Two weeks ago, I wrote about 28 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Traveling. That post received a lot of feedback, and generated a good discussion about buying medicine around the world.
But what was I missing?
No one person can have all the answers, so I asked a few expert travel writers to chime in with their thoughts. The list of respondents includes:
- Christopher Elliott, National Geographic Traveler columnist and consumer travel advocate
- Brett Snyder, Founder and Editor of Cranky Flier
- Tim Winship, Editor-at-Large of SmarterTravel.com
I asked each of these experts for their own travel tips, and what they would add to the original essay. Here’s what they had to say:
Brett Snyder, The Cranky Flier
- Carry a copy of the contract of carriage for the airline you’re flying.
There are a lot of rules that you agree to abide by when you fly, and most agents don’t know them all. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, be it delayed flights, oversales, or something else, whip out a copy of the contract of carriage so you make sure you get what you’re owed. Many airlines offer their contract on their website. Otherwise, you can request it from the airline directly, but my guess is that you won’t always be able to get a hold of one for every airline in every country.
- Get to the airport early.
It seems as if it’s a point of pride for some people to get to the airport as close to their departure time as possible. That can work, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re traveling internationally, airlines don’t always have the same standards you’ll find in the U.S. Get to the airport early so you can make sure you get a decent seat, get through all the checkpoints, and make sure the departure time of your flight hasn’t magically been changed. (That last point probably happens more often than you’d think.) You may lose an hour in the country you’re visiting, but it beats getting stuck.
- Research your airline before making a reservation.
If you have multiple options for getting to your destination, you might want to research the different airlines before you book. A good place to start is with the European Union. They put out a list of airlines that are banned from flying to the E.U. for safety reasons. You’ll probably want to avoid flying on those airlines no matter where you are. You can also look up accident rates for many airlines at sites like Aviation Safety Network.
Of course, if you only have one option, it’s probably best to avoid looking at these lists. You’re going to fly that airline anyway, so there’s no point in scaring yourself.
Tim Winship, Smarter Travel:
- Practice differential tourism.
Having endured the longest flight of my life, and one of the most uncomfortable, to visit Australia, I spent an entire week in Sydney– doing mostly what I could have done at home in Los Angeles. Or in any number of other close-by cities like San Diego or Vancouver.
It was only upon visiting the Sydney zoo and natural history museum that I realized that what made Australia truly different — and worth the long trip — lay outside the city. The Outback. The Great Barrier Reef. Koalas and kangaroos and platypuses in their natural element.
By then it was too late to redesign the itinerary. Lesson learned.
- Make mileage-earning a priority.
If I had taken advantage of every opportunity to earn frequent flyer miles over the years, I’d be a mileage millionaire today. Or I would have cashed the miles in for plenty of free trips and upgrades.
Opportunities are lost through sheer inattention. ‘Nuf said.
- Don’t obsess about airfare.
The price of an airline ticket has never represented a smaller piece of the overall travel expenditure than it does today. And yet that’s where we exercise maniacal price-sensitivity. Relax and quit obsessing over airfare! As a side benefit, airlines could regain their financial composure and service might improve.
- Buy good luggage.
Flights and hotel stays and car rentals come and go, but your luggage lives on. And on. Buy the good stuff and take care of it. It’ll return the favor.
- When in doubt, dress up.
It’s easy enough to “casualize” slacks and a dress shirt. But if you’ve only packed shorts and sandals, your “dress to impress” options are limited.
Appearance matters. And whether in Omaha or Osaka, it’s always better to be more respectful than less.
Chris Elliott, National Geographic Traveler:
What do I wish I had known? It really varies by trip.
- I guess I wish I would have expected the unexpected.
Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out– you have a schedule, you’ve looked up the weather report, you’ve confirmed your hotel– along comes fate and proves to you once again that travel is completely unpredictable. The canceled flight. The hurricane. The lost reservation. I keep forgetting that!
- Also, I wish I had known to lower my expectations, so that I can’t be disappointed.
You know … any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the roundup! Participants and readers, I welcome your further comments below.
Now that you all are more willing to share your own thoughts, I’d be interested in hearing anything we’ve missed in the two articles, or if you have any questions for the travel gurus.
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