Travel, to me, is a wholesome experience. The Planning and Research, Interactions with the Locals, Souvenirs, Cuisine, Sights (Palaces, Museums, Shows Etc.) and last but not the least, even the minor/major niggles play a role in making the overall Trip an “EXPERIENCE”.
This is the blog I had posted in 2010: https://gattokaran.com/2010/03/19/travel-tips-from-an-amateur-school-of-hard-knocks-graduate/
Some of the suggestions in the 2010 blog might not be relevant in 2019, please note.
For example, in 2015, I spent a harrowing 4 hours stuck between the borders of Cambodia and Vietnam when I ran out of pages in my Passport and the Vietnam Immigration officials (who spoke (or at least acted as if they spoke) ZERO English) refused to stamp my passport citing lack of free space. I could neither go back to Cambodia (since they stamped me out on my Single-Entry VISA) nor enter Vietnam. To make matters worse, my bus (after waiting around for over 30 minutes) left for Ho Chi Minh City (I would not blame them. Other 40+ passengers did not have to suffer because of me). Now when I look back at that experience, I cherish it a lot … There was a point during the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu, while carrying load, and climbing up and down kilometers after kilometers, where I asked myself, “Did I pay money for this??” 🙂 But now when I look back at that experience, I cherish it a lot …
Sections in this Blog:
- What is the GOAL of the trip?
- Expect the unexpected …
- Choice of Hotels
- Learning through Travel
- Local Languages & Google Translate
- Local Cuisine
- Airport Transfer
- ATMs & Currency Exchange
- Important Documents
- Google Offline Maps & GPS
- Cutting it too close … A good idea?
- Be a “Good and Green Traveler”
- Interact with people from various parts of the World, including locals …
- Observe the local life …
- Catch a glimpse of local arts …
- Buying Souvenirs …
- Pace yourself … Listen to your body
- Earth is huge!
- Traveling with Children
- Miscellaneous Tips
- Suggestions and Tips from Friends …
As of 05/29/2019 (Wednesday), I have explored 46 Countries, excluding my Country of birth, India, and also the Countries I have been to as a Child (Italy, Iran Etc.). As each trip goes by, I can see that I am becoming more seasoned in dealing with the various variables that occur during a trip. My trips are a mix of Family trips (Slower, less hectic and more luxurious) as well as Solo back-packing trips (Faster, hectic and less luxurious). I have visited several Countries multiple times. Examples: USA (Zillion times:-)), Russia (twice), Norway (twice), Singapore (4 times), Malaysia (5 times), Oman (twice) Etc.
Following are suggestions and tips, based on my various experiences. Please note that not all suggestions may be applicable to you. Some of them will work for you. Some of them would not.
What is the GOAL of the trip?
Classify the goal (roughly) as either “relaxing” or “sight-seeing”: If it is the former (like our trip to Hawaii), you should have the mindset of (a) Getting up as late as you want (b) Having the luxury of dropping down and taking a nap any time you want, even on the beach (c) Lots of beach or spa time Etc. If it is the latter, then (to me), it is all business. I mean, at the end of the trip, I will probably feel more tired than when I started! Why? Because I would have minimized my sleep, maximized my time “out in the streets” and experienced pretty much every sight I could. Now, some people/companies will claim you can have the best of both these worlds. Yes, you could, if you increase the vacation time (and spend much more $$$) and do a simple split of overall “relaxing” and “sight-seeing” times. For e.g. during our 2-week Hawaii trip (yes, 2 weeks, that too in the peak of peak season (2nd half of December), we did a decent mix of both! By the by, when we returned after that trip, my bank account was in a much “cleaner” state than what the world’s best hacker could have ever managed).
Expect the unexpected …
I remember when we went to Niagara Falls (Buffalo), our return flight to Chicago was cancelled at the last minute (after we had checked in our baggage and were waiting at the gate!). It was a harrowing experience, involving angry exchanges with the airline, mad scramble for a Hotel at 11PM, mad scramble back to the airport at 5AM (after 4 hours of sleep), 1st day at Chicago being spoiled Etc. Looking back, my mistake was in never even thinking about the remote possibility of something upsetting my plan. In the travel world, unlike in our High-Tech work world, “having backup plans” does not make a lot of sense. For e.g. would you book a “backup flight” just in case your primary flight gets cancelled? 🙂 A better strategy is to quickly adjust to the new crisis, take a deep breath, spend a solid 5 minutes (or more, based on preference) cursing the airlines (for e.g.), and moving on. You lose a valuable day of your vacation? Well, s**t happens … Don’t let it spoil the rest of your vacation.
