A metaguide to comfortable and safe long haul travel 

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Travel Safety

Avoiding the baddies


There are baddies everywhere, and tourists are targets number one. This is not just a fable of gullible first time travellers. I have lived in Italy and France, and both countries major train stations are – I am sorry to say, a den of thieves – looking for a sucker. At Rome Termine station there are police and undercover cops everywhere trying to catch them (or at least deter them). At Marseille station, there is a police office, filled with Gendarmes that couldn’t give a shit. A purse should be worn right across your head and shoulder - if you wear it slung over one shoulder, you might as well give it to a stranger. But, heads up now everyone, if you take reasonable precautions, you can significantly reduce your risk of being mugged, pick-pocketed or have items stolen - thieves are looking for the easy prey, and if you are cautious, they won’t choose you.
The most tempting thing is that big travelling document pouch, the one that you get out while you are looking for that ticket – its got passports in it, money, documents, it is the target and prize of every pickpocket – and completely unnecessary. Almost every document can be carried only electronically – and carrying paper versions of hotel reservations and travel itineraries is not a good idea.
Remember this: They are quick, professional, and work like magicians, usually in teams. Do something dumb, and in a second your wallet or jewellery is gone. They use three techniques: Suck you in – they hear you speaking English, come over and offer to help. They kindly help you get tickets from and Italian train station ticket machine, show you the platform, and help carry one of your bags to the platform – no helpful. They find your carriage, and help put your bag in the rack, show you your seat, and wave at you from the platform as the train slowly rumbles away. You wave back, and only then realise – they just removed your bag while you weren’t looking. Trust me, I’ve seen it. So have your bags where you can see them especially when the train stops at stations.But one really simple trick is a small cable lock – lock the handle to a bar, or even two bags together. Just make your bags that more difficult to steal than someone else’s and… you’re not the sucker.
More elaborate versions of this include befriending people, taking them to bars and restaurants, showing them sites, and cleaning them out of everything. I have a nephew that can attest to that one. Distraction – so common – a commotion, two people talking to you at the same time, don’t be distracted. One of them touches you, but it is the other one that is removing your wallet or passport from your bag. Keep things zipped away – deep in pockets. See the travel kit below. Speed – your thought you had your eye out for danger – but it was so fast! My wife and I were crossing the road in Marseille, a guy was on the back of a scooter, talking on the phone, in a fraction of a second, he had reached for her necklace and tugged it off – fortunately, it also caught on a bag strap, and another relative joined in the mealy, and the thief took-off empty handed, but the episode was very distressing. So if you are going to dinner in a restaurant in your hotel, sure, wear whatever you want, but if you are just walking the streets – leave the fancy jewellery, handbags and watches behind. Seclusion – c’mon, avoid dark alleyways at night. A friend of mine and I met a couple of charming chaps you showed us their gun, and asked for money. We gave them the cash from our wallets, and they politely thanked us and wished us good night.
There are some airports and train stations where I can assure you, someone is watching your every minute. As you step up to the car hire counter, or café in an airport, you bag can be just behind you on the ground or on a trolley, and it will be whisked away – take your eye off that bag for 1 second, and it will happen.
And don’t be re-assured by conviviality. The number of people that have said they have their passport in a small bag slung over the back of a chair in a bar or restaurant, and it disappeared – horrifies me. Don’t have valuables in small bags slung over chairs. In Peru, they even have clips on chairs in hotels so that you can attach your bag – and that is in addition to the security guard at the door.
Finally, and above all, either keep your valuables in and inside jacket pocket, or a bag with strong straps over your neck. Never, ever have valuable in a bag slung over your shoulder, in a back pocket of trousers, or a neck pouch – frankly, if you do, I’m on the thief’s side – as you are clearly giving your possessions away. A shoulder bag will be removed and motorbiked off before you know what happened, and an obvious document pouch will be cut off with a knife or scissors – if you want to see how that is done, catch the 64 bus in Rome at peak tourist time, and watch it happening – or have a wander around Barcelona.




Basic Safety


Use the word Secure to remember the six practices of basic safety when on the go: Secure your important documents, use an across the shoulder bag or backpack when walking around, make sure it is properly closed, don't bring too many docu ments, and keep them in a safe place. Extricate – make the things you are going to need easily accessible – if you need your passport, have it in a safe, but accessible location. Cull – take the tiniest purse or wallet, with only the items you absolutely need, and only take what you need for the day when out and about.
Unexpose – don’t have a wallet accessible from a back pocket, wear expensive jewellery or flash around expensive stuff.
Retain – leave your passport, unessential credit cards and most cash in a safe place at your hotel. A hotel safe is much better than carrying around a passport, but can usually be access by hotel staff – if an item goes missing, the hotel will say you misplaced it. Do not leave a passport (or anything else) with reception – hotels only need to take a copy. The author is aware of a case when a hotel claimed to not have a passport that was left with them, and only handed it over when consular staff intervened. See At The Hotel for other safety tips. See at the hoterl for more travel safety tips. You'll find you can order these online, here is one example.
Or this one. You can also get various tracking devices such as a tile. Mostly, these work by making a sound when you search for them within bluetooth range. However they also network amongst other users of the same device. So if you pop one of these in a bag, and the bag is stolen and dumped somewhere, and another user of the same type of device is nearby, you may be able to locate the bag. Some of these trackers need to be replace when the battery goes flat, and other have a button battery that you can insert, which is preferable. Also, some offer separation alerts - that buzz when the item goes out of range, but these often have false alarms. You can buy an alternative, comprising a small device with a sim card in it - you send a text message to the sim card, and it responds with its GPS location. Mostly you have to buy these devices through Ebay from China, and you need to ensure the device has an IMEI number, so that it works on networks around the world. Plus you need to disguise the device as something more mundane. However such a device gives you a really good chance of finding a stolen bag.




