If you travel often, you get better at it. The same principle applies to performing heart surgery, hosting dinner parties, renovating old houses, or any other multi-faceted, complex activity. Because I have had the good fortune to do a good bit of travelling over the past few years, I have learned some lessons and perfected my techniques. Here are some insider tips and some of the most useful lessons learned from this frequent traveler.
Frequent Traveler Tip #1
Plan, research, plan, as much as possible every aspect of your basic travel logistics.
Don’t misunderstand-planning does not mean leaving yourself little room for spontaneous activities or on-the-spot choices. Planning means that you have attended to logistics and mechanics in advance, minimizing the chance of a vacation-slowing (or even vacation-stopping) glitch. You can also reduce your costs through careful planning.
Bad travel logistics planning story:
An otherwise well-planned trip to the Scottish highlands was delayed for a grueling half-day when we found that our car rental (car hire) prepaid fee charged by Hertz did not include any insurance. The Hertz insurance was exorbitant. After spending a lot of time stewing and researching, we established that American Express (the card we were using to pay) would provide adequate insurance coverage. All of this could have been and should have been figured out back in the USA.
Good travel logistics planning story:
When our family of four flew to the U.K. for an August vacation, the children’s airline tickets were fully covered by frequent flyer miles accumulated over a period of five years or more. By using a U.S. Air Visa credit card, we had gathered quite a few miles. Meanwhile, the two adults earned miles on the trip, and we stayed in some “partner” hotels, helping to rebuild the miles inventory. Using miles during the peak vacation season when fares are sky-high (so to speak) is good planning.
Frequent traveler tip #2
Reconfirm your accommodation reservations early and often.
Just because you made a reservation for that vacation rental, hotel room, or condo unit does not mean that it will always be ready and waiting for you. Overbooking, clerical errors, and even shady practices can leave you high and dry. It is impossible to reconfirm too often or in too many formats (paper, e-mail, telephone con with person whose name you write down). This is especially important during prime vacation season in high-demand locations.
Sad reservation story:
We arrived in Nova Scotia with our two small children with a written reservation for a cottage rental for about five nights. The proprietors informed us that the previous renters had decided to extend for a week and they would not be honoring our reservation. We had to scramble to find something on the spot, and of course it was more expensive and less picturesque. Outrageous? Unethical? Of course. But it happened.
Another sad reservation story:
We had a guaranteed-with-a-credit card reservation at a U.S. chain hotel, specifying that a non-smoking room was crucial. We checked in at about 9 pm and were told that no non-smoking rooms were left. They told us that since we did not call in that day, they were not sure we were actually coming and they did not hold a non-smoking room for us. We stayed in a very unpleasant, very smoke-smelling room that night. Even though they had mistreated us, I wished I had called in around 4 or 5 pm to reconfirm our arrangements, including the non-smoking room.
Frequent traveler trip #3
Take the things you will need so you don’t waste time and money shopping for them during your trip.
You can get better prices, procure exactly what you want, and have things when you need them by purchasing them in advance and taking them with you. Of course shopping may be one of your recreational activities on the trip, but looking for a certain camera battery, brand of makeup, or your preferred headache remedy is not all that recreational.
I paid more than forty dollars (plus a currency conversion charge) for Clinique makeup base in Rome. The same product cost eighteen dollars at home. I certainly had room for it in my suitcase but I did not think ahead. Time and money were frittered away.
Another should-have-taken-it-with-me story:
I try to remember to pack washcloths for trips to Europe (where they are not routinely used). On our most recent trip, I forgot, and we purchased too large, not soft, and not color-fast facsimiles for six or seven dollars each. Time, money, and quality down the drain…
Frequent traveler tip #4
Know what is generally going on in the areas along your flight path.
That may sound like vague advice, but it is very important. If you do not know about crowd conditions, off-peak opportunities, fabulous once a year events, recent oil spills, volcanic ash-induced flight cancellations, hurricane potential, tram construction that has torn up the whole downtown area, or other local conditions, you will wish you had done this homework. I have so many stories along these lines that I will have to select just a few.
Ignorance-is-not-bliss travel story:
Early in our marriage my husband and I took a road trip to Montreal, spending a night along the way in Saratoga, New York. We did not have an advance reservation and managed to show up during the prime horse-racing event of the year, which left a negligible number of hotel or motel rooms. We spent hours looking for a place to stay and wound up in a memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons dive of a motel for a high price. Grungy, paper thin walls (and an active couple next door)– it was awful.
Knowledge of local conditions happy travel story:
Our recent stay in Edinburgh during hyper peak season allowed us to attend the Edinburgh Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle and to attend several Fringe Festival performances. The crowds were not really a problem for us and in some ways the crowds added to the festival atmosphere. We kept accommodations costs down by staying in dorms at the University of Edinburgh; unlike many hotels, they did not up their fees during the festival month. One of our dorm rooms had a fabulous view of Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat.
Travel can be an adventure, but any sane and reasonable person wants to have fun adventures and not disasters. I hope my frequent traveler tips will help you to have fun adventures on your upcoming trips. And if you have learned from your travels, I hope you will share your lessons learned either in the comments section of this article or in your own article.