No-Nonsense Traveler: 10 Simple Truths about Travel

Posted by Doug Stallings on May 13, 2009 at 11:01:11 AM EDT | Post a Comment
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I'm by no means the final voice on travel, but I've been traveling (and enjoying it) since I was young. Over the years, I've learned several important lessons.

5 Things You Should Do

1. You should still use a travel agent sometimes. You certainly don't need a travel agent to book a simple airline ticket or hotel, but if you are booking an expensive or complicated tour, trip, or cruise, then you should get some professional advice. And that's especially true if you are not a very experienced traveler. When something goes wrong, it's good to know that someone has your back.

2. You should take your kids abroad. The best thing my parents ever did for me was to take me to Spain when I was 12. I'd never been anywhere outside of the U.S., and this was an eye-opening experience that pretty much put me where I am today. If you can afford it, do it. Whether you take the kids to Mexico or Italy or Thailand, it's a joy to have them experience new sights, sounds, tastes, and cultures.

3. You should learn a few words of the language. If you are traveling to a foreign country, do yourself a favor, and learn a few simple words of the local language. You don't need to become fluent, but if you can say hello, goodbye, how much?, yes, no, and count to ten, you'll be showing some cultural sensitivity, and people will look at you more favorably even if they speak English. Even if you learn to say "Can you speak English?" you'll be making strides. And by the way, if you talk loud and slow, a non-English speaker will still not understand you.

4. You should have a back-up plan. Let's face it; things do go wrong sometimes. The airport shuttle doesn't arrive at your hotel. You lose your passport. You get sick. Buy insurance to cover the costs associated with the big things, and learn to think on your feet to deal with the small things. And you're just crazy if you don't have a back-up plan to get spare cash in an emergency. I'd never arrive in any destination from Disney World to Dubrovnik without access to emergency funds. I have a friend who always carries a crisp $100 bill tucked away in a secret pocket. That works too.

5. You should do your homework. The thing that bothers me most is when someone plans a trip but doesn't bother to learn anything about the place he or she is going. Travel is too expensive and your time is too valuable to not want to make the most out of your trip. And preparing for travel means more than checking the review of your hotel on Tripadvisor. At least read up on your destination on an official site, where you can be sure the writer knows what he or she is saying. A guidebook is also particularly helpful; it's been written by someone who has been to the destination, and even if it's an older edition you've borrowed from the library, you may be surprised at how much useful (and still accurate) information it holds.

5 Things You Should Not Do

1. You shouldn't obsess about price (at least too much). Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Yes, you might end up paying $20 or even $50 more than your seatmate, but is it really worth your time to spend countless hours trying to save $20 on our $700 flight to Paris? People are too wrapped up in the idea of saving miniscule amounts of money to realize how much they are losing in productivity. Even at minimum wage, your time is worth something, and if it takes you 3 hours to save $20, then you have wasted your time and money.

2. You shouldn't complain all the time. Complaining constantly is not going to get you better service. You know the people I'm talking about: the ones who have never had a restaurant meal without returning a dish to the kitchen; the ones who have never liked the first hotel room they're given; the ones who spend so much time complaining about how their vacation isn't going well that they forget to have fun. When things go wrong, you should complain, but if you complain all the time, you will get a well-deserved reputation as a difficult-to-please trouble-maker. And people who have to deal with difficult travelers every day of their lives do reach a breaking point. Don't you know who I am? Yes, I do; you're the person whose more likely to get the piece of bread that was dropped on the floor, the one who is more likely to get the room next to the elevator, and the one who is more likely to be given the piece of ice that the flight attendant dropped on top of the serving cart.

3. You shouldn't carry all your worldly goods with you when you travel. The biggest mistake inexperienced travelers make is to carry too much stuff with them. Travel gives you the chance to pare down and simplify, to learn to wear your clothes more than once, and to do a little laundry along the way. It's cheaper to do laundry than to pay excess baggage charges. And easier on your back. Your focus should be on what you're doing, not what you're wearing.

4. You shouldn't expect everything to be just like home. The joy of travel is that you get to go to new places and experience new things. If you are only willing to follow the same routine you follow at home, eat the same things you always eat, and not push yourself to do things you've never done, then you might as well stay home.

5. You shouldn't take your cell phone. Now that we all have cell phones, we somehow think we can't be out of touch for even a day, much less a week. The purpose of traveling is to get away, not to remain tethered to home. You don't need to call home every day, and if you do, you're not only wasting valuable vacation hours (not to mention money), but you are missing the point of the vacation. So check your email a couple of times, and maybe buy a phone card and call once if you're away for more than a week. But leave the cell at home.

Doug Stallings
Senior Editor, Cruises and Resorts

A native Kansan, I moved to NYC after college, found a job through the Village Voice, and realized I'm a city person. I live on the Upper East Side and love Central Park, though not as much as my dog.

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