A handy travel guide to be utilised before embarking on your travels. I will be taking you through a comprehensive process that aims to give you the upper-hand over common travel issues and admin affairs.
Introduction: The Pre-travel recce
Before we embark on our adventure, we will begin with a comprehensive pre-travel recce. Here, we are looking to gather vital information about our trip to determine what could bring us unnecessary problems down the road. A substantial amount of the issues encountered on our travels could be thwarted with an orderly pre-travel recce beforehand. With the formidable power of the internet at our disposal, we have unprecedented access to geographical imagery and real-time social data that we all should be taking full advantage of, in our pre-travel planning process.
Pre-travel recce resources
An excellent resource that I use to begin gathering my pre-travel information is Basetrip. Basetrip kickstarts your pre-travel recce by filling the screen with vital information about your travel destination. Time zones, weather data, electricity sockets, currency, exchange rates, internet speeds, cost of living, mobile data prices, healthcare info, vaccination requirements, driving laws, embassies, visa information etc – are all displayed on a beautiful looking website to be analysed and noted for your journey ahead.
Embassy, news, and information
You are off to a good start. With the basics covered, we are now going to locate your home nation’s Embassy within the country you are visiting. Your Embassy will typically have a strong online presence these days – including a Twitter feed, which often covers real-time news and crucial security updates. Make a note of the appropriate Embassy contact numbers and store them in your phone before departing on your trip – This prevents a temporary headache in the rare event that you require consulate support. Most Western Embassies also provide a web page for each country it resides within – which covers local issues, safety, security, local laws and customs.
Once I have a solid grasp of the above details, I typically move to online community created guides/reviews to accustom myself to the local culture and environment. You really can’t go wrong with websites like lonelyplanet.com that benefits from an active international community of travellers with years of experience providing detailed information on the entire planet. Embrace the wisdom of the hive mind!
Now let’s assume you are about to embark on a journey to a foreign land you have never set foot in. It is always a good idea to visually familiarise yourself with your destination before you arrive. Why? We are forming a mental baseline of the area for situational awareness purposes. By performing this visual recce, I can walk right out of my gate at the airport and locate my next mode of transport like I am a local around these parts. I am saving time, and I am not standing out as your typical tourist. (Those who look confused and lost can be marked by potential thieves)
It is a significant advantage to get your head into online maps and begin to familiarise yourself with the ground. I am typically making notes on the main motorways, rivers and neighbourhoods – which allows me to calibrate my biological map bearings as soon as I arrive. (The airport is south of my hotel for example) Now is also a good time to begin storing maps on your person, that you can utilise immediately upon your arrival. You really can’t go wrong with Google Maps these days for this purpose. Google Maps is not only free, but it can store maps offline – No cell phone tower? Not a problem.
As much as I embrace humanity’s technological prowess, one of my favourite methods for travel information storage is my good ol’ fashioned Moleskine. I have used many of these throughout the years for work notes, the ideal general travel companion tool. I have yet to find a notebook that rivals the quality of these things, to be honest. Easy to pick up on Amazon, they are typically a tad more expensive than your average notebook though, but the Moleskine offers a very durable, sturdy build with a robust cover and a handy little elastic binding strap with a pocket in the back (I typically keep an emergency stash of currency in here)
Your pocket travel guide
With the notepad in-hand, I typically draw out my plans ahead of my trip, with brief notes of my transport methods, contact numbers, timings and contingency plans upon unforeseen obstacles. (I will cover more on this shortly.) Thus allowing me a handy pocket reference guide which I use to guide myself effortfully to each of my travel waypoints.
