Last minute planning: I know that spontaneity seems to be the mantra these days and everyone just loves to just get up and go traipsing about the world at the drop of a hat. But some of the best travel deals—be they for hotel accommodation or for flight tickets—can be scoped out months before your actual travel date. While I’m not suggesting that you go all out and make your bookings a year in advance, but doing them 3 – 4 months prior will see you getting the best deals at the best rates. This is because hotels and airlines prefer to fill up their bookings in advance, leaving just a few horrendously expensive deals for last minute travellers.
Doing inadequate research: I cannot stress enough the importance of doing your own due diligence when planning your vacation. Don’t leave important decisions like which places to visit, when to visit and where to stay, to your friendly neighbourhood travel agent. Most of them operate on a commission basis and will peddle destinations, airlines and hotels that provide them with generous incentives and freebies. Also, once you’ve narrowed down on a couple of destinations, sit yourselves down with a guide book and a computer and start looking at the pros and cons of each. The moment you’ve locked in on a destination, start visiting the official tourism web site of the place as well as related travel forum discussions and devour the guide books for information on it.
Travelling heavy: This is something that might take a little time getting used to, but travelling light can be a boon with the benefits being manifold. Today, as per policy, a lot of airlines charge extra for every piece of checked-in baggage, leave alone excess baggage! And let’s face it; no one wants to schlep a heavy suitcase with busted wheels across a crowded New York subway station in peak rush hour. The idea, is to pack whatever you think is adequate and then blindly cut that amount in half. That is just what you will need. Period!
And the bright side is you will have more space for all those goodies you want to buy on the trip.
Ignoring the off-season benefits: There is so much to be gained by travelling during the so-called ‘off seasons’. This generally means the autumn to winter months in Europe and North America and the brutally hot Asian summer months that are often dampened by rain showers in South East Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Not only will there be fewer crowds of tourists to fend off, but this time of the year can fetch you hefty bargains and discounts on everything, from hotel rooms and museum entry fees to concert performances and restaurant meals.
Not immersing yourself in the local culture: Ask yourselves this simple question, “Why do I want to travel?” Most often the answer will be about seeing, doing and being a part of a new culture. Why then must we crave what we left back home while we hit the road? Food and language issues seem to be the top grouses with most. I cannot begin to list the number of times I’ve heard a desi mourn the lack of good old dal-roti in Taipei or whine about the fact that the Brazilian shopkeeper can’t understand English. At the risk of repeating a cliché, when in Rome, do as the Romans. So, when you’re in Rome next, have a go at a typically Roman square-shaped margherita pizza and resist the urge to ask if they have a paneer or pineapple version of it.
Dressing the part: Indian as a nation his blessed with a ‘boringly’ predictable weather with four distinct seasons, but sadly that’s not the case with most other places. Melbourne, for example, is known to have all four seasons in a day. And don’t even get me started on London! We also often conveniently forget the reversal of seasons in the Southern Hemisphere while packing for a vacation. The layering concept somehow always seems to work for me, where, instead of taking heavy coats and woollen sweaters, I take a few light jackets, jumpers and cardigans that I can then layer over shirts or T-shirts. That way, when the weather gets warmer, I can simply peel off one or more layers till I am comfortable.
Not going off the beaten path: Now, just because your best friends told you they had a blast in Bali needn’t necessarily mean you will too. What if you prefer a less ‘beachy’ destination like Laos, for instance? Trust me, there is no such thing as the ‘Hottest Destination for 2013’ or any other such claims. Travel is, and should be, tuned to our own tastes and preferences. You should be true to what you want instead of following the herd blindly.
Forgetting to take travel insurance: Most of us underestimate grossly the expenses that might add on if we were to—God forbid—fall ill, miss our flights or lose our luggage, passports or money in a foreign country. Trust me, this one comes from personal experience, which led to disastrous results after an emergency root canal in Cape Town left me poorer by thousands. A nominal amount can ensure that all such annoyances can be made a little less stressful and easier to cope with.
Not giving the camera a rest: These days we all seem to be getting so ‘militant’ about capturing each and every minute of our vacation through our camera’s lens, that we often lose out on seeing the real McCoy with our own eyes. Imagine missing out on seeing the Northern Lights’ surreal displays in Norway, while you search your bag for the camera’s zoom lens. Sacrilege! And while I dare not suggest ditching the camera altogether, a little time off from it every once in a while will let you appreciate and savour the beauty of a new place even more.
Not adding value to your vacation: We often get so caught up with shopping for tacky souvenirs and keep-sakes that go on to gather dust on our mantles and side tables, that we forget to do something memorable on the trip. So, why not do something that will not only add value to your vacation, but also remind you constantly of the place? Therefore, learn a bit of Vietnamese cooking at a cookery school in Hanoi or do a wine appreciation course in Chile or anything that might interest you and which you can boast about later at your next fancy wine dinner.
That’s it! Don’t fall victim to these travel mistakes and you will have a smooth and memorable trip. Because travel should be fun, not cumbersome and heart-attack inducing!
This was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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