Respecting Culture and Law


Observe how people in each country behave, talk, and dress. In many places it is inappropriate to dress very scantily, where clothes that cover your shoulders, that don’t expose too much thigh, and avoid T shirts that my have offensive messages. If the custom is to bow in certain situations, or if churches, mosques or other places have dress conventions, obey these – if you can’t bring yourself to do that, you should stay at home. It is also polite to be sensitive to voice levels, loud, boisterous behaviour can be inappropriately brash.
Beware that shouting at officials, or insulting the leader of a country can get you arrested – and imprisoned for considerable time in a surprising number of countries.
Equally, be aware that in some places, you can be in crowded conditions, particularly on busses and trains, or in queues, and people may be squeezed together in conditions you are not used to. Grin and bear it – there will be new smells and many other sensations that will add to the experience of your travel.
Never, ever, go where you are not allowed – don’t cross a barrier, even a low-slung chain – however subtle. Your chances of getting arrested are high, and it isn’t going to be fun.




Illness


If you have a pre-existing condition, make sure you declare this on your insurance – this is vital, as your insurance could be rendered invalid if you fail to do so, but will usually cover you for pre-existing condition complications so long as you have declared it. But if you are ill, think very, very carefully about travelling. Airlines will generally not accept ill passengers – so you could be in big trouble if you try to board and plane with an illness. Equally, do not exaggerate an illness to airline staff – you could find that your minor headache gets you banned from your flight – the airline staff can be obliged to refuse to allow you on board – so be careful what you say.
The same goes with entry to countries – you may find yourself in quarantine if you try to enter a country with an illness.




Insurance


There is a reason you should always have travel insurance for International travel – and this is it: Whatever goes wrong, your bags are stolen, you lose your wallet – these things can be reduced and survived if you want to save money. But if you have an accident or very ill, even if you get looked after in hospital in another country, it is likely you will want to return home – and my example, of course, is Australia. Repatriation from another continent to Australia for a very ill person can cost upwards of a a quarter of a million dollars. People have come back from bad accidents in Europe with a half million dollar medical and transport bill.
Or you could get stuck in a country when you think you are fit to fly home, because the airlines do not permit ill travellers. So if you come down with a bad flu or any contagious illness, you will have to extend your trip – which will most likely be covered by insurance – the alternative could be going to the airport only to be refused permission to board the flight, or being offloaded at a transit location.
The good news, is that the Australian government made basic hospital cover and repatriation a compulsory element of international travel insurance in this country (you can guess why). That means you can shop around for pretty economical insurance, and you know you are covered for the worst case scenarios. There will be other insurance policies that offer all sorts of extras, covering lost items, flight delays, and so forth. These premium policies are exactly that, in every way. Someone I know told me he claimed the cost of replacing his sun-glasses that he left on the seat next to him at an airport lounge. Do you want to pay for that?
There have been two comparison studies done that indicate that the insurance policies offered by airlines during the process of purchasing a flight online tend to be quite expensive – potentially double the price of other offers – but they are convenient – and can sometimes be purchased with frequent flyer points.
But watchout for catches – a policy purchased for a holiday may claim that it is invalid if they find out that you were working on the trip – so read and ask about the details.
Personally, my choice is to use a premium credit card (nearly every brand has this option) that offers frequent flyer points and travel insurance for trips purchased with the card. Watch out for the details, these often only cover card holders that are paying for certain proportions of the trip or are travelling together at all stages, so if you buy tickets for your family, but someone you purchased a flight for is travelling separately, they may not be covered.




Fines and parking tickets


It is easy to get a fine on public transport for the wrong kind of ticket or to get a parking fine when travelling overseas. Many countries leverage this - in Berlin, the airport is just outside the standard train ticket zone – and it is a regular practice for the controllers to hop on a train and make a sweep of travellers without the correct tickets. In Venice, the controllers check vaporetto tickets as to whether they have been validated, and issue hundreds of fines every day. Weird parking payment systems suck-in tourists all over the world. These fines are notoriously hard to pay. It might say you can pay online – but they don’t take credit cards.
Here’s the catch. These agencies and governments then sell the fine to a lawyer or debt collector. Nearly every European government and local government agency has such an arrangement. They pursue the debtor, and if the fine is not paid, the next time you step into any related country, you may be arrested. A parking fine in Germany? Unpaid, you can never go to Europe again. And so on.

