A-Z of travelling

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Travel like a pro with our A-Z guide of travel advice

A is for all-inclusive
Some people adore all inclusive breaks, taking full advantage of the endless buffets and open bars, in between sitting on the beach or lying by the pool. However as a JAT reader we suspect you subscribe to the theory that the whole point of travel is trying new experiences. Why waste precious leave, relaxing with a book when you can do that at home? If we’re right and you’re not interested in swapping flopping on a sofa for flopping on a beach, then avoid all inclusive packages like the plague.

B is for backpack
If you’re off on a big adventure, then you’re going to need a decent backpack. But don’t make the mistake of choosing one that is too big – and then packing it with the kitchen sink. Take heed of Rick Steves’ words: “Travel like Ghandi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.”  Lay everything you’re thinking of packing, out on your bed. Done that? Good. Now half it. A backpack bulging with books, clothes and gadgets isn’t going to ‘make’ your trip. Quite the opposite: more stuff, simply equals more stress. Who wants to be lugging a heavy bag about for a week, constantly worried about what might happen to your iPad et al? And if you do find that you’re missing material possessions, panic not: you can probably pick them up abroad for a snip of what you’d pay back home.

C is for carry on
If you’re only away for a few days, aim to consolidate everything into a case that you carry on the plane. Think shirts that don’t crease, in neutral colours, and a comfortable pair of shoes that you can pound the pavements in. Contrary to popular perception, you will be able to get by without your hair straighteners, perfume and fancy jewellery for a few days. And the benefits – no waiting around at baggage claim, no luggage fees (let’s face facts: most of the low cost carriers apply baggage fees) and no having to deal with lost luggage – are immense.

D is for deals
Deals and discounts abound on a daily basis so you shouldn’t be paying premium prices in this day and age.  Search sites such as Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.com) for fantastic fight deals as well as the usual suspects like Last Minute (www.lastminute.com), Ebookers (www.ebookers.com) and Expedia (www.expedia.co.uk) for flights and hotels. And look into booking abroad ― for example Thomas Cook’s German website (www.thomascook.de) lets you book more cheaply than its UK counterpart.

E is for early
Book in advance. Yes that might sound easy and obvious, yet very few of us actually do it! With a bit of forward planning, substantial savings can be made. Travel consultants advise booking up to nine months in advance in order to obtain the lowest fare possible. Booked one month ahead, a flight from London to Cape Town at Crimbo will set you back in excess of a whopping £1,000. Book that flight eight months earlier and you could find a fare for half of that…The same applies to accommodation – particularly at peak travel times (read Christmas and Easter) so work ahead. True your plans may change, but nine times out of 10 they won’t. And you can’t live your life to the fullest if you’re constantly wondering what might happen in the future…

F is for flexibility
If you’re not adverse to early mornings or late nights and are flexible with regards to airports, there are some rich pickings to be had. Avoid flying out on Friday nights or at week-ends as this is prime – and therefore pricey – travel time. As an example, a one way flight from London Stansted to Biarritz (France) on a Friday in August starts at around the 100 pound mark. Fly out on a Thursday and you’ll find a flight for 40 quid. Now do you see what we are talking about?
And, on the subject of flexibility, leave your Type A behaviour behind and live like a local. It’s a criminal offence (in our books) to visit Thailand and pass up the opportunity to try Pad Thai. Or to visit Mexico and not indulge in Huevos rancheros (a classic, not to mention, delicious Mexican breakfast of tortillas, rice, beans, and eggs smothered in a spicy red sauce) upon rising. Sure you might not like the local delicacies (the Filipino favourite balut – an 18-day-old fertilised duck egg – certainly made us squirm) but how do you know if you don’t give them a chance?

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G is for… go!
Get out of here. Skiddadle. Shoo. Sure telling your readers to go away is not an editorial policy that you’ll find advocated by many publications, but that’s exactly what we’re telling you to do: disappear. Go on. Get lost. Whether for 24 hours or infinitely longer, leave reality behind for a bit to weave your way around the world. Obviously you’ll be back (no doubt when the money runs out), but a break from Blighty – especially in these troubling times – makes perfect sense for stressed out citizens, offering as it does an opportunity to completely relax and escape from everyday life, as well as to learn about different lands and diverse cultures. 
So what are you waiting for? Start packing and get ready to see some of the world…

H is for health
Make sure you are up-to-date with your jabs (you can check what you and your travelling companions need at www.masta.org). This is crucial. JAT is always amazed at the amount of meet people we meet on the road who aren’t aware that they’re travelling in a malaria (a potentially fatal disease) risk area. If you are, make sure you take the right antimalarial tablets at the right time – and that you finish the course.

