1) Go anywhere, anywhere near Heathrow Airport when it snows

London is not Stockholm, Moscow, Berlin or Toronto. It cannot cope with snow. It runs around after its tail, flurrying and freaking for a few moments when the sky threatens white; and then it stops.

Quiet, silent meditation is fine. Except if you’re one of the world’s busiest airports. We thought we’d been canny booking our flight out of Heathrow on the 18th of December. The past few snows have been closer to Christmas. What we didn’t count on was January snow. It’s a two hour transfer from The Sacred Valley to Cusco. It’s an hour and a half from Cusco to Lima. It’s an hour and a half in Cusco airport. It’s twelve hours in economy from Lima to Madrid. And then it’s five hours in Madrid, waiting for cancelled flights as Heathrow has churned to a halt. It’s a scrum for standby tickets. Then it’s two hours on the tarmac at Heathrow, waiting for stairs and a parking spot. And then, there’s the baggage hall. There are women quietly sobbing and men threatening to grab staff, who keep retreating behind closed doors by collars. There’s the promise of bags on the loud speaker and on the screens- yet whispers among the huddled masses ‘they’re not offloading any more bags’. One hour, two hours, waiting and watching the same walking cane go around and round on carousel 10 at British Airway’s shining mall, now petulant, nonfunctioning baby; T5.

Finally I coax out of a staff member; ‘I’m not going to yell, I promise, it’s just I’m not very well and we’ve been in transit for a day and a half now. Should I keep waiting for my bag?’ ‘No. Go’. Except we haven’t got tracing numbers to track our bags online and if you want a performance art interpretation of Dante’s circles of hell, then go through the British Airways telephone bag tracking system for an hour or so, before emerging with nothing.

We did better than most. We haven’t slept on the ground in Madrid or the airport. We were only kept on board for an extra two hours, not the nine that others were. But there’s one life lesson in there. If you can, in any way, avoid Heathrow when there’s snow; do.

(Crossing fingers our bags somehow find their way back to us).

Which leads to lesson 2

2) Put precious jewellery or anything important in your suitcase

We were baffled in Panama airport by families spending up to two hundred dollars having scores of suitcases swaddled in lime green plastic wrap before checking in. We have locks, we have straps- do we really need more? Well, no- some plastic isn’t that much of a deterrent if someone really wants to get inside. But theft of jewellery from suitcases in South America by baggage staff is a thing, so if what you’re fond of is big and shiny, don’t leave it in your suitcase to tempt them.  But also keep in mind; you never know when your suitcase is just not going to arrive. Having basic toiletries in your carry on is worth it (there’s nothing like being able to wash your face and clean your teeth when you finally get out of an airport). Having your laptop on hand is pretty convenient too – and a charger for that and your phone (including an international adapter) for when you’re stuck in a terminal and need to get in contact with people and your phone is blinking at 17%. What I’m kicking myself for is leaving some medical records in the suitcase. There are a couple of frocks and my wedding shoes that I”m going to be pretty glum about losing too, if it doesn’t turn up. And The Hungry One’s carefully curated cuffllink collection from South America will be sadly missed  (instead of shot glasses or wooden duck figurines, he tries to pick up a pair of cufflinks from each city we visit, to a little bit of adventure joins him at the office when we’re home). So if you’re going to be in a real pickle or very very sad without it, put it in your carry on. Best you be responsible, not an airline that refuses to pick up the phone.

3) Forget to contact your bank before you go away

This was a rookie mistake and one we should have known better. It is deeply, deeply inconvenient to be in New York and have Barclays shut off access to your accounts, because you failed to tell them you’d be travelling. Tricks for young players; register online before you fly. Secondary tip; make sure you have with you your phone banking password. Otherwise you’ll end up making international roaming, lost distance calls, which will cost you a fortune, and there’s every chance some lovely fellow in Bangalore will then deem you a security risk because you can’t recall the last four transactions to your account and shut down your pin cards completely.