The solution: Pay the fine immediately, before you leave that country. And do everything you can to avoid a fine in the first place. Always get the right parking, bus, ferry or train ticket. They will pursue you, they never, ever give up. The more you try to avoid them, the more the big bucks build up.




At the hotel or other accommdation


A few tips relating to accommodation – in many countries you will be asked for your passport at check-in – this is a legal obligation, not a hotel policy, so you must provide it. However hotels will now make a copy and hand it back. Never ever let the hotel persuade you that they can keep your passport – that is not true, and highly risky. A niece of mine asked for her passport on checking out of a hotel in Greece, and the hotel denied having it. She sought help from the police, and that actually made the situation worse. The Australian consulate got involved, and – surprise – the hotel found her passport – but by then her trip was ruined.
However generally it is vastly safer to keep valuables and your passport in your hotel room that to carry them with you for the day – you want to carry such things with you as little as possible.
But at the same time, I am rather sceptical about hotel safes. They are as good as you are going to get for a laptop or camera – but remember that the hotel can always open the safe. The way this one works is that the staff just remove one item, a passport, some cash, or a card, leaving everything else exactly as it was. If you challenge reception about this, the story is that ‘you must be mistaken, maybe you didn’t put that item in the safe’.
My technique is that I carry a small safe box, and leave passports, cash and cards at the hotel in this, locked to something secure in the room (and hidden). It is only plastic, but it creates too much hassle, and an obvious theft – enough to discourage the potential culprit – when there will be much easier targets. These or similar can be easily purchased on line, such as here.
While I am not going to tell you how it is done, it is damned easy to get into any hotel room – so heed my warnings.
And leaving a hotel – have a check of the room – after you have left. Some people look around the room before leaving, to check that they have everything. Then they leave. Without – the ipad, wallet, the obvious thing they just looked at. Exit the room, with your bag, then walk back in and check then.
Use the Frisbe check:
• Fridge (for water bottles)
• Room (all around)
• Incidentals (check for the key, phone or wallet on your bedside table)
• Safe
• Bathroom
• Electric charges. (Or can you come up with a memorable way to incorporate ‘C’ into Frisbe? Some areas have a small tourist tax that is always paid in cash on departure - so carry some cash for this. Sometimes this is charged on arrival – but you get coupons for discounts – or even free use of some (or all) public transport. Credit-card electronic room keys can get wiped by being with proximity to damn-near anything, to an RFID cover can come in handy. Many European hotels have large old keys and key tags - but these can be left at reception when going out.





Planning long haul travel

When and wher to travel


As an Australian, I often encounter visitors to Australia who choose to come for the long summer holidays – of the northern hemisphere. In Sydney they encounter the rather dismal winter months, not just with regards to the climate, but also – just not much happening – whereas in December and January, the city is pumping with vibrant frivolity, the beaches inviting, the light life alive. So the advice is obvious – research the climate and events at your destination. Choose your travel timing based on where you want to go, and adjust accordingly.
Planning – www.rome2rio.com is an amazing website that will allow you to plan how to get from just about anywhere to anywhere else – offering train, plain, car and other alternatives. And above all, talk to people that have been there. If there is one message to take away from this site – it’s that everywhere is different (which is also the most amazing thing about travel), and advice for one country, may be entirely inappropriate for another.asd Skyscanner is a good site for finding cheaper fares across airlines.




Long haul to and from Australia


Travelling between most destinations in Australia and Europe, the East coast of the US or Canada, and many other places is going to involve two long flights (with the exception of the new Perth-London non-stop option). You can tackle these two ways – either grin and bear a quick connection in somewhere like Singapore, Bangkok or Dubai – or have a stopover to refresh. The excitement of the outward journey often makes it more bearable, so the Asian stop-over should be considered for the return journey.
Wearing the right clothes and having the right stuff at hand on a long haul flight can make a big difference.




Jet lag


Jet lag can be quite disabling for some days. My observation is that it is easily overcome on outward journeys – probably owing to the excitement and energy of the trip – but coming home, it can take days to recover from it. The most basic avoidance strategy is to think, eat, drink and sleep according to the time zone of your destination as soon as you board the plane. Another thing that helps is to try and arrive in the morning or at least during the day, avoid sleeping until night time, and that will help you at least get to sleep at the right time.




Rest times


Have a rest day or half day every few days – where you do nothing more than set around at some picturesque spot and read, catch-up on emails and Facebook, edit your photos. It isn’t necessary to constantly be on the go or in a museum when you are away – sitting in a café doing your own thing adds to the experience – perhaps more so, than being a constant tourist.




Trains


Coming from a country that doesn’t use trains much, it can be easy forget how useful they are in other countries, especially across Europe where good regional trains cruise at 300 kmh. In most European countries tickets can be bought online between one and three months in advance and printed out at machines (that always have and English option) at the stations by just knowing the ticket code number. It is strongly recommended to purchased number trains seats in advance. Random thought: English trains are very expensive.




