How To Travel

Last modified on December 30th, 2014

My hotel room in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

As much as I love travelling to new places, you’ll often hear me complaining about how much I dislike the process of travelling – the airports, customs line-ups, security line-ups, crappy airport food, turbulence, jet-lag and many more. For new travellers, these things are somewhat exciting in their own right, but after a while they grow old and tiring.

With that in mind, I was recently reading Anthony Bourdain’s travel tips via a link on Facebook (most of which are great) and thought I would follow up with a point-by-point comparison of some of my tips.

The first thing I do is I dress for airports. I dress for security. I dress for the worst-case scenario.

I don’t purposefully dress for the airport, but I do make sure I have comfy shoes that are easy to remove, as that’s typically the biggest pain nowadays (other than removing your belt) while going through security.

I usually check the weather report for the destination I am travelling to and make sure I can easily accommodate that. For example, when I left Hamilton, Ontario last month it was hovering around -2C, but the weather in Brazil, my destination, was around 30C. So while I had to bring a big bulky jacket on the plane, I made sure to wear a t-shirt and have enough room in my carry-on to stuff my jacket when I landed.

Also, do everyone else in the line a favour and be prepared to go through security *before* it’s your turn to put your stuff on the conveyor belt. This is one of those huge annoyances, almost as bad as when someone stands in line for 10 minutes at Starbucks and then gets to the counter without knowing what they want. If you’re in the immediate queue for security, take your shoes and your belt off and prep your laptop to be removed easily. You’ll save yourself a ton of time when you get to the conveyor, and help make the experience better for everyone else who is waiting (especially parents with frustrated kids).

In my carry-on, I’ll have a notebook, yellow legal pads, good headphones. Imodium is important.

I don’t typically bring imodium in my carry-on, as I have yet to have a need for it on the airplane. I’m pretty sure it takes more than an hour to kick in, and based on previous experiences, that would probably be too late to save the day anyways.

That said, I do typically bring all my medication on the plane, one of which, ambien, is for anti-anxiety and helps with the plane ride itself.

I check my luggage. I hate the people struggling to cram their luggage in an overhead bin, so I don’t want to be one of those people.

There’s nothing wrong with bringing a carry-on on the airplane and expecting to put it in the overhead bin, but with more and more airlines charging for the first checked bag, you’ll often have to fight for space. So do yourself a favour and bring something that can not only fit in the overhead space above, but also under your seat if you need to store it there. My 40L travel backpack is perfect as it will fit in both locations easily.

You should also be prepared to bring all your valuables on the plane with you. This seems obvious to me, but I’ve heard lots of horror stories about cameras going missing from suitcases. The simple solution is just to bring them with you in your carry-on. But this is another important reason for why you should be prepared to put your carry-on under your seat – if there’s not enough room in the overhead compartments, the airline will force you to check your back. Which means your bag and all your important valuables (assuming nobody steals them) will end up on the baggage carousel when you land.

Lots of people lock their suitcases, but I don’t see the point. First, if you use a lock, it has to be a TSA approved lock so they can open it using a master key. Problem is those master keys are easy to get online. And second, to me it’s just advertising the fact that you have something in your suitcase worth stealing. I’ve never locked my suitcase, and have never had any problems. Just keep your valuables in your carry-on and then you can stop worrying about your suitcase – nobody is going to risk being caught simply to steal a few clothes.

Before getting on a flight, I buy a big pile of magazines.

I don’t do this, and I find most magazines are overpriced and mostly full of advertising these days. I do however bring my iPad, usually with a few new movies pre-installed, as well my Kindle.

Several airlines nowadays allow you to watch in-flight movies on your iPad – Virgin Australia is a good example of this. You should check ahead before your flight to see if that’s the case, as you’ll have to find an internet connection to download the appropriate application before you get on the plane.

I never, ever try to weasel upgrades. I’m one of those people who feel really embarrassed about wheedling. I never haggle over price. I sort of wander away out of shame when someone does that. I’m socially nonfunctional in those situations.

I’ve had a few upgrades to business class before, and have never asked for them. One of which was on a flight to Cape Town, South Africa, which was heavenly because it was a 12 hour flight. But I’ve never gone out of my way to ask for one, and I suspect it would be fruitless now since business class seats are worth big bucks for airlines.

I don’t get jet lag as long as I get my sleep. As tempting as it is to get really drunk on the plane, I avoid that. If you take a long flight and get off hungover and dehydrated, it’s a bad way to be.

