As experienced travellers you would have thought that we would have learned our lesson and not relied so much on advice from travel wholesalers. Many of the travellers we have met had not been given good information – or maybe they didn’t listen. So a few tips:
- Do more research on the destinations before booking.
- Ask more questions about tour inclusions
- Expect they will be very basic
- Expect to pay more for the interesting things
- Be flexible and prepared to pay for better options that aren’t included.
- Double-check everything, particularly when you don’t know your travel agent.
- When booking airfares, particularly with Qantas, don’t assume that a return ticket will give the best price. A multi-stop ticket, even if for just a simple return trip and on the same flights, can give significant savings.
- Take extra suitcase locks – US TSA usually breaks at least one per flight.
- Don’t assume that on-line booking is the cheapest. In our experience travel agents can have access to deals that don’t appear online and can offer discounts for packages of things.
- Make sure up-to-date destination maps are loaded on your GPS before leaving home.
- If you like wine, avoid touristy winery visits.
- Check for local public holidays and avoid big cities on these dates as much may be closed, or alternatively crowded. Sundays in many countries may be good for sightseeing but limited otherwise.
- Be aware of the length of daylight, in winter it can be short at high latitudes. Conversely the days can be very long in summer, providing more time to do things in.
- Be prepared for wet weather – better to have it and not need it, than get soaked. Not just good rain gear (including hats) but quick-drying clothes. Waterproof backpacks are extremely useful, although they can be hard to find.
- Don’t assume you will have reliable secure internet access at all times; be prepared to go for several days without it.
- Try to balance marketing hype and over-enthusiastic reviews for one location in the context of other comparable locations. For example, while Glacier Bay (Alaska) is spectacular, it is outdone by areas around the Patagonian Icefield and many other areas of Alaska.
Trip Advisor and other review sites
The experience and country of the reviewer needs to be looked at carefully before you use their recommendations. Many are unreliable or downright weird – for example in a number of Hawaii locations, shaved ice companies get the highest recommendations as restaurants. Some others seem to be dominated by people who prefer food trucks and takeaway food.
Check which are the best options for the countries to be visited.
- Remain aware of current exchange rates as they can change quickly.
- Don’t rely solely on credit/travel cards – it is not uncommon for them not to work in some places. For example, US Costco does not accept Australian credit cards and some Swiss businesses accept only some foreign credit cards.
- Watch out for credit cards that offer transactions in your home currency. The exchange rates are often poor and this practice is spreading to more countries and businesses. If a business accepts such an offer for you, ask them to cancel it and start again so you can choose.
- Travel cards can be tricky and all transactions should be checked for transactions in the wrong currency and for unexpected fees.
- Use credit cards in Chile and pay for hotels in USD by credit cards or cash to avoid taxes. Mainly use USD cash in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia and carry it with you from home.
- Use USD and the black market in Argentina – end up 30% or more ahead this way. Either change in the street (Bariloche and BA) or at stores, cafes etc as you go. When we were there, street rates were up to AP9 to the USD compared with the official rate of AP6.5. Cambio arrangements vary from town to town so you need to sort out how to get the best rate each time and to sort out whether they only like USD100 bills. Not essential, but it does help make things cheaper.
- See if you can pay large amounts by direct transfer. Specialists such as OFX provide better exchange rates and lower fees than banks or credit cards.
- When using AirBnB, expect to be charged in your home currency at a not particularly good exchange rate.