Driving


Driving in other countries can be stressful, and particularly so if you are driving on the other side of the road from that which you are used to. Make sure you are never in a hurry. Here are a few things that will make it easier:
When you get in the car – familiarise yourself with the controls – some things that can be really weird is where reverse is on a manual, the lights, and remember to adjust the mirrors. It is that very first moment that you drive out of the car hire when you may be tempted to drive on the wrong side of the road. Make that first exit slowly and mindfully, after 10 or 15 minutes, you will already be used to driving on the other side of the road. Take it easy, if in doubt, give way.
Also consider whether you need to drive – having a car in a metropolitan area is generally much more trouble than it is worth – and in Europe it can be very hard to park – with many cities not having private car access to central areas. Cars are only useful for country areas.




Choosing accommodation


Ask, ask, ask. Hotel sites such as hotels.com, booking.com are great for the top hotels, you can’t go too wrong, they all look and feel the same. More moderate hotels offer more character – where you wake up and know from the décor what country you are in and where you can hear and smell the local character. But this is where recommendations really matter. Website photos can look great, but they don’t tell you that French hotels can smell of tobacco – so that is a country where you want to look for a hotel where they strongly promote their smoke-free policy.
Be prepared that European hotels may not have lifts – you could be taking baggage up narrow staircases. In Italy you sometimes come across tiny, tiny lifts in hotels – we just pop our suitcases in these, as there is often no room for a person in addition, send them up to the floor of our room, and meet the lift at that level. It’s all part of the fun.
Generally, I recommend for places that include breakfast – that is a great start to the day, and can be a primer for packing a picnic lunch.
Finally, choose the location carefully. The more central the accommodation, the more expensive it will be, but at the same time, being able to walk straight out into the centre of town adds significantly to the immersive experience you will have. All accommodation sites will have a map showing where the place is, and this is definitely worth looking at closely. The best deal can be to find accommodation that is not central – but very close to a metro or subway station, so that you can get into the centre easily.




Frequent flyer points


Frequent flyer points can give you great deals – if you work the system. Just trying to use the points to buy a standard ticket for yourself gives you very poor value. But if you follow the suggestions above, frequent flyer programs will try to entice you to offload points on low-demand flights – or upgrades. Remember that when you use points for a flight, you don’t earn points on that flight – so for the long-haul flights out of Australia, there are some better work arounds:
Firstly, points can be used to purchase or bid on upgrades. At peak season, this is no benefit, but in off-season periods, the points price of the upgrade can be an amazing deal. Flying from Sydney to Darwin, a 4 hour flight, just $40 worth of points – less than 10% of the cash price of the upgrade. Secondly, as you don't earn points on reward flights, if you are travelling with someone (such as your kids) that don't collect points, use your own points to pay for their fares - that way you collect points on your own booking. Watch-out for reward bonuses and discounts.





Packing

Choosing a bag


Have a bag that you can easily carry up and down stairs yourself – at stations, certain accommodation, little European village alleyways. Obviously wheelie bags – recently I asked people that chose bags that could also be backpacks about them – and they said they never bothered to use them as back packs – on the few occasions that they couldn’t wheel the bags – they just carried them.
A few things to bare in mind are: Four wheel bags are easier to push around – but can also run away – if you are on a metro or underground, you will need to hold on to them for the whole journey.
Hard-shell cases offer better protection – but often don’t have easy access pockets for popping something into them – and they usually open as a split in the middle. This means that at accommodation, you need a bigger area to open them or leave them open for access – it’s a bit of a pain, and I am looking forward to someone inventing a solution to this soon – hopefully quicker than the invention of the wheelie bag – which was some 20 years after man walked on the moon.




Packing baggage


You know the drill, less, and less. Nobody is going to notice that you wore the same pair of trousers 3 times in the same week. Take the least possible. After all, if you need additional items of clothing, you are probably in a better location to buy that clothing than bringing it from home. Make a packing list – I re-use mine and update it each trip.
And here is an important baggage tip – always look after your own bags, whether you are travelling with one other person or a group of 10. It’s when one person says, oh’ I’ll lift your bag onto the train, and that somehow, someone else’s is left behind. Even putting bags in a hire car or taxi, each person should only handle their own bags – that’s the control technique that nothing is left behind.
Here are some key items to take - If you wear spectacles, sunglasses, clip-on sunglasses, or take medication – take a complete spare set. Loss of any of those items small items can wreck the trip for you, so be sensible. Have one set in your carry-on bag, and the backup in your checked baggage. I have a favourite folding cap, and bring a spare of that as well.
And – have a departure check list for the day of departure, the key things that you need to remember. It is exactly the things that you don’t think you will forget (computer charger, passport), that you do forget.
Compact Packing hack: put things inside your shoes Rolling and folding: I’m not entirely convinced, but there is a school of clothing rollers that profess that rolling clothes, rather than folding, reduces crushing and is more compact.
What not to take? Your wallet or purse. Seriously, it is likely dominated by stuff you don’t need – your coffee club card, supermarket rewards card, and much more. Better to use a smaller wallet or purse for travel. Don’t take your keys – maybe just a front door key if you need it. Decant big shampoo or conditioners into smaller plastic bottles.




