Guest Blog Article by Charys Russell
Growing up, my family traveled a lot. I was proficient in navigating airports by age 10, and have since navigated many cities by transit. I most certainly have caught a case of wanderlust. I recently arrived back in Canada after a jaunt around Thailand (my first overseas flight!) and have compiled a list of tried and true travel tips to make your long hauls a bit easier. While these are mostly aimed for long flights, they could be tweaked slightly to suit road trips and the like.
Before you leave
- Invest in travel insurance! I bought an insurance package that covered medical emergencies, trip interruption, flight and travel accident, and lost/damaged baggage for $60 (for two weeks). I got an ear infection while overseas and claimed the medical insurance. If I hadn’t used my insurance to cut down on hospital fees, it still would have been worth it for the peace of mind of knowing that I didn’t need to worry about my luggage and whatnot.
- Make sure that you book flights with enough connection time between them. I had a connection at Tokyo, and the second flight was scheduled to leave an hour after I landed. I spent the entire hour going through security. Thankfully, the connecting flight was delayed and I didn’t miss it.
- You might have to go through security multiple times; when you get on your initial flight and again before you board a connecting flight. It’s normal.
Packing – carry-ons and checked bags
- Pack a toothbrush (and toothpaste, if it’s small enough) in your carry-on and brush your teeth when you land after a long haul. I couldn’t pack my toothpaste in my carry-on because it was too big, but even just brushing with water was so refreshing.
- Pack your credit card, not your debit card. You can withdraw cash from an ATM with your credit card and only have to pay the exchange rate. If you use your debit card, you have ATM fees on top of the exchange rate and it’s a bit messier. Plus, you can pay with your credit card directly in most bigger cities – the only hassle is converting the currencies.
- Research the country’s clothing customs before you leave. Do they dress modestly? Are they okay with tourists dressing like they would at home? You’ll probably get better service if you’re dressed appropriately.
- Bring your own earbuds or headphones. The ones provided by the airline always suck.
- Most flights allow you to check two bags – which is a lot – but is good to keep in mind. I ended up having to buy luggage in Thailand because I bought too many souvenirs to fit in my bag, even though I thought I had left lots of space when I left Canada. Make sure you check your airline’s baggage guidelines before you leave – and keep in mind that different airlines have different requirements.
- Bring a “personal article,” as Air Canada calls it – a purse or a small backpack. When I was in Thailand, I only had my big daypack as my carry-on, and it was bulky and difficult to fit under the seat on the flight. When I was walking around, I wished that I had a smaller bag that could conveniently hold my stuff (I only had my camera bag as a purse, and it was tiny). On the way back, I had a cabin-sized luggage piece that I filled with my electronics and breakables and stowed in the overhead bins, and I bought a tiny backpack to keep my immediate items (like my iPad, passport, earbuds, book) with me in the seat.
- Keep your passport and boarding pass easily accessible, as you need to present them often.
- I always bring a bottle of Traveler’s Blend (available at Nature Notes) with me when I travel. That stuff is so useful; I use it to decrease nausea, reduce headaches, and eliminate itchiness from bug bites. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing it can’t do. It’s well worth bringing a bottle along, even if it’s packed in my checked luggage – although I keep it easily accessible, since I use it pretty frequently.
On the plane
- Try and get an aisle seat on the overseas flight. If your booked seat is in the middle or by the window, you can ask the gate attendant if you can switch and they will try to accommodate you. It’s much easier to be a little active when you’re sitting beside the aisle, especially when your flight is 10+ hours.
- Upgrading your seat for free is a delicate art that I have never been able to successfully complete – if you can get a free upgrade for your overnight flight, take it. It’s much easier to sleep if you can actually stretch out. I don’t have any advice on how to get free upgrades, but there’s tons of information on the internet about it. Air Canada doesn’t offer free upgrades at all.
- Depending on when your flight is, sleeping (or trying to) will probably help you adjust to jet lag. When I flew from Canada, my flight was 13 hours and I departed at midnight and landed at 7am. It was great for adjusting to the new time zone. If you’re planning on doing this, bring earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones or something – planes make a lot of noise.
- Wear comfortable shoes on the flight. Try not to have your feet exposed (i.e. sandals or flip-flops), since your feet will get incredibly dirty.
- I personally find travel pillows unnecessary (since most flights provide square pillows and blankets), but you may find your own pillow more comfortable than the one they provide.
- Bring an empty waterbottle through security and fill it up at a waterbottle station near the gate. The flights usually provide plenty of drinks, but it’s nice to be able to have water on demand.
- Airplane toilets are surprisingly nice. They’re a little small, but well-maintained.
- Try to transition your diet; don’t throw yourself immediately into the cuisine (as amazing as it tastes!) when you get there. When I was in Mexico, we ate the local meat right away and regretted it later. In Thailand, I ate more fruit and less meat at the beginning of the trip and slowly added meat back into my diet – and I didn’t get sick. I did the same when I got back to Canada.
- Make sure you carefully choose where you eat. I made sure that I ate at restaurants and stands that looked safer and cleaner – I avoided the sketchy food joints, which means that I also avoided some food sickness.
- Eat local! Your destination probably has some really cool and unique dishes that are hard to recreate back home. Be adventurous and stimulate your palate.
- If you go swimming, make sure you dry your ears out thoroughly each time. I got an ear infection because I was in the ocean a lot and never really dried my ears afterward. That sucked.
- Snag your hotel’s business card when you check in. If you need to take a taxi back to your room, you can just show the driver the card (which definitely helps navigate a language barrier).
- Keep a journal of what you did each day. I find that the days tend to bleed into one another when I’m away from home, so journalling helps me remember what we actually did and when we did it. This is handy for sharing stories of your travels, but it also helps if you have to fill out paperwork relating to your trip (like insurance claims).
- GoPros are very convenient if you’re doing a lot of outdoors-y sports things. I wish I had a GoPro when I went surfing, snorkling, boating, Elephant-riding, hiking, etc. because I couldn’t use my good camera.
- Use local transit as much as you can. In cities, it’s probably pretty straightforward and much cheaper, and you won’t be completely stuck in the tourist rut.
- Be patient. Sometimes things run a little slower. Delays happen. It’s okay. Take a deep breath and be polite.
- Carry cash. A lot of places don’t use debit/credit, but cash is always acceptable. It’s way easier for tips, too. You might not always get a receipt, though, especially if you’re in a developing country!
- But most of all, try new experiences! The point of traveling is to see and do something that you won’t get at home. Be prepared to push your comfort zone a little. One of the worst feelings is when you get home and think, “I should have done that.” If you try something and don’t like it, at least you can say that you’ve tried it. Don’t miss out on something that you could easily have done.
I hope that these tips will be helpful! If you want to see some photos from my trips, check out my Instagram @charysrussell . In the meantime, here’s a photo of a baby elephant trying to take off my shoe.