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A collection of travel tips & advice from an expert. What this ‘veteran’ travel industry expert has learned from 10 years selling, and enjoying travelling all over the world.
Hooooo boy, this post is a scary one because it’s making me confront just how long I’ve been working in the travel industry! Vulnerable much?
But, dear readers, I’m putting on my big-girl, feminist, ass kicking pants to share this hard earned advice with you because yes, dammit, I’ve been working in the travel industry for a damn decade!
In that time, I’ve picked up a few critical pieces of advice along the way, that might just make planning your next trip a little easier.
#1 – Don’t ‘overplan’ your trip
I come from a long line of spreadsheeters and overplanners. My mother still has the original bonkers spreadsheet, including packing list printouts for each child, of our first family overseas trip. It had all activities planned out to the minute and pre booked in advance so we didn’t waste any time.
It worked, to be fair, but we were run ragged with only a day or two days grace between plans to experience so many destinations all at once.
If you are a planner and spreadsheeter (like my mum and now, Lord help me, my husband) then plan some breathing room into your schedules.
#2 – Travelling never, ever goes according to plan.
Trains are delayed, some countries move on their own ‘island’ time, and sometimes you straight mess up.
Like turning up at the wrong train station in Paris, only to dash across town in a taxi and miss your overnight train to Portugal by *this* much. (Now I’m completely anal about getting to stations, airports and departure points well in advance!)
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Didn’t plan on living Italian style, but not mad about it….
But those screw-ups are normally where the best stories come from.
So, plan some wriggle room, some time to just sit, relax, and have a coffee on that Italian piazza, or sleep in on a Thursday morning in Bali, because hell, when else can you enjoy such a delicious treat?
#3 – Travel Insurance is NOT just for medical coverage!
Ok this is a personal pet peeve and one I picked up very early on from lots of training and incident management with travel insurance.
So, so so many travellers are resistant to purchasing travel insurance, and look, I get it, travelling is expensive, budgets are tight, and we all think we’re basically invincible, right? We’re young, healthy, and not too worried about incidents overseas because what are the chances?
But here’s the thing about travel insurance – it’s not ONLY for worst case scenario medical emergencies!!
It’s also for the completely uncontrollable, unforseeable, itty bitty and sometimes massive things that you have no idea whether they will happen or not.
For example – what if you book a trip of a lifetime, been saving 10K over the last 3 years….and accidentally fall pregnant before your trip departure and have to cancel last minute?
Or, what if your trip is going perfectly…but the airline loses your luggage? Damages your gear?
What if your sexy camera phone gets pickpocketed while you’re on a train in a foreign country?
What if the worst happens and your family needs to ship your body back home? Did you know that can cost up to $40K from some countries?
No one wants to think about the worst case scenario when planning a trip, but please, I’m begging you (and have dealt with too many heart breaking scenarios that require it) get yourself some decent travel insurance.
#4 – Packing cubes are a gift you deserve
Packing cubes are a game changer. So simple, so effective, such a Godsend to those of us who like to be a liiiitle bit OCD in their organisation.
Packing cubes are really simple, differently sized zippable compartments you can pop into your backpack or suitcase to keep things organised and compress your clothes and stuff into taking up less space.
They are genius for organising your clothes into categories (Underlayers, socks, basic tops, or dresses, fancy tops, cardigans). They can also be handy if you want to split out dirty and clean clothes on a trip for easy access.
When you are constantly on the move, being able to easily find that ‘one top’ or know where your favourite jeans are in your bag is such a small, simple but helpful thing, you can thank me later.
The best bit? Packing cubes come in so many varieties, you can go budget or luxe depending on your needs.
I use a simple 3 pack option we got from Kathmandu about 4 years ago and rejoice in their usability every time I pack. Yes I am a dork, but a dork with a super orgnaised, compartamentalised backpack, thank you very much.
More recently, I gifted this packing cube set to friends going to Australia for a year. You can go up or down in price, but for the real deal, use-it-every-day set, those were decently priced I’d say.
