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Travel Tips

Travel Tip #16

Check travel advice websites about particular countries or areas.

Before we head off to any country or city I do a quick search for advice. I don’t just mean the simple information about currency or language, but also about cultural tips or taboo, common types of crime that affects tourists, necessary or recommended vaccinations, and if there are any risks to that area.

For example:

Cultural tips or taboo – Are there things you shouldn’t do so that you are respectful to the country that you’re visiting? In Vietnam, it is best to avoid public displays of affection. In Japan, you should try to not turn your back to someone when leaving the room.

Crime or Scams – Are there known schemes that target tourists to scam them out of money? When we visited Harbin (China), our hotel said that they would arrange a taxi for us. The price didn’t seem too bad and we were told it would be difficult to find a taxi so we accepted. On the way back we found our own taxi and found that they had charged us about double what we should have paid. A friend of mine was on holiday in Asia and had children begging her to buy milk. When they went to the supermarket it became apparent that the children actually wanted her to buy milk formula which is much more expensive. Fortunately, she was approached by a shop worker who explained that tourists buy the expensive milk formula and after the tourists have left, the children return the formula so that they can have the cash. These are tame examples compared to the scams and crimes that tourists can be targeted with so it is definitely worth searching so that you can be aware and prepared.

Necessary or Recommended Vaccinations – It is worth having a quick check to see if there are any vaccinations that you are recommended or required to have before you depart. Aim to check as early as possible as some vaccinations require multiple doses so that you are fully covered. However, be careful that you aren’t persuaded to have more vaccinations than you actually need. I know someone who went to a well-known pharmacy in the UK and was told to have about 5 different types of expensive vaccinations. Surprised by the extortionate price, he checked whether they were required and they weren’t necessary at all.

Risks – Are there any concerns about natural disasters such as avalanches or volcanic eruptions? For example, on Bali there are active volcanoes which have caused travel disruptions in the last year. It is worth knowing what the current situation is before you travel so that you are prepared.

There are a great variety of websites that can give you this advice. The ones I check regularly are wikitravel.org and the UK government travel advice website https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice 

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Travel Tip #15

Be aware of scam websites, especially for visas.

Unfortunately, this happened to someone I know very recently. They went to apply for an ESTA (a type of US visa) and found a website that looked very official and it was first on the search engine’s results, however it was actually a website that *helps* you to apply for the visa at an incredible hike up of the price. Instead of paying $14 per person, they paid $89. It was only a few hours after that they realised it was not the official US government website. Although it actually stated on the website that it wasn’t official, you had to search for that information, which you are unlikely to do if it all seems legitimate. Fortunately, the ESTA that came through was valid but they were so angry because this ‘company’ hadn’t actually done any work but had taken so much more money.

There are many companies that do this to travellers. Their websites look official, provide all the information that you need and you receive what you wanted – but they actually haven’t done any additional work for all the money that they take from you. Be really careful and try to find an official website that provides you the links – such as an embassy or a trustworthy travellers’ website.

For your reference, here is the OFFICIAL ESTA address: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

THIS IS A SCAM SITE, DO NOT USE: www.us-esta-org.com

Travel Tip #14

Check both the prices of flights and hotels before deciding whether you can afford to go.

I have recently spent days deciding where to travel next and I always started by looking at the price of flights because I usually thought that if the price was affordable then the hotels couldn’t be that bad, surely.
Wow. I was wrong.

I found some reasonable flights to paradise islands and found myself getting excited for a week in an idyllic haven, but when I looked at the hotel options I found that even the plain, budget type hotels were far more than I would consider paying. Then, when I looked on AirBnB I found that even private rooms were expensive. Of course I understand that you are paying for the ‘privilage’ to visit somewhere so nice, but I was so glad I hadn’t booked the flights before looking at accommodation because I would have been having a heart attack.

On top of that, make sure you consider the costs for transport, restaurant costs, and visas etc. as it can all add up and you don’t want to find yourself having to put off your next trip or searching for money when you need it because you didn’t consider all the costs.

Travel Tip #13

Make sure you have a basic first aid kit and essential medicines.

For some this might be a bit obvious, for others not so much. Depending on where you’re visiting, the accessibility to medicine might be greatly different to what you’re used to so make sure you have the essentials with you. You never know when something might happen so it’s best to have things at hand rather than having to go find somewhere that you can buy them from. 

