Fifty best-ever travel tips

Checking in ... Michael Gebicki knows a solid game plan makes travel easier. Photo: Steven Siewert
Checking in ... Michael Gebicki knows a solid game plan makes travel easier. Photo: Steven Siewert

So, you're all packed and ready to go. The Tripologist, Michael Gebicki, shares his secrets to avoid the traps and ensure your next adventure does not become a nightmare.

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Quite often, it's the tips from the pros that can stop you drilling into a power cable, or tell you when to hold at the poker table - and so too with travel. Like the power drill, travel can be traumatic, damaging to wealth and health and ripe with possibilities for disaster. Distilled from several decades of wandering, and lessons learnt the hard way, here are 50 tips to keep you safe, sane and creditworthy, with tangy contributions from accomplished travellers.

1 Don't keep all your credit cards and cash in the same place. Especially when you're walking around in unfamiliar surroundings; take only what you need for the day.

2 If there are two of you, divide your cash and cards when you're out and about.

3 If you travel overseas more than twice a year, save with an annual travel insurance policy rather than buying for each individual trip.

4 Renting a car? You might collect your vehicle in a dim and dark undercover car park, without a hope of spotting unrecorded damage. As soon as you hit daylight, stop and take a walk around your vehicle and head straight back to the car hire depot if you see anything worrying.

5 European cities are dressier than those within our own sea-girt shores, and especially for women. Scarves provide instant chic and they fold to almost nothing. In France and Italy, women often dress their handbags with an artfully knotted scarf. If it's fine wool or cashmere, carry it on the aircraft for extra warmth.

6 When you check in to a hotel, reception staff will usually block an amount against your debit or credit card as a deposit, and it can be substantial. Your available credit is reduced and you might have problems when you use your card later on. When you check in, find out how much is blocked and make sure you use the same card when you settle your bill or it might take longer to unblock the original deposit.

7 Finding a decent cup of coffee in an unfamiliar airport can be a challenge. If in doubt, look for where airline staff are queuing.

8 Conquer jet lag quicker by forcing yourself to adapt to the time zone at your destination. Don't flop into bed as soon as you hit your hotel room. Rehydrate, eat and sleep by local time and if you arrive in the morning, take a brisk walk in the sunshine to help reset your circadian rhythms.

9 If you have any reason to believe that your hotel room security might not be up to scratch, hang the "Do Not Disturb" tag on the door when you leave the room.

10 Think outside the box and put some originality into your travels. At the Taj Mahal, the hordes pile in through the main gate, but if you turn right and walk down to the Yamuna River, a boatman will pole you to the far bank, where the Taj casts its shimmering image across the water.

11 If your hotel room isn't up to standard, if the airline loses your bag, if a cruise operator doesn't deliver on its promises, document their shortcomings. Take photos, get the facts in writing and take down names. If you need to seek compensation, the process will be a whole lot easier if you can back your case.

12 A plastic poncho is one of the most useful items for the road warrior. For the cost of just a few dollars it'll keep you dry in a torrent, it folds up to practically nothing and it weighs about as much as butterfly wings.

13 Avoid the traveller's trots. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitiser in your pocket and use it every time you sit down to eat.

14 Even though I might waddle out with a Danish pastry or two tucked under my shirt, I never seem to get my money's worth from the hotel breakfast buffet. Unless it's included in the price, walk outside and look for a cafe breakfast - cheaper and a lot more fun.

15 Coming back to Australia with more than the $900 duty-free allowance? You can claim depreciation if you've used the bargain-priced camera or laptop on your travels. Be sure to declare your excess purchases or a starring role on Border Security might be the least of your problems.

16 If you're going troppo and looking to save money, choose your accommodation with care. An island resort or a similarly isolated location offers no possibility of dining out, and chances are the price of meals at your resort won't be low.

17 Hiring a motorcycle in Bali or Cambodia is heaps of fun and chances are nobody will ask to see your licence, but don't do it bare-headed. Even when the locals place a low priority on motorcycle safety, it doesn't mean you should leave your brains behind.

18 If you travel with several devices that need to be recharged regularly, throw in a double adaptor as well as an adaptor plug for your destination and you have hassle-free multicharging.

19 Good travellers check their bags every time they're loaded into a vehicle, at airports, hotels and railway stations. Mistakes happen and so does mischief. Don't rely on your driver or porter to do this, lest you part company with your bags forever.

20 The fun went out of economy class air travel along with propellers — but why up the stress factor by jostling with the crowd that wants to escape the aircraft ASAP? Even if you're one of the last to exit, you will see your fellow travellers from the same flight at the luggage carousel.

21 If you want to be sure of a good night's sleep in a hotel room, check that your alarm has not been set by a previous guest checking out in the wee hours — housekeeping don't always reset the clock.