#5 – Clear your cookies before booking.
This one is a super sneaky one where booking websites try to ping you for returning to their website multiple times over a certain period.
Basically, everytime you visit a booking website like Skyscanner, Easyjet, Kayak.com or similar, and you click that annoying ‘agree to cookies’ button on the site, you are giving that website permission to track your behaviour on their site aaaannnnd to let them know when you keep coming back for more.
With that data, those sites can do tricksy things like raise the price ever so slightly when they know you are looking at the same flight route or hotel that you looked at a few days ago.
The tip to beat them at this game? Clear your cookies on your browser or look at the price in incognito mode. Its not always a different price, but always worth checking to be sure!
#6 – A power board is the best accessory you need to pack
This tip was true way back in 2008 when I first heard it, and has only become more useful as everyone acquires more gadgets!
Basically, if you pack a power board – you know, those white strip boards you have at home with multiple power outlets – then you will be the hero of your hostel/tour/group of friends travelling together.
There is never enough charging ports for everyone to fire up their phone, camera, drone, mobile wifi, robot dogs etc etc
But, if clever little you brings a power board along in your carry on, when you spot a charging outlet at the airport for layover, in the hostel reception, or if you drop into a cafe for a cheeky coffee and a charge (after asking permission of course!) you can boost the ability to charge multiple devices and be a hero to all.
#7 – They sell underwear overseas too, ya know.
Everyone always freaks out over what to pack, and probably over-packs. It’s why you see so many oversized suitcases trying to be squeezed into tight spaces on trains and overhead lockers!
It can be so so easy to get caught up in making sure you ‘have everything you need’ with you. But ya know what? The country you are going to will have undies and socks for sale if you need them.
In fact, they will probably have better suited clothing for their weather and environment that you can get at home. Do you really think the ‘winter jacket’ you buy in balmy Brisbane or Melbourne is going to cover you for European or Canadian winter temperatures of -20 degrees celcius?
Or, likewise, that your Euro-style ‘summer’ outfits of slick chinos and polo shirts are going to cut it in Costa Rica? Probably not, right.
So instead of going on a clothing purchase rampage before you go on holiday, why not consider saving those pennies and putting them towards getting the clothes you need once in destination.
Of course pack the pieces you already own and will need, so you’re not turning up to Christmas in Europe in flip flops and board shorts (shout out to my brother who did exactly this three Christmases ago!) but give yourself some wriggle room to support local brands and get the right clothing when you’re there.
The one caveat to this recommendation though – know what local clothing sizes are like!!! If I try to squeeze my curves into typical clothing in South East Asia, Italy or even Spain it….never works. Or, I look like I’m wearing a potato sack. So have some basics with you, and be aware of what the average womens clothing sizes are in the destination you are headed to!
#8 – You always, always pay rent on the view in restaurants & cafes.
This is something to keep in mind particularly when travelling Europe. That charming little coffee shop right in the heart of the Piazza, with a view to the castle and old town square?
Of course it’s going to be adorable.
Of course you will feel like a flaneur of the highest calibre, sitting there sipping your espresso.
Of course a coffee costs….€6 flipping euro for a single shot of not-that-great coffee! Oida!
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Naschmarkt plays this game too…but worth it, no?
Do NOT be suckered in by those perfectly placed, touristy restaurants on the main squares. You’ll be able to spot them as the menu will have photos, 3 languages and alluring tables in that perfect sunny perch on the side of the busiest square in town.
I’m thinking particularly of Venice, Florence, even Vienna, Paris and other popular tourist hotspots.
You will always pay extra the closer to the city centre and main sights you are.
That’s also not a bad thing – if you want to sit and sip and marvel at the world passing you by, that’s 100% a cool thing to do. But when you get the bill, keep in mind, you’re not just paying for the drink itself, you’re paying rent on the view over one of the worlds most famous Piazza’s.
So try not to have a heart attack at the price tag.