I  is for insurance
Whatever you do, take out travel insurance – the last thing you think about but the first thing you need if something goes wrong. If you have to cancel, you claim back some of the costs while if you are unlucky enough to have an accident or unexpectedly fall ill on your holiday, emergency medical cover can help cover you for your hospital costs.
But check your policy carefully: most annual travel insurance policies  are only valid for trips of up-to 60 days (who knew?). Translation? If you’re planning on hitting the road for more than a couple of months, you’ll need to purchase single trip insurance.

J is for jet lag
The downside to travelling? The jet lag. To limit the damage, be sure to drink plenty of water prior to and during your flight. And to reduce jet lag at your destination visit www.bodyclock.com for your own individually tailored guide to getting over jet lag fast – and for free!

K is for kids
If you’re travelling with little ones in tow, make sure you keep them in mind. You might want to tick off the Taj Mahal but, most likely, your kids will want somewhere with water parks. Choose a destination that has something for everyone. Hawaii, Dubai and Florida will fulfil the needs of both big and little kids.

L is for language
Try and learn a little of the local language before you board that plane. It’s not always necessary – particularly in places like the UAE and Oman where English is the lingua franca  but will help integrate you into the community. In China, mastering at least some Mandarin is a must if you want to be able to eat and explore with ease. The same goes for Spanish in South America. Don’t worry about pronunciation if – like the JAT team – you’re not a natural linguist. Too many of us panic about pronunciation and fear that we will look like a fool. But, in our experience, most locals will be impressed that you’re making the effort to learn their language – always remember that you are a guest in someone else’s country – and forgive you for any pronunciation mishaps. The most important thing is just to get the basics down pat.

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M is for making a difference
By this we mean supporting, small locally owned and run hotels, shops and tour guides thereby putting money into local pockets as opposed to impersonal, international chains. On the subject of dosh, don’t get carried away trying to get the best deal. Haggling in markets is a lot of fun but keep in mind that the £5 you’re saving, could feed the vendor’s entire family for a week. Make sure you know what’s happening in the country/city you’re visiting. So, for example, if there’s a water shortage, keep showers to a minimum and reuse water bottles wherever possible. Lastly don’t be a critic: keep in mind – especially in third world countries – that things won’t always go to plan. Flights get cancelled and planes and trains delayed while buses break down. Just breathe and go with the flow… if you’re determined to bad mouth a place, why bother even boarding that plane in the first place?

N is for negotiating
Travelling in the Middle East, Asia etc? Don’t forget – or be afraid – to haggle when shopping in the souks. And hard. Do as the locals do: when given a price offer 50 percent less and negotiate from there until you reach a compromise that both parties are happy with. A bit of bargaining can net you a 20% to 50% discount. Don’t worry too much when 47 carpets etc are unrolled for your consideration, or feel under any pressure to make a purchase – it’s all part of the ritual. But keep in mind that once a vendor accepts your price, it’s considered impolite not to pay up.

O is for overbooking
So you’ve arrived at the airport, cleared security and reached your gate, only to find that your flight has been overbooked. Surprised? Don’t be. Airlines do this all the time to fill the seats that no-show passengers leave behind. To avoid being bumped from a flight, arrive as early as possible at the airport (better yet check in online), having printed out your boarding passes.
Conversely if you can afford to be flexible with your travel plans, volunteer to give  your seat in exchange for food, accommodation until the next available flight and – the carrot – cash or free flight voucher.

P is for points
If you’re a frequent traveller, watch your points. Once you’ve hit a certain number, you’ll be able to board flights early or, if you’re lucky, get upgraded to business class.  With hotels, you’ll be able to get a later checkout time and enjoy free wifi or a complimentary breakfast. As George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham – a man who spends his entire life traveling for business – says in the hit 2009 film, Up in the Air: “There’s nothing cheap about loyalty”.

