Top tips for traveling smart

The Weekly compiles the best tips to help you travel better and safer.

Review your passport
Check the expiry date on your passport. It's surprising the number of people who arrive at airports to find their passport has expired or is about to expire.
Take a rain check
Bad weather can ruin your holiday, so always have an alternative plan in case the rain starts. Shortly after you arrive at your destination, check with the local tourist authority for things to do in wet weather.
Hidden extras
Beware of those little costs the can creep up on you, particularly on cruises. Drinks are rarely included in your ticket price, neither are visits to the ship's hairdresser or beauty salon. Shore excursions, too, are almost always extras.
Always insure
Never travel without insurance if you're going overseas. Health care costs - particularly a hospital stay in Europe and the USA - can be prohibitive. And evacuation back to Australia can cost a small fortune.
A wheely good idea
Buy a trolley or use a wheeled case if you luggage is heavy. It will not only take the stress out of manoeuvering your luggage in a crowded airport or hotel lobby, but could save your back.
Protect valuables
Don't pack jewellery and other valuables in your luggage. It is safer to take them on an aircraft in a carry-on bag.
Don't take second best
Should your accommodation not measure up, don't suffer in silence. Complain immediately that it is not what you booked and demand to be moved to a better room. When travelling in a group, complain to the tour leader. If all else fails, demand a reduction in the bill.
Making a claim
When you lose your luggage or other valuables, report it to the airline, hotel or police immediately. Your insurer will need verification of loss or theft - and evidence that you have taken all the necessary steps to find or recover the item - before a claim can be paid.
Medical checks
Should you have any kind of medical condition and are considering flying, first check with your doctor that it is all right to go by plane. If you are pregnant, also check with your airline.
Motoring abroad
If you plan to hire a car overseas, check with your travel agent whether you need an international driver's licence. Your local motoring organisation will be able to help if you need one.
Crease-proof clothes
Most people take too many clothes on holiday, so be ruthless. Keep bulky items, such as jackets and sweaters, to a minimum, and take clothes that need little or no ironing.
Stay alert
It's easy to go to sleep while on a train or bus, so make sure your valuables are kept out of sight and try to tie your bag to your seat. Also, if you are travelling alone, beware of strangers who offer to help. They may be genuine, but they could also see you as an easy target.
Are you covered?
Read the small print on your travel insurance policy carefully. You may not be covered for injury in a sport or activity which the insurer considers dangerous.
Leave an itinerary
In case of an emergency, leave your itinerary with relatives. The odds are they will never have to use it, but it does provide peace of mind.
Best-friend care
Not everyone can go on a trip - so if you're boarding your dog or cat while you're away, ensure that you inspect kennels or cattery before leaving your pet. Strange surroundings can be traumatic for some animals. You need to ensure that not only will they be comfortable, but that they will be kindly treated.
Stay ahead of the run
Diarrhoea is the curse of the traveller visiting foreign countries. Always drink boiled or bottled water, avoid raw vegetables, salads and shellfish, always peel fruit. Ice cubes are another "no-no", because freezing does not always kill bacteria.
Health checks
Before travelling to a developing country, ensure you are fully informed of the health risks. Your travel agent and your GP should be able to advise you, or consult a travellers' medical and vaccination centre at least six weeks before you leave Australia. Some countries require proof of vaccination.
Show some savvy
When in a country with a high crime rate, don't stand in the street looking lost and consulting a map. Ask for directions in a store, hotel or police station, or go into a coffee shop and study your tourist guide unobserved.
Secure your home
Ensure the safety of your home while you are away. Leave a couple of lights and the radio on, cancel paper deliveries, have the mail either held at the local post office or collected each day by a neighbour. Also, ask a neighbour to regularly check the windows and doors are locked, and leave a phone number where you can be contacted if an emergency should arise.
Minding the kids
When you're taking children to a resort, check that there are child-minding facilities or a kids' club with a lot of activities. That way, you will get your well-deserved rest and the children will have fun-filled days.
Carry-on bags
Check with the measuring device at the airport that your carry-on luggage is an acceptable size. If you try to go on board with luggage which is too big, you risk the embarrassment of an argument with flight attendants and it's an argument you will lose!
Passport photos
When travelling to countries which are off the tourist track, ensure that you have several passport-size pictures of yourself for entry visa purposes.