New travellers almost always take advantage of airports and airplanes to get sloppy drunk. I’ve done it a few times as well, mostly when I was younger. But there’s nothing worse than being hungover in an airport, or waking up with a headache after a 10 hour flight. While I may have the odd drink before a flight to help relax, I don’t normally drink alcohol on airplanes. Even this last year when I had full access to the Star Alliance Gold lounges, I only ever had a pint of Guinness now and again just to kill time. But never more than one.

There’s almost never a good reason to eat on a plane.

Airplane food is shitty; we all know this. But for some reason we think because it’s included (i.e. pre-paid essentially) that we should all eat it. But it’s ok to say no to. I did just that on my last 10-hour flight to Brazil, and simply enjoyed a nice coffee and a few Pao de Queijos when I landed in Brazil.

For me, one of the great joys of traveling is good plumbing. A really good high-pressure shower, with an unlimited supply of hot water.

I love hot showers as well, and have been known to take three or four a day if I’m particularly stressed. It’s surprising that they are hard to find in some places (Thailand comes to mind), and if you do, sometimes the water isn’t warm at all. So when you do find one on an extended trip, enjoy it while you can because it may not last.

Maybe my biggest travel splurge on the road is if there’s one of those old restored colonial hotels in places that were formerly part of the British or French Empire. Like the Grand d’Angkor in Siem Reap or the Metropole in Hanoi. These are magnificent hotels. Drinking a cold G&T in a rattan chair with a fan overhead — I like that a lot, especially after a few days where I’m out in the country and living in some not particularly great situation, camping or staying in a guesthouse with no air-conditioning.

I have no problem staying in a really basic hostel room for weeks at a time to save money, or a real low-end B&B – if my goal in a particular location is to sight-see, I’m not planning at spending much time in the hotel room. As such, all I really care about is a decent bed and a shower. But I almost always follow up a stay in a low-end place with a few nights somewhere nice, like a hotel in a picturesque location.

For example, when I was in Bali, Indonesia, I tried saving money by staying for a week at this hotel that was undergoing renovations. Let’s just say it wasn’t that great an experience, but it did fit in with my budget and let me splurge more on exploration and food. But as soon as my stay there was complete, I treated myself to three days in a beautiful hotel overlooking a picturesque rice field in Ubud. Had I not saved money in the first location, there’s no way I would have been able to afford the second.

My hotel room in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

My hotel room in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I’ve stopped buying souvenirs. The first few years I’d buy trinkets or T-shirts or handcrafts. I rarely do that anymore.

I don’t buy souvenirs either. Most of them are tacky and cheap looking, and it’s not worth the trouble carrying them around the country just to get them home at some point. I have found a few pieces of art I regretted not buying over the years, but since I really have no permanent place to store these items I didn’t really see the point in buying them today. Maybe someday if I have a nice house somewhere I’ll go back and pick up a few of the items I really wanted, but until then I’ll just leave the souvenirs behind.

The biggest rip-offs in the world of travel are tourist-trap restaurants in places like Rome or Venice.

This is totally true. Recently Luciana and I were in Rome and the weather was hot and muggy. We found a little tiny restaurant/bar next to a little fountain and sat down to have a few drinks. I should have known we were about to get ripped off by the fact that the beer menu didn’t have any prices on it, but in my head I thought it couldn’t really be much worse than the rest of Italy, so we sat and drank for a few hours.

Once the bill came, we quickly realized we were paying about 12 euros ($18 CAD) for a small 350mL beer. Since we didn’t ask the price beforehand, it really was our fault, so we just paid the bill. Afterwards we left a tip on Yelp letting people know, which the restaurant instantly responded to saying that we were really paying for “the beauty of sitting next to the fountain”. Fair enough. But anytime you don’t see prices on a menu take it as a warning sign and get the hell out.

I also highly recommend looking on Yelp or other review sites *before* you order your food. There was one time I was staying in Aguas Calientes, Peru, for a few days before heading to Machu Picchu. We got roped into this pizza place by the door person (I’ve since made a personal travel rule – if there’s someone outside of the establishment working hard to get me to come in and eat/drink, I just keep on walking). Once we ordered pizza from the menu I opened my mobile phone and checked the reviews on Yelp. One of them said something like this: “if you are reading this from inside the restaurant, GET THE HELL OUT – NOW. THE FOOD IS ATROCIOUS!” We should have taken his advice, as the food really was pretty terrible.

Most of these tips I learned over the course of travelling to almost 35 countries over approximately three years. Hopefully you can make use of some of the, and save yourself a bit of stress as well as overpriced beer.

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