Contingency plans (advanced)
The following piece of advice is a more advanced travel planning technique that I had to utilise when I was working within the private security industry. So feel free to dismiss this segment, based on the importance of your trip/itinerary. However, here it goes – There comes a point in your life when you must take personal responsibility for the world around you and this means being empowered to take control and not to rely on others should things go wrong. (We cover this topic within our Personal Development strategy)
So, If you have a critical business meeting ahead of you that is time critical – there are far too many variables outside of your control in play at any given moment, to assume that everything is going to go smoothly when you are travelling. Yeah I get it, you paid your money so your plane should depart on time, Your luggage should appear in the baggage carousel, and the train that you have planned to take from the airport should not be 30 minutes behind schedule. However, guess what? Shit happens! We can prepare for such eventualities and not become encumbered by such developments. This is what capable men do. They do not complain about events outside of their control. They step-up and take the necessary actions to regain command.
Let us take a look at a hypothetical pre-planned appointment that you must attend, located 3 hours away from the airport. In your pre-travel recce, you pre-paid for a train ticket online that would take you directly to your meeting in a suitable time to reach your appointment; Good. Before take-off, you check your phone and the trains are all running ok. So, no more preparation can take place. Upon arrival at your foreign destination, you learn that your train has encountered a long delay as a result of a tree falling onto the track – Shit.
This is the moment where our contingency plan comes into effect. A local taxi number is always suitable to have stored in the notepad for short distance movements or time critical appointments. By having a secondary train route planned and ready to go, you will have more options at your disposal during these unfortunate situations. Local buses, rental cars, and Uber drivers can also offer a suitable contingency solution. Feel free to trawl the viable options that you have at your disposal and make a note to have a contingency plan at hand that can circumvent a particular travel obstacle, for example:
In the event of a traffic problem
- Solutions: Trains, Bike/Moped
- Problems: Rental Cars, Buses, Taxies
In the event of a rail problem
- Solutions: Rental Cars, Buses, Taxies, Bike/Moped
- Problems: Trains… (duh)
Choosing your aircraft seat
Airlines earn an extra bit of coin by allowing us to choose our seats these days, and for those of us who stand over 6 foot tall, (183cm) sufficient leg room is a blessing. I typically grab the emergency exit seats on my pre-purchase options. (Also nominating myself to take an action role in the event of a catastrophe folks; You are welcome!) In addition to our luxurious legroom, we have the choice of window seats providing us with those glorious views of the earth. But my favourite location is the aisle seats, giving us more freedom to move around the plane without having to hassle your seat buddies. [Bonus: Also the first to grab their bag and leave.] Just don’t grab the lame middle seats (lacking the advantages of either window or aisle seats) there are several other considerations for choosing a slightly more comfortable economy class seat.
How close you sit to the front or back end of the plane is a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks. In most commercial aircraft, seats in the back experience more cabin noise; the difference can be significant enough to cause discomfort, and it is one of the reasons why first class is located in the front of aircraft.
In wide-body aircraft, rear economy window seats will provide you with a better view than in the front of the economy section, where the wings obstruct the view. The effects of turbulence are weakest near the leading edge of the wing, in the middle of the aircraft. Finally, using data from airline accidents in which some passengers survived and others did not, indicate that seats at the rear of the plane are statistically safer. Choose wisely.
Pre-book an airport lounge
If you are travelling on a long-haul flight, pre-book yourself into an airport lounge. The lounge comes at a cost, but the luxury of complimentary food, drinks, newspapers and magazines are often worthwhile. Before you leave the lounge, feel free to grab a few big bottles of water along with some snacks. It is a pretty cost effective and relaxing way to begin any trip.
Some developing countries either have no ATMs, very limited ATMs, or lack a connection to the international networks. This includes Myanmar in Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Africa. In Japan, most bank ATMs do not work with international cards (the cards are even an incompatible size), so you need to look for a post office, 7/11 or Citibank ATM. In particular countries, not every ATM will accept a foreign credit or debit card. So check in advance about what’s available, and do what is necessary to ensure that you have adequate cash during your travels. Mastercard, VISA, Cirrus, and Plus are accepted at nearly all ATMs worldwide.
When you find yourself within an unknown location, and you have a choice, use an ATM in a bank lobby or highly public place, e.g., airport lobby. This helps to avoid scanners/cameras secretly installed by criminals. In addition, “official” ATMs placed in such areas by major local banks tend to protect your data better as your money is transferred directly from the ATM to your bank’s account.
