Travel is one of life’s greatest joys with its opportunity of experiencing different cultures and seeing spectacular sights. And yet it can also prove to be a headache. Indeed, there’s no greater way to test your compatibility with a partner than to travel together, given the need for communication, compromise and problem-solving in increased regularity when abroad. There are ways, however, to minimise the stresses that can come with leaving on a jet plane, helping to ensure your safety and wellbeing as well. Better Traveller lists the 15 travel mistakes to avoid.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Check your baggage allowance
It might not seem like much to throw that extra pair of shoes into your suitcase, but when airlines charge by the kilo for excess baggage (Qantas, for instance, is $80 per every kilo over the allowed weight between Australia, South Africa and Europe), it’s wise to re-think what you might need abroad. Besides, you’ll likely want to purchase things overseas, so it’s important to allow room for your souvenirs, too. Check your airline’s baggage allowance (both checked and carry-on, and if you really need to take more, pre-purchase it ahead of time to save money). And remember, there are laundromats just about everywhere in the world, so you can re-wear the pieces you take with you.
Check your passport’s expiry date
Many countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months after the date you exit its borders, and it’s likely you won’t even get onto the plane leaving Australia if an expiry is looming. As customs regulations from country to country, it’s important to do your research well in advance of your departure date by researching the website of the destination’s government for the most accurate information.
Call your bank
Many ATMs overseas require six-digit pins, while others only accept certain cards. What’s more is that with an increased focus on fraud protection, if you haven’t notified your local bank of your travel plans as soon as you use your card overseas they’ll put a freeze on it, which sometimes takes time to lift (not to mention frustrating international phone calls).
Do you need a visa?
Most Australians don’t need a visa for the United States, but you’ll need a visa waiver (ESTA) to enter the country, which you can apply for online, and be careful to avoid the fraud websites ready to take your money. Other countries, such as India, Russia, China and Libya, are trickier and require an interview and background information at a local consulate. Check the website of your destination’s government or phone its local consulate for more information, or run a quick search through Visa Direct.
Turn off data roaming
Just about everyone has experienced the displeasure of returning home from an overseas trip to a phone bill well into the thousands of dollars. Most Australian providers charge per megabyte used overseas. There are, however, ways to stay in touch abroad without racking up an exorbitant. To begin with, turn off data roaming in your settings and contact your provider to see what deals they offer for overseas travel. Most will have data packages tailored to the country you’re visiting that, while still costing a little, will provide an enormous saving on the potential bill otherwise. If you’re not planning to use data and just want a way to SMS or make local phone calls, invest in a local SIM card – just be sure your phone isn’t locked from using them.
You can reduce the risk of falling ill abroad with proper preparation. If you have existing medical conditions, before to see your local GP before you leave. Some countries also require proof of vaccination as an entry requirement, so check in with the embassy or consulate of your destination country. Beyond that, it’s important to be wise while on the go – ask about drinking tap water, and pack dissolvable electrolytes in case of any vomiting.
Take out travel insurance
Just last year, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs handled more than 20,000 cases of Australians experiencing difficulty overseas, many of them a result of not having adequate or any travel insurance cover. What does it cover? Aside from medical and dental emergencies (remembering that even in developed nations, such as the United States, medical expenses can be incredibly expensive), travel insurance will help cover rental car excess, hijacking, injuries caused by terrorism, riots and strikes, natural disasters and lost luggage. It’s often as cheap as a few dollars per day, so it pays to make the investment.
Tell people where you’re going
The Australian government received some 6000 enquiries about people’s whereabouts overseas last year, which is a telling detail about the importance of updating friends and families on your plans for travel, particularly in high risk areas or should any natural disasters occur.
WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
Keep your passport safe
Smart Traveller reported that 38,000 Australians lost their passports abroad last year. Avoid mindless hours spent in foreign embassies by keeping your passport safe while away.
Check your flight details
There’s nothing worse than getting to the airport a day early – except getting there a day late. Be sure to carefully check your itinerary (remember that it can be confusing with stopovers, as many airline itineraries list the arrival in local time) and also the airport, noting that many cities (London, Milan and even Melbourne, for instance) have more than one, usually on opposite sides of town.
This stands not just as a weather warning (although do beware of the temperature, humidity and sun while abroad) but rather cultural and religious respect. Many mosques and temples require certain parts of the body to be covered, and even if you’re travelling in the west, restaurants and business lounges usually have dress codes.
You’re subject to local law
Having a good time overseas is important, but it’s important to remember that despite being an Australian, you’re still subject to local law, and sometimes those laws can comprise a lot of grey area. Read up on your destination’s laws and regulations and err on the side of safety.
Not everyone speaks English
Despite being English widely spoken throughout the world, many people in foreign countries don’t speak it, and unless you speak their language in return, it’s wise to respect that point of cultural difference. You’ll typically get by through hand gestures and a lot of smiling, but at the least, get a phrasebook or language and try to learn the basics. Saying ‘hello, do you speak English’ in the native tongue will go a long way.
Leave the bling at home
It should go without saying, but avoid carrying or wearing expensive cameras, jewellery and handbags when travelling, particularly in tourist hubs where pickpockets can sometimes be rife, as it makes you a lucrative target.
Ditch the guidebook
When you’re at home in Australia, you tend to avoid the hugely touristy areas on a day-to-day basis, and it’s the same overseas. Parisians don’t regularly hang out by the Eiffel Tower in the same way that New Yorkers avoid Times Square. With that in mind, it’s important to remember there’s so much more to a city than what’s listed in the guide book. Sure, see the sights that you’ve always dreamed of, but also be sure to follow your nose and explore the city without the aid of a tour or guide book, too. You’ll stumble upon things you’d never otherwise see and have the best stories to tell.