4) Overlook having more on hand than just back up entertainment options for the plane and airport

Yes, it’s worth having a book or a kindle on hand if the entertainment options for your flight fail. But here s a couple of extra things which you’ll thank me for later a) Have a water bottle, with potable water (do check before filling it up in the bathroom in certain countries- the last thing you need is an upset stomach to boot). You might be stuck on the tarmac for a long time, or in a line at immigration for many hours longer than you prefer and drinkable water can be scant. b) Keep some snacks handy- if you are stuck, there’s a good chance that there won’t be any food going around- many airlines can’t open the food storage on the ground because it also contains alcohol, which could lead to mutiny among frustrated economy passengers. And the last thing- a meditation podcast or two won’t go astray. Before we left I saw a tweet from Stephen Fry endorsing the app ‘Digipill‘ for his insomnia. The ‘Sleep Deeply’ program is 26 minutes and 47 seconds that managed to calm me down and ease me off to sleep many a time in some particularly uncomfortable situations on this trip. Sometimes booze is the answer. And sometimes a sonorous voice and some gentle lulling works just as well.If that doesn’t float your boat, for some reason I also found the greatest hits of James Taylor very soothing to listen to.


We’re about to go off on one more big jaunt (I promise, it’s probably one of the last for a while). Four weeks; 12 flights, eight cities. It includes least two insane, mortgage busting restaurant reservations (D.O.M in Sao Paulo and 11 Madison Park). There’s going to be New Years in Panama, then a skip down to see the girl from Ipanema. From there it’s steak and Malbec, then ceviche and pisco sours and lastly, a side trip to see a small thing called Machu Picchu.

I like to plan so as few things can go pear shaped as possible. Because when things go badly while travelling, they can go really badly. So, in the spirit of calculated risks and forewarned being forearmed here are 11 things we’ve learned (some the hard way) not to do when you’ve got a big trip in your calendar.

1) Forget to check how many months are left on everyone’s passport

This one, luckily, doesn’t come from us. But it is a cautionary tale from more people than I can count on one hand. The story usually goes like this; there’s an exciting minibreak planned, you rock up to the airport, you check in and the man behind the desk looks at you with steely eyes, then back down at yours, or your partner’s passport which expires in 5 months. That’s fine, isn’t it? Not if you’re going to Hong Kong, Fiji, China, Indonesia (which includes Bali), Malaysia, Argentina and Ecuador (to name just a few). There’s a big chunk of countries out there that require you to have six months left on your passport before they’ll let you in. The story usually ends with some watery cheeks at a check in counter and a rush trip to a Government office. Not the best start to a vacation.

2) Forget to check if you need a visa

This one, is completely from us. Lucky it dawned on me 12 working days before we were due to fly out, not the morning of our departure. As it turns out if you’ve got a UK passport Brazil is fine without a visa. Not so much for an Australian. Cue a very nervous day of pulling together paperwork, the right size photos, registering for an appointment and discovering that the earliest available slot is 10 working days before you fly. Which is fine, except they say in peak periods (and gosh, wouldn’t you know it, December’s pretty peak) it can take more than 10 days to get your passport back. Here’s the tip. Check early. And if you don’t, go straight to the consulate, be incredibly polite, have all your paperwork together and if all else fails, cry a bit. It worked on the Brazilians. We get his passport back this afternoon. Nb, the most painful visas we’ve had to go through would have to be Russian. I’m not sure tears would work there. That’s a whole other pot of pelmeni.

3) Not have the address of your first hotel/accommodation written down somewhere

There’s a reason why I’m so evangelical about the app Tripit. Sometimes when you enter a country you and your spouse will be in separate lines- I normally go in on my red British passport, he lingers back in a queue somewhere with his blue Australian one. Since I’m the one doing most of the arranging it means he can get caught out by inquisitive immigration officials who find his heavily pocked passport a bit of a curiosity. Not knowing the address of where you’ll be staying for the first few nights is like waving a great big red flag that says ‘potentially shonky’. Having it on hand, printed either in a smartphone or on a piece of paper is one way to quiet the fuss.

4) Drink the water/ignore vaccinations/ leave the mosquito repellent at home

This is one you learn the hard way. My education was in Malacca, it came with some water from a local well; bring on the ecoli and the worst 9 hour flight home from Kuala Lumpur I’ve endured. I’ve got friends for whom every year a flu comes with the ghost of diseases picked up from mosquitoes in far flung corners of the globe. And gosh, wouldn’t you know it, hepatitis is a real thing. Before you go somewhere make sure you’ve got all the shots you need (yes, they can be expensive) buy good mosquito repellent and if in any doubt about the water, don’t drink it. Just don’t.

