Gavin and Glenda Williams

International travel has many pitfalls for the uninitiated. Things that we would do at home without thinking can leave the unwary traveller open to loss and injury. No matter how much we might try to look like one of the locals, the 'expatriate' is immediately obvious to the observant local who is looking for a target. However, a few simple precautions can save you from unfortunate loss that may well spoil your journey.

The following 'Travel Tips and Tricks' are the outcome of years of international travel in many nations of the World. For seasoned international travellers, many of these will be second nature while for the inexperienced they will be new information. We encourage you to read through them regardless. There may be something you have not thought of that could save you time and trouble.

Money Matters:

1. No matter where you are travelling, money will always be your most vulnerable asset. Because it is virtually untraceable and almost instantly usable for any purpose, the potential thief will most often target your wallet or purse. Here are some ideas

2. Never carry all your money in one place. Divide your money into two or three parts and place these on different parts of your person and hand luggage. If you have two credit cards, keep them in separate places.

3. A 'neck wallet' is a convenient and safe way to carry your passport, tickets, credit cards and money. One type is manufactured by Korojo and is available from the travel accessories stand at most baggage or travel goods shops. Bum bags are not advisable as they are easy targets by pick pockets and thieves.

4. Keep only a small amount of cash in your purse or wallet. These are the most visible and therefore the most vulnerable way to carry your cash. Make sure you have a selection of smaller denominations of local currency. (e.g. 1's, 5's & 10's rather than larger denominations.) Street hawkers have a way of going off to look for change and not returning and Taxi drivers never have change.

5. If you must have large amounts of cash with you for some reason, the hotel safety deposit box or even a locked suitcase in your room are preferable to carrying it all with you. Remember the rule: never carry all your cash in the one place.

6. Traveller's cheques are generally as an expensive way of carrying cash. You will often pay commission on both issue and encashment and the exchange rate is often poor. If you do choose to carry traveller's cheques make sure they are in a major currency such as US$ or Euros.

7. The best way to access cash in other countries is through the bank ATM system. If you carry a cashcard linked to the MasterCard/Maestro/Cirrus or Visa/Electron systems, you will find suitable ATM's in most countries. This allows you to draw on the funds in your accounts at home. The cash is usually delivered to you in the currency of the country saving you exchange fees. The sum is debited to your account at home at the bank exchange rate plus a set fee (usually around 2% of the withdrawal) You can also deposit amounts to credit in your credit card and draw on that while overseas although international credit card transactions tend to be more expensive than ATM transactions.

8. Major credit cards Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diner Club are useable in major centres. However we find Mastercard and Visa systems the most widely accepted.

9. Make sure you have the phone number of your credit card issuing authority in Australia. You will need it to contact them should your card become lost or stolen. Credit Card Sentinel offers a complete service in this regard for a small annual fee. It is worth considering joining them. They also retain records of mobile phones and other essential documents.

Passport and Visas

1. Your passport is an incredibly important document. If lost or stolen, it can take days to replace. In the meantime you can become separated from the rest of your tour party. You cannot travel across international boundaries without your passport. Most countries require that your passport is current for 6 months beyond your intended time of departure from their shores. Check your passport expiry date now just to be sure.

2. Before you leave home, make at least 2 photocopies of the identification page in your passport and any visas issued before you commence your journey. It is our practice to include copies of our airline tickets and travel insurance documents. Keep one of these copies in your own luggage and give the other one to one of your travelling companions for safe keeping. Replacing lost or stolen documents is much easier if you have copies.

3. We have also found it useful to make a colour copy of the identification page of your passport and laminate it. I also carry one of these reduced to the size of a business card and laminated, in my wallet. It makes filling out arrival cards in the airplane very easy and is a useful identification card if necessary.

4. When resident in one place for a few days, it is worth making use of the hotel's safety deposit facilities to protect these valuable documents. When it is necessary to carry them on your person, the neck wallet or money belt strapped under your shirt is the safest way.

