a guide?”. I was wrong.
Last year I was given a guide as a gift and it proved to be really helpful. I found places I had never heard of in towns I had visited five or six times before and learned a lot about my home away from home. Lonely Planet is more than just a travel guide with street maps and sightseeing destinations – it is a travelers companion. They really do some excellent work on digging out the hidden gems in thousands of places around the world.
17. Put your most important gear in your carry-on
Always put your valuables and your most important items in your carry-on bag. Don’t check them in with your luggage because luggage gets lost. And it gets lost for good.
There is nothing worse than rocking up at your destination to find that your bags have been lost and you are without a toothbrush, change of clothes, credit card, etc. Make sure you carry all of that stuff with you so you can get by in the event that your bags go bye bye.
Don’t take yourself too seriously on the trip. Relax and have a good time. Don’t let worry and stress creep in to your mind. Just let go and relax. After all you are on vacation!
Anyone have any other tips? I’d love to hear them!