On the play and carry-on


Generally keep carry-on baggage as light as possible – but here are a few tips:
Have a really small pouch with a few key items in your bag – so that you can have that with you at your seat – your phone, Kindle, a pen (for filling out immigration forms), ear plugs and eye patch. An inflatable neck brace can be handy – even if you don’t use it around your neck, I have found that by inflating it, you can also use it as a laptop table – very handy. IT’s also handy to nade a few meds – on a whole packet, but some codral and gastro tablets – if there is one time you don’t want to have the runs, it is on a crowded airplane.
Another thing that will ease your check in and security process is to dress suitably – I use these plastic belts for travel, made by Travelstealth in the UK, although they seem to now be distributed by Amazon - but just google them, there are plenty to choose from - and you could just use the buckle with a leather belt (and back a metal buckle to swap over when not flying). Check you have airplane ‘safe’ shoes, and you won’t have to strip half naked to go through the metal detectors.
Find out what can be take on-board – on International flights the limits can be found at www.sydneyairport.com.au/info-sheet/what-you-cannot-take-onboard-international
International flights generally require that you do not carry or pack loose batteries, and there is a 100 ml maximum size for all liquids and gels – and these need to be packed into clear plastic bags. But you can have an empty open bottle - that you fill-up once you are through customs, that is fine.




On foot and day packs


Set-up a day kit for your touristing, keep it simple and compact. For both carry-on and day touristing, I use sea-to-summit parachute material bags, that fold to tiny, and yet are very strong, and can’t be cut easily. Things you might need are a charger for your phone, sunglasses, hat, and I have a toothbrush kit that I make using a McDonald’s straw filled with toothpaste and little rubber bungs (from Clarke rubber). Also, a few packets of tissues and some handwipes will be handy in many ways – especially as a backup for under equipped toilets. Carry a disposable poncho (per person), you’re a tourist, not a fashion representative, it’s ok. Instead of carrying a heavy water bottle, use this rubber Rolla one. Something you definitely don’t want to carry with you is your passport, travel documents (they should be electronic only anyway), too much cash, or all your credit cards – these are much, much safer back at your accommodation (see at the hotel). Just have a photo id card (such as drivers licence) and a couple of cards with you (you may need photo ID to get into some museums and other places).
If the weather is variable, Uniqlo puffer jacket is the trick – packs away into a tiny bundle, perfect – and if you have anything delicate in your baggage – pop into the middle of your packed-up puffer jacket for protection.
And if you trying to save money with picnic lunches, take a couple of good plastic knives, and some salt and pepper sachets from McDonalds. A buffet breakfast at your hotel can be a great source for picnic lunches. Don’t carry a real knife (it will be confiscated at various museums and other places). And don’t forget photo ID – your driver’s licence will usually suffice. The SeaToSummit daypacks are made of parachute material and fold into tiny bags. Available in Australia from BAGS TO GO.





Documents and money

Cards and Money


How you pay for things varies enormously from place to place. In Australia and Scandinavia, you just swipe a debit or credit card for nearly everything – and some banks (such as ING Direct) offer the use of their cards anywhere in the world with any international transaction fees refunded, so that is dead simple. ATM’s in most countries have a language option so that you can use these in English. Otherwise, International money cards offer a comparable alternative. But other countries are still very cash-based – so you need to do a bit of research for each country – it is easy to get caught in a small town in many countries where you can’t use cards in the stores or restaurants, and there is no ATM – even in the UK.
Don’t let anyone take your card away – everywhere uses mobile card machines. Another wise thing is to check your bank and credit card transactions every day or so – they will all have apps that will allow you to do that, and that is a fast way to see if there are any dodgy transactions occurring.
You don’t want to take to much cash, because you may not be able to change it back. For example, you can buy Peruvian Sol but – you’ve got them for life, you can’t change them back to any other currency. Mind you, there are money changers with wads of notes on every street corner. Similarly in Cambodia – but Cambodian Riel is only used as small change (and there are no coins used in Cambodia whatsoever) – the currency used for everything from small shops to buying cars or homes is US dollars. Actually, in many countries the US exchange rate offered on the street or in shops will be better than at a bank. Just be careful.
The key thing is to ask people who know about each country. In Sweden, no local currency is required at all – not only are cards used everywhere – but cash is often not accepted. Occasionally there are lockers in museums that operate using a 5 Kroner coin – but a Danish – and probably other currency coins also work.
And don’t carry all you cards and cash with you! Just take one or two cards, and the cash you need for the day – especially a few coins for bathrooms that require payment. See At the hotel.




