11 Things Not To Do While Travelling

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.

  1. Guilty of 2,3,4 and 8 at least! The taxi one is key, definitely been price-gouged more times than I’d care to admit. Oh, and one other one – which I’m sure we’ve talked about is always have books, mags and other entertainment options on you in case the in-flight entertainment system is down (which is far from unheard of). Have an amazing adventure.

  2. Yes, I have something to say to so many of your points. The one I would mention here is no 10. We normally never do this – but the one time we did, was when we lived in Japan. Of course 2 years after we left, we were among the ‘missing’ Australians when the Tsunami struck. They finally tracked us down by our surname, via Jocelyn to find we were safe and sound really. We forgot to de register ourselves! Also a top tip: always stay in a group. Holding multiple nationalities in passports, scan the queues and join the shortest one. I guess because I have children they never reject us, but I am sure it will work for you too.

  3. Great suggestions! I need to FIND my passport, I freaked when it wasn’t in my wallet!

  4. Despite travelling a lot, you still gave me a couple of good tips, so thank you. Hope you have a great trip!

  5. Great pieces of advice! Agree with the linen trousers! I can recommend taking the bus from Istanbul airport.

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