22 A GPS is a must when you drive overseas, but hirers typically charge about $10 a day for this convenience. If you're hiring for 10 days or more, download the relevant maps for your own in-car device, buy a GPS at your destination or purchase a GPS system for your smartphone or tablet from Sygic (, which gives you voice directions without expensive 3G data downloads.

23 Kids in the Third World will often ask you for sweets or pens, but neither will make a meaningful contribution to their education or oral hygiene. If you want to help them to a better life, donate to a charity such as World Vision ( or better still sign up for ongoing support.

24 Sore, red eyes caused by low-humidity cabin air are one of the by-products of long-distance air travel. As far as possible, you want to avoid carrying liquids on aircraft but a simple remedy is the small, single-use containers with just a few eye drops in each, available from chemist shops.

25 It's easy to get excited by the glittering world of duty-free shopping when you're stuck in an airport terminal between flights, but make sure you know the price of the same item back home before you lay down your credit card. Airport shops are some of the world's most expensive real estate and their wares are not necessarily a bargain.

26 When you drive on freeways in Europe, have at least two credit cards as well as cash available when you pass through the toll booths. You never can tell which is going to work.

27 In many parts of the world, it is rare to find a hotel room with an electric kettle. If that early morning cuppa is vital to health and happiness, the Korjo Water Boiler is a bare-bones element that you stick into a cup to boil water, available from Kellys Basecamp in Dee Why, or via its website (

28 Food in major tourist areas is almost always overpriced and disappointing. Get yourself out of the tourist zone and look for where the locals are eating. Even in Venice you can eat well at a reasonable price if you avoid the obvious beauty spots.

29 Arrive at your destination early in the morning at the end of a long flight and you might find that your room won't be ready for several hours. Any hotel will store your bag safely until your room becomes available, but rather than traipsing around unwashed and tired, consider booking a hotel with a pool, a spa or a business floor where you can relax, or try for a flight that arrives later in the day.

30 Travelling somewhere hot with small children? Plan a substantial chunk of downtime in the middle of the day. Fit activities into the cooler hours of morning and evening, with several hours poolside as the meat in the sandwich. Make them happy and you'll be happy, too.

31 If you purchase liquor from an airport duty-free outlet before boarding your flight, get it sealed in a see-through, tamper-evident bag, with the purchase docket attached. It might cost a dollar more but it will help make sure you and your liquor do not part company at a secondary inspection point.

32 Especially for the hotel-hopping traveller who is unlikely to unpack properly, zip-lock plastic bags are a gift from the travel gods, separating clean from less than, socks from smalls. Officeworks sells jumbo size bags and they're cheap as chips.

33 Unfamiliar noises keep you awake? Quality ear plugs are an essential for those whose sleep is less than sound. Useful on planes as well.

34 For a modest fee, City Maps 2Go gives you access to thousands of city and regional maps that you can download for use in offline mode. It also locates your present position, lets you search for addresses and locates ATMs, restaurants, points of interest and hotels. $1.99 for Apple devices, free for Android.

35 Throw in a tube of superglue, so next time you can save a flapping shoe sole, mend a suitcase handle or just do what I usually do and glue your fingers together.

36 Expensive luggage might make you feel like a suave traveller but it rapidly loses its shine after a few trips around the baggage carousel. Light, robust, expandable and wheelable are the keywords for luggage.

37 If you're depending on a wake-up call from the hotel reception to catch an early flight, set your phone alarm as well — hotel staff don't always get it right.

38 Those socks and underwear that you wash in the bathroom sink dry a lot faster if you wring them out, lay them flat on a bath towel, roll it up into a sausage and dance a jig on top.

39 While there are plenty of hotel booking websites that promise huge discounts, be sure to check the price on the hotel's own website. The room rate is often comparable and you're more likely to get a room upgrade if you made your booking via the hotel's own website.

40 If you're flying with a young child, consider using its car seat on board the aircraft. It's a safer option than carrying a child on your lap, but you need to contact your airline in advance for approval. Another lighter option is the Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES), a harness-type child aviation safety restraint designed for children 10-20 kilograms. Available from Australian online retailers.

41 Recent evidence questions the efficacy of compression stockings for combating deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on long-distance airline flights. Medical experts agree that the best strategy is to rise, walk and stretch as often as possible, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Window seats give you less freedom to move.

42 You can't have too many labels on your check-in luggage. Get bright ones in fluoro yellow or orange and you'll never have to wonder which is your bag on the carousel.

43 Most airlines sell the exit row seats that are located next to the aircraft's emergency exits for a modest surcharge, and the extra stretch-room is a gift for the vertically enhanced traveller. Go to the airline's website, or phone.

44 Keep your cool when you're walking around in hot places. Soak a bandana or a small scarf in water and wrap it around your neck for instant relief.