5) Ignore what could be in and on your wallet

I don’t need to know what you did last night and your mum sure doesn’t need to either. I’m hoping it wasn’t anything too wild. But maybe you were out in a bar where more colourful things were going on around you. Maybe your wallet was just resting on a table where something more interesting happened a couple of hours beforehand. If there’s any chance, give it and your cards a wipe down with a wet towel before you fly, particularly if you’re arriving in the Middle East or Asia. Not even Kate Beckinsale looked good in Brokedown Palace. You’ll probably be fine, but customs can be intimidating at the best of times – and nobody needs their holiday to start with a cavity search.

6) Underestimate the value of a pair of wide leg linen pants

This may sound ridiculous. They’re not the most flattering thing in the world, but this simple purchase has saved me countless times. They’re wide leg, asexual, long linen pants that can be worn with trainers. What’s the point? Well, it means that when I’m in a hot, conservative country I’m not sweating and furious for most of the day. As I’ve learned, there is little more grating than boiling in jeans because social mores mean women should be covered up, while your husband gads about in shorts. The answer? A pair of wide leg, dark navy or black linen pants. They breath easily and are perfectly cool, even if it’s 35 C in the centre of the medina. Unlike a long skirt, you can wear them with sneakers for walking and not feel like a complete knob. And they’re about as modest as you can get.

7) Research how much a taxi from the airport to the city centre should cost, what the exchange rate is and whether taxis should be metered.

Every second person who’s been to Istanbul has a story that involves a taxi driver- but this nugget really comes from The Hungry One and his first solo trip to Asia as a wide eyed 21 year old landing in Beijing. To this day he still won’t confirm how much he got rorted after shallying about on the the exchange rate and how much a taxi should cost to his hotel. All I know is that it was a lot.

8) Eat shellfish

Yes, there is amazing shellfish in the world. Some of the best meals I’ve had in my life have involved mussels, prawns, lobster and crab in foreign lands. But if I’m in a developing country and I haven’t seen it come out of the water moments before hand, I’ve now decided it just doesn’t balance out on the risk/reward scale. Two horrific, horrific cases of shellfish poisoning for The Hungry One (who finds it harder to resist than me) – one in Phuket, the other in Tulum can put a whole bathroom’s worth of damp towels on a trip. Nb, if you ever need to test the foundations of a marriage, ensure both of you are as sick as each other, and be confined to a beachfront hut in Mexico with minimal running water, electricity- and one rustic bathroom. If you can still be kind to each other at the end of it all, I think you’ve got a good thing going.

9) Have six credit cards in your wallet

There’s every chance that on some trip, sometime in your life, you’ll have your wallet pinched. Mine? It was the first time I went to New York as naive 21 year old. My bag was on the table in a cafe. I bent down to pick up a napkin. When I turned around, my wallet was gone. The best thing to do is empty out your wallet of excess things before you leave- and potentially once again beforeyou go out for the day. Keep most of your credit cards in the hotel safe (locked). Take one card and as much cash as you can afford to lose for the day. That way there’ll be only one card you’ll need to cancel- and you won’t have the hassle of needing to get replacement pieces of plastic for every other aspect of your life.

10) Be under insured

A wise nugget from my Mum when I bought my first car; ‘if you can’t afford comprehensive insurance Tori, you can’t afford a car’. The same applies to travel; if you can’t afford travel insurance (that also covers whatever medical conditions you have), then you really can’t afford the trip. If you have an annual policy (which we do, it’s easier than taking one out for every trip)- make sure it covers every continent you’re planning on going to and every activity- including snow sports if that’s your thing. This is particularly pertinent if you’re skipping through the US at any stage. Nobody wants to be hit with the bill for a US hospital without the insurance to cover it. That’s the first scene of too many made for tv movies.

11) Overlook registering with the foreign office

Yes, it’s probably 30 minutes- an hour of your life that you’ll never get back spent copying and pasting details into a Government website. It’s time you could be at the gym, the pub, or weighing up again on Tripadvisor which hotel would be better to stay at. But there’s a reason that your government is asking you to register with their Foreign Office where you’ll be travelling to . It’s because if something really hits the fan (I’m talking the big biblical weather kind of stuff; Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, what have you) – then the consulate knows they need to be looking out for you. Help them, help you. Now go and touch some wood that none of those scenarios ever happen to you.

Any other hints and tips or cautionary tales, gratefully received.