International Driver Licence


This carboard artefact hasn’t changed in 50 years, and is obtained from the NRMA in Australia, but is essential. Car hire places will accept foreign licenses, but if you get pulled over by the police, you are likely to need the International licence – especially in the US, where no foreign licences are recognised – I kid you not.
Watchout, in a few places (such as Palma, in Spain) discount car rentals can have a wait of 2 or even 3 hours to pickup the car - you can pay extra express pickup and drop off. Also, be careful, some drop off locations are not at the airport that you picked the car up from - they use an 'off airport' location with a shuttle service that can be slow.
When booking car hire, look carefully at the inclusions and choose your level of insurance excess carefully. At nearly every car hire pickup, the staff are going to offer you an upgrade, such as a bigger car, automatic transmission (in Europe, manuals are cheaper to hire), gps, or scare you into reducing your excess. Note that if you don’t ask for GPS, some cars may still have this, or may not – it’s a gamble. Your backup (data plan permitting), is to use your phone and a travel-mount – and that can work perfectly well.




Insurance


There is a reason you should always have travel insurance for International travel – and this is it: Whatever goes wrong, your bags are stolen, you lose your wallet – these things can be reduced and survived if you want to save money. But if you have an accident or very ill, even if you get looked after in hospital in another country, it is likely you will want to return home – and my example, of course, is Australia. Repatriation from another continent to Australia for a very ill person can cost upwards of a a quarter of a million dollars. People have come back from bad accidents in Europe with a half million dollar medical and transport bill.
Or you could get stuck in a country when you think you are fit to fly home, because the airlines do not permit ill travellers. So if you come down with a bad flu or any contagious illness, you will have to extend your trip – which will most likely be covered by insurance – the alternative could be going to the airport only to be refused permission to board the flight, or being offloaded at a transit location.
The good news, is that the Australian government made basic hospital cover and repatriation a compulsory element of international travel insurance in this country (you can guess why). That means you can shop around for pretty economical insurance, and you know you are covered for the worst case scenarios. There will be other insurance policies that offer all sorts of extras, covering lost items, flight delays, and so forth. These premium policies are exactly that, in every way. Someone I know told me he claimed the cost of replacing his sun-glasses that he left on the seat next to him at an airport lounge. Do you want to pay for that?
There have been two comparison studies done that indicate that the insurance policies offered by airlines during the process of purchasing a flight online tend to be quite expensive – potentially double the price of other offers – but they are convenient – and can sometimes be purchased with frequent flyer points.
But watchout for catches – a policy purchased for a holiday may claim that it is invalid if they find out that you were working on the trip – so read and ask about the details. Personally, my choice is to use a premium credit card (nearly every brand has this option) that offers frequent flyer points and travel insurance for trips purchased with the card. Watch out for the details, these often only cover card holders that are paying for certain proportions of the trip or are travelling together at all stages, so if you buy tickets for your family, but someone you purchased a flight for is travelling separately, they may not be covered.




Things you can't bring into a country


Many countries do not permit you to bring in fruits or vegetables - and wooden souvenirs may face issues coming back into Australia. Check the Borderforce website to find out what you can bring back into Australia.




Spare specs and meds


If you are dependent on reading glasses or take prescription medicaton, make sure you bring two pairs of glasses and two sets of your medication, one in carry-on, and the other checked in. Your travels will be totally ruined if you lost either of these.




Health documents


If you are travelling with any medication other than a couple of headache tablets, get a letter from your doctor (they are used to this) regarding your medication, particularly prescription medication. You may find that medicaton is confiscated in another country without such a letter - and you could be surprised to find that your regular happy-pills are illegal in another country without such a letter.




Forget about paper tickets


Unless you have been issued a ticket with a QR code or barcode, it is best NOT to bring print-outs of tickets or itineraries. There is no where, from the remotest towns of Peru, to Cambodia, where a paper travel voucher or hotel booking is required - it can all be just PDFs on your mobile device (and of course, a backup device - did you know you can store pdfs on a Kindle?). Having a wad of paper vouchers will create delays, cause stress, and a wallet or folder of such materials basically is a mega thief attractor. They are by-far a greater hindrance than a benefit.




Passport, visa and travel laws


You need to have at least six months on your passport when you leave Australia – if not, you may need to renew your passport early. There are severe laws regarding tampering with a passport, and think carefully about the order of your travel between countries that don’t get along. For instance, if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, you may not be allowed to visit certain countries. And if you get into that situation, don’t try the ‘I lost my passport line – the Australian consulate or embassy will have heard it before, and strongly recommend you suddenly find it – or risk a big fine.
Check if you need a visa (or, in the case of the US, a ‘visa waiver’ – which seems to be a clayton’s visa. Keep backup copies of related documents. Always get the correct visa for your visit – travelling Check the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs site.





Immerse yourself

Learn some language


There is no country where everyone is not delighted (excuse the double negative) that you try to speak some of their language – learn the greetings and departure phrases, thanks and excuse me – there are dozens of free apps that will help you with this, such as Duolingo.




Rest Time


There is no country where everyone is not delighted (excuse the double negative) that you try to speak some of their language – learn the greetings and departure phrases, thanks and excuse me – there are dozens of free apps that will help you with this, such as Duolingo.




