These are so-called “Travel Tips” that I will usually follow obediently, with real life experiences that the unlucky ones encountered during their overseas trips, including me!
- Travel Insurance
It’s so convenient to buy a Travel Insurance, even one day before departure as your agent can buy it online and email you the policy document for printout to bring along for your trip. Of course, to avoid any unforeseeable circumstances, buy your Travel Insurance well in advance to get the original policy document mail to you before your trip.
Travel Insurance will cover you for any medical expenses should you be involved in an accident or fall sick and require hospitalisation. Being hospitalised in a foreign country is no joke Okay! The medical cost would be very high (no medical subsidy for non-residents)! I know of a guy, who does not believe in insurance despite that his wife is an insurance agent, was hospitalised in Hong Kong due to food poisoning and spent more than S$10k on the hospital bills! He didn’t buy any travel insurance.
Another good point is, even after you return to your country and you see a doctor, you can still claim the medical cost (MC) as long as it is within a specific period from the date you reach your country; I had claimed that before too. Read through your policy and be clear of what are covered.
- Photocopies of important documents
Leave copies of your important documents such as passport, tickets, driver’s license, medical documents and so on with your family or friends at home for back-up in case of an emergency. Also leave copies of your itinerary at home so that you can be contacted in an emergency. If possible, with the permission of your travelling partner, leave his/her contact number at home in case your family can’t contact you in an emergency.
Make two copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with your family or friends. Carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport.
- Familiarise with the local laws and customs of your destination countries
Abide to the local laws since we don’t want to get ugly with the local police! Another thing worth to mention and that actually happened to me, was to make sure you understand how the metro ticket systems work in your destination countries, especially where you don’t understand their official languages well. For example, different European countries have their own metro ticketing system. We took it for granted that the train system were similar after traveling to six different countries in a row and we got a heavy fine for neglecting the rules and regulations of the metro tickets in Italy on the last day of our sightseeing trip in Europe! (Read how we got fined in Rome)
It’s good to follow the local customs to show respect and good mannerism to the local people. For instance, especially ladies, do not wear sleeveless and shorts when entering a religious ground where it is forbidden do so.
- Deal with authorised money changers
I heard of a British friend who got cheated for getting very low currency exchange rate when he was being told by an unauthorized money changer that it was not possible to enter Malaysia from Thailand without Malaysia currency.
- Beware of counterfeit money
Due to the unfamiliarity with the local currency, tourists are always an easy target to get counterfeit money, especially when getting back the loose change. A number of tourists in my previous China tour group got counterfeit money in Sichuan province, China. My brother got the counterfeit money from a hawker selling lots of souvenirs right at the entrance of the Sichuan Giant Pandas Sanctuary. Try to spend your bigger dollar in a reputable retail outlet instead.
Additional note: For RMB, if you scratch Chairman Mao’s shirt you will feel raised lines; there will be raised lines on the right side of the bill, so scratch them and feel them. You can also buy a pocket light (15 RMB) that will light up an invisible number on the bill.
- Identifying your luggages among other similar designs
Put identifying markings on your luggages such as bright coloured tape. I would tie my luggage handle with a bright coloured ribbon. Do not attach any nice dangling key chain on your luggage as the key chain is likely to be snapped during the transportation process at the airports. I lost mine.
- Do not pack valuables in check-in luggage
A friend packed a nice jewellery box into his luggage and check in at an airport in Nepal. It went missing. There are many such incidents about missing valuable items in check-in luggages. Better be safe than sorry.
- Make sure that your passport is valid
It’s safer that your passport is at least valid for more than six months from the day you travel. A friend going to Taiwan was asked to turn back when her passport validity was only around six months.
Check with the immigration officer if he did not stamp your passport when you are permitted entry to the country, just in case it is necessary to obtain the entry stamp and the officer overlooked it.
Nowadays, you may need to scan your fingerprints during the passport verification at the immigration counter. My hands can be very dry after spending hours in the air-conditioning and the scanning machine might not be able to read my fingerprints. So, I will apply hand moisturizer and since then, my fingerprints can be easily captured by the scanning machine.
- Be ready to answer questions at the immigration counter
The immigration officer may ask you where you are going and staying during your visit in the country. I think it’s good to carry your itinerary with you just in case you need to refer to it. The officer may also want to know if you carry enough money to spend for your whole trip. Carry some cash, traveller’s cheques and/or credit cards with you to show him. This usually works for me.
