10 MORE Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling: Blogger Roundup
Two weeks ago, I wrote about 28 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Traveling. That post received a lot of feedback, and generated a good discussion about buying medicine around the world.
But what was I missing?
No one person can have all the answers, so I asked a few expert travel writers to chime in with their thoughts. The list of respondents includes:
- Christopher Elliott, National Geographic Traveler columnist and consumer travel advocate
- Brett Snyder, Founder and Editor of Cranky Flier
- Tim Winship, Editor-at-Large of SmarterTravel.com
I asked each of these experts for their own travel tips, and what they would add to the original essay. Here’s what they had to say:
Brett Snyder, The Cranky Flier
- Carry a copy of the contract of carriage for the airline you’re flying.
There are a lot of rules that you agree to abide by when you fly, and most agents don’t know them all. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, be it delayed flights, oversales, or something else, whip out a copy of the contract of carriage so you make sure you get what you’re owed. Many airlines offer their contract on their website. Otherwise, you can request it from the airline directly, but my guess is that you won’t always be able to get a hold of one for every airline in every country.
- Get to the airport early.
It seems as if it’s a point of pride for some people to get to the airport as close to their departure time as possible. That can work, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re traveling internationally, airlines don’t always have the same standards you’ll find in the U.S. Get to the airport early so you can make sure you get a decent seat, get through all the checkpoints, and make sure the departure time of your flight hasn’t magically been changed. (That last point probably happens more often than you’d think.) You may lose an hour in the country you’re visiting, but it beats getting stuck.
- Research your airline before making a reservation.
If you have multiple options for getting to your destination, you might want to research the different airlines before you book. A good place to start is with the European Union. They put out a list of airlines that are banned from flying to the E.U. for safety reasons. You’ll probably want to avoid flying on those airlines no matter where you are. You can also look up accident rates for many airlines at sites like Aviation Safety Network.
Of course, if you only have one option, it’s probably best to avoid looking at these lists. You’re going to fly that airline anyway, so there’s no point in scaring yourself.
Tim Winship, Smarter Travel:
- Practice differential tourism.
Having endured the longest flight of my life, and one of the most uncomfortable, to visit Australia, I spent an entire week in Sydney– doing mostly what I could have done at home in Los Angeles. Or in any number of other close-by cities like San Diego or Vancouver.
It was only upon visiting the Sydney zoo and natural history museum that I realized that what made Australia truly different — and worth the long trip — lay outside the city. The Outback. The Great Barrier Reef. Koalas and kangaroos and platypuses in their natural element.
By then it was too late to redesign the itinerary. Lesson learned.
- Make mileage-earning a priority.
If I had taken advantage of every opportunity to earn frequent flyer miles over the years, I’d be a mileage millionaire today. Or I would have cashed the miles in for plenty of free trips and upgrades.
Opportunities are lost through sheer inattention. ‘Nuf said.
- Don’t obsess about airfare.
The price of an airline ticket has never represented a smaller piece of the overall travel expenditure than it does today. And yet that’s where we exercise maniacal price-sensitivity. Relax and quit obsessing over airfare! As a side benefit, airlines could regain their financial composure and service might improve.
- Buy good luggage.
Flights and hotel stays and car rentals come and go, but your luggage lives on. And on. Buy the good stuff and take care of it. It’ll return the favor.
- When in doubt, dress up.
It’s easy enough to “casualize” slacks and a dress shirt. But if you’ve only packed shorts and sandals, your “dress to impress” options are limited.
Appearance matters. And whether in Omaha or Osaka, it’s always better to be more respectful than less.
Chris Elliott, National Geographic Traveler:
What do I wish I had known? It really varies by trip.
- I guess I wish I would have expected the unexpected.
Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out– you have a schedule, you’ve looked up the weather report, you’ve confirmed your hotel– along comes fate and proves to you once again that travel is completely unpredictable. The canceled flight. The hurricane. The lost reservation. I keep forgetting that!
- Also, I wish I had known to lower my expectations, so that I can’t be disappointed.
You know … any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the roundup! Participants and readers, I welcome your further comments below.
Now that you all are more willing to share your own thoughts, I’d be interested in hearing anything we’ve missed in the two articles, or if you have any questions for the travel gurus.
Did you enjoy this article? Please pass it on to others at your favorite social networking site, or share your own thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for the info.
I’d like to know more about what information you make sure to have with you when you’re traveling and how you plan for “in case I lose my passport” type scenarios.
I have a short list on the “How and Why I Travel” essays (look in the International Travel section”), but in short, I don’t bring that much with me.
As for losing passports, yes, that is one thing I am paranoid about because there are not always nearby embassies in the places I go. I do keep several copies with me, in different parts of my bags, and I am working on getting a duplicate passport which will be helpful for me anyway.
Where appropriate, “smarter travel” should also include *attempting to give something back* to whatever destination you might be heading to.
Getting to the airport early is obvious, but so essential. My family hates me for it, but it lowers the stress level immensely.
A small luxury for me that also lowers stress: take a towncar or limo to the airport for all but the shortest trips. Between parking costs and traffic, it’s not much more expensive and gets the trip started on the right note.
Also, love the comment about differential tourism. Another thought along the same lines: go places to interact or contribute, not just observe.
Great advice! A couple of things I’ve learned about air travel (the hard way!):
* Do not-not-NOT lock your suitcase when checking it. True, someone from the loading crew may steal some articles of clothing, but the other option is having airport security or the police break the lock and zippers off and tape your suitcase back together. I went to Ecuador with a nice new suitcase, came back with a big wool bag.
* If you have to pack something breakable or valuable, don’t assume it will be OK in your carry-on bag. After we had checked our bags and were waiting in line to board the plane, the crew told everyone the plane was too full and we had to hand over our carry-on stuff to be checked… with no time to make sure breakables were carefully wrapped.
* If you have a short stop-over in another country, be aware that officials may board the plane and search your belongings… and you. Just let them do their job.
@Mark @Mike and @Justina,
Those are good ideas; thanks for adding them. I try to get to the airport very early as well. And as for “smarter travel,” giving back, and differential tourism in general, I’ll be writing about that more at some point.
Justina’s comments are in the “advanced traveling” category. It is true that in some countries officials will board the plane on stopovers, or instead, you may have to get off the plane (with all your belongings) for inspection. This is rare but it does happen.
Even when there are no officials, the flight crew will often come through the aisles and make sure that all carry-on bags in the overhead bin are identified before taking off for the next stop.
Great post, Chris. I’ve shamelessly copped a title lick from you for this Wednesday. Many thanks for the inspiration!
@ Tim –
Glad I help with the title inspiration.
@ Everyone, Tim has a really great site that I read every week, and they recently announced an essay contest with a $1,000 grand prize:
Here are few long-term negative effects caused
by different groups of drugs. The effect is not to suppress your emotions, but to clear the blockage
that was preventing your body from healing itself.
Nearly 70% of all college students are taking a drug to help them with their college
academics (school work) and most of these drugs are medically prescribed.
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