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Smoothing The Bumps On The Road

Advice For Traveling Alone Or With Others

By: Sandra Smith

Before you go -

Know your style.

The day you travel is a day of your life. Enjoy it.

Are long travel days okay or do you prefer staging a long trip? Can you snuggle into a window seat and sleep 8 hours or do you like to walk the aisles? This probably also indicates a preference for bus or train.

Do you enjoy exploring and getting lost or does that loss of control give you hives? Do you like to be alone or always with someone? What happens if you and a travel companion want to do different things? I reserve the right of refusal: You can always do whatever you want, but I don't have to go along.

What if one hits the floor running at 7 am and the companion sleeps till noon or takes two hours to get ready? If these differences are addressed ahead of time and planned for you can then agree to split up some days, one can go for a walk or swim, have breakfast alone, meet at noon to start sightseeing…Any style is OK but know yours.

Do everything possible in advance.

Keep a detailed itinerary. It takes longer to get to your hotel if you don't have the name and address handy. I like to write the address on an index card to hand to the cab driver. Many don't speak English well. You can also include the phone number and a map if the hotel's website provided one. Use the hotel website or check via email for advice about coming from an airport or rail station. Is there rail service or an airport bus? What is the approximate taxi fare?

When I receive email confirmations I save them to a special web-based email account. If the paper copies are lost I can go to an internet café and retrieve the information.

Check currency exchange rates online and understand the conversion ratio. Research benefits and fees of your credit cards and prepare a code to remind you of passwords.

If it can go wrong it will.

I leave a copy of my itinerary at home along with a copy of my passport, travel insurance, credit cards with the phone numbers needed to contact the banks. Before I leave home I empty the non-essential cards from my wallet. I then make a copy of the contents of the wallet I intend to take on the trip to leave home. In event of loss someone can stop payment on the cards, have new ones reissued. With worldwide mail being so excellent, you can have a new credit card within days.

Take a copy of your passport information page with you. Never put all your valuables or money into one bag.

Planning is crucial.

Research the weather, local festivals and school vacations which cause crowding. I prefer to visit a place when prices are lower and restaurants are hoping for customers. Lines and crowds are not to my liking. I also like to do more difficult places first, saving luxury for last. If I intend to do some backpacking in a lovely area ( waterfalls and rainbows usually mean rain) looking forward to a nice hotel room with a spa suits me.

As you go -

Be alert.

Arriving at an unfamiliar place, especially after a long travel day, is disorienting. Other vulnerable times are boarding public transportation or herding your luggage. Having the information you need to move on readily at hand can allow you to focus on the entire situation at hand. Hurrying and being disorganized can cause you to jam a passport or your wallet with money and ID into an open pocket or compartment in a purse. That is just what a pickpocket waits for. I try to have some local currency with me and take time to replace my passport into a secure place. Catching the first bus isn't nearly as important as arriving at the hotel with money and identification intact.

Envision your day.

I like to carry only what I will need. If I'll be with a tour group all day I can take along a jacket, umbrella, water, cheese and almonds for snacks because I can probably leave extra stuff in the bus and won't be able to be as independent. If I'm spending the day on my own I'd rather return to the hotel for my jacket or wait out a rainstorm in a coffee shop.

I put just enough money and one credit card into my wallet for the day's needs. The other cash and documents stay at the hotel in the safe or are pinned into my clothes. I leave jewelry at home. In short, I don't want to look like an inviting target.

I tear pages out of my guide book and take just what I need. Look like you know what you are doing and avoid fumbling for the map on the street.

I would rather arrive at an airport early, read the paper and have a coffee than do these things at my hotel and risk missing my flight.

Stay Organized.

Plan your packing and return things to their place. Zipper bags can hold a snack, catch a spill or hold air to cushion a breakable item. They also keep smaller items together and easier to find. A large one can be a valuable wash machine. Simply put some detergent and the clothes in and shake. I don't carry dirty clothes around. I take some things I intend to throw away and wash the others. Using one color for basics helps.

Take postage from home. Stamps don't take up much room and I have found that putting all my postcards into an envelope and sending it home to be posted from within my own country is much cheaper than buying an overseas airmail stamp for each card.

Look back.

When you leave a table or bench glance back to see if you have left something.

When you leave your hotel, your car, a bus stop, look back to notice what it will look like when you try to find it again. You can also tuck the hotel's card into your pocket so you can catch a taxi if you get lost. I'm fond of taking "bus adventures" where I get on the first bus I see and figure that at the end of the day I'll catch a cab home. Don't do as my sister did in Rome. She left her hotel turned the corner and noted a souvenier stand as a landmark. It wasn't until she tried to find her way home that she realized every corner in Rome had a matching souvenier stand. A friendly clerk in a hotel gave her directions back to her hotel.

Follow the crowd.

Locals know what is happening. If everyone gets off the bus, I follow along. In Kyoto I found a cherry blossom festival in a temple that way. In Prague I found a park and the city's only open air swimming pool. You can always backtrack and resume the bus trip if it comes to nothing.

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