Or, better still, go one or two blocks out from the main drag, and find those local places, where a standup espresso at the bar is likely €1.
The best way to figure out those local gems? Check for city-specific blogs, recommendations from your accommodation or follow where the workers go!
#9 – Visas & Vaccinations are your responsibility
File this under the ‘boring but important’ section, because well, if you screw up Visas and Vaccinations, your holiday can really go to shit.
While your friendly local travel agent, service provider, booking website and well-travelled friends can provide informed advice, ultimately, you alone are responsible for understanding the visa and vaccination requirements when you travel.
So some basic guidelines and resources to help you figure these things out.
- Your passport should always have 6 months validity on it before you travel anywhere. Check it well before departure!
- Always check the embassy website of your destination for up to date visa advice. Your home countries government websites normally have the accurate links and visa advice too – so for Australian passport holders, checking the DFAT Smart Traveller website should be first port of call.
- Do NOT just google ‘Visa Russia’ as plenty of spammy websites looking to charge will come up! This also goes for getting the ESTA Visa Waiver online for entry to the USA – use only the correct website.
Yes, it can be confusing, and hard and a bit of a minefield to figure out, but you alone are the one that has to turn up at border control and explain why you do or don’t have the right valid visa at point of entry or exit.
You alone, will be the one refused entry, kicked out, or sent home if those things aren’t correct. So it pays to understand for yourself what’s required!
#10 – Take the chance to visit while & when you can.
You never know when a destination is going to change, get more expensive, or you yourself will have a change in circumstance that means travelling to certain places is no longer an option.
A few years ago, Syria was a beautiful, interesting, historic tourist destination. Now, attracting tourist dollars is the last thing on the minds of a country ravaged by drawn-out conflict.
When I visited Istanbul and fell in love with it for the first time back in 2010, it was a relatively safe destination, but with the changing political climate, protests, and accessibility to certain areas, Turkey can be a challenging place for solo female travellers (though still possible!)
Iceland 6 years ago was a little known stopover between the UK and US, now its overrun with tourists to the point of saturation. See also; Norway, Croatia, Barcelona, Lofoten Islands. You can of course still visit these destinations, but the nature of them changes over time as they explode in popularity.
The positive flipside is of course when emerging destinations become more accessible – the Balkans, Central Asia, Rwanda and more are now opening up to tourism in ways that would have been unimaginable 20-30 years ago.
One day, hiking the endless stairs and cliffs of Cinque Terra might not be a possibility for you, physically. Climbing mountains, swimming in Cenotes, hell even just being able-bodied enough to leave your hometown isn’t a guarantee all of us have, so treasure it.
Don’t wait for retirement to go where your heart is pulling you – if there’s a destination your heart is burning to make it to, take positive steps towards getting there.
But who am I to distribute this advice willy nilly? Actually I do have a few credits to my name in the travelling department.
My Travel Experience Credentials
Cool story Carly, but er, why are we listening to you again?
I won’t force you to research my LinkedIn profile, but suffice to say, I’ve been in the travelling business for a while.
The timeline goes something like this:
Christmas & New Years 2005
Family takes epic 3-week overseas trip to US, Canada, Europe and (as is expected from all Aussies) a stopover in Thailand on the way home.
I fall hopelessly in love with travelling at age 20 and bore my entire family by walking way way too slowly through castles and museums of Europe.(A habit i’m still yet to shake….luckily Stefan has the patience of a saint!)
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Like this, but slower. Every. Damn. Time.
First backpacking trip abroad with my bestie, for 6 glorious months, starting in Frankfurt and making our way through Berlin, Hamburg Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon, London, all over Ireland, working in Edinburgh for 6 weeks, then back to Berlin, and a last glorious adventure down the Croatian coastline.
I was broke, 23yo, and these were the days when you booked your accommodation and onward travel in weird internet cafes (!!) on Hostelworld and Couchsurfing.com.
No Instagram, no DSLR cameras, just kicking between cities based on places friends you met along the way recommended. Sounds quaint now, doesn’t it?
