Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Travel Tips 101:

Here are some basic things you REALLY want to cover before you go "Leaving on a Jet Plane" into the great abyss that we call Mother Earth. You may be a seasoned traveler and already know these things but DO go over them every once in a while. Spare yourselves the stress, time and energy that could potentially be wasted by taking care of all these teeny, tiny, yet necessary details during your trip. Even after months and even over a year away from my mother-ship country, I still run into issues and I am still learning.

Make sure you've got paper copies AND files via email of ALL your important documents. (passport/drivers license/ID/credit cards/debit cards/insurance card/student ID/AAA card/prescriptions/membership cards/birth certificate/diplomas etc.) You really never know.

Always travel with several spare passport photos. If you ever find a super cheap place to get them, go ahead and stock up! I spent about $30-35/4 (or 8?) tiny little passport photos in Sydney. When I made it to India, they cost about $1/4. Needless to say I stocked up in India. I can recall several times while traveling where I had to spend my day looking for a place that does passport photos, waste money that was not in my budget (for mini pictures of myself) and wait for them to be printed. Than again, I cannot recall said moments as I may have blocked them out.

Don't just double check. Triple check visa requirements for each country you plan to enter. Even after checking a stamp on my Thai landing card, I was mistaken. It showed my landing date and the date three months from then, so I figured I have three months. I'd even showed other tourists. Turns out you only have one month at a time. You can do a visa run (leave and return) within that three month period but not stay more than a month without paying a fine. This I learned at the border crossing to Laos. I panicked, they giggled. I lost my landing card, which held the 3 month stamp (the one I clearly misunderstood). I stayed 17 days over, by mistake. Err, whoops? That's 500 Thai Baht/day or roughly $280. CASH only. Plus motorbike ride back into town to use the ATM. Plus the $5/transaction fees on about 4-5 transactions. You could only withdraw around 2000 Thai Baht or -$70 each time. Luckily my account had enough money left (though it was nearly the end of its ropes to begin with).  Lesson learned? Do your homework. Pay attention to those horrid "regulations". Try not to overstay.

4. CASH:
ALWAYS ALWAYS have spare cash on you. I got into the habit of using up my currency in one country so I wouldn't have to spend more money reconverting the leftover notes in the next country. Also, as some exchange desks wont take all currencies from smaller countries such as Laos, Cambodia etc. Lets just say I was stranded at the airport in Germany long enough to learn to arrive with cash. My checking account had been closed by HSBC and transferred to a small bank while I was out of the county for 1 1/2 years. The bus tickets into the city were cash only. I was relying on CC cash advances. No, the currency exchange desk did not perform this service and I didn't know my credit card pin as I never planned on needing to take ATM cash advances. All in all, it was a learning experience of a day.

Take some emergency AMEX traveler checks too!! I finally just learned this one. And AMEX in general is amazing, they saved me from being completely stranded in the small airport near Frankfurt. I called them, they gave me a temporary PIN to access cash from an ATM. Easy, breezy, lifesavers.

Number 4 brings me to this one. Remember your Credit Card PIN number - call and change it so its the same as your debit cards PIN. Just in case you loose your debit card (i.e. forgot to remove it from the ATM in Bangkok), your lovely bank (ehh hem, HSBC) transfers all your accounts to a tiny bank while you are away from the country, or you simply go overboard (you have a terrible illness called the "travel bug" that convinces you to book just one more flight before going home), run out of money and need a cash advance.

Always have an address and as much info as possible for where you're staying in a new country. Some countries are real strict about it (Heathrow Airport nearly made me cry). Have the name of a guesthouse/hotel, the address and phone number just in case. Some countries just looked at my passport and in I went where others (eh hem-England) have detained and fingerprinted me for 5 hrs. Have the info written on paper (not just your phone-the battery will likely decide to die just when you need it-or you'll realize you had the info sent to you via Facebook message and you no longer have service as your phone has a sim card from the last country you were in, with no balance. These things happen, at least to me.
Also, have your "occupation" sorted out - I've gotten hell over these questions. I'm a bit of a dabbly drifty hippie it seams and never have one clear answer for these types of questions. I don't fit on paper. I'm a student. Of life. But no, I'm not enrolled anywhere. Not now anyway. But soon. But my travels are my studies. My last job? Well, I lived with a family. Kind of as an "Au Pair". But we didn't refer to me as a "nanny" or "au pair". I was just Katie, the friend/family extension that helped with stuff. So you're a nanny? Well just for those few months. I used to do makeup. I haven't done it in a while. But I'm kind of still a Makeup Artist. Just taking a break while traveling. But I just completed my yoga teacher training in India... "Do you want to do back to Delhi? Because I can send you back to Delhi!" Hmmph. To avoid the previous stress keep it clear and have a simple answer. Even if you're like me and there isn't really one.

Some airports/airlines live in the past and require paper printouts of your boarding pass/itinerary just to get inside the airport (this even goes for the "top 2 rated airports in the world" ehh hemm Delhi Airport). If you arrive super early from an all night, twelve hour bus ride followed by a taxi that ripped you off - for about 3x what you payed before - your info may not be in the system yet and can take a good 30 minutes to get your print out (despite the not-so-very-early birds on line after you). Given the circumstances and that fact that you really have to wee, you may be in a foul and impatient mood and act in an unusually out-of-character, rude manner. This is not nice. If you're American, it especially doesn't help to fulfill any of our obnoxious stereotypes. Plus, did I mention it's not nice and you may feel bad about it later. Lesson: its good to have them printed just in case-or double check before each flight if they will need it or not.

If you have to check a bag - do yourself a favor and kindly peek at the bag label to make sure it actually says YOUR name on it. Not someone with the same last name, who's first name is clearly a mans, such as John or Tom, when you are clearly "Katie" or (insert name here). People miss these things, it happens. Lets just say, when it comes to baggage tags, the vast differences between men and women may no longer exist, unless you really pay attention to the details.  Pay attention to he details.

I know this was a lot of info but I've had moments of hell and back while traveling - even broke into tears a few times (I'm NOT one to cry in public or in front of anyone for that matter). Take my advice. Avoid near breakdowns in public places, foreign countries and pretty much anywhere. It's better to be prepared and happy. :-) Omm Shanti Shanti Shanti...

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