One of my friends is taking their first overseas trip in twenty-something years. That set me thinking a little.
I spent 30 years travelling to most places in Europe and North America, unluckily I also went to some more ‘off the map’ destinations ~ such as Ankara, Mexico City and Moscow. Most of these trips were ‘on business’ some were vacations, and some were both. I’ve been arrested, caught all kinds of unmentionable illnesses, been delayed at the airport for 72 hours, held on a non-moving aircraft for 8 hours, arrived at the wrong airport, returned to the wrong UK airport, been mugged by 3 Romanian girls in Rome, got ripped-off innumerable times, held at gunpoint in Nassau, worked / travelled / worked again for an entire week, lost my car at a London Airport, got utterly and completely lost in the middle of nowhere, lost my luggage innumerable times, been stuck in the dark in the Channel Tunnel for hours, and hours and hours….
Well you get the picture. Travel is often misery. International travel is often a lot worse than that.
There are some things one can do to alleviate one’s suffering. My ‘rules for travel’ are:
- Don’t go anywhere you don’t know anyone, or at least have a contact.
- Make certain all of your documentation is in order and in date. Passport, visa and driving licence are my starting point. Then check with the appropriate consulate, Foreign Office, State Department. This can usually be done on-line.
- Get all of the necessary injections.
- Book direct with the airline / hotel / car hire firm / travel insurance company, on-line or by telephone. Shop around. Check for deals and discounts. It costs me exactly nothing whatsoever to call a number in the USA using Google.
- Do not use budget airlines, down-market hotels, or car rental firms that don’t have a desk at your destination airport. Book coach on a decent airline, standard room at a decent hotel / motel. Personally I always rent an upmarket car.
- Study the geography so you know where you are going and where your layovers are. For example, transferring at Chicago ORD means you will be delayed.
- Pack no more than carry-on luggage, and check size and weight restrictions for that. (They have stores in most cities one can fly to.) Take some stuff which will allow you to look smart and clean at all times. In my case this is a shirt to change into during the journey, hand wipes, battery razor.
- Take at least twice as much money as you can possible imagine you will need. Check currency import regulations. Take at least 3 debit / credit cards, and know your PIN numbers.
- Plan on arriving a couple of hours early at airports / railway stations / ferry terminals.
- Have a fat book / tablet to keep you occupied during the interminable waiting.
- NEVER, EVER, EVER lose your temper with anyone ~ no matter how great the temptation.
- Keep your documentation, cash and credit cards very very safe at all times. Keep your carry-on bag with you at all times.
- Don’t pay for early boarding. This only means you will be at the back of the plane and getting off last. Getting on the plane last means that you get off first, (after First and Business Class travellers.)
- Don’t drink any booze during your journey.
- Try and sleep, go to the lavatory, stretch your legs in the aisle during the flight.
- Because you only have a carry-on bag and will be getting off the plane early you can probably stroll through customs and get to the car rental desk avoiding the crowds.
- Get a navigation system (sat nav), and check over your rental very, very carefully. Photograph any damage.
- If you haven’t rented a car, then take a taxi from the rank. Don’t use a gypsy cab, limo, or public transport. (except when arriving at a London Airport, when you should take the tube / surface train ~ better to rent a car)
- Learn your car before you get into the traffic. Set the sat nav. Know exactly where your hotel / friend / contact is located. Drive very, very carefully.
- Watch out for the 99% of the people you will meet who will try to rip you off.
- Do not expect anyone to be helpful, efficient, or polite. Be pleasantly surprised if they are.
- Attempt to speak the local language. Even in the States, US English is different from English English. Learn the local customs, and do it Fast.
- When the shit hits the fan, and it will, be polite and helpful. Do Not lose your temper.
- Have a nice day.
As it goes, all of the above is common sense, but so many times I have seen people get into very, very serious trouble for breaking any one, (worse more than one), of the above guidelines / rules. Sleeping on the beach isn’t the worst than can happen to you.