Lately, travelling is becoming more and more frustrating, for a variety of reasons. Hotels are becoming more expensive, airplanes are aging (or having software issues), weather patterns are rapidly changing, and safety is a concern to many people, as it should be.
I have travelled extensively all my life, and will continue to do so, in spite of these impacting nuisances. Let me share a few tips on how to get the most out of your trip, see the world and don’t go broke doing it..
First of all, you have to determine where you want to go, what you want to see and in which activities you plan to partake. Cruising is, of course, a terrific way to relax and live in pampered luxury. I have never set foot on a cruise ship, so I am not qualified to comment beyond the enjoyable concept of not having to pack and unpack more than once..
Should you wish to experience places where cruise ships do not visit, safety and cost may be more of an issue, especially if you plan it on your own. Similar to cruising, organized land travel is good for some, but not for others. There are two ways to organize a trip. A good travel agent is very useful and is able to get things accomplished, that you may not be able to. They are worth their weight in gold and can organize all of your trip, or a segment, allowing you to handle many details yourself.
The adventure of travelling can be gratifying and enjoyable, providing you bear a few facts in mind. Cost is always an issue, but the experience well outweighs the price. I have always preferred to choose my own hotels, set my own itinerary, and travel with a guide, to maximize my freedom. I remember talking to some folks who visited Istanbul and did not get to the Dolmabahce Palace, one of the most elaborate palaces I have ever seen. The reason was simple: the tour bus didn’t go there, in fact they were unaware of the place until they returned home. How sad.
Travelling is becoming expensive, but there are some ways to save money. If you head to lesser-known cities, especially in Europe where everything is a train ride away, you can save some substantial dollars. For example, if you plan to sit on a Sicily beach sipping a glass of Amarone, you may be able to save a great amount of money by flying into a different hub and booking a second, less expensive flight on EasyJet or GermanWings. I flew from Sicily to Malta for 35 Euros, and similarly flew return from London to Paris for 45 Euros.
If you see high airfares don’t be discouraged. Sites like, airfarewatchdog.com or the popular app, TravelPirates, not only find you cheap fares, but they also send you notices when those fares drop in price (you can’t book through them, but they give you the airline information). Sign up for the airlines’ newsletters and follow along on Twitter. Remember, the more flexible you are with times, the better your chances of getting lower fares. Google flights even allows you to search for the cheapest flights from your home airport to anywhere in Europe, so you can easily string a trip together.
Airport food is notoriously pricey, so pack snacks when you are heading to a destination. A change of clothes in your carry-on, as well as your meds is good in case of an emergency. The savings may seem small, but they can really add up, especially for frequent fliers.
Another cost saver is in knowing the rules. For example, you can cancel any flight (even a non-refundable one) within 24 hours of booking, as long as it's at least a week from the departure date. Check out Transport Canada’s website and rules for travellers.
Another cost, especially when you are on vacation, is measured in time lost. Sure, it’s great to go to the Musee D’Orsay on Sunday, when there is no admission, but lining up for 2 hours may not be worth the entrance fee. A taxi may costs a few dollars more than bus fare, but if you save 20 minutes, it may be worth it.
Most popular sights have unavoidable lineups, but it annoys me when I see people standing in a second line to purchase tickets. Most attractions have websites where you can pre buy your entrance fee. While hundreds of tourists are waiting in long lines, those who've booked ahead can show up at their reserved time and breeze right in.
Be cautious and alert, and always be on the lookout for thieves, who work the lines at crowded sights and on the bus lines. Store your passport, credit cards, and cash securely, in a money belt, hidden from view. If you have a camera, like my Nikon, with white lettering, black out the text with a Sharpie, to make it less visible.
Be aware of cons. I was about to purchase a bottle of water from a street vendor in Paris, when I was cautioned by a policeman that people are filling water bottles with unfiltered street water and using Crazy Glue to seal the cap. When you open it, you believe it to be factory sealed.
Be watchful for panhandlers with cute children or puppies. Quite often you will see women sitting on the street with babes in arms and infants running nearby. As soon as you open your wallet to help them out, the husband will appear from behind, grab your wallet and disappear in the crowd.
I get a kick out of travellers who never leave the tourist zone. They walk in the town square of Prague for instance, and then complain about the crowds. The same with eating in touristy restaurants where the wait staff is aggressive, and the result is overpriced meals and disappointing food.
One problem I have is trying to get a good night’s sleep. Getting quiet hotels is a must for me and I use Trip Advisor, airbnb and booking.com with search words like ‘quiet’ or ’noise’. Also keep in mind, when you check in, insist on a quiet room. Noisy hotels have quiet rooms, whereas quiet hotels have noisy rooms. I prefer to book hotels direct. I have heard many horror stories where people who have used third party agencies, only to find no rooms available or the room location is unsatisfactory.
When booking simply say you want a quiet room, away from street noise, preferably on a higher floor. It’s that simple. Worst case scenario, don’t be afraid to ask for a different room. I always travel with ear plugs, noise cancelling headsets and Restoril (my fall back prescription sleeping pill).
Traveling is fantastic. Smart travelling is even better. Do your homework before you go and don’t be afraid to set your own rules. Be more of a traveller instead of a tourist.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com