5. As a further safety measure, take some extra passport photos with you. It is amazing how often you will find you need one of these little items and it will save time if you have to replace your passport.

6. Be sure to check with your travel agent about the visa requirements of each country you are visiting. Some countries require you to hold visas issued by their embassy prior to arrival at their point of entry. Some countries issue visas on the spot but there is usually a fee to be paid. You will need to be well informed of these requirements. You should also be aware of any vaccinations required by nations you plan to visit.

Safety and Security.
1. Not all countries enjoy the security and safety many Western travellers have come to expect in their home lands. Poorer countries frequently have higher crime rates simply because their people struggle to survive. In some lands the police may not be as reliable and helpful as the police at home. Corruption is a sad reality in many places. In a post 9/11 world, Western travellers can become targets for religious extremists. You may not be accustomed to seeing armed soldiers guarding points of purely civilian interest or manning check points asking for your identification. These things can be distinctly unsettling for the inexperienced traveller. Here are a few pointers that may help you through this mine field.

2. Always check with the Department of Foreign Affairs or its equivalent in your country before leaving on your journey. It is a good idea to register your itinerary and contact information with that department before you leave. This can usually be done on the internet.

3. Always leave a copy of your full itinerary and any available contact information with your family at home.

4. Never carry bags, parcels or items for another person unless you know and trust them completely and you have had the opportunity to view the items in the bag or parcel before you depart. Customs officials do not care who owns the items. If you are the one carrying illegal items, you will be held responsible and penalties can be very serious, even fatal.

5. If approached by immigration, customs, police, military or other security personnel, obey their instructions. Be polite and patient. Anger and frustration will accomplish nothing and may well cause additional problems. Remember, people in other lands operate by a different set of values to those of the West. Time is often of little significance. More important issues are status, authority, honour and 'face'.

6. If you should find yourself in a dangerous situation such as a hold-up, hostage or similar situation; keep as low a profile as possible. Do not do anything to attract attention to yourself.

7. Pick pockets are a reality in every country. As a foreigner, you stand out in ways you could not imagine. As such, you are an immediate target. These people depend on the power of distraction to enable them to get under your guard and remove your valuables. They frequently operate in groups or gangs. They frequent such places as crowded bus stops, train stations, markets, theatres or out door eating areas. They wait until they think you are distracted by your food, your purchases or the crowds milling around you and make their move. They depend on distraction so that you will not be aware of their hand in your pocket or shoulder bag. Here are a few things you can do to help protect yourself:

  • Place your wallet or purse in a pocket or bag with a zip, button or other fixing. Keep that bag close to you and in such a position that you are in absolute control.
  • Never place valuables in the outer pockets of backpacks. These can be opened easily without you feeling a thing.
  • Bum bags are easily removed by simply slicing the belt.
  • Never access alternative money supplies (e.g. Neck wallet) in a public place.
  • Never go alone into secluded places such a toilets, lanes or dark areas alone.
  • When using an ATM, always have someone else with you. Remove your money, card and receipt and quickly place them in a secure place. Do not stand at the ATM counting your cash. Be aware of anyone watching or following you as you leave the ATM.

Dress

1. A wise traveller will take time to find out about the culture and dress codes within the country you are visiting. Attire that is completely acceptable in the West may be totally offensive to people in other countries (e.g. ladies shorts or low cut tops. Even tops without sleeves are undesirable in some countries.) Inappropriate dress will draw unnecessary attention to you and could make you the centre of very undesirable attention. Many religions are very sensitive about dress codes in their places of worship (e.g. Mosques or Buddhist temples)

2. The above guidelines are especially important if you are visiting a country for the purposes of Christian ministry. Culturally inappropriate dress may completely undermine the ministry you have come to do. Enquire about appropriate attire before you leave home.

3. Be aware of likely temperatures in the country and areas you plan to visit. A search of the internet will alert you to anticipated temperatures and other weather factors you are likely to encounter and will allow you to pack the appropriate clothing. A lightweight umbrella is a valuable item for any journey.

