As the end of the year approaches, many of us have already picked out our travel destinations and booked tickets. What else should you do before your trip? Here are ten tips that you’re going to love.
1Knowledge is Power!
Nothing can be worse than wandering around an unfamiliar city trying to get directions from locals who can hardly speak your language. Even if they do speak English, if you want to be an independent traveller you must do your research before getting on the plane. Aside from the must-try foods or must-visit tourist spots, there are a number of things to look out for including:
Local cultural sensitivities – I can’t emphasise this enough. Respect the place you’re visiting and the people who live there by finding out more about local practices and taboos. Many locals in popular destinations are frustrated by tourists and their boorish behaviour. Don’t be the person who makes the news for disrespecting local laws and practices or destroying artefacts.
Check out local news sources – Get a feel for your destination by reading local news. This gives you up-to-date insights on what is happening in the country such as current events, festivals, culture, and more. On top of helping you prepare for your trip, this also provides you conversation topics with locals and demonstrates your interest in their country.
Research the food – If you have any food allergies or medical conditions, knowing the right questions to ask can be critical for your health. Some countries use common allergens such as nuts, wheat or seafood in their cooking so make sure you ask when ordering food. If you don’t feel comfortable or can’t speak the language, print the relevant phrases and words that you will need.
Pad thai is an iconic Thai dish, but it also usually contains peanuts, seafood and sometimes gluten from the soy sauce used.
Pick up the local languages – Learn key phrases that you might use while travelling. Aside from “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Where is the bathroom”, you can also pick up phrases to introduce yourself or express interest. Doing so shows that you are trying to respect their culture and makes you more approachable to locals.
2Pack like a boss!
One of the most frustrating things about travel is packing and wondering if you’ve remembered everything you should have brought. I love the bag used in this packing video, our friend, Victoria has some great items on her list too.
The only thing I would add is the next item on this list.
3Be your own medic!
I always make it a point to pack a simple first aid kit with me wherever I go. It usually contains at least one of the following items:
- Antiseptic wipes
- Pain relief and fever medication such as Panadol or Advil
- Hydrocortisone cream for rashes and bites
- Antihistamines for any allergic reactions
- Antidiarrhoeal medication (especially if I’m planning on eating street food)
- Rehydration powder (in case you suffer from food poisoning or diarrhoea)
- Extra doses of any medication you take regularly
- Antacid (especially useful if you have gastric issues or plan on eating lots of spicy food)
- Anti-motion sickness medication (especially if you get plane-, car- or seasick)
I cannot count the number of times this kit has saved me. It’s very important that you check the expiry date on the items before you leave on your trip too! If you have any prescription medication, have a note or prescription from your doctor saying that you are required to take those medications.
4Don’t gamble with your holiday!
Yes, of course you can gamble while on vacation, especially at the luxury casinos of Las Vegas. But please do not gamble with your holiday! Travel insurance has become increasingly popular in recent years, with around 90% of travellers having purchased it at least once. For some, it is a must-buy for each trip, while others make the decision depending on the destination and duration of the trip. Even the Singapore Tourism Board has joined in with its “Don’t Travel Blur, Travel Sure” campaign featuring redubbed versions of the 1990s’ hit Chinese TV drama ‘The Unbeatables’ to encourage travellers to purchase travel insurance.
These policies can cover issues such as travel agent insolvency, trip cancellations, flight delays, lost baggage, medical costs and more. For those who are planning trips to destinations that are more volatile, travel insurance is a great way of protecting yourself should anything go wrong.
Personally, I buy travel insurance if I’m leaving the country for longer than a weekend or if I’m taking a flight. Travelling by air offers many more destinations but also greatly increases the potential for misplaced luggage and delays beyond our control, so travel insurance lets me feel more relaxed about my trip.
5Friends in high places!
Many Singaporeans don’t know that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) recommends Singaporean citizens to inform MFA when travelling abroad. And among those who do, only a small number register their information. Registering makes it easier for the local consulate to offer assistance in emergency situations such as natural disasters or terror attacks. For example, after the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, and the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, MFA provided consular assistance to Singaporeans who were affected by those events.
Some people are uncomfortable with giving MFA more information, and prefer not to register. Alternatives include looking up the contact details of the local embassy or consulate at your travel destination in case of emergency as well as leaving a detailed itinerary with friends or family in Singapore.
With our daily reliance on data for our apps and Internet access, many of us suffer from withdrawal symptoms if we don’t have Internet access. Thankfully, staying in touch while you are overseas is affordable for most travellers. International roaming is a great option depending on your telco, but there are also alternatives available.
Getting a local SIM card is a great option. Many newer phone models offer the capability to use two SIM cards at the same time. It’s extremely convenient, though you need to be careful about which SIM card you are making for calls or data. Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots are also available at most travel destinations. These can be purchased before your trip and can be picked up at your destination airport, or in some cases, even at your departure airport for your trip.
While some of us may rely on free Wi-Fi access to provide us our hourly social media fix, you should remember that many public Wi-Fi networks have limited to no security, so be careful with your use to avoid compromising your personal information.
Make copies of your passport and other documents of identification. Having backups of your travel and identification documents will make replacement much easier if you lose your passport or wallet. Keep these copies separate from the physical copy to ensure that you have access to it if you lose the original. Having a copy also provides proof of identity if you prefer to leave your passport in your hotel room safe.
Some people prefer to keep digital copies on their phone or email, while this is an option, just remember that you should be careful about storing such information online, especially if it is not encrypted.
8Safeguard your cash!
When travelling, split your money into a few different spots for safekeeping. I typically keep a day’s worth of expenses in smaller bills in a wallet or pouch for easy accessibility, some top up funds for shopping or larger than expected expenses, and the rest of my funds in a different spot. If I need to top up funds while I’m out, I do it in a private setting like the bathroom or a changing room.
Some people also travel with a dummy wallet. This is usually an old wallet filled with a small amount of money and IDs such as old student cards and expired credit cards or old business cards. Just make sure that your dummy credit card does not share the same number with your current cards. If your wallet is stolen or you are forced to surrender it, this helps to reduce your losses and gives you time to get away.
For those who prefer to carry small amounts of cash and rely on credit cards or electronic payments, do some research on local practices to make sure that your preferred option is available at your travel destination.
9To tip or not to tip?
You’ll be going to a different country or place. Practices that are acceptable where you are may very well be rude or offensive in other countries. Tipping is common practice in some countries but can come across as offensive in others. Eating, paying or handling items with your left hand is also considered rude in many countries, though locals tend to be more forgiving with foreign visitors. Cultural practices and rules differ from country to country, and even from region to region, so it’s always important to do some research beforehand.
10Leave time for unplanned moments
While following a packaged tour or fixed itinerary is easy, it often lacks the flavour of travelling in a different culture. Packaged tours often leave travellers in a tourist bubble, speeding them through tourist attractions and restaurants with menus that are tweaked for an international palate. Take time to travel on your own.
Planning an itinerary can be incredibly helpful, but don’t feel obliged to stick to it. Travel is about experiences, and the best experiences are often unplanned. Don’t be afraid to try something different or new if the opportunity comes up, you never know when it may come again.
Daniel Tan is a member of the East Coast Podiatry team handling academic and public education. An educator for over a decade, he has lived and taught in Thailand, Singapore, Japan and the United States. Today, he continues to work with special needs students from both local and international schools. Focusing on the academic and personal development of his students, Daniel believes in preparing the young talent of today to address the challenges of tomorrow.