Even the most meticulously-planned trip can go off the rails when you fall into silly travel traps. Plan and execute the trip in such a way that you do not have to deal with headaches and last-minute changes. Getting the most thrill out of a new destination depends on how foolproof your travel plans are. So before you start packing for your next holiday, here’s a pocket guide to travel know-how for a smooth experience.
1 - NOT BOOKING ENOUGH CONNECTION TIME BETWEEN FLIGHTS
Travel experts suggest that you must leave a window of at least an hour-and-a-half between connecting flights to significantly lessen your chances of missing your flight or having your luggage lost. The 30-45 minute gap is often not enough, especially at large airports where the gates are far apart and commuting from one gate to another takes a couple of minutes. And, remember, never rely on airlines to do the time calculation for you.
2 - ASSUMING YOUR PASSPORT IS TRAVEL-READY
Certain countries demand that passports be valid for three-six months past the date of your flight home. Check the expiry date way ahead of planning your holiday. Since routine passport processing takes about four to six weeks, apply for a passport in advance. If you’re a frequent flyer, flip through the passport to check if there are enough pages. Countries like South Africa require you to have one fully blank visa page in the passport. Without the requisite number of pages, you may be refused entry.
3 - PURCHASING FLIGHT TICKETS AT THE WRONG TIME
The hardest part is knowing when to stop tracking fares and make that final purchase. Sale schemes can save you a lot of money but figure out whether they are genuine. Usually, airline ticket prices go up in the last two weeks before flying, so try to make the call before this deadline. And if you are travelling abroad, book tickets even earlier – three to six months in advance. Keep in mind that many airlines come up with discounts on Tuesdays – so if you decide to buy on a Monday, you may regret your decision when your destination goes on sale the next day.
4 - NOT MAKING USE OF YOUR FREQUENT FLYER POINTS
Why pay a fare at all when you can use your frequent flier miles? But for redeeming them, you need to make a booking early. Airlines designate a very limited number of seats on each flight as eligible for reward travel, and these seats go quickly. Moreover, if you lack enough points to buy a ticket or upgrade it, remember you can amass those thousands of points when shopping for your favourite brands on the airline’s retail shopping portal. Often, you can even rent cars from affiliated companies, book restaurants and do a whole lot more – all you need to do is go on their website to check.
5 - CHOOSING ‘CHEAP’ OVER ‘CONVENIENT’ HOTEL
When the description of your hotel says “near city market”, triple check before considering it. The word ‘near’ is open to vast interpretation. A more expensive hotel in the middle of where the action is, will be far more convenient and budget-friendly than staying in the interiors and spending time and money on transport. Taxi fares in certain cities are outrageous. Moreover, if you wish to get back to the hotel and relax for a bit before having dinner, you can’t do it if your hotel is 45 minutes away from the city.
6 - NOT CHANGING MONEY BEFORE LEAVING
Always do your research about currency exchange centres in your city that give the best deal. When on an international trip, the most common myth is that only amateurs change currency at the airport, because the exchange rate for foreign currency will be better in the destination town. Yes, it may be, but what if you don’t find currency exchange centres at a nearby spot? If it’s an unknown city, your problem gets worse. Therefore, it’s always wise to carry a minimum amount for cab fares and other small expenses before you leave.
7 - NOT BUYING SOMETHING YOU LIKE AS SOON AS YOU SEE IT
You loved that funky skirt at the beach stall but you’re not buying it, thinking you’ll surely get a better deal and a better version elsewhere. Unfortunately, you may not. And not having it will haunt you for the rest of your life. You may also think you can go back to that same shop if you don’t get it elsewhere. It rarely happens as you already have designated days for your travel. You’d rather visit the unexplored places. So when you like something, use your bargaining skills well and just buy it.
8 - HANDING VALUABLE POSSESSIONS TO STRANGERS
You may be forced to gatecheck your hand luggage. Place your valuables and essentials like jewellery, iPad, camera, house and car keys, medication — and anything else you can’t live without — in a pouch or a ziplock inside your carry-on. If you must surrender your carry-on to a flight attendant at the last minute, you can just remove the pouch and keep it with you. This way you won’t be worried about your items. Plus, you could use them whenever you need them.
9 - PAYING HIGH CREDIT CARD FEES
Some credit cards charge a fortune as foreign-transaction fee; if you’re withdrawing a foreign currency the exchange rate will be miserably high – while others charge minimal fees or nothing. So do your research well and choose the card that doesn’t empty your pocket. A lot of credit cards offer great additional travel perks (such as extra points for dining or free checked baggage) and are free for the first year, so you can make use of them.
10 - SCUFFLING WITH LOCAL LOGISTICS
Sometimes, you may not stay at a great hotel but you need a good concierge to assist you with booking tours, making theatre and restaurant reservations, provide an English-speaking guide, instruct the cab drivers in the local language etc. What you can do is walk up to the concierge desk of the nearest five-star hotel. They will be happy to help even if you’re not staying with them. Just be sure to tip them.