4. A good sun protection hat is also recommended if you are visiting a tropical climate. Sunscreen is advisable.

5. Make sure your shoes are 'old friends' and well worn in. Never begin a journey with new shoes.

6. If you plan to carry a swimming costume, be aware of cultural sensitivities in the country you are visiting. If you plan to swim at public beaches you will need to pack your own towel. Hotels generally ask that their towels not be removed from the rooms. Most provide towels at their hotel pools.

7. Experienced travellers follow a simple rule: Take less clothes and more money!

Shopping and Customs

1. Most countries have a wide range of souvenirs for the visitor. They range in price from a few dollars to hundreds; from the simple to the very ornate and heavy. You will need to select carefully, always conscious of how much of your tour remains and your weight allowances.

2. Be very carefully about purchasing "antiquities". If they are genuine, you will not be allowed to remove them from the country. More likely they will be fakes and you will pay too much for them. As unregistered trade in antiquities is an offence in almost all countries, customs officers may check your luggage on departure. Punishments for breaking these laws are severe. If in doubt, ask.

3. On your return to Australia you will need to fill out the customs and quarantine declaration. These are legal document and there are heavy penalties for false declarations. People returning to Australia are allowed $980 worth of goods for personal use before having to pay customs duty. Be aware of items you are not allowed to bring into Australia. As a general rule, untreated animal or vegetable products are not allowed (eg. Untanned leather or seeds)

Baggage

1. Remember when you are packing that you will often have to carry your own luggage and hand luggage. You will also want to purchase souvenirs and other items and these all add to your weight.

2. In the current environment of expensive fuels and security concerns, airlines are much more sensitive to allowable luggage weights. Most tickets allow you only 20kgs of checked baggage and 7 -8kgs of carry-on luggage. Many airlines are now charging excess baggage fees for anything over these allowances. These fees can be extremely expensive (frequently more than $25 per kilogram). Make sure you know your allowable baggage weight and do not leave home with excess baggage.

3. If you are travelling for mission or charity purposes, some airlines will give limited additional baggage allowances for items that are to be used in your work. You should contact the airline several days before departure to make these arrangements. Make sure they note any additional allowances on your file at the airline

4. Tour coaches frequently have only limited overhead luggage space. Most do not have room for the roll-on type of carry-on. A light weight back pack style as being the best for day to day use.

Health and Food

1. To stay in the best of health, be careful not to overdo it. Resist the temptation to sit up late at night talking or watching TV. Take your rest when you have the opportunity. Constant travelling in unfamiliar situations is very tiring.

2. Food: It is a good idea to eat cooked rather than raw food at least in your early period of travel in a new country. Be very careful about purchasing food from roadside vendors or hawkers. Their standards of hygiene may not be such as you are used to at home. Hotel and restaurant food is generally safe but look around for signs of cleanliness before you decided to enter and order.

3. Food changes can disrupt the most hardy stomach. Carry anti diarrhoea tablets with you just in case. Be aware that every country has it's own unique 'bugs' and these alone are enough to upset many stomachs.

4. Use sun block regularly and wear a hat. Drink liquids regularly in hot weather even if you may not necessarily feel thirsty. Drink and clean your teeth in bottled water.

5. If you have to carry specific medications, make sure they are in the original bottle with the pharmacy label and if possible carry a copy of your doctor's prescription.

6. Never carry unlabeled tablets or powders of any kind.

7. In most countries it is possible to find hospitals and clinics of reasonable quality for minor to medium matters. Your travel insurance provides for medical evacuation in more serious situations.

8. Bottled water is now available in most countries. It is advisable to use this water for all drinking, teeth cleaning, etc. Tap water may look clean but micro organisms are undetectable to the naked eye. It is a good idea to carry some water purification tablets (Puritabs) to get you out of difficult situations. These are available from chemists in Australia. It is valuable to carry a small PET bottle (say 500mls) of drinking water, virtually everywhere you go.

