Travel Advice: Some Tips and Tricks Learnt the Hard Way

13 Nov

Travel Insurance
I agree with the industry view that if you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel. Medical care, medical evacuation and costs associated with cancellation of travel are mandatory in my book. That said the cost of insurance coverage for theft of belongings is not always worthwhile. If you do decide to buy it read the fine print first. Many policies don’t cover theft from vehicles, even locked vehicles, if the items aren’t in a locked boot/trunk, and if the theft occurs at night. That excludes all vans and hatchback cars. In addition many items, such as phones, jewelry and computing devices, are exempt. In our family’s experience, of the four travellers with theft coverage, two had their well documented claims rejected and two are still being assessed six months later. These days I don’t travel with anything of value unless it fits into a handbag or backpack that goes everywhere with me.

Car Hire
In Europe we usually use http://www.novacarhire.com to compare rental car company prices before we book online. We don’t always take the cheapest option because again, the small print can catch you out. Even well-established companies vary their policies depending upon the pickup office location. A common catch is the accident excess cost and/or the amount of the deposit. In some cases this can be as much as 2,000 euro which is then tied up for the duration of the rental. Some companies insist you use the same credit card for payment that you used to book which may not suit you. Another trick is office opening hours. If your travel is delayed you could be stranded without a car when the office closes. One tip is to google the company plus the pick up and drop off location(s) to see what social media says about them. The best service we experienced was Europcar at Bristol Airport and the worst was Euro Car in Nice Airport.

Trust and the Solo Traveller
For many of my international work trips and during my gap year I was often on my own in places I knew no one. I took every opportunity to communicate with strangers and found most of those encounters rewarding. I also enjoy quietly observing people and always have a book to read in downtime. It hasn’t been entirely uneventful though. My first and biggest lesson in travel smarts came in Bali age 18. After a month of solo travel and hanging out with locals in Legian Beach my new ‘friends’ gave me a send off party. This involved beers and home-baked chocolate brownies. Unbeknownst to me the secret ingredient in the brownies was hashish. I passed out some time during the night and was woken next day by my landlady an hour before my flight. I explained my dozy, dishevelled state to the Qantas staff at check-in who looked after me royally. They escorted me onto the plane and sat me in first class where I promptly passed out again waking up just as we landed at Brisbane airport. Since then I only ingest food and drink offered by people I totally trust. I’ll accept food and drink so as not to offend but I don’t actually eat or drink it. It’s scary how many people have been drugged by low lifes in bars. Sometimes they wen’t even the intended victim but copped the ketamine or rohypnol all the same.

Accommodation (See my page ‘Where I Lay My Head’ for recommendations)
I book a mix of accommodation types to get the flavour of the country. Europe has so many charming family-run two and three star hotels and pensions in great locations the traveller is spoilt for choice. B and B’s are typically run by people who genuinely love sharing their home and locale with travellers while apartment living for longer stays allowed us to shop and cook like locals.

Our daily maximum spend for accommodation was 100 euros and my average over the 15 months was 85 euro a night. We were out and about so much it’s hard to justify spending more on a room you only see to sleep in. We would rather enjoy a coffee or drink in a special view bar and then picnic for lunch or dinner than splash out on five star hotels or restaurants. That said there is a time to splurge. A case in point was Marseille. I glued myself to our gorgeous panoramic harbour view window in the Sofitel and enjoyed several picnic meals perched there. The best value of all was the agriturismo mountain retreat, Bella Baita, in Pinasca, Italy, at 45 euro for bed and breakfast. We also had a share kitchen and option to join in the evening meal cooked by Bella Baita’s owners, both professional chefs.

Low-Cost Airlines
I fly Easyjet and RyanAir frequently. It’s not an enjoyable experience but while Stuart grumbles I accept the tradeoff of my time and comfort for lower costs. What annoys me are the passengers, and there are always a few whatever the airport, who don’t read the ticketing policy and rock up to board with carry on luggage clearly exceeding the published limits. Waiting while they argue the toss and sort themselves out delays boarding for everyone else. The rules are pretty simple and non-negotiable. Read them and suck it up guys! Tip: My carry on is a sturdy woven open top basket that fits into the carry on test frame. It triples as a shopping basket and beach basket. It can be stacked to the gills but I have yet to have it weighed or tested by airline staff.

Apps and Comms
Consider using a mobile phone app for recording your expenses on the move. I use the Travel Budget app for iphones to keep track of my outgoings. I’m not fanatical about it but found it comforting in the early months while becoming accustomed to costs in Europe. I also relied on translation apps for languages. Much easier than carrying multiple dictionaries!

Since I was moving countries often I kept a global roaming sim card on my iphone which meant I could be contacted anywhere. I then bought a cheap Samsung mobile to use with a pre-paid local sim card to get the best local call rates. Both these are topped up online so I can control costs.

My ipad got quite a workout during the 15 months and apart from a couple of days when it went to sleep (apple products seem to do that when the battery has run very low) it was perfect for my needs. Free wireless internet is ubiquitous in cafes and bars in Europe and after the fiasco of the hunt for wifi in my first Seville apartment (fortunately a happy ending on that one) I rarely booked accommodation that didn’t include wifi.

My feet are itching again so I’m well into planning the next adventure. I’d love to hear your recommendations and tips to add to the itinerary!

I leave you with a few iphone travel snaps I haven’t posted previously. Many were taken during our motorcycle circumnavigation of the gorgeous island of Corsica. If you visit avoid July and August when it’s overrun by mainland French and you will be charmed by its natural beauty, the local cuisine and wine and its laid back people.

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Bogota Street Art

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Botero Museum Bogota

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View of Bogota

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Langkawi Island, Malaysia

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Brisbane River Sunset

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Sydney Harbour at Dawn

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Corsica, France

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Corsica, France

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Corsica, France

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Corsica, France

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Corsica, France

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Our ever reliable Honda VFR in Corsica

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Corsica, France

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Corsica, France

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Annecy, France

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Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Chennai, India

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Crystal Creek, Northern New South Wales

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Amsterdam from a boat, the best way to see it!

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