45 Want to make someone smile in a developing nation? The instant, polaroid-style pictures from the Fuji Instax Mini camera are an instant ice-breaker and more meaningful than the image on your digital camera's screen. Available from B&H Photo,

46 Sarongs are the traveller's best friend, not only as nightwear but also a standby beach towel, wrapped with a jumper to make a pillow and modest covering for temple visits. As a thrifty person, I also use a sarong as a protective wallet for my laptop.

47 In Europe, your coffee might cost less if you drink it standing up, but don't make it a rule. When the surroundings are extra special, you need to savour the experience at a cafe table and hang the expense.

48 A small, frameless daypack is a handy addition to your luggage. Use it to store water bottles and maps on day trips, and it becomes a spillover bag if you experience suitcase yawn caused by overenthusiastic shopping.

49 Want to maintain your workout regime in minimum time and no gym gear? Throw a skipping rope and a stretch band in your luggage and you've got a gym to go.

50 If you're heading into the wilds on a camping trip or even to the Third World, a head torch is your best friend after dark. They're small, light and, best of all, they leave both your hands free to hold a cooking pot or a book, or to fight off bears.

... and the 10 worst travel tips

1 Never go anywhere that doesn't have a McDonald's or a KFC.

2 You don't need to know any French in Paris, they all speak English these days.

3 Travel insurance is a rip-off you don't need. Just get your ticket and hit the road.

4 Essential items for the traveller include wicks soaked in ghee, Ovaltine, purgatives, a small gunny bag for coal, a tongue cleaner, Ganges water, candles, a small hand axe, a portable spring balance and an iron pointed stick to walk on the slipping path or ice.

5 Whatever you do, don't touch the street food.

6 Wrap everything in tissue paper. Lay the item face down and place tissue paper on top. Fold it up with the tissue paper inside.

7 Europe is so compact, you can see everything in two weeks.

8 Wait until the last minute to buy your flight tickets and you can score a standby ticket at a special price.

9 As a visitor to the US your current, valid Australian driver's licence will be accepted in all 50 states for up to six months of holiday travel.

10 Dress well and you might get an upgrade at the check-in desk.

Who is The Tripologist?

Michael Gebicki is The Sun-Herald Travel's weekly holiday advice guru. He's been roaming the world with a notebook in one hand and a camera in the other for more than three decades. "My first travel story that saw the light of day was about Burma, published way back in 1982 in another Fairfax publication, The National Times. As a ship acquires barnacles, I've picked up a swag of tips, short cuts and fabulous techniques for drying wet underwear that make life on the road a little easier, and I hope some might work for you." Catch The Tripologist's wisdom each week in The Sun-Herald Travel, with the regular column returning next week.

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From next week, each published question will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

Tips from the pros

Head for the local pub or farmers' market to get an insider's view of the people and the region. Food is a huge part of the travel experience for me, so it's a must to try the local delicacies.

- Matthew Cameron-Smith, managing director, Trafalgar Australia

Get fit before you travel. The fitter you are, the more fun you'll be able to have. Even short trips are tiring, so make fitness part of your lifestyle by exercising with a buddy, then you'll have the best travel adventure.

- Di Westaway, founder, Wild Women on Top

Don't stress, everything works out in the end. When things get sticky, just remember it will be worth the story down the track. Travelling will be the best thing you do — ever — so make sure you enjoy every minute.

- Alex Trollip, recent gap year survivor

Buying foreign currency at the airport subjects you to horrendous rip-off rates. I order mine online one week in advance from, which has great rates. And pay using BPAY to avoid commission fees.

- David Flynn, editor, Australian Business Traveller

Store important travel documents, including itineraries, airline tickets, passport copies and insurance details, in an online cloud storage system such as Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can access them on all your devices or even from a computer at a hotel.

- Nathan Wedding, founder, Seven Skies

Always pack one smart outfit. You never know when you might need it. It's pretty embarrassing to be invited into someone's home for dinner (as I have been on occasion) knowing you've only got grubby shorts and thongs.

- Richard Mole, director, Byroads Travel

On a long flight, my eye mask is an essential. It affords me a great sleep as it is a moulded shape to fit over the contours of your face and eyes and this allows complete eye movement, which is different to many eye shades that can press against your eyes. Magellan is one brand making them.

- Sue Badyari, chief executive, World Expeditions

Go with the flow. If you really want to get the most out of the destination, you have to get out of your comfort zone. Catch that local bus crowded with people, goats and chickens; eat that strange food that you can't quite tell what creature it came from; go around that next corner when you don't know what is on the other side; go into that local bar where they don't speak English. Push your limits and get the most out of it.

- Justin Friend, expedition program manager, Orion Expeditions

What is your best ever travel tip? Post a comment below and share it.

This story Fifty best-ever travel tips first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.