If you are able to accomplish 80%+ of your original plan, IMHO, it is a good trip.
Pack as lightly as possible: One advantage is that you have a much easier time lugging the baggage through various airports. When we travel as a whole family, guess who gets the “enjoyment” of dragging 2 big suitcases and various Carry-Ons? You got it, its ME! My wife will be busy with herding the kids while I look like a “pile of baggage” that seems to be moving on its own! Trust me, it is no fun to be stared at by prim and proper business travelers, with their small wheeler bags and a cup of coffee, while the self-propelled “pile of baggage” is inching along. When I travel alone, I just have a backpack. Its so much easier. No baggage Check-In queues, no waiting for baggage claim etc. I always insist on carrying just 3-4 changes of clothes and I expect to be able to do laundry during the trip. I would suggest to really review the list of things you are carrying and carry only those items which are essential or which cannot be obtained at the destination.
It amuses me when I see people struggle with their huge and heavy luggage. I stick to what is absolutely required. I typically carry a sturdy Cabin bag (45-60 liters) and an empty Check-In bag for souvenirs which I purchase during the trip (On the return journey, I check-in this bag). On most trips, I carry the following:
5 T-Shirts (Rolled up)
2-3 Gym T-Shirts , Shorts and Wrist-bands
2 Bermudas (For casual wear)
1 multi-purpose Trouser (For more formal occasions and in case it gets cooler than expected)
Under-Wear, Socks Etc.
Swim trunks (On a need basis)
Toilet Bag (Shaving cream, Shaving Base-Set/Blade(s), Ear buds, Tooth brush/paste, Moisturizer, Deodorant, Nail-Cutter, Mouth-Wash, Floss, Comb, Hand-Sanitizer Etc.)
International Power Adapter (Which works pretty much all over the World)
Power Bank (20000 mAh) & its cable
Multi-purpose light Jacket (Sometimes it gets chilly in Airports and outdoors. It is better to be safe. Also, by tying it around the waist, you can save space in the bag)
Rain Poncho or Umbrella (In case rains are expected)
Sturdy plastic bag (For Laundry. More on that later …)
DSLR Camera Bag (This is my “handbag” 🙂 I have the DSLR body and 18-55mm and 55-200mm lens, Remotes, Batteries, Filters, SD cards, Lens cleaner Etc.)
Sunscreen and Insect Repellent (If required, E.g. Amazon)
Trekking Pants (If the trip involves trekking)
1 small Toilet Roll (Not all Toilets have Paper Rolls)
Running Shoes (I love running Outdoors!)
Spare Cash (Indian Rupee (INR), as well as US Dollars (USD))
Passport (Duh! :-))
My trip research document (Soft format, in my Phone)
Travel bookings (Flights, Trains, Hotels, Tours Etc. Soft format, in my phone)
Spare Passport Photos and printouts of Passport (Also carry soft copies of Passport in my Phone)
Keep in mind the vaguely followed “liquid rule”: Over the past few years, I have had to throw away everything from a Johnnie Walker Blue Label bottle (which my friend had asked to transport to India. I think I distinctly remember the security guy licking his lips in anticipation of the party he is going to host that night with this bottle) to my precious eye drops to this rule. Why? Because I forget this new air travel rule (for which we have to thank the extremists, I guess) when I pack. Different airports follow this rule differently. Safest strategy is to have only a few liquid items (drops, ointments, shaving cream etc.) and that too, in a Ziploc in your cabin luggage. This will speed up the security check. Else you run the risk of having all the items in your bag being spread out neatly on a table (“Hey everybody, see what this guy has in his bag …!”) and as an added bonus, you might get to do some simple stretching exercises while being poked around with a gadget 😉
Always consider the kids’ comfort and enjoyment: If you are travelling with small kids, consider bringing one/two of their favorite items so that they have some emotional support during the rapidly changing experiences they go through during a major trip. Obviously, with kids, you cannot have an intense/hectic travel schedule. If you have kids who are over 5 years old, consider bringing a journal book for them to jot down their experiences. Trust me, such a journal is a lot of fun to read, later on … Side note: Items like diapers are best purchased at the destination, rather then loading up your bag with it (unless of course, you are going to a place where you get “What???!!” in response to “Do you sell diapers?”).