Cultural immersion


Don’t let your travel be so go-go-go, that you can’t just sit in a café and relax – because that is part of travel – you can get a better feel for a place by sitting amongst the people for two hours – than by strolling through a sterile museum. Sit and watch the people stroll by in Paris (morning are better than evenings when the cafes are filled with smokers) or any other city, answer your emails, read a guide book or phrase book, process your photos, live the city rather than rush through it. Learn the coffees that they have – that in Italy Cappucinos are a morning drink, can asking for one in France will score you a steely look, and the offer of a Café Crème as an alternative. Americans looking for longer coffees in Italy have made ‘Americano’ a coffee to be found everywhere – and the name has transported to the UK, Australia and – the US (that just doesn’t make sense, does it?) – but certainly not to France.
Go to the supermarket and make some light lunches using the local fair – walking and exploring supermarkets in other countries should be part of your visit everywhere your go. Watchout, in some countries you weigh the fruit and veggies yourself, enter a code and put a sticker on the bag – and that is part of the cultural exposure process.
Get off the beaten track – and get out of town. One of the best ways to get to understand a country is to see regional and small towns off the tourist beaten track.
Don’t stay in International hotels – they are all the same the world over. Choose a small hotel or bnb, where when you wake up you know and feel you are in that country – and likewise with restaurants, choose small and local. Some people seek out the famous top restaurants in foreign cities – mainly so that they can show off on facebook to their friends – do better, eat local, genuine and cheap.




Urban travel


Walk and use public transport as much as possible. The metro or underground in any big city is always easy to use – the ticket machines almost always have an English selection. Most places have multi-ticket buys and day passes – the latter of which makes for a good deal for tourists. The metro will also get you to and from the airport in most places, but check out the situation with regards to stairs - while the tube in London usually has lifts and escalators, the metro in Paris has seemingly endless stairs. Also, think ahead about timing – metro to the airport in the middle of the day can be fine, but at peak hour, completely horrific with baggage. A few places also have some great deals – in Geneva in Switzerland, hotels provide coupons for free public transport throughout your stay. In London you will discover that each tube station will have a different convention with regards to riding the escalators on the left or the right – check it out.





Phone and photography

Keeping your phone safe


A mobile phone is absolutely vital on long-haul travel - you can store documents on it, use the apps listed below, and you can even communicate with people using a phone - fancy that. But keep it safe. Make sure you have a find my phone app on it.




Backup your photos


‘My phone/camera/Ipad’ got lost, stolen, eaten by a monster on the trip – I am ok about the device, but upset about losing all my photos’. Not again? There are dozens of solutions, don’t let it happen to you. You can backup from a mobile phone to various cloud services, copy the phones to a small SD or micro SD card that you keep in a safe place, just make sure the backup travels seperately - Ie one version of the photos in checked in baggage, the other in carry on.




Mobile Usage and Sims


Did you read the bit above about some train stations being pretty dodgy places? Well the same goes from sellers of sim cards at airports and so-called International sim cards. They are not all rip offs – but watch out for these issues:
‘International sim cards’ advertised – but look at the rates – sometimes they are more expensive than using your home country sim card – the rates vary dramatically and many are just a complete theft.
Also some international sim cards block hot-spotting, so they only work for usage from the one phone they are installed in – and they can also be very slow – 2G or 3G only.
Generally, the cheapest sim cards are local ones – a pre-paid sim for one country on locally competitive rates is almost always the most economical. You can sometimes order these ahead online, or even share a sim with a friend that travelled to that same country. Or you can buy them on arrival – just watch out for the details – you are arriving tired and bewildered, and vulnerable to sharks.
Phones with dual sims can be great for travel – with your home sim set to not use data, and a locally purchased sim for data – both working simultaneously. No Australian mobile service packaged phones have this facility – you have to buy a phone off-the-shelf. Motorola have very good dual sim phones.




Organising your photos


If you don’t do anything else, organise your photos as you go. Every day, copy your photos to another device, and plop them into folders identifying where they are. That will make using for a photobook or slide show on your return that much easier.