Returning to Melbourne, I was a) broke and b) addicted to travel and how it could change your entire view on life.
Despite completing a Bachelors Degree in Theater & Literature studies at the University of Melbourne (guaranteed career options right there, huh!) as soon as I got home, I applied to work with for a travel brand as a travel agent.
Though the job turned out to be hellish, the training set me up for years to come – management training, coding to use flight booking systems like Galileo and Amadeus, learning how to sell & customise trips for people face to face, and understanding the different brands and styles of travel.
For 3 years I ground out crazy working hours, weekends, ridiculous sales targets and what in reflection is a pretty misogynistic, destructive drinking culture at *brand redacted*.
I rose in the ranks to become Assistant Store Manager but was burning out, and had heard there was this magical job available where they paid you to travel…
In my time as a bonafide travel agent, I earned myself incentive rewards to take a tour with Intrepid Travel through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, a ski trip to Queenstown, New Zealand, and a training getaway to Darwin, Australia.
So it wasn’t a total bust, but in the end, the hours, stress and insane sales targets that impacted your monthly salary and quality of life wasn’t worth it.
Plus, the culture of the company wore me down.
Then I heard about this mythical job of tour guiding in Europe, where you can get paid to travel AND put my attention-loving theatre kid skills on a microphone to use…
I applied to become a tour guide for Topdeck Travel. From 2000+ applications every year, only 35 applicants were invited to participate in the gruelling 6 week ‘on-road’ training trip. The training takes you around the routes of a Topdeck tour drilling you on stats, facts, routes and historic information, all on very little sleep and a lot of pressure!
Of the 35 applicants who started in London, only 16 were hired to work that season. I survived, and was thrust to the very frontlines of working in travel, face to face with customers all day, every day, organising every last detail of their trip, answering every question and partying and enjoying the trip every day with them for up to 49 days at a time.
It was the best, most exhausting and exhilarating job of my life.
There are barely any photos because there was barely time to breathe, but the stories, the adventures and the madness of it and what it taught me about human behaviour was utterly irreplaceable.
After falling for some Austrian guy over the winter of 2011/2012, I moved to Vienna, and was in desperate need of work.
For a short stint, I worked for Verkhesbüro, in their UN HQ branch, booking flights and travel for UN representatives. My first taste of back to office reality, and a peep into the lifestyles of UN & IAEA ambassadors.
My colleagues were lovely, the company was well established, I was grateful to find work in English, on a visa, while still so fresh to the city.
But….God I was bored. Scoop my eyeballs out with a spoon bored, after years on the road, running my own show and being in a different city every two days. Staid traditional office life was killing me.
I started a blog, and then somehow the perfect job fell into my lap because of said blog…
I joined a fledgling startup here in Vienna, called TourRadar.
The founder was Aussie, the company sold tours from the touring brand I used to work for. Honestly, when I joined it was risky, but seemed the right move into the exciting world of digital innovation.
Frankly I didn’t know why I wasn’t already working there! All the dots aligned.
TourRadar had started to shift their business model towards booking tours online in September of 2013. I joined two weeks later, heading up customer Sales & Support, and the rest, as they say is history.
5 years later, that crazy risk has paid off in way I could never have imagined.
TourRadar is now the #1 startup company in Austria, our team ballooned from just 7 of us in the early days, to now 200+ in the heart of Vienna, and growing globally every day.
I learned so much from working in the heart of travel, in a dynamic startup and online environment that I can’t quite believe it, now that I’ve come up for air.
Moving into a part-time role at TourRadar, my focus from here on out is on growing this slow travel & living in Austria website.
To help people like you travel slower, and more sustainably. By doing so doing so, we can help support local cultures, communities and environments.
After a completely unpredictable 10+ years working in travel, I think these tips should help you guys, but do let me know in the comments what travel info and advice you’d like to see more of!
If ya made it this far, bravo! Thanks for reading and I hope the travel advice helps you enjoy your next trip.
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