Even if you don’t usually get headaches or other such ailments, it’s worth having the necessary items with you so that your holiday isn’t spoiled unnecessarily.

Recommended items to include:

  • Paracetamol/Ibuprofen
  • Plasters/Band-aids
  • Diarrhoea relief
  • Constipation relief
  • Indigestion tablets (if you’re prone to indigestion)

Travel Tip #12

Download a currency conversion app.

When I go to buy a keepsake from another country, I’m always wondering whether it’s a decent price or not. Of course, different currencies have different values (if that makes sense), but I don’t want to end up spending all of my money on one item. So before we go anywhere, we make sure we have a currency conversion app downloaded, especially one that doesn’t require an internet connection.

There are many available, personally I always use XE (available as an online site or an app).

This way you can check how much you’re spending immediately rather than missing out on an item because you’re unsure of the cost OR spending all of your money on that one item because you don’t know the conversion.

Travel Tip #11

Check on health websites or with your doctor about whether you need vaccinations.

For some countries it is recommended that you get vaccinations to cover you from certain diseases. It is better to be safe than sorry, so check whether you need any for the country/countries you are hoping to travel to.

You need to know:

  • Whether you need to get vaccinations
  • Which ones are recommended
  • How many rounds of the vaccination you need in order to be protected (Is it just one injection or several?)
  • Over what duration of time the vaccinations need to be given (some vaccinations require weeks to ensure that you are fully protected)
  • How long the vaccination covers you for (months or years?)
  • Whether the vaccination fully covers you or whether it delays the disease and you still need to seek medical attention

There are many websites that can help with this information, but like with everything it is best to speak to a medical expert.

A note for British readers: Some of the vaccinations recommended for traveling are available free on the NHS. You can have them at chemists such as Boots but they can be very expensive and they may try to provide you with vaccinations that aren’t necessary.

Travel Tip #10

Check the national calendar for the country you are traveling to. 

Let me explain what I mean: Check if the country has national holidays on the days you are planning to travel. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Flights can be more expensive
  • Hotels will be more expensive
  • Shops and attractions may be closed
  • Events or popular areas may be very busy

For example: During National Holiday in China, which lasts around a week, flights are very expensive because a mass amount of people move from one place to another (within the country to visit family or to other countries for a vacation), and many businesses close for around a week.
Obviously there may be occasions where you are traveling hoping to take part in a traditional holiday, so just be prepared for what comes with this.

On the flip side of this, if you are traveling somewhere and hoping to celebrate a holiday, such as Christmas, then you may need to be aware that not all countries celebrate it and in order to celebrate you may need to search for establishments that will cater to this.

Travel Tip #9

Passport Requirements

Before you start traveling, check how long your passport is still valid for. Many countries require that you have a minimum of 6 months left on your passport but that may vary.

If you’re going to be traveling for a few months, and your passport doesn’t have a great length of time left, consider whether it is worth renewing your passport early to save the hassle of trying to visit consulates while abroad. It will also avoid complications with printed visas and carrying multiple passports.

I know some passports, including American passports, have allocated pages for visas and once these pages are full you need to apply for a new one. Some other countries require you have a minimum amount of pages free in your passport in order for them to grant a visa so have check yours before you travel.

Travel Tip #8

Don’t forget to check if you need a visa, what the requirements are, and how long the processing time is.

A very important item that should be on your to-do list before you travel is checking visa regulations – and early!

Regulations change from destination to destination, and can vary due to the nationality of the visa applicant. Also, don’t rely on word of mouth because requirements can change and what applies for someone else may not apply for you. It is so important that you check visa regulations and how long processing time is. If the processing time is 2 weeks, you should allow some additional time in case there are complications. Some countries have very strict requirements, even for a tourist visa, so make sure you an fulfill the requirements before you apply. You also need to check whether you need to physically need to visit a consulate in order for your visa to be successful.

Some examples (from personal experience as a UK passport holder):

  • As a UK citizen applying for a Chinese tourist visa, we needed to supply an itinerary of our entire expected stay in China. We also had an invitation letter from a friend in China, although this is not always necessary if you can fulfill other requirements.
  • For Russia, we would be expected to go to a Russian embassy in order to apply for a tourist visa.
  • However, we did not need to apply for a visa to visit Japan.
  • For Australia, we had to apply online for a tourist visa – but it was free

Remember, if you don’t get the correct visa, you could find yourself on the next plane back home.

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