Choice of Hotels
I am not a rich person and it means that I need to ensure that I spent money on necessary luxuries only. Since I do not travel to sit in a Hotel and enjoy its amenities (Unless I am on a lazy holiday with Family 🙂 ) and instead will be outdoors most of the time, I basically need the following main necessities only:
(1) Good location: Preferably, walk-able to the City Center. I would highly recommend that one stays as close to the City Center as possible. Even if you play a premium for the location, it will mostly be worth it, considering the extra commute time and cost if you stay far from the City Center
(2) Clean and nice Bed and Bathroom
I personally do not care if the Hotel has a nice swimming pool or if the Hotel has a great Lobby or if the Hotel has 21 Restaurants inside its premises Etc.
As we all must have noticed, Hotels now-a-days make a lot of money from over-priced (“Outrageous” is a better term) laundry and pressing services. If I am travelling with Family, we do have more bags and hence can afford to carry more clothes to last the entire trip, except (for E.g.) in cases like our 1-month trip to Greece and Turkey, where we had to use Hotel Laundry regularly.
But when I back-pack, depending on how “reasonable” the Laundry rates at the Hotel are, I sometimes do my own laundry. I use the sturdy plastic bag (mentioned above) and a locally bought laundry detergent for this purpose. I.e. I use the bag as a “bucket”. I put the washed clothes out to dry in the bathroom and voila, when I am back in the evening, the clothes are dried out 🙂 For 15-20 minutes of effort, I save money to spend elsewhere.
Learning through Travel
IMHO, what is the point of traveling if you are not learning something new and expanding your horizons? 🙂
I am a geeky traveler. I do a lot of research beforehand and make a “Master Travel Document”, which contains the following details:
(1) History of the Country and Cities
(2) Logistics (ATMs, Taxis, Public Transport, Safety Etc.)
(3) Cuisine: Food items to try (Do not expect to love everything you try. For e.g. The smorgasbord I tried at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel (despite the price!) was not my cup of tea. Similarly, Paraguay’s Sopa Paraguaya was also not my cup of tea 🙂 You win some, you lose some … But that is the fun, ain’t it?
(4) Souvenirs to buy (I recommend that you research into what is unique to the place you are travelling to. Cups and Glasses which say “Paris” are not the best local Souvenir when you visit Paris 😉 When you go to exotic Countries, it is natural to get very tempted by the variety of pretty souvenirs. It is best to keep the physical weight in mind when you buy the souvenirs (unless you plan to have it shipped to your home) as you will have to carry it around wherever you go. I try to buy souvenirs which are easy to carry around, like paintings by local artists or wall hangings)
(5) Sights to see (Overview, details, logistics on how to get there, pricing Etc. I would recommend that one does NOT micro-plan (What is the fun if there is zero element of “surprises” or “unexpected events”? 🙂 ). At the same time, it makes sense to have a general “plan for the day”. E.g. If you plan to visit Attraction-1, Attraction-2 and Attraction-3, and it happens that Attraction-1 and Attraction-3 are next to each other, your day’s plan should be: Attraction-1 –> Attraction-3 –> Attraction-2 (Or Attraction-2 –> Attraction-1 –> Attraction-3, for E.g.). I typically make a rough-plan for each single day of my trip. For long trips, as per the advice of Travel Guru (and my Idol) Rick Steves, it is best to sprinkle some “spare days” through the trip. Such an approach helps if/when you fall sick or when you need to catch up due to flight delays (for E.g.).
(6) Local words and its pronunciations
For example, for my 45-day South America trip in May, I had started the research and preparations in the previous August.
As my trip progresses, I use my document (soft format in the Phone) to refresh myself and this helps me to enjoy the trip even more. I do most of my revisions during a flight, for E.g.
Some good research avenues:
(1) http://www.travel.state.gov (US State Department website)
(2) National Geographic, Travel Channel Etc.
