Backpacks, spas and other traveller’s tips

I’m a neophyte world traveller, so the travel tips I’m about to give may be old-hat for more experienced travellers (in which case, please post your own tips as comments so I can learn from you).

Best travel tips

Here’s a grab-bag of travel tips based on my sabbatical trip:

  • iPad: I left my laptop at home and took an iPad. The greatest advantage was its minimal weight and size, which meant I didn’t have to take a computer bag and I had more weight and space available for other things. I bought a backpack and it had a slot in it just the perfect size for an iPad.
    • The downside of an iPad is that it doesn’t have the full functionality of a laptop, so you can’t do everything you can with a computer. For example, any website using Flash won’t work, and I couldn’t make bullet lists on my blog. I also couldn’t open certain attachments to my emails or backup my pictures on it. The iPad was good for email, basic web surfing and blogging as well as for reading books. I read several books that I had downloaded on to it. I used my iPhone for skyping, although I couldn’t always get an internet connection with the phone, but I could with the iPad (however, that meant no picture because the iPad 2 wasn’t out until after I left Canada). Of course, unless you’ve uploaded your files to a web service such as Google Docs, you won’t have those available either. I had no files I needed while away, so for me that wasn’t an issue.
  • Backpack:  I don’t believe I have ever used a backpack before in my life, but I bought one for this trip and loved it. Since one hand was pulling a suitcase, the backpack left my other hand free for opening doors, getting my passport out, holding a coffee and so on. I think the backpack also made me less of a target for theft than I would have been with a computer bag.
  • Cheap hotels: I discovered that Expedia.ca has blind deals where they describe a hotel and give a bargain basement room rate without telling you which hotel it is. I did one of these to test it out and got a four star hotel for well below what I could have rented a three star hotel for. The blind deal worked well for me.
  • Cheap hotels: I discovered there is a good reason why hotels (other than through the blind deals) are cheap. I stayed at two cheap hotels in particular (one for 12 nights and the other for 7 nights!!!) because they were cheap and when I saw hotel prices in those cities I just couldn’t in good conscience pay those exhorbitant rates. However, cheap comes at a very high cost. Both those hotels were dives!!!!!! They were simply awful experiences, but because I booked them online, they were prepaid, so I toughed it out. I hadn’t paid attention to the tab that led to reviewers’ comments. Next time I’ll be guided by those.
  • Spa:  If you are on an overnight flight and arrive before your room is ready, ask if you could use the spa/gym. You can have a shower and change clothes even if you don’t yet have your room.
  • GPS maps: I went completely electronic because I didn’t want to be trying to read maps while driving (especially when driving on the other side of the road). However, in Auckland on my very first full day of travel, when I opened the door to exit the car the GPS unit fell off the windshield, hit the steering wheel and bounced out onto the sidewalk. It rattled when I shook it but it still worked, just barely. It might show me being a block away from where I actually was. It arbitrarily recalculated my trip at the most inconvenient times (such as approaching a major intersection of highway ramps or a large roundabout). It took a long time to change the map display when I turned a corner so I couldn’t see where to turn next. And even though I purchased brand new maps for the countries I would be driving in, the maps appeared to be about five years out of date in every country. They did not show new highways and interchanges that had been open for some time. Also, the GPS didn’t announce the street names that are actually in use. Very frequently the GPS would announce, for example, Regional Road Fifty when the sign would say Fisher-Hallman Road. It would freeze periodically and leave me guessing where to go. In the end, I did get to everywhere I wanted to be, but it was with some stress. I never did buy backup maps, but I just say you need to be cautious about relying totally on technology. Be flexible, leave a good amount of time to get places, and above all, keep your eyes open!!!! Many times I had to rely on what made sense based on observation rather than what the GPS was telling me.
  • Count handheld items: The trip started out a bit rocky when I left my binder with all my travel details (I mean everything!) on the check-in counter at Pearson. The lady brought it to me, but I learned a very quick lesson. First, I was glad that I always build in redundancy, so if I had truly lost it, I would still be okay. I had a second copy of my itinerary safely stored in my backpack, and everything else I could have emailed to me if necessary. But second, I began to count how many items I should have on me. My hat, my binder, my backpack… So every time I moved, got up from a seat or felt a bit light, I did my count. The number was six, and I must have counted to six thousands of times to be sure I left nothing behind in my rooms, the restaurants, the subways and so on. As a nice bookend, I didn’t count when I left my last hotel and guess what I left behind? My binder. Oh well, by then it was virtually empty.
  • Tilley clothing:  Expensive, but worth every penny. Their clothing is so light it weighs almost nothing, but it is perfect for travel. Of course, Tilley designs their clothing especially for travel, so that is to be expected.
  • Vodaphone: I see that in North America Vodaphone owns part of Verizon, so they are here, just not under their own name. But in Asia, Africa and Europe Vodaphone is everywhere. I did not use my iPhone as a phone because of the very expensive charges once you are out of Canada. Be sure to turn the data feature off because even if you don’t use the phone, it will still be actively sending and receiving data. Instead I bought a really cheap Vodaphone in New Zealand and bought SIM cards in the countries where I might need a phone. I felt safer with a working phone and also in several countries it was helpful to be able to call people I was going to meet.
  • Travel west: For some reason I haven’t bothered to think about, when I travel east I suffer from jetlag but I don’t when I travel west. So when I bought the Round-the-World ticket, I arranged it so I was always crossing time zones by travelling west. I never suffered from jet lag at all. I was tired at times from packing a lot in to this trip, but never from the time change.
  • Round-the-World ticket: I did not start to seriously think about this trip at all until I discovered how incredibly cheap a round-the-world ticket is. I bought a Star Alliance ticket and it was only CDN$4,300 – taxes, fees and all. I was shocked! Not only was it cheap, but the flexibility for scheduling was excellent because you can fly on any of the Star Alliance airlines. Of course, that’s why Star Alliance exists. There were some flights, mostly in Africa, that I had to book separately, but still the cost of airfare was significantly below what I thought it might be. The whole trip was feasible because of Star Alliance’s program. They also have similar packages for regional travel, so check them out. They have a really neat planning tool that easily pulls the whole trip together for you.

I hope these tips help. Add your own travel tips below. Thanks!

I’ve almost reached my retreat centre where I will spend the next seven days reflecting on my trip and what it means for me and CCCC. I’m incommunicado with no internet access and no cell phone signal. I feel like the Apollo 8 astronauts when they were the first humans to go behind the moon and were out of touch with every other human being! But there is a landline there so I do have a communication tether to the outside world if I really need it. So long for now!

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