With the 2012 London Olympics here and the world travelling to see them, I thought I’d share my experiences in international travel. I have travelled over a quarter of a million miles across the world and back during my Expeditions, and seen some pretty frightening sights – mostly in airports! So, here’s my Ten Top Tips on how not to do international travel…
1 – Turn up late for your flight
I have lost count the number of times that people have arrived late for their flight or connection. Of course, things do go wrong at times with transport, but we have to realise that everyone has a timetable to work to. Aircraft have to be put into timeslots due to Air Traffic Control, runway turbulence etc. and we have to accept it. All the shouting in the world won’t change that. I once heard a man say in a very loud voice ‘Do you know how important I am?’ If you’re that important, turn up on time…
I’ve slept on airport floors or at friends’ houses close to the airport more times than I can count. It’s hardly romantic, but I prefer to use public transport to the terminal and I like to be early..!
2 – Be irritating and argumentative
I was once told ‘Never confuse persona with a loud voice’. Shouting rarely gets you anywhere, pointing and pushing are extremely rude (and in some countries an insult), so don’t do them..! I’ve seen some Teddy Bear’s thrown a long way out of prams over the slightest things when people are queuing and stressed, but what does it achieve..? If you get stressed, the people around you do and a ripple effect takes place. Your children will scream and then all hell can break loose (and it often does). There is also no excuse for screaming obscenities across an airport lounge (see 7 & 10 below)
Arguing takes up precious time, delays you even more, and achieves little. If you disagree over something then do bring it up, but I find a quiet and straight complaint works much better than shouting. As the posters say – ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’
3 – Be scruffy and smelly
Sitting in the cramped confines of an aircraft is not the place to release horrific odours. Neither is it a place to look like you have been dragged backwards through a hedgerow..! I’ve been sandwiched between both on a number of occasions and it’s been an unpleasant experience. Long flights are hard enough as it is without flies circling your neighbour. Thankfully my sense of smell is poor after losing my nose to frostbite, but that’s no excuse for anyone. Tatty clothes and appearance does nothing for me either (or poor language come to that)
Even when I come off the mountain, I’m washed, shaved and in clean clothes. People will make assumptions of you – good or bad within the first few seconds, so why not make good ones..? I’ve been upgraded a couple of times into Business Class because of my manner and cleanliness.
4 – Don’t bother with travel insurance
A very sad story made me cringe recently. A man was injured in SE Asia and he had no travel insurance because he assumed that his government health scheme would cover him (it didn’t). I have to ask the question – Why should it..? The press jumped onto this story and had a field day. Personally I think that correct travel insurance should be displayed when you show your passport. It costs little and can save your life (believe me, I know!) Getting inoculated against many diseases will help too (see 8 below)
Being lazy and thinking ‘it will never happen to me’ has caught many people out. I just wonder if the same people bother to insure their house and car..?
Many modern bank accounts come with some insurance provision and I’m very happy with mine. Also an E111 card for EU citizens helps no end in Europe, but I still get insurance. There is no excuse…
5 – Don’t research your destination
Why should you? There will be lots of people at the airport to help book transport, hotels and tours – won’t there..? Well, that depends on the time of day you arrive and how much you want to be ripped off. Airport taxis are some of the worse and will charge what they like. Usually a coach goes from the airport to town for a fraction of the price and you rarely have to wait long. Many destinations have train stations in the airport, which makes the journey even better.
Also, you have to ask yourself – ‘what am I missing?’ Sitting on the beach might be ok for some, but there’s always something interesting to see or visit. Airport tour agencies will sell you the world (and make you pay for it too!) Opening a Travel Guide (Lonely Planet/Rough Guides/Bradt) has taught me huge amounts about the country I am visiting and is an invaluable piece of kit. Of course there is also that Internet thingy…
6 – Have overweight bags
‘I can’t possibly take anything out, I need everything!’ I’ve heard this one a few times in my life. I’ve also seen hair straighteners in the mountains, 15 changes of clothes in the jungle, tins of food (Ok, I did once take a tinned meat pie into the mountains of Ladakh) and reams of gadgets which just clutter up the world. Every airline has it’s weights (check before you fly) and they tend to be picky – particularly the budget ones. At times, I’ve been overweight due to climbing gear on a big trip, but I appreciate that. If it goes through, that’s ok, but if I have to pay, I have to pay. What gets me are huge bags for a beach trip being dragged across an airport floor and crashing down on the scales.
Think what you really need. I often by things locally when I arrive (such as toiletries) as they are worldwide brands and usually cheaper. A bottle of shampoo is very heavy..! (Climbing boots are too, but I wear mine for the flight)
7 – Get drunk on (or before) the flight
It was 6am and I was flying on a business trip to Edinburgh. There I was , suited up and with my laptop bag over my shoulder, when I was confronted by a frightening sight. A couple in their 30’s were screaming abuse and obscenities at their children across the departure lounge. Both of them were drunk (and still drinking heavily). The only way I can describe them was as a pair of Chavs, off to the Mediterranean with their family. I have no idea if they were allowed on the flight, or made their destination, but I was glad to be going the other way.
I do enjoy a drink when I fly long-haul as I try to sleep through as much of the flight as possible, but there is a limit. Airlines will refuse entry to anyone drunk or abusive (see 2 above) and your body goes through enough dehydration in the air as it is. I’m no killjoy and have flown back on numerous occasions from Europe, surrounded by stag and hen parties who are having a great time, but are not drunk (although usually hung over!)
8 – Don’t get inoculations
There are plenty of bugs, mosquitos and waterborne nasty’s just aching to give you a bad day when you visit many parts of the world. Inoculations may seem long winded, painful and at times expensive, but do you want yellow fever or malaria..? Insurance will help sort you out medically afterwards (see 4 above), but prevention is better than cure. Of course, all the jabs and tablets in the world will not prevent you dancing the ‘Kathmandu Quickstep’, but they will help bring you home in one piece.
A school local to myself planned a trip into Africa recently. As I was getting a booster for a trip into Brazil, the nurse noted that though they were getting inoculated, their timescales were short and the numbers required were huge. Plan in advance people..!
9 – Carry anything you like in your hand luggage
Every airport has signs stating what you can’t carry as hand baggage – liquids, knifes, razors etc., so why when I clear customs do I see a fortune in Swiss Army Knives dropped into glass cabinets, bottles of shampoo and hand cream everywhere and water all over the place? I do agree that every airport seems to have its own ideas when it comes to defining a ‘Clear plastic bag’, but once again it’s down to planning people.
Of course it does depend where you are. Once in Irian Jaya I was asked if I had any guns on me and the sign on the desk forbade hand grenades..!
10 – Don’t learn the language
We British are very lazy when it comes to languages. We feel that we have the right to expect everyone else to learn and not us. Some feel that shouting helps (see 2 above), but it doesn’t.
Knowing just a few words and phrases of your destinations tongue will make a huge difference to your experience abroad. I have to admit that I struggle to learn new languages, but know a little Spanish, Portuguese, French and German and get by. I have had incredible evenings on expedition enhancing my language skills and have made great friends out of it.
Take a phrasebook, drive to work with a course on CD playing in your car, get your family involved. It will all make a difference when you travel.
Well, that’s my thoughts. Got any tips yourself..? If so, feel free to post a reply…