(3) The Country/City’s Tourist website
(4) YouTube Travel videos (E.g. Rick Steves)
(5) Travel Guides (Again, I adore Rick Steves and his books)
(6) Blogs 🙂
Plan, but do not micro-plan: What I mean by this is that one should have a general outline of what will be done during a particular day (of the vacation). But it should ideally not be planned to each 30-minute slot (for e.g.). For e.g. 10.30AM at XYZ Museum. The trouble with micro-planning is that each time you miss a deadline, there is the tendency to get upset (or even worse, panic!). Just go with a general outline (e.g. AM – XYZ Museum, PM – ZYX Museum etc.). One might ask, then why plan at all? Well, each of us have specific interests w.r.t. a place. We must sift through all the available options and come up with a handful of items which the travelling group would enjoy. Then, it has to be spread out (logically) through the days/weeks/months/(years?) one intends to stay in that place. Now, this is the part I enjoy the most. It is like a logistical puzzle waiting to be solved and with the added advantage of learning about a new place.
Local Languages & Google Translate
I am very poor with languages. I mainly stick to English 🙂 So, Google Translate is a huge savior for me. I make sure I download the latest language packs for “Offline” use. I love the App and use it extensively when I travel. Now, with the latest feature, you can even take pictures (E.g. Restaurant’s Menu Card) and get the translation …
It amuses me to see folks spend hard-earned $$$ to travel and then once at the destination, hunt for Cuisine from their homeland … A big part of Travel for me is trying out the various Cuisines. I would highly recommend skipping the McDonalds, KFC, Chilli’s Etc. and trying out the local food. There will be times when you might not enjoy a particular dish or drink, but is that not part and parcel of Travel?
I always try local Beer wherever I go … For E.g.
Unless you have a lot of luggage (which in itself will be odd, IMHO) or if you are arriving late in a large City (E.g. Sao Paulo), I would not recommend Taxis. Most of the Cities have very good Airport connectivity and a quick research can help you get from/to the Airport to/from the Hotel. Airport Express, Trams, Sub-Way, Bus Etc. are the most common options.
Such an approach allows me to observe the locals in their element.
ATMs & Currency Exchange
In my personal experience, Currency Exchange at Exchange Counters are a huge rip-off. The rates are atrocious. I stick to using my International Credit Card (where Cards are accepted) and local Currency withdrawn from ATMs. At most places, there are surcharges for ATM withdrawals, but the overall rates are way better than what you get at Exchange Counters. In Paraguay, I even got 60% of the exchange rate! Talk of rip-off …
Especially be careful with ATMs at Major Airports and non-Bank ATMs. I research ahead of time on the major Banks in the Cities I am visiting and then go to a local branch of the Bank and do ATM withdrawal from inside the Bank.
Another reason for me to withdraw local currency from ATM is that I collect currency and maintain them in albums.
In case you do not already have one, I would highly recommend buying one. It is safe and convenient. I got one with multiple pockets. I use one pocket for local Cash/Coins, one for important documents (E.g. Credit Cards, Passport Etc.). Etc. Since it dangles in front of you, it is difficult to steal from.
Nowadays, with huge Cloud storage facilities (E.g. Google), it makes sense to keep soft copies of Passport, Reservations Etc. in the Cloud. E.g. Even if you end up misplacing or losing your Passport, the copies will help you when you visit the Embassy for replacement.
The copies will also come handy when you have to go to battle with the airlines or car rental company or hotel … Trust me, “going to battle” is almost guaranteed in any major trip, so much so that, you will come out feeling as if you just completed a Marines orientation course. The Few, The Proud … 🙂
All my travels are self-curated. I do not like conducted tours. Researching the trip is one of the major enjoyments for me. But I do take occasional conducted Day-Trips, within my overall Trip. E.g. Day-Trip to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park from Ulaanbaatar. In some cases, the local transport is not easy to use for Day-Trips (E.g. Mongolia).
In some places, like Buenos Aires, Asuncion Etc., I was lucky to have a Guide all for myself, despite being booked on a multi-member Tour, as it was off-season and I was the lone Customer. I had great experiences interacting with them and getting a deep insight into their way of life.
Google Offline Maps & GPS
Google Maps is an awesome resource in Countries where Google is allowed (In China, when I was there, Google was not allowed). Make sure you download the Offline Maps. It comes handy even when you are in remote Towns and Villages.