9. Hotels in much of the world do not normally provide tea and coffee making facilities in the rooms. This is a room service matter and therefore a cost factor. I have found it valuable to carry a traveller's water boiler (a mini immersion heater), a stainless steel cup (light weight) and a supply of tea, coffee, and individual serves sugar and powdered milk. (I often purchase the sugar and powered milk in the country and do not carry it across borders.) The boiler is usually available on traveller's stands at baggage stores. A small thermos may serve you well in the daytime if you simply cannot do without your caffeine fix

Tipping and Toilet facilities

1. It is wise to make enquiries about local practice concerning tips. In the USA, tips are virtually mandatory for almost every service in hotels or restaurants. In some other countries tips are included in a 'service charge' added to your bill. Take time to find out the custom and practice in the country you visit.

2. Toilet facilities are a challenge in many countries especially in the Developing World. It is not uncommon to be required to pay to use these facilities. Generally you can expect facilities for which you pay to be reasonably clean. It is wise to enquire about local practice and have a supply of appropriate currency with you. Always carry a small supply of toilet paper with you. It has many uses apart from the obvious.

3. In many Developing Countries, appropriate toilet facilities are few and far between. The rule is, "Go when you can, not when you must!"

Electrical Connections

1. Make enquiries about the electrical current in the countries you are visiting. USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico and some other countries are 110 volts. Most other countries have 220 - 240 volt 50 Hz systems. You will need to make enquiries about the electrical plug used in the countries you are visiting. You can purchase an adapter from your own plug style to those required at travel stores in your own country.

2. Take time to check on the power packs for items such as laptop computers, video and digital cameras, hair dryers and other electrical items you plan to take with you. Many of these have a variable 100 -240 volt power pack which can handle almost any situation. But check carefully as the wrong voltage can destroy the piece of equipment almost instantly.

3. I have found it helpful to carry a surge protector plug for sensitive equipment.

General Travel Tips

1. English is spoken widely throughout the world and especially by those involved in the tourist trade. I have found it wise to assume that anyone standing by can understand everything you say even if they do not appear to speak English. Be careful what you say about the local country, its culture and ways and particularly political and law enforcement.

2. However, it is also true to say that just because a person appears to speak English, it does not mean they have understood your request or attempt at communication. Miscommunication is common. Misunderstanding is even more common, especially when you are travelling in countries where languages other than English are commonly spoken. You need also to keep in mind that in many countries people will not tell you the truth if they think it will distress you. They will give you the answer they think you want to hear even if it is not true. Take time to ask your questions in different ways at different time to gradually build up a picture of what may be reality.

3. An inflatable neck pillow is wonderful for long flights and quick naps on the bus. These are available on travel goods stands and also at many 'cheapo stores".

4. If you suffer from back problems, a small back pillow may save you many hours of discomfort.

5. Many airlines do not allow the use of CD players on any flight. An MP3 player is a more reliable and compact way to carry your music and even video material.

6. Australian Mobile phones are useable in many countries apart from the USA and Canada. But you should enquire from your service provider before taking your phone. Be aware that when you are on international roaming, the person calling you covers a normal STD call cost, but you must bear whatever charges are imposed by the local service provider (subsequently charged to your account at home). This can be very expensive. If you decide to a take your phone, leave it turned off and clear your message bank every day or so. This is also quite costly but less than receiving calls. I have found it better to purchase or hire a SIM card in the country where I go and prepay for airtime. SMS is sometimes a good way to keep in touch in emergency situations.

7. Phone calls from hotel room are very expensive and must be paid for personally. They are frequently up to 5 times the local call rates.

8. Internet cafes are a generally available facility in much of the world today. But be careful. Do not connect your laptop to an internet café's system unless you are sure you and they have adequate antivirus protection. I once collected 180 viruses in a five minute attempt to connect to the internet in an African internet café. That was despite having a good antivirus program which had resisted all other attacks on my system. As a general rule do not access your bank account or other financial institutions via Internet Cafés. Never pay for anything using a credit card from an internet café.