Erm, not exactly. Here are a few things I learned over the years when I’m off and about. Let’s just say, I learned ’em the hard (relatively) way.
1. Travel agents and bookings
They can be a lifesaver or a pain in the neck. I used to get a travel agent when going to a place for the first time. Aside from being convenient, a reputable agency gets discounted rates on airfares and land arrangements. Published rates almost always exclude taxes. Be sure that before finalizing a package, all costs have been factored in. Out of habit though, I resorted to planning trips and getting rates on my own. With the almost monthly airline promos, it’s easy to score cheap tickets. When booking a hotel, try to get a quote directly from the hotel. Check booking engines like Agoda or Hotels.com, before asking the hotel for their best available rate. Do not be afraid to ask for a discount, they may or will not give it. Based on experience, I got at most 20% shaven off the published rate.
2. Group tours
By this, I mean a group of 20+. If I can and if my mood is in question, I will avoid them. My latest frustration is joining a beach trip organized by a popular travel group. I will be joining one next month for the first time. Much to my dismay (after just paying the DP), from the original 20 slots, it ballooned to 49, then to 94. I hope to the heavens I won’t lose my marbles with n-i-n-e-t-y strangers. Personally, the only exemption is a climbing trip. On grounds of sharing costs, coordinating logistics and ensuring safety, traveling in groups when going up a mountain is advisable.
3. Techie gear
I’m not an iPod/iTouch fan, so basically, Kiss and Edie are my only travel techies. I rarely travel for work nowadays, but if in the unfortunate case that I do, then Ziggy comes along. Do not forget to pack the essential accessories that go with your gadget. Chargers, a pair of earphones, an extra battery pack, extra memory cards, filters, cleaning kits, a tripod, and (if applicable) Sea-to-Summit pouches and Aquapacs should be stored together. Do not forget to check and to check again. I have had my senior moments by forgetting Kiss’ battery pack in one occasion and memory card in another.
4. Hotel photo fakeouts
Of course having a good photo sells. But do not rely on the hotel or resort’s website. A good photo can make a 16-sqm room look like a 36-sqm suite or a brown rocky beach look like a white sandy beach (with a bit of exaggeration on my part). Unless the place is recommended by your friends and acquaintances, it’s ideally advisable to check traveler reviews and feedback. When checking tripadvisor.com, I tend to focus on pieces written by fellow Filipinos. My tastes and preferences are one or two steps within their threshold as compared to a foreigner’s.
5. Credit card transactions
If I happen to be in a shop that accepts Visa payments, I take advantage of that. When making purchases overseas, some establishments will give you the option of paying in their local currency or in PHP. Have the establishment bill you in their local currency. It’s usually cheaper when your bank converts it to PHP rather than having it in PHP upon settling the transaction abroad.
6. Foreign exchange
Never have your PHP or USD exchanged at the airport. Well, unless you have no time and choice. This is fundamental. They have higher lower buying rates or lower higher selling rates than when you have your precious baon exchanged in the city. It’s usually better to have part of your baon in your destination’s local currency already. Before leaving, check the competitive rates of BDO, Czarina and (sometimes) Sanry’s.
7. Uncategorized (not necessarily based on personal experiences *sheepish grin*)
a. Thou shall not forget to bring thy cards: ID, credit and health.
b. Thou shall not travel abroad if thy passport is about to expire in 6 months.
c. Thou should never complain if thy feet hurt from walking the entire day.
d. Thou shall not sleep early. And please, thou should not wake up late.
e. Thou shall not bring thy entire cabinet!
f. Thou shall not violate rules and regulations (in buses and terminals, in planes and airports, in ferries and ports, in hotels, in a host’s house, in public places).
g. Thou should enjoy and be merry.
h. Thou should let go and be happy.
i. Thou should do your own research and be prepared.
j. Thou should be prepared for new experiences and an adventure.
They say it’s better to take the road less traveled. I say, why not… as long as you come back with all your limbs and your wit still in place. :)