You can use GPS (even when you are not on a Mobile Network) to self-guide.
Cutting it too close … A good idea?
There are many folks who try to time things to perfection. Example: Flight is at 5PM. Boarding closes at 4.30PM. Check-In and Security Check will take 45 minutes. Cab ride to airport will take 35 minutes. So, they start from home at 4.30PM – 45 minutes – 35 minutes = 3.10PM!
While it sounds great … You are maximizing the schedule and freeing up as much time as possible, it is seldom worth it. Typically, you could face variables like delayed Cab, bad traffic, accident Etc. and end up with a lot of unnecessary tension and heartache.
What I do is to arrive at least 2.5hr before my flight (or Train or Bus), casually finish Check-In and Security Check and spend some quality time with a nice cup of coffee and a favorite magazine or Movie (on Amazon Prime or Netflix, on the Phone). I am more relaxed and at the same time, I have left enough margin for “variables”.
Be a “Good and Green Traveler”
Try and be a “Good” Tourist.
(1) Do not trash a beautiful place … Use Dust-Bins/Waste-Baskets. Please leave the place (at least) as you found it 🙂
(2) Do follow queues and other local customs … In most of Germany, you would notice that locals respect quietness a lot. I have even been caught in outdoor surroundings where I had to speak in hushed tones … 🙂 I did not mind it, as I was the “outsider” there and I was the one who had to adjust into the environment … It was jarring to see inconsiderate Tourists cackling and shouting and basically creating a situation where locals would start hating tourists …
(3) Contribute to local economy by buying some local souvenirs or local food items …
(4) Help reduce water usage by reusing towels in Hotels, turning off water taps when not in use Etc. as much as possible
(5) Guides make a hard living … They live on tips. If you are part of a Tour and you feel the Guide did a good job, try and be generous with the tips. Also, in some cases they will share their business card and you can leave a good comment about them on Viator or other websites, which will support them professionally
(6) Respect local’s right to privacy … It was appalling to see rude Tourists bombard local homes in Santorini to take photos. Another example: Despite the Tour Guide strictly warning us NOT to take photos of children in a School, deep in the Amazonas, I noticed an American lady doing just that … I bit my tongue because I had to live with them in the same Lodge for a few more days.
(7) Please take extra care never to (unintentionally) come off as egoistic or as someone with a superiority-complex … We all would have heard of the “Ugly American” phrase (“Loud and brash American” …). Actually, most of the Americans I meet on my trips are not at all fitting this description. But I do occasionally see someone behaving rudely to locals or looking down at them … Not cool!
(8) Always ask for permission before taking a photograph. E.g. Taking photograph of a stranger, Taking photo of a Government building which is guarded, Taking photo inside a Museum. Such an approach will help avoid embarrassment in case you are breaking a rule. Please note that almost all Museums require Flash to be turned OFF in your Camera.
Of course, Safety is critical. It is best to do proper research into the “security concerns” (E.g. Pick-Pockets, Agitations Etc.) in the places you are going to.
http://www.state.gov (US State Department) is a good reference for this.
(1) It is possible to register in your Country’s (based on your Citizenship) travel registry. For me, that would be: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html
(2) Stay away from naturally dangerous situations. E.g. Favelas (Slums) in Sao Paulo.
(3) Be careful with tap water … Check if it is really potable. In a lot of places, it is NOT
(4) Unless you are a “Night Crawler”, it is best to avoid being outdoors late in the night … All anti-Social elements typically come out in the dark.
(5) Hotel’s Business Card: Keep it handy, in case you get lost or if you need to explain the directions to a Taxi Driver.
(6) If in imminent danger (E.g. Mugging), it is best NOT to pick a fight. Keep in mind, you are the odd one out. Typically, folks who attempt to mug you would have a gang with them (or other support systems, a.k.a. Gun!). Like when I was pick-pocketed in Manaus, sensing that I was up against a gang of Portuguese-speaking local goons, I bit the bullet and walked away … 😦 I would suggest that it is best not to aim to be a “Hero”, though your instincts might say otherwise.
(7) Renting Cars, Bikes Etc. Please be careful. I have experienced (or have heard of horror stories) about renting cars from private folks in Phuket, Athens Etc. A typical scam is to blame you for some existing damage (E.g. Scratch). In case renting is a must, I recommend that you keep some photos (using Phone) as proof of how you got the vehicle.
