Trip Start Oct 18, 2012
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I was thinking, especially after our trip in Belgium, about writing about a few travel tips which I have found handy. There seems to be so much information these days about travelling or backpacking that people can get overwhelmed. So here are my top 10:
1. Less is more. Some people pack for holidays like women pack their handbags; something for every eventuality. It is fine if you want to pack an umbrella, 6 pairs of shoes, a caseful of toiletries or a sleeping bag and you have space, but this stuff really weighs you down. Every little thing adds up. Hotels have hairdryers! Pack only one suitcase or backpack. It is much easier to transport and just use what you have. I left Australia with quite a bit, but I was MOVING overseas.
2. You can buy stuff. This kind of relates to the first point, but if you pack everything that you THINK you will need instead of what you KNOW that you need then it will be too much. If you need sunscreen or new shoes you can buy some locally instead of taking it halfway around the world. I bought quite a few clothes when I was in Canada: I had to get a Banff shirt!
3. Water and snacks. I always travel with a water bottle and a few museli bars. Studentenfutter (SCROGGIN or trail mix) is also good which is dried fruit and nuts which is light and healthy. It all fits well into a day bag and it helps save some money. Grab an apple from the hotel breakfast room for the day. Also, I have always drunk tap water and never been sick. Taking water doesn't mean you can't buy drinks, it just costs you one less!
4. Try for results. I learnt this phrase on my Contiki Tour in New Zealand where we were travelling around on a bus. It means that if you have the possibility of going to the toilet, then go before travelling or leaving the hotel for the day. In Europe, public toilets can be hard to find plus they cost money. Nobody likes dancing around like an fool because their bladder is full!
5. Safety. Personal safety is about being sensible. Don't count your money in public, don't walk alone through the backstreets at night and give yourself a backup plan if something goes wrong. I took copies of my passport (paper and electronic) and I had two bankcards in case my wallet got stolen. Thankfully I haven't needed any of that. So far the worst thing that happened to me was that my camera charger was stolen because I was charging it in McDonalds and I didn't pay enough attention to it. Lesson learnt...
6. Be informed. The internet is a powerful resource. Internet sites like Trip Advisor, hotels.com, hostelworld.com, Google Maps and many more. Guide books are also good, but full of useless information like best places to eat and hotels to stay in and can be heavy. We book everything online because the hotels are rated by the guests and most often than not are also cheaper. The more you know the better you can plan. Having said that, some things that happen by chance tend to be the most memorable.
7. Get a map. Google Maps will only get you so far. GPS is only helpful when you are driving. Most hotels or Visitor Information Centres have great maps which show you everything you need to know. Learn how to read maps. It sounds simple, but getting a sense of direction, how far away things are and where you are takes time to develop. When I first flew into Christchurch, I just couldn't get a good sense of direction because all the city maps weren't oriented the same way.
8. Public Transport.If you are in a big city, most things are accessable by foot or public transport. Google Maps has a public transport button for route maps, but it is better to check out the local websites. Day tickets for the Metro can be well worth it if you want to see a few things that are spread out. Just remember to keep some loose change as many drivers and machines don't like big notes. Also, once you start walking around then you get better at it. Instead of paying 2.50€ for a bus, you can walk that 1.5kms in 20 minutes. You could see something cool along the way.
9. Arrive Early. Give yourself time for unexpected delays. If you have a long trip plan in a rest day in case something goes wrong. Travelling can be hard work especially if you like walking around sightseeing or catching multiple trains-buses-planes. Once Steffie had to renew her US Visa waiver at the airport before we could fly into Florida, which we could only do because we had 2 hours spare. Our train back to Mannheim from Belgium was 30 minutes late because of track delays and luckily we had a few hours spare in Köln. It is better to wait in an airport for 3 hours, than to get caught in traffic and miss the checkin window. Also giving yourself a break is important. In Brussels after walking around for 2 days, on the 3rd day we took a bus tour to save our feet a little. It is a holiday after all!
10. Ask questions. What you want to know has already been asked a thousand times before. It is better to ask than to get it wrong. It's quicker! Most hotel staff, visitor information staff or even restaurant servers are locals and can give you good tips. When we first arrived in Brussels, Steffie asked two great questions at the hotel. Can we leave our bags here before we check in? That saved us finding a locker at the train station or carrying them around for the day. And how do we catch the bus into the city? Both questions were answered and we were given a map and were in the city centre within the hour.
And most importantly, have fun! Take lots of pictures and buy stupid souvenir pins. Why not, you're on holiday! Coming next, Top 10 Things to Pack...