- Be aware of what is happening around you
When you are in crowded places, train and bus terminals, be aware of suspicious people around you. When we were in a train station in Prague, my friend went to the ticket booth to check out the sale of tickets. A man who was also wearing uniform (could be fake uniform of the train station) approached him at the queue and beckoned him to go somewhere, perhaps with a better deal to offer. My friend ignored the man as it was strange that why wouldn’t the man let the ticket counter to serve him instead?
At the same train station, when another friend was withdrawing money from ATM, two suspicious men were standing close to us and watching over our shoulders. At that point, we had to act like security guards for our friend! When we left, the two men also left that area. Obviously, they were not there to withdraw money! (Read unpleasant travel experiences.)
We had a friend who lost his camera in Vienna when he placed the camera next to him in a restaurant. He could recall that a man stood near him and flipped his coat. That should be when his camera was stolen. Sounds like magic! Gone was not only the new camera, but the precious photos taken during the whole trip with his girlfriend.
- Avoid being a target of crime
Try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewellery. Try to blend in and dress conservatively. Also, try not to hang your camera around your neck and with a map on your hand; after all, you already look like a tourist! Do not draw out a large amount of cash from your wallet to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Think about where you are going that day and carry only enough cash, traveller’s cheques and/or credit cards for the day and keep the rest in the hotel safe. This is to limit any loss in case bad things do happen to you.
Keep a list of your credit cards and traveller’s cheques company phone numbers just in case you need to cancel them in the event of loss or theft. You can call your credit card company for a temporary increase of the credit limit (subject to company’s approval) so that you don’t need to bring too many credit cards along.
- Special Deals? Be caution!
We were cheated with fake coach tickets at Larkin Terminal in Johor, Malaysia when we were on a snorkelling trip to Pulau Tioman. We were then queuing up to buy coach tickets to Mersing jetty when a man approached us at the queue and convinced us with a better deal by taking his coach. He showed us his receipt book, with company address and stamp while trying to convince us to buy his coach tickets. He appeared to be very friendly and chatted with the ticket officer at the counter where we queued up. Without much suspicion, we bought his tickets. On the day of departure, we couldn’t contact him and his company. Our designated coach never arrived. As a result, we paid for an air-con taxi to take us to Mersing. Apparently, the air-con was not functioning well and we were perspiring profusely throughout the next two hours of journey!
- Never help unknown parties to carry things out of the country
This may sound more like a common sense but it’s noteworthy. Do not help a stranger to carry his/her baggage across the immigration checkpoints, even he/she looks like a helpless person. Refer him/her to the immigration officer for help instead. You will never know what is packed inside. It could be a banned item and you won’t want to deal with the immigration officers too much!
Also, try not to carry an open bag to prevent anyone from slipping banned stuff into your bag when you are approaching the immigration checkpoints.
- Beware of well-dressed people who happen to be around
Good news is there are usually more good people around! But if a person who happens to be around you and happens to speak your language, starts chatting and gets very friendly, he/she could have other hidden motives. That is the way they win your confidence.
When we were in Europe, we had to start our conversation with them by asking “Do you speak English?” Yet, when we were in Prague, a woman who looked like a European approached us in the old town square and asked us for help in English. It was peculiar at that point of time as we were obviously Asian tourists and there were so many locals around, why would she want us to help?
Once when we were eating at a food court in Malaysia, a well-dressed Chinese man with strong accent of Chinese from mainland China approached us for help too. He smiled and said that he couldn’t find his relatives in Malaysia and had no money left. That was weird! If he was lost, he should go to the nearby police station.
When we were walking along the streets in China, a group of rickshaw drivers were very persistent and following us around and around. When it was getting late, our group took their ride back to the hotel. Instead, the drivers detoured and took us to a shop selling jades! We insisted to go back to our hotel. Fortunately, there was no ugly scene involved. (Read posts on Sichuan, China)
- Your local embassy
Your embassy is there to assist you if you lose your passport or are in trouble. Therefore, it’s good to make a note of the location and contact number of your local embassy. In case anything goes wrong, such as a disaster during your visit in that country, call home as soon as you can to let your family/friends know that you are safe and sound.
Last but not least, enjoy your trip without worries! If you have any travel tips to share, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be pleased to publish them for you here! Alternatively, feel free to leave your comments here!
You may also read HCMC (Saigon) Travel Tips.