(8) Act as if you own the place: Many a times, you will see tourists who walk around with their head turning around 360 degrees all the time. Instead, I would suggest that you (at least externally) project a lot of confidence. Walk around as if you are comfortable and not afraid of anything … (So far, it has mostly worked for me 🙂 )
(9) Try not to carry too many expensive items. Leave most of the expensive stuff in your Hotel’s locker. I do not use a watch nor do I wear jewelry. Also, if I know I am going to a risky area (E.g. Maracana, Rio de Janeiro), I do not carry my DSLR bag, as it is bulky and screams “Tourist”. In case I need to take a photo, I use my phone.
(10) Try not to carry too much cash around … This is how I got myself pick-pocketed. I went into a Bank and withdrew cash. Later on, I recognized that this gang must have been observing people going in and coming out of the Bank. Instead of using the ATM at a time when I could directly go to the Hotel and place the cash in the Locker, I risked using the public bus (because I was late for a Tour I had previously booked) and to boot, instead of keeping the cash in one of the pockets-with-zip of my Waist Pouch, as I normally do, I put it in an open pocket (Very careless of me!). Inside the bus, they created artificial crowding (their standard operating procedure) and made off with my cash 😦 It is best to estimate how much cash you will be needing (if at all) and carrying only that amount when you step outside.
(11) Make sure your Family has access to your day-to-day Itinerary: In case of emergencies or disasters, it is always handy. I keep a copy of all my flights, hotels and tour bookings with my Family (E.g. Back-packing trip).
(12) When traveling in a Taxi/Cab, keep an eye on the GPS (Phone). It will help you detect if you are being led into a dangerous situation.
Interact with people from various parts of the World, including locals …
Try not to keep to yourself … Mingle with locals as much as possible and interact with your Tour-mates and learn about their Countries, their backgrounds and other interesting facts. Some examples in my case:
(1) Informative interactions with Tour Guides during Day-Trips in Amazonas, Edinburgh, Singapore, Sacred Valley (Peru) Etc.
(2) Bond with Tour-mates. I had a blast with my Tour-mates during my Trans-Siberian adventure, Trek to Machu Picchu Etc. We exchanged stories, shared a drink, and had a lot of fun!
Observe the local life …
One of my most cherished memories is my visit to the Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo. Observing locals having picnics, playing basketball, volleyball and other games, artists working on their paintings Etc. was very soothing and revealing. Grab a snack, sit on a bench, and watch the local life pass you by … Trust me, it is well worth it.
Catch a glimpse of local arts …
Do not limit yourself to just Buildings, Museums Etc. Catch a local show as well. E.g. Chinese Ballet in Beijing, Ballet in St. Petersburg, “O” show in Ho Chi Minh City Etc.
Buying Souvenirs …
Most of us would love to return from a trip with something which to treasure for the rest of our lives. I do prior research to figure out which souvenirs capture the essence of that place. There are also some standard stuff I buy wherever I go, for example, Post-Cards (For my Post-Card Album). If you have the chance, it is best to buy Souvenirs from Official Centers. For E.g. In Sri Lanka, Laksala stores are present in all major towns and cities. In Taiwan, I would recommend the National Palace Museum.
Pace yourself … Listen to your body
On long trips (E.g. Longer than 2 weeks), it is important to pace yourself. For example, even though I consider myself physically fit, the 45-day South American trip was quite strenuous. Not just all the walking/climbing/Etc. but also carrying my bags around (Sorry, I do not use Cabin-Bags with wheels :-)), the Mosquitoes in Amazon, Extreme Weather (Bitter Cold, Rain …) Etc. Though one can never be perfectly safe from Fever/Flu, taking all the typical precautions (E.g. Keeping body temperature steady, Drinking lot of fluids Etc.) will help reduce the chances of Fever/Flu. Also, try and get good sleep every night.
Earth is huge!
No … No … I am not angling for a Science Nobel Prize with this remarkable discovery 🙂
What I mean is that there are 195+ Countries in the World. IMHO, visiting the same Country repeatedly (especially if you have lofty Travel goals like me) is a waste. You might ask, why I visited Norway/Russia/Etc. multiple times. It was actually because I could not avoid it (E.g. Work-related Travel).
