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James’s Favourite Travel Hacks

Having run an intrepid travel company for just under 13 years, I’ve travelled to all corners of the globe, organising logistics, booking an almost infinite number of flights and hotels along the way. However, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks that have made travelling a little bit smoother, so following on from last week’s post about the Hopper App which directs you on exactly when to book flights ensuring you receive the best available price, I thought I’d share some of my personal other travel hacks. I hope they help make your travels that much easier!

1. TRAVEL INSURANCE

When travelling to remote locations, often off the beaten track, travel insurance is very important, but it’s also important to ensure you use an insurance company who provides the appropriate insurance, which is where many of the high street insurance providers fall desperately short as many found out with the coronavirus pandemic. I personally use True Traveller as it’s straightforward, easy to use and most importantly provides the appropriate coverage.

2. BOOK DIRECT

If I decide to travel independently then I will, where possible, book directly. Many hotels are happy to offer you a discount for booking direct and not using a booking agent such as Booking.com or Trivago as they won’t have to pay commission so are happy to split this saving with you. You pay less, they receive more so everyone wins!

3. PACKING

Packing is tedious for us all but especially when you travel for a living! If I’m moving around a lot which is always the case on a research trip, I will look to pack light as possible and include clothing that can be worn in multiple scenarios. If I’m really pushed for space then rolling your clothing really does save on space. It’s worth packing with the order of the itinerary in mind so you don’t have to delve deep into your bag on day 1 to find your swim wear for the pool. I also take some simple plastic bags (or ideally something more environmentally friendly) so I can easily separate clothing such as clean from dirty, ensuring the latter doesn’t invade the former! Finally, I will also pack spare essential clothing in my hand luggage so I’m covered should my check-in luggage not make it to my final destination with me! It certainly helps you take the bad news in your stride while you wait to be reunited with your luggage.

4. COPY DOCUMENTS

Ensuring you have copies of your crucial documentation, in particular, your passport. It’s invaluable should you lose or damage it or even worse, have it stolen. In the event of the latter, you might have your copy stolen as well so we’d recommend you keep them stored in an iCloud or simply scan (or take a photo with your phone) and then email it to yourself.

5. CHECKING IN

If I am are eager to sit next to a travel companion but would ideally want a little space then I would book an aisle and window seat in a row of three seats, leaving the middle seat empty. We all know the middle seat is the most unappealing seat, especially with two strangers either side so it will be one of the last seats booked if booked at all. If someone does book it, they will be only too happy to switch so they get the aisle or window seat and I still get to sit next to my companion – nothing tried, nothing gained!

6. MARK AS FRAGILE

With so much to see on research trips, I’m often short on time so I need to make the very most of the time that I do have at a destination, so the last thing I want is in the baggage claim area for an eternity waiting for my bag. If I need to avoid this when checking in my luggage, I simply tell the desk clerk I have something fragile in my bag and they will first take greater care of the bag but also ensure it is last on the plane but first off!

7. LAST ON THE PLANE

It’s always baffled me as to why people are so eager to queue standing up to get on the plane, it’s like choosing to sit in rush hour – each to their own I suppose! I simply wait until the queue disappears! Other than finding it more relaxing and less stressful I also try to be the last on the plane as it allows me to survey the space available so I can sit in the most comfortable seat in the least crowded area, often resulting in getting up to 4 seats to myself for a more comfortable sleep or even an exit seat. So while everyone else is contemplating whether there is a better seat they can move to once the plane takes off I get to take my pick with no questions asked. This works best on long haul flights, especially as cabin luggage space generally isn’t such an issue. 

8. MANAGE JETLAG

On my business trips or holidays with busy schedules, I can’t afford to be nodding off at the dinner table or in bed staring at the ceiling in my room at 4am wishing I could sleep. There are many old wive’s tales out there to combat Jet lag, some genuinely help and others are complete myths. Then I found Timeshifter which is a must-have app for a regular long haul traveller and a worthwhile investment for a one-off holiday (there is a monthly fee of $9). You simply let the app know your trip details such as where you are travelling to and from where and it designs a tailored trip schedule for you, shifting your circadian clock using techniques such as managing light exposure with sleep masks or sunglasses and taking melatonin. This allows you to make the very most of your trip.

9. CARRY A PEN

Unless you want to end up at the back of the queue for immigration then it’s always worth having a pen with you and if it’s really busy then queue while you fill out the forms (if you’re not given them while on the plane). It sounds minor prior to travel but queuing is the last thing you want to do after a long, tiring journey when you are just eager to get to your final destination!

10. UNPACKING

If my trip is a multiple location journey then I only unpack what I really need because, as discussed in 3. Packing, no one likes to spend more time packing than necessary! This is also made much easier if I’ve packed with the itinerary in mind and have plastic bags. These are also easily tied to your bag, which is particularly handy if you are someone who has a pair of those shoes that need to be in isolation from the rest of your luggage!

11. GETTING AROUND

When exploring the destination you are visiting, you won’t always have internet connection on your phone which can make it a little tricky to get around, especially if you are trying to blend in and avoid looking like the ultimate tourist with a big paper map! I’d recommend using Google Maps and downloading the app to your phone as it has a cool feature that allows you to save maps so you can use them when you are out and about, even if you are offline. Alternatively, don’t fancy walking you and often rely on Uber Taxi App which is in an increasing number of countries and is pretty hassle-free, especially in a country where your language isn’t widely spoken.

12. CURRENCY

It’s a question we get asked a lot, where should we get currency and then inevitably the next question will be an estimate as to how much people will need. We never recommend visiting local money exchanges as they generally offer very poor rates and charge a high commission. If you use ATMs it’s imperative that you don’t select the local exchange rate offered as your bank back home will offer a far better rate. I use a Revolut Currency card which offers the mid-rate, cash-back perks, multiple currency accounts and I don’t need to exchange large sums of money before departure. I can access everything instantly via the mobile app, allowing me to freeze/unfreeze my card whenever I want to, view my spending, make deposits, exchange currency and so much more.

Written by James Chisnall, Untravelled Paths