I have had the pleasure of visiting more than 100 countries, and most of what I have learned
about travelling has been through making mistakes, some of which I will share with you here.
• Never leave home without travel insurance, no matter what form of travel you are following. If you have a policy in existence read the fine print, especially with a pandemic in effect.
• If you are not travelling in an organized group, and you have the option, hire local guides. They certainly know the area you are visiting, and it gives you an opportunity to add to the local economy.
• Many of us have credit cards with travel bonuses. Being able to cash those points in for hotels, airfare or meals will save you money. Quite often, there are additional benefits, such as upgrades, insurance and trip cancellation coverage. When using cards, always pay in the local currency. Retailers will sometimes want to convert to US dollars, at a much higher rate than banks.
• Since the pandemic, cash is almost obsolete, but it is good to have a number of small bills in the local currency. These can be used for tips or incidentals.
• Tipping should be at your discretion, and many countries do not require it. Tour guides and drivers however, will expect a gratuity. The rule of thumb is $10 US per person per day, for guides and half that for drivers.
•Most cities have free walking tours, of which you can take advantage. If they are not available, there is usually a hop-on-hop-off service available, which will help you familiarize yourself with a city.
• It is important to learn about local culture before you visit a location. What to wear, how to act and how not to offend locals, is extremely important both for your vacation, and the reputation of Canadian travellers.
• On a recent trip to South Korea, I discovered English was seldom spoken. Thank goodness for Google translate, which helped me every time. To save costs of purchasing local SIM cards for your phone or pay expensive roaming charges, use available Wi-Fi in hotels and restaurants. Download ‘WhatsApp’, a global, free messenger app.
• Sunrise is better than sunset, if you are into photography. It is also the least busiest time of day.
• I have met a number of people who have been pick-pocketed or scammed, and it is almost always because they were not paying attention. Carry small amounts of money with you, and don't make friends with strangers. Stay away from seedy parts of towns, and do not hang out at bars at 2am. Call taxis in advance, and get the licence number. Check it before you step in.
• Depending on where you go, contact a travel doctor at least six months before your trip. Diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera, are rampant in many parts of the world. Make sure you are prepared through either medications or vaccines.
• When you are travelling, packing less is better. No one is going to judge you if you do not wear a new outfit every day.
• Many people carry backpacks. Decide what you want to put in it, and get one that accommodates those needs. A large backpack gets in the way, and seems to become heavier as the trip goes on.
• Many people have checked luggage when they travel, so it is important to have certain items in your carry-on. These include cameras and computers, prescription drugs, noise cancelling ear buds, lip balm, and tiger balm (great for masking bad odours around you).
• Never buy bottled water from a street vendor, no matter how good it looks. I recently learned people are filling empty water bottles with tap water, using crazy glue to seal the lid and selling it. When you are in a restaurant, ask for bottled water that has not been opened. I never eat anything that has been washed in local water. Depending on where I travel, salads, peeled fruit and uncooked vegetables are off the table, so to speak.
• Everyone carries cell phones, iPads, digital watches and computers. Fortunately, these can be used with any voltage. Make sure you have adapters, to fit your device and electrical outlets. Other items, like hair dryers, may require a voltage converter.
• Straighten out bed sheets to make sure you have not left something behind.
• Most Airlines have lounges, and if your credit card does not give you access, look into purchasing a one-time pass. You will find it extremely relaxing, prior to your flight.
• I would highly recommend getting a Nexus card, as it allows you priority boarding in more than 40 airports around the world. Some American Express cards also have this feature.
• I always look for business travellers instead of families, when getting into airport line-ups. Usually this gets me through much faster.
• No liquids over 100 ml, and they must be in a clear plastic bag, in your carry-on. Make sure all your batteries, no matter how small, are in your carry-on. You are not allowed to carry batteries in checked luggage.
• Two websites I cannot do without: skyscanner.ca, which searches the best fares anywhere. and seatguru.com, which shows seating arrangements on every flight.
• I cannot tell you how important backing up your photos is. If you are using a phone as your camera, make sure you have access to the cloud. If you have a regular camera, carry a portable hard drive, or store them on a computer.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com