I had a colleague who used to go to Hawaii every December. I asked him about it and he told me he likes beaches a lot. Fair enough. I asked him why he does not try Cancun or Cabo San Lucas or Indonesia or Thailand or Mauritius or Maldives or Bahamas or Fiji or Virgin Islands or Jamaica or Aruba or Curacao or Cayman Islands or Belize or Philippines …
Hope you get my drift … 🙂
I fully respect that there would be folks who are not much into variety in Travel and instead prefer familiarity of going to the same place over and over. But for folks with similar mindset to me, I would suggest NOT to go to the same place twice …
Please do not eat McChicken at Bruges: I have not been to Bruges (yet). I just picked that town to stress my point, which is, while travelling eat the local cuisine as much as possible. We all have our favorite cuisine/food and we crave for that most of the time. A trip is an escape from our daily routine, is it not, and shouldn’t this escape apply to food also? Please note that with kids (especially small ones), one WILL have to buy that McChicken (at least for them). I remember, when we went to Oahu and I tried Poi, I could barely keep it down. But then, at least I can claim that I know what Poi tastes like, isn’t it? Go for broke, experiment with the cuisine, maximize the thrill factor of the trip …
Whether I am traveling with Family or traveling Solo, I almost always book only at Hotels which provide Breakfast. The extra price (for the Breakfast) is well worth it, for the following reasons IMHO:
(1) You need not go out in search of food right in the morning … I.e. It is more convenient.
(2) In almost all cases, it is a good deal … I.e. You get a buffet of items for a reasonable price, of which you stand a good chance of liking at least a few items.
(3) Choice! Breads, Fruits, Cheese, Sausages, Eggs, Juices Etc. You get a variety of items in each category (Assuming the Hotel is decent enough)
My typical modus operandi is thus:
Breakfast: At Hotel
Lunch: On-the-Go … A quick bite (E.g. Sandwich), as it is smack in the middle of heavy-duty sightseeing.
Dinner: Take-Away/Parcel on most nights, except for a couple of the nights … Gyros in Greece, Shawarma in Turkey, Chinese food in Beijing … Etc. We bring Take-Away/Parcel to the Hotel.
For at least 2 of the evenings, we go for a nice sit-down Dinner at a restaurant specializing in local Cuisine. (I would have researched the Restaurant as well as the famous dishes beforehand). Keep in mind that it will cost more $$$. Some memorable sit-down dinners we have had include: Nantes, France. St. Petersburg, Russia. Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Chicago, USA. Miami, USA. Edinburgh, Scotland. Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Moscow, Russia.
Traveling with Children
I am amazed when I see Tourists travelling with Babies! I.e. Strollers, Baby-Carriers Etc. As it is, traveling can be tiring. On top of it one has to take care of young Children as well … Amazing.
Our experiences: We have been to 5 islands in Hawaii (over a period of 2 weeks) when our Son was 1.5 years old. We have done a road plus train trip from San Jose to Key West when our Daughter was 7 years old. We have traveled through UK when our Son was 3 years old.
Not easy! 🙂
(1) Make sure you have the Diaper Bag all ready to go … (For Babies/Toddlers)
(2) Make sure you have an Umbrella Stroller (It is easy to carry around) (For Babies/Toddlers)
(3) Make sure you have a Tablet with their favorite Game/Movie, in case they get cranky … Museums are NOT the most exciting place for Kids 😉
(4) Make sure you have packed enough Snacks (Biscuits, Sandwiches, Candies Etc.) in case the Kids get hungry during the sight-seeing
(5) It is best to carry Baby Tylenol (or other such Medicine), Band-Aid Etc.
(6) Keep the schedule flexible and light … Give Kids enough time to wake up all relaxed, have a leisurely breakfast and only then start the sight-seeing. Once again, I have not met too many Kids who are into heavy-duty traveling. They typically hate Museums, Architecture, Walking Etc.