Phone home
For the homesick traveller, nothing is more comforting than a familiar voice. So, before leaving Australia, arrange a phone credit card, which can be used to make calls from overseas, charged to your home number.
"I spy" the world
Taking children on long trips can be tiresome at best and a nightmare at worst. Ease the strain for both you and the little ones by having a good supply of games and books and simple activities, such as colouring-in books, for the tinies. On long car journeys play "I spy" games - and don't forget to take children's portable sound systems and earphones.
Check-in times
For international flights, check-in is usually two hours before the scheduled departure time, and for domestic services, at least half an hour before the flight.
Looking ahead
If you wear spectacles and you are going overseas, take a spare pair with you in case of loss or breakage. Also, visit your dentist for a check-up before you leave. Toothache or other dental problems can ruin your holiday.
Traveller's cheques
Make a copy of traveller's cheque numbers, photocopy your passport and travel documents and carry these copies in a different part of your luggage from your travel documents. These copies could be invaluable if the originals are lost or stolen.
First-aid kits
Never leave home without a simple medical kit - paracetamol for headaches, an anti-diarrhoea preparation, sunburn cream, elasticised patches for blistered heels and sun protection cream or lotion.
Respecting cultures
When travelling to Islamic countries, be aware that the wearing of revealing clothing by both men and women can be seen as offensive. Check with your travel agent or tour guide about what is acceptable. In some Mediterranean and South American countries, shorts are not acceptable wear in churches, even those that are visited by tour groups.
Doctor's orders
If you are taking medications, have a letter with you from your doctor, explaining what your tablets are and why you need to take them. It could save complicated explanations to a vigilant customs officer who is uncertain about your medicines.
Smooth 'n' chic
Two items many seasoned travellers never leave home without are a travel iron (when folded, they are only palm-sized and very light) and a hairdryer. Make sure that you have the relevant power plug for the country to which you are travelling. You can get these at any luggage shop or department store.
Credit cards
Check that your Australian credit card can be used at ATMs overseas. This can be a handy back-up if you run short of funds - and who doesn't?
Carry a pen
Be sure to carry a pen in your bag. Sometimes you have to fill in forms in the most unusual places.
Go for ginger
Should you be spending time on the high seas, makes sure that you have travel sickness tablets at hand. Natural therapists swear that ginger is effective at quelling motion sickness. Ginger preparations are available at health food stores.
Have phone, will travel!
If you're one of those people who can't bear to be parted from their mobile phone - and you're going overseas - check with your service provider, who will arrange for you to use it abroad but, like all international phone services, it won't be cheap.
Drying out
A pegless clothes line, available for only a few dollars, is a handy travel item and essential when needing to dry your "smalls".
Escape route
When overseas, you should always carry the address and phone number of the nearest Australian diplomatic post, in case of an emergency.
Parlez vous
When you are travelling in a country where English is not commonly used, learn some basic phrases, including the days of the week. Carry a phrase book with you at all times - you'll find you'll use it many times a day.
Go to the corner
To deter snatch-and-grab thieves, carry your expensive camera gear in an old carry bag or backpack. Smart camera bags attract thieves like a magnet.
Here's a tip
Your travel agent can supply information about tipping for almost every country. But if you're still unsure of when and how much to tip and you want to double check, inquire from the consulate or embassy of the country you plan to visit before you leave Australia.
Don't sit down
A tip for caffeine addicts: in Europe, drink yours standing at the bar - it will be much cheaper than having it at a table and you'll meet the locals.
Keep hydrated
Jet lag and long overseas flights go hand in hand, but you can minimise the effects. Drink plenty of water to stop dehydration, avoid alcohol and eat light meals as closely as possible to the times you would have had them at home. When you arrive at your destination, take things easy for 24 hours - don't be tempted to rush straight out on a sightseeing trip.
In-flight comfort
Skin dries out on long plane trips because of the dry, air-conditioned atmosphere in which you are trapped, so keep applying moisturiser. And remember, your feet and ankles may swell on a long flight, so kick your shoes off and slip into your airline slippers, or wear special flight socks.
Book worms
Always take a couple of good books to while away the hours on a plane, bus or train, or for times when the weather keeps you indoors.

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