Choosing a camera


The first question is whether to bring a camera at all – or not. Small automatic cameras offer little or no benefit over a phone, so I suggest that they are not beneficial. However if you want good quality photos, and in particular, photos that are clear (or can be fixed to be clear) in poor circumstances, then a real camera will do this. And by real camera, I mean any camera that will take in raw format. Raw format means that the camera records far more in the image, including elements of light that can later be used for correcting the picture – unlike jpg formats which effectively summarise the image, removing aspects that you might want later. For example, if you are taking in dark, or highly contrasting conditions, a raw image will allow you to bring up the light in the dark areas of the photograph at a much higher quality than from a jpg – where the elements you want will have already been re moved during the process of saving the photograph. A disadvantage of raw photos is that you can only see them on the camera or on a device that can display the format of raw that you are using – otherwise they need to be re-saved as jpgs for sharing or uploading to social media. That said, pretty much any camera that takes in raw will provide the format to save in jpgs – and to save in both formats at the same time. This option gives you a quick snap that you can share, plus a raw version that you can use to fix-up the image using software such as Adobe Lightroom. Real cameras have many other benefits, including vastly better lenses, more control over the shutter speed and aperture – and endless other benefits. How do you know if a camera is good or not? The question of whether it takes in raw is a simple rule of thumb to identify cameras that are serious about quality or not. You also need to consider the size and weight of the camera.
My own choice, now, is an Olympus OMD 10. I will explain my choice, not because I particularly recommend this camera – but my thinking about this choice should help. This is a mirrorless micro-four-thirds format – meaning that the CCD is exactly half of a full frame 35mm camera. It is not a top professional camera, but I use the 12-50mm professional zoom lens with it, which has a fast F 2.8 maximum aperture. Essentially this means the lens is very tolerant of low light levels, and goes from a quite wide focal length to short telephoto length (24mm to 100mm in 35mm language). I picked this based on reviewing my photographs, where I noted that I tended to use wide to standard focal lengths 90% of the time – and only occasionally a long focal length. The wide aperture also offers the opportunity to reduce the depth of focus, so that the target item of the photo can be in focus, with other distractions in the background deliberately rendered out-of-focus – something nearly impossible to do with a phone.
The OMD 10 choice was deliberately not the top model – as the best cameras usually don’t have a built-in flash. Sure, a built in flash delivers horrendous photos in most cases – but I do find it handy for fill-lighting in contrasty day-light conditions.
The Olympus has built-in wifi, so photos can be transferred to a mobile phone, but this facility only transfers the jpg images – so I also bought a FLASH air LINK SD card that allows wifi transfer of the raw images too – however I suspect it is a bit of a battery eater.
I carry only a few other accessories, most of which are absolutely essential – just as important as the camera:
A gorilla grip for selfies, time exposures, vastly more convenient than a tripod – in the evenings I just have it attached underneath the camera as I walk around.
A spare battery – totally, totally vital – and keep it charged.
An after-market usb-powered battery charger – much more convenient than the standard plug-in battery charger that came with the camera – more compact, can be charged anywhere – a must. And additionally (optionally), a polarising filter, for taking through glass and reducing the light in some conditions.




Some handy phone apps


Other than Poggleitinerary, there are many, many great travel apps. A smart phone comes into play when you travel better than anything, here are just a few examples? A world clock – Time Machine is a particularly good one, because it allows you to see what time it will be at a selected time (in addition to the current time) in another time zone. Currency exchange rates ust the ability to google something you see and read about it Tourist guide apps Airline apps – check-in in on your phone A banking app so that you can transfer money to your cash card Flightaware – amazingly tells you the status of every flight in the world – delays, departure gates, etc. Train timetables and maps – topping up the Oyster card or similar
Hotel booking apps
Maps – offline, or if you use google maps, either ensure you have connectivity, or create and save maps for the days activities when you are in a wifi zone
Item trackers such as or TrackR. Keep one in your small documents folder, if you suddenly can’t find your documents buzz the app – I head about one guy that suddenly realised his document wallet was missing on a crowded bus – he used the app, and heard the device buzzing in the pocket of a nearly traveller – who handed it back to him.
Google translate





About

This is a guide to ways and what to pack, how to avoid stressful or physical endurance – how to make sure you are not the one that comes home with the disaster story.  In particular, it deals with avoiding the worst disasters, not having valuables stolen, not getting stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, and how to adapt to the local situations in different countries.  At times the author has been tempted to expand this into a travel guide – but such divergences have been largely edited out – bar for a few overly tempting examples.  Instead, this site provides some links to travel sites and guides – that do this much better, hence, this is a meta-guide – a guide to the websites and guides that you can draw-on for planning your travels.  But additionally – it is vital to find people who have been to the places you are going to, and to ask their advice.  If they are vague, find more experienced travellers that can advise you.  Your travel experiences will be radically better having done your research and planning.

 

Oh, one other thing – this guide recommends some websites, apps, products and services.  In all cases, these are the actual preferred products of the author.

Second Set of Eyes is based in Sydney, Australia - and acknowledges the Wangal and Gadigal people as the traditional owners of this land.

Second Set of Eyes offers services globally. 

© 2020

CONTACT

Matt Balogh

Thanks for reaching out to me!

Based in Sydney, Australia – we acknowledge the Wangal and Gadigal people as the traditional owners of this land.

Second Set of Eyes is based in Sydney, Australia - and acknowledges the Wangal and Gadigal people as the traditional owners of this land.

Second Set of Eyes offers services globally. 

© 2020

CONTACT

Matt Balogh

Thanks for reaching out to me!

Based in Sydney, Australia – we acknowledge the Wangal and Gadigal people as the traditional owners of this land.

Second Set of Eyes is based in Sydney, Australia - and acknowledges the Wangal and Gadigal people as the traditional owners of this land.

Second Set of Eyes offers services globally. 

Based in Sydney, Australia – we acknowledge the Wangal and Gadigal people as the traditional owners of this land.

CONTACT

Matt Balogh

© 2020