Keeping bags in the rack across the aisle, inside the plane: Many a times, I have seen rude late-comers shifting already-placed bags. I keep my Cabin bag in the rack across the aisle from me and it is easy for me to keep an eye on it 😉
Have a pleasant smile while approaching locals: Most of us are cautious when a stranger approaches. In situations where you need to approach a local for directions (E.g.), it pays to have a pleasant smile. I have noticed that even in situations where I do not know local language, locals go out of their way to help …
Souvenir Cash: If you are into collecting various Currencies, I would recommend using the thick-paper waste bag we get in the planes. You can also use Zip-Loc (transparent, though) or other special bags. It is best to keep souvenir cash separate, lest you accidentally spend it 🙂
“Free WiFi” at Airports and elsewhere: Be careful with this. It is not secure and typically, they ask for Email IDs, to bombard you with spam for the rest of your lives!
Have downloaded Movies and/or TV Shows on Phone/Tablet: It comes handy during the waits at Airports, Train/Bus Stations Etc. I use Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Paper Napkins: I load up on a few paper napkins at Airports (E.g.) for use when I am at a place where there is no towel and I need to wipe my hands.
Haggle!: Do not be shy … It almost always pays to haggle while buying souvenirs. When you buy multiple items, it is rare that the seller does not give you a discount. Of course, I have had epic failures,where I angrily walked off from a deal and had to slink back later on with tail between my legs, as I really wanted the item and I could not find it elsewhere or find it for a better price 🙂
Spares of difficult-to-get items: E.g. Prescription eye glasses. I always carry a spare set with me. It may not be always possible to get prescription eye glasses in remote places and that too in short notice (I need my eye glasses all the time), if you end up losing it or breaking it …
Local Newspaper (Preferably in the local language): I find the front page of the local newspaper a great souvenir 🙂 Not only does it capture the date of your travel, it also captures the headlines from that period.
Major Tourist Attractions: E.g. Eiffel Tower, Paris. Taipei 101, Taipei. Forbidden City, Beijing. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh. Grand Canyon, Arizona. National Museum, Taipei. It is best to beat the crowds by arriving early, preferably as soon as they open. Else, the queues will kill you … Many attractions allow you to buy the entry tickets online (in many cases, at a discounted price) and help you avoid the long ticket queues. I really wish I had booked Eiffel Tower tickets online and in advance. Instead, it was a tiring 3hr wait in the queue for me …
Free Tours: Be sure to check out the website of the attraction to find out if they have free conducted tours. Many major attractions have excellent (and free!) conducted tours in English. You have to reserve your place in advance though, in most cases.
Cruise Travel: Cruise companies like Princess, Royal Caribbean, Cunard Etc. will sell Cruise as the “best way to see the World” … Wrong! IMHO, it is the most inefficient way to see places. Other than the novelty of the huge Ship, the high Seas, the Formal Dinner Nights Etc., Cruise gets boring after a few days. When we did the 8-day Cruise to Mexico, the first 3 days was exciting. The last 5 days were a crawl because by that time the activities and food in the Ship started to get boring for us … My Summary: Cruise is a nice one-time experience. More on this topic at:
Suggestions and Tips from Friends …
Airport lounge entry for free: First/Business-Class travel comes with its own Lounge access. Outside of that, several Credit Cards offer free access to the various lounges in Airports, for Economy travelers as well. In case you are interested, a quick search can determine if you qualify.
Dealing with Taxi-Drivers in China: My friend, who do not speak Mandarin, had his friend/colleague write the names of the various places he wanted to visit (in Mandarin) on Post-It pages.
Take “people’s advice” (including mine! heh heh!) with a pinch of salt (No, make it a dollop of salt): Cliche alert!!! Please do note that each individual is different. What person X might find amusing/interesting, could be the pits for person Y, and vice-versa. So, when someone tells you “The dish XYZ is the worst!”, and you just don’t even consider the dish XYZ or take alternate/2nd opinion on it, you might be missing out on something truly great. For e.g. take Huapia (Coconut Pudding) in Hawaii, which apparently you only get at a Luau. I loved it! Even went hunting for it, later. Amazingly I could never buy it in a store. I tried in all 4 of the bigger Hawaiian Islands and even went through the extreme embarrassment of trying to repeatedly pronounce it to the locals 🙂 My point is, if I had strictly listened to the advice of some of the well-meaning (I am sure) notes/tips I had heard/read, I could have missed out on it.
Wise words from a very great man (I.e. Me :-)): “Hear, read and learn as much as you can. But use the information, carefully, after filtering it through your own personal “filter” ….”
Happy Travels …