Monday, 20 June 2011

Travel tips

Having done a lot of travel recently as part of our latest trip, primarily to Europe and the UK from New Zealand, we have learnt a number of things along our way or reused tips gleaned previously. In no particular order:

Trains & Trams

  1. One train may in fact be multiple trains. Check what the number your train is and make sure you’re getting onto the right carriage. We had a conductor tells us we were on the wrong train on our way to Maastricht (the train we were on was in fact hitching a ride and the correct train was a few carriages ahead).
  2. Trains are a great way to get around Europe. We have used them extensively throughout Western Europe and the UK.
  3. Storing luggage on a train can be challenging
    • Sometimes it is possible to store a bag in the gap between front and rear facing seats.
    • At the end of each carriage there is sometimes space for luggage.
    • Above seats is okay for packs and small bags.
  4. 1st class can be good for a bit of extra room and comfort in some countries (e.g. Germany), however in others (e.g. Netherlands, Belgium) there is no noticeable difference.
  5. Buying a return trip can be cheaper than one way. We found this when travelling from Luxembourg to Brugge, and were able to make use of the return trip later when going to Brussels.
  6. Be aware that you may need to change trains to get to your destination.
  7. Take food & water with you for long train journeys. NB: Check you are allowed to eat/drink on board.
  8. With some tickets, you aren’t actually buying a ticket, but are putting a prepaid amount onto a card.
  9. Each individual travelling often needs their own ticket / prepaid card.
  10. There is often a button on ticket machines for English.
  11. With prepaid cards and some tickets you often need to validate as you get on and logoff as you get off.

Luggage & Bags in general

  1. Have bags with good wheels or be prepared to carry them. Our Samsonite bags would have been dragged tens of kilometres when I consider how much ground we’ve covered with them in airports, railway stations and around city streets.
  2. Pacsafe bags give you an increased level of security. We have been using these for handbag and man bag and they have features such as a clip to lock the zip on, wire through the straps so they can’t easily be cut and a wire mesh that is part of the bag’s fabric.
  3. Locks on bags give you an increased sense of security. I prefer to avoid locks that require keys and have number locks. A lock with a cable could also be useful for locking your bag to something on the train (although I haven’t personally done this).
  4. A day pack can be useful for shopping and for carrying washing to and from laundrette.
  5. Stuff sacks are good for segregating clothing in a bag/pack to make them easier to find and to separate dirty clothes.
  6. Having checked in luggage that is not a dark colour is usually easier to find at an airport (we have red and yellow bags).
  7. Weigh your bag before you go to the airport (if you think it may be too heavy).
  8. Clear out your wallet/handbag of unnecessary stuff before leaving.


  1. Noise cancelling headphones make flights more enjoyable (even when not listening to music). I also have a theory that they reduce the impacts of jet lag due to not listening to the loud drone of the engines in full force.
  2. The temperature in trains and planes can vary between too hot and too cold. Be prepared. I often wear a thin Icebreaker merino wool t-shirt and Kathmandu shorts that have zips to put longs on.
  3. Many people say not to drink alcohol on a plane. I find I feel fine at the other end if I have water in-between each drink, but also don’t go overboard either.
  4. Keep hydrated on a plane.
  5. When flying we try to get into the destination timezone asap and consequently stay up a bit later if required. Similarly when we arrive at the destination we try and adapt straight away.


  1. GPS can be very useful for navigation, particularly in places like Cornwall where there are lots of un-named lanes.
  2. Car parking can be very expensive. Consider dropping the car off the rental agency instead (in some countries).
  3. When renting a car, ask about the road rules, any specific speed limits, toll roads, the type of petrol the car takes, any restrictions such as taking the car on boats, whether each driver needs to sign something, and make sure all dents are noted. Paying a few extra dollars for a bit more insurance also gives a bit more peace of mind.

