Friday, January 3, 2014

Travel and Food Notes Resolutions: Lessons I've Learned This Past Year

As I travel from country to country and city to city, I always take notes about things I should never do again, or things that I'd like to share with my fellow travelers and diners. Here are ten "rules" I plan to put into action during my next travels:

* Do not stop at the transportation desk at a foreign airport.  These desks are often fronts for time shares or other high-pressure activity centers, with transfers to your hotel only a secondary consideration.  Rather, arrange your transfers in advance, and know exactly how and where to meet the person who will take you to your hotel.
 
* Always change at least $100 at the airport. This will tide you over until you can get to an ATM or a hotel-based change facility which will give you more favorable rates. Still, you need to have some local currency in your pocket should an emergency arrive before you get to your hotel.

* Be careful when using your smartphone. Call your service provider before you leave and arrange a global package for the days you plan to be out of the country.  Then, importantly, try to use WiFi wherever possible to access your mail. Turn off your cellular service and restrict any contact to voice messaging. Data access charges will kill you. I kid you not.

* Pack a package of Pepto Bismol chewables and carry it with you at all times.  Think of it as a cocktail that you take daily as a prophylactic to keep you healthy.


* Seek out concierge advice, but only after you've done your own pre-trip homework regarding restaurants and activities Use their services to help you decide among options, rather than to give you their recommendation; you'll get much less biased advice if you're already somewhat educated.



* Before you leave for the airport, call your banks and credit card providers to let them know that you'll be traveling abroad.  This way they can monitor any fraudulent activity on your cards, and, importantly, it will allow you to use your cards while you're away.

* Always check the clock in your hotel room.  Very often, the time is wrong.  And, worse, the guest before you might have set the alarm to go off at an hour that could make you very very unhappy. 

* Travel light. Lay out everything you're thinking of packing, and discard at least one third of it.  You can wear things more than once and you can minimize the number of shoes you bring. Better still, pack clothes that you can give away or throw away so you will have room for local purchases.

* Bring some favorite snack foods. Not all airlines or hotels offer food during off-hours.  You'll be happy to have a package of peanut butter crackers or an energy bar when you wake up jet lagged at 4am. 

* Learn a minimum of phrases in the local language.  "Can you help me?" is a good one to begin with.  "Hello, thank you, please" are other noble additions. Flash a smile, and you'll make friends instantly.

* Confirm and reconfirm all plane, meal, and return transportation reservations when you arrive at your hotel.  There's no easier way to ruin the karma of a good trip than with a stressed-out run to the airport when your transfer doesn't show up.

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