ATM fees by country
Different banks will charge different amounts for making withdrawals from their ATMs, and some local banks have no fee at all (you still may be charged a fee by your home bank.) Most debit and credit card issuers will charge a foreign transaction fee of up to 4% of the transaction amount every time you make a purchase or cash withdrawal in a foreign country. The exchange rate applied to a transaction is usually the rate on the transaction posting date, which can be up to 10 days after the actual transaction date. Therefore, unless currency prices are fixed, it is impossible to know exactly what exchange rate will be charged until the transaction is posted to your account.
Cash is the most versatile method there is. Virtually everybody takes cash. The biggest disadvantage to cash is the risk. If you lose it, you can’t get it back, and if someone finds out you have a large load of cash, you become a potential mark on your travels. Some defences include creating a secondary wallet with small denominations and out of date cards/docs to use as bait in the event of getting caught out. Limit your chances for being targeted by maintaining strong situational awareness.
Cash is the most versatile method there is. Virtually everybody takes cash. The biggest disadvantage to cash is the risk. If you lose it, you cannot get it back, and if someone finds out that you have a large amount of cash, you increase the chances of being marked on your travels. Some defences include creating a secondary wallet with small denominations and out of date cards/docs to use as bait in the event of getting caught out. Limit your chances for being targeted by maintaining effective situational awareness gents.
In some cases, it may be better to exchange your money before you leave, in others, it may be better to do it in your destination. As a general rule, the lesser-known currencies in the world have less favourable exchange rates abroad. In fact, they may first be converted to a well-known currency like the USD before being converted back into the host currency at unfavourable rates. If this is the case, convert your home currency into a major currency (usually USD) before leaving then exchange that major currency into the host currency when you arrive.
After grabbing yourself a durable travel bag; it’s time to decide what we are going to bring. Assuming the administrative fundamentals of your travel are now covered (visa, vaccinations, transport, health admin, and passport) we shall now look at clothing.
To slip through luggage weight restrictions placed by airlines, travellers often wear their heavy clothing to maximise their carry-on potential before boarding. A viable option, but our travels can often take many hours with uncomfortable temperatures. However, one can always reorganise their kit, attire upon arriving at their destination.
Smart appearances are often a necessity for business trips and if we are looking at bringing the suit, I suggest wearing the jacket during the flight. Contrary to the many packing guides I have read online; I find simply wearing the jacket and packing your trousers achieves the best result. I shall now leave you all with my typical travel inventory as a reference when organising your own gear.
My typical travel gear list:
- Suit Jacket (Typically worn to travel in)
- Trousers/Chinos (Typically worn to travel in)
- Shirt (Typically worn to travel in)
- Smart shoes (Typically worn to travel in)
- Heavy jacket (During winter) (Typically worn to travel in)
In the carry-on:
- Suit trousers x1
- Scarf/shemagh – Very useful travel accessory with many different applications. A makeshift towel, sun protection, carrying stuff around etc
- Light jacket
- Jeans x 1 – The trousers that can go with everything
- Shirt x2
- Shorts x 1
- T-Shirts x2
- Swimwear x1
- Underwear x7 – these take up little room, so no need to get stingy here!
- Flip flops/sandals
- Socks x4
- Towel: (Read The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy to grasp importance.)
Extras on person:
- Smart Phone/with cable – Eliminates requirement for laptop
- Headphones – With microphone for hands-free calling
- Notebook/with pen – See above
- Passport/Docs – I have necessary documentation (driving licence, passport etc all digitally stored with encryption in the event of physical loss of documentation)
Extras in carry-on:
- First aid kit – Basic boo boo kit to conform to airline restrictions (plasters & alcohol-free wipes)
- Portable USB charging unit
- USB Plug
- Plug adapter
- Earbuds – Don’t cheap out!
Toiletries (*under 100ml):
- Roll-on deodorant*
- Cologne* – If tight for space, visit the airport’s duty-free store for free cologne upon arrival/departures
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”
— Winston Churchill