Navigation & The Wisdom of the Crowd

  1. Cached Google Maps are good for navigation when offline e.g. in a train and not wanting to use data, or when lost and wandering around a foreign city.
  2. Ask a local for their recommendation of restaurants and bars i.e. where they would go.
  3. Crowdsourced reviews can be great for determining where to eat/not eat, what to do, where to stay etc. e.g. Tripadvisor, Foursquare, Google Places, Local review sites such as Yelp.
  4. Some accommodation, cafes and restaurants have free (or cheap) Internet access. McDonald’s is often a good option. Also try searching for “free wifi” on Google maps.
  5. Finding geocaches can be a good way to see different things in a city (particularly multi-art geocaches that are oriented towards this).
  6. Having the address of your destination written down in the local language can make getting directions easier & to give to taxi drivers.
  7. In terms of finding a laundrette, searching for wash on Google Maps seems to work well in many countries.
  8. Use Google Streetview to understand where to stop if taking a tram or bus when arriving in a city.
  9. If staying in a big city for a while it can be cheaper to get city transport passes that require ID photos, so having a spare photo on hand can be useful.
  10. Maps, Tours & Bus timetables can be downloaded to some phones.

Food & Beverages

  1. Some places have discounts or specials for Foursquare users. I, for example, got a free beer in San Francisco.
  2. Coffee in planes is usually bad.
  3. Coffee in Europe that has milk in it tends to be bad. go for Espresso instead.
  4. Beware dodgy water and buy water if unsure.
  5. Beer can sometimes be better value than buying water in restaurants.


  1. Many places (inc. accommodation) only take cash. Check. Also, be conscious of fees to take cash out. We have found that we tend to use our standard Eftpos card when travelling to get cash out (cheaper than a cash advance on a credit card, for our cards at least); this had a Plus logo on it which other than Brugge, we have found almost every money machine supports. Having a backup card, in case one gets gobbled by a machine, lost or for whatever reason doesn’t work is is also recommended.
  2. When travelling in the US (in particular) have $1 notes easily on hand for tipping.

Travel documentation

  1. Store copies of important documentation Online. I’ve used Dropbox and Webmail on recent trips. Dropbox provides a 2GB account for free.
  2. TripIt is excellent for collating all your travel information. I also make sure to print off a copy as a backup and store as pdf.

Electronic devices

  1. A wifi-enabled device can be very useful for research and booking tickets as you travel.
  2. A 4 way plug is a valuable addition to your travel luggage if you have multiple devices that require power. With one travel adapter you can power multiple devices.
  3. A computer (with a decent sized hard drive) and/or a large USB stick can be good for backing up photos from your camera.
  4. Roaming on mobile networks can be very expensive (particularly for data). Consider getting a local SIM card or just using Wifi.

Travel Repairs & Related Accessories

  1. Take duct tape wrapped around a pen. It can be useful for repairs.
  2. Dental floss can be good for repairs.
  3. A pocket knife can be good for picnics. Don’t forget though to pack it in checked in luggage when on flights.
  4. A hotel sewing kit is worth taking for emergency repairs.


  1. B&B’s can be an excellent choice for accommodation. The best accommodation we have ever stayed in (inc. hotels and motels) was in fact a B&B in Brugge where there were lots of additional extras and the added value of having a local available to answer questions.
  2. Some accommodation (B&B’s and Apartments in particular) will not provide soap and shampoo.
  3. Accommodation in Europe often has heritage status and lots of stairs with no (or tiny) elevators. Consider this when deciding what luggage to take and when booking accommodation.


  1. Know how to tell the time using 24 hour clock. Timetables are often in 24 hour time.
  2. When travelling in winter wear layers (this makes it easier to warm up or cool down).
  3. Knowing a few words of the language of the country you’re travelling to is useful (a few numbers, where’s the toilet?, the bill/cheque please?, thankyou)


  1. Very handy tips!!!! Welcome home :-)

  2. Like the tips Simon. Especially the $1 bills in the US - I had to make sure the porter didn't take my bags as I only had $20 notes and didn't want to tip that much!

    Awesome blog - you've inspired me


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  4. Since all of my devices are for 230V/240V a simple plug adapter is all that is required. I have a multi plug block that I that with me that has many adapters since I can never remember which one I need for each country, and sometimes on a plane it's good to plug things in and the plugs differ by carrier.