Dozens of countries, hundreds of flights, half a life on the road. That’s the life of a travel writer. And it teaches you a fair few things. Rough Guides author Helen Ochyra shares some of her travel tips and tricks.
1. Be annoying
It’s time to talk to strangers. The concierge. The waiter. The bar staff. That customer at the next table who looks cool. Ask them where to go and you’ll find most people love to share. You’re one conversation away from your next “hidden gem” – well worth the potential embarrassment. There’s always the Spottedbylocals app for those who simply can’t.
2. Get out of bed
Not an easy one this. At least, not for anyone who loves a lie-in. But a lot happens before brunchtime out there and you don’t want to miss it. So get to Angkor Wat for sunrise, head out to a diner for breakfast in New York and hit the beaches in Italy before the hordes. You won’t regret it. You can sleep when you get home. Or on your next flight.
3. Charge on the go
There’s nothing worse than being forcibly detached from technology due to a dud battery. A MiPow Power Tube 3000 will save the day. It can charge a phone fully more than once and has a built-in charging cable. It even alerts you if you leave it behind by telling your iPhone to beep at you.
4. Join the Cloud
That iPhone is invaluable for one main reason of course: photos. With its iSight camera, it can render a clunky DSLR obsolete for some. Memories are viewfinder-shaped these days, and without shots of our trips we’d be lost. Gone are the days of the manual back-up: Apple now does this for you with iCloud. Set yours up and every photo and video you take will be downloaded to the cloud automatically and become accessible from anywhere.
5. Choose favourites
Remember the name of that great restaurant you went to in Barcelona three years ago? No? Next time, just ask your phone to remember it for you. In Google Maps simply tap the name of the place and then hit "Save". This will mark it with a star so you can always come back to it.
6. Carry cash
From Scotland to Cambodia, being strapped for cash is never ideal. Not everywhere has an ATM, and you can’t always pay with plastic in restaurants, hotels and bars. Carry an emergency £50/$50 or the local equivalent on you at all times.
7. Pack extra bags
Muddy boots, exploding toiletries, extra shopping – there are many reasons why you might need them, so carry a few plastic bags with you. You never know when an impromptu dip in the sea might lead to you carrying your wet swimmers on the bus.
8. Take a taste of home
This is one for the Brits. If you love – no need – a decent cuppa at the end of a hard day’s travels, there’s nothing worse than a weak cup of the brown stuff. Nowhere does it quite like we do, so accept that and take your own teabags. Not a tea fan? If you're away on a long trip, you'll really appreciate having something familiar, be that a hidden stash of chocolate or a nip of something stronger.
© Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock
9. Dodge pointless fees
We know, it’s dull, but you could save a fortune with this one. Take out a credit card that offers no transaction fees abroad. Some banks can charge extortionate rates for foreign transactions, so save yourself some cash that could be better spent on another sundowner.
10. Book in advance
I’d love to say it’s best to be flexible but some sights are just too popular for rocking up unannounced. Queues for the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam, the Empire State Building in New York and the Vatican Museum in Rome can stretch to hours. Book in advance online and they disappear as you smugly step up to the front door. A no brainer.
11. Hire a car
Local transport can be an adventure and a more authentic way to view a country. But it’s also more inconvenient and more limited. So even if it’s just for one day, don’t rule out hiring a car and going wherever the mood and the roads take you; competent drivers will cope with most destinations (though maybe leave Africa and Asia to the locals). Check if you need an International Driving Licence (you do in Croatia) and take out car hire insurance if you plan to do this a lot. One chipped windscreen and it pays for itself.
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12. Shoes off
Airport security is the worst part of travel. Fact. Make it easier for everyone by removing those shoes without anyone even asking. Chances are you’ll have to anyway. And of course it goes without saying that you’ve already taken off your jacket and belt. And emptied your pockets.
13. Don’t queue for the plane
You’ve got your boarding pass, you’re sitting at the gate, and they call your flight. Do you A: leap up and join a winding queue that is barely moving and thereby stand for half an hour? Or B: stay seated, finish your coffee and your emails and stroll up as the end of the queue reaches the gate? Yep, you’ve got this one.
© Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock
14. Buy the guidebook
Books don’t run out of batteries, break down at key moments or (generally) get stolen. So buy the Rough Guide and have travel advice with you wherever you go. Those maps can be invaluable, and those restaurant listings could lead you to your next favourite. And isn’t finding those places the whole point of travel anyway?
Top image © Ambrose Fung/Shutterstock