Q is for Qantas
The Aussie airline recently confirmed its place in the world’s top 10 airlines, moving up one spot to ninth in the annual Skytrax World Airline AwardsThe Flying Kangaroo also won Best Airline in the Australia-Pacific, Best Airline Staff in the region, and Best Premium Economy on-board catering. Other fantastic long haul airlines include Emirates and Qatar Airways. Fly with one of these carriers and you could be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported back to a time when air travel was a glamorous, exciting and truly luxurious experience.

R is for research
Find out all you can about the country you’re travelling to. For example it’s well known that it’s a punishable offence to drink, or to be under the influence of alcohol, in public in the UAE. However not everyone knows that the UAE and its Khaleeji brothers – take a bow Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia – deem homosexual acts unlawful. (It’s illegal to be gay in 78 countries – the aforementioned included –  with lesbianism banned in 49). Our message? Do your homework before you travel.

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S is for solo travel
Don’t be scared to go solo. Group holidays promise fun and friendship but – trust JAT on this – they don’t always deliver. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of solo travel – often you’ll find that you’re only on your own when you choose to be. And as the late, great Robin Williams once said:  “I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up alone. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.” If you do decide to go in a group, make sure that all members of the group share similar goals and budgets from the offset. 

T is for technology
As in… turn it off. Seriously it’s time to put down your smartphone. We’re not for one minute suggesting you throw it off a cliff – make no mistake, we’d be lost without ours – but don’t be afraid to turn it off (your phone’s battery will thank you too) and appreciate what’s around you. There’s nothing more depressing than standing in front of one of the world’s natural wonders and watching fellow travellers and tourists tapping away on an enormous iPhone. Soak up and savour your surroundings – you can post that picture on Facebook or Instagram at a later date.

U is for understanding
Being nice costs nothing – and pays dividends. Remember this next time you’re tempted to rant and rave at employees – be it at the airport or your accommodation. The staff can’t control planes/the weather/traffic (delete or insert as appropriate) so, keep your emotions in check. The more understanding you are, the more they will go out of their way to help you and show you their appreciation – perhaps via a complimentary bowl of fruit or a handwritten note. It’s all about being nice.

V is for visas
Many of the most visited countries no longer require visas, but there are exceptions so  make sure you have the necessary visas. And allow plenty of time. Case in point? In order to get a Russian visa, the first thing you need is an invitation (also known as visa support letter). Once you have this, you can apply for the actual visa (which takes around 10 days) at a Russian embassy either by yourself or through an agent. Whichever route you follow, make sure you have enough blank pages – and that your passport is not about to expire. (Some countries insist on travellers having a minimum of six months left on their passport).

W is for working while travelling
Do you dream of travelling and living in different countries, without giving up your career or sacrificing your savings? It’s time to join the growing band of digital nomads making the world their office. Forbes magazine famously defined digital nomads as “individuals who leverage technology to perform their work duties and conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner.”
Translation? In layman terms, digital nomads refers to those you see buried behind MacBooks in cafes across the world, tapping frantically away while simultaneously Face-timing friends and family back home. They’re writers, graphic designers, IT consultants, personal assistants, teachers, hairdressers, small business owners – basically anyone who, thanks to the rise of the digital office, can earn an income just as easily in Laos or Lhasa as they can at home in London or Los Angeles. Read more about this growing group here

X is for xtras
Always read the fine print or prepare to be stung. For instance if you’re travelling in America, things that you might assume to be included in the cost – breakfast, car parking, access to the pool, tea and coffee making facilities, car parking fees we could continue… – often incur an extra charge. Our message? Study the agreement thoroughly before signing..

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Y is for youth hostels
Avoid arriving into a country late at night and book ahead for your first few nights’ accommodation, so that you don’t find yourself without a bed when you first arrive in a foreign country. If you’re on a budget, youth hostels are always a good bet – they’re generally clean, cheap and a great way to meet other travellers.

Z is for zzzz
The downside to travelling? It can be tiring so don’t travel too fast. If you’re always on the move, you’ll feel permanently exhausted and won’t enjoy your trip. And if you’re lucky enough to be travelling the world, you’ll want to be wide awake so as to see – and experience – all its wonders…

 

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