Over the year of our Selfish travels, Mrs. Selfish and I developed a few travel habits that helped us successfully navigate new countries regardless of language and technology. For today’s post I’ll go over some of the DO’s of traveling.
1. Do research how to get to your hotel ahead of time.
The moment you arrive at a new country is when you’re most vulnerable to scams or are most likely to get ripped off. Not only are you unshowered, jetlagged, and exhausted, but you are also carrying your valuables, cash, and important travel documents. Getting to your hotel/hostel safely should be a top priority in order to make sure your stay goes smoothly.
Mrs. Selfish and I always research transportation options on sites like flyertalk or tripadvisor prior to landing to compare costs and times – especially when the best option is a cab.
2. Do run the math on low cost carriers.
Low cost carriers like Ryanair, easyJet, Jetstar, and Air Asia, almost always undercut their competition by dozens of dollars per direction, but are they worth it? Sometimes.
Since Mrs. Selfish and I were often checking 2-3 bags, one of which was ALWAYS oversized, adding in the extras to cost often meant a legacy carrier was a better way to go. Especially since we could often earn miles on those flights.
3. Do negotiate taxi fares ahead of time.
This was less of an issue in Northern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand where the cabs just ran the meter. In South East Asia and parts of Europe, however, cabbies often hid their meters or refused to use them.
If you ever find yourself in one of those countries either make sure they use the meter (ideally ahead of time), or negotiate a price before you close the door.
4. Do know basic words or phrases to smooth over transactions.
Learning basic phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” “excuse me,” and “do you speak English?” can really smooth over most transactions and sets expectations. Parisians are notoriously unfriendly to visitors, yet they bent over backwards to help us after we uttered a few French words.
5. Do get a credit card with 0 foreign transaction fees.
Do it. There’s no reason to pay a 2.7% surcharge on top of an unfavorable exchange rate.
6. Do look like you have nothing worth stealing.
Mrs. Selfish and I naturally dress poorly when we travel, since I don’t like to iron and we don’t have a lot of room. Most people mistake us for backpackers or 20-somethings and we like to encourage that.
We’ve been carrying the same backpack for 12 years now – one strap has worn so far that you can see the underlying styrofoam. I wear a $20 scratched up Casio watch. Even though we tend to carry around over $5000 worth of electronics, we have never been targeted by pickpockets.
7. Do offload your foreign currency at the hotel on your way out.
Emptying the rest of your foreign currency at the hotel to help settle the bill is a very easy way to get rid of your foreign bills. Most large hotels will accept multiple forms of payment, so be sure to pay off the rest with a credit card with a 0 foreign transaction fee!
When traveling through North Asia we loaded my phone up with multiple phrases that we pointed to when dealing with specific merchants or taxi drivers. If you find yourself sick abroad (for example, from horrible food poisoning in China) this can be extremely useful.
9. Do stay organized with services like Award Wallet and Tripit.
In the past few years a number of services have popped up to make traveling easier:
1) Award Wallet – manage your airline, hotels, and credit card point balances. If anyone needs a referral, hit us with a comment below for a premium account for the next 6 months.
2) TripIt – manages your hotel, airline, and misc reservations in one easy to access location. Also viewable on smart phones, plus send friends and family your trip information.
3) Google Maps My Places – put together your own maps with restaurants, hotels, hotspots, and everything in between. Access with your smartphone on location to easily find your way around.
4) Google Drive – useful for everything else. We use spreadsheets to manage trip logistics like routing, and length in a given city.
10. Do use services like Groupon while traveling to save money.
Sign up for services like Groupon prior to starting your trip to see if there are any good deals. This usually works better if you are traveling for a week or two since it may be harder to schedule some services (e.g. afternoon tea or massages) than others.
11. Do keep track of hotel rooms and promised benefits.
Make sure to know what type of room or benefits you’re entitled to when booking a hotel. When you arrive, make sure your room matches your reservation.
In Siem Reap I booked us in a suite at a local hotel (only $20 more a night!), but when we arrived we were placed in a standard room. After arguing with the hotel staff and showing them my room reservation, the manager finally admitted that they had given our room to someone else a day earlier and refunded me $60 in cash.
12. Do keep some cash on hand.
While many merchants accept credit cards, there are several countries where the majority of transactions are still handled in cash. In China, we noticed most Chinese merchants ONLY accepted Chinese credit cards. In Japan, it’s hard for many people to get credit cards, so a lot of merchants only took cash.
13. Do take advantage of your hotel’s concierge.
If you’re staying at a nice hotel in a country where you don’t speak the language, I highly recommend using the concierge to book EVERYTHING. In Fukouka we had the Grand Hyatt make reservations for our bus to kurokawa onsen town. Similarly, in Kanazawa we were able to make a reservation with Otomezushi, who only spoke Japanese, thanks to the help of the staff at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Amazingly they did it even though we weren’t staying at Park Hyatt Tokyo until 2 weeks after the reservation!
14. Do proactively complain and document problems.
In Lisbon, United lost Mrs. Selfish’s business class ticket for our Lufthansa flight home, somehow neglecting to reserve her seat space 3 months ahead of the flight. After 2 hours of complaining, we managed to score two first class tickets!
Less excitingly, on our San Francisco – New York flight my seat refused to recline. I took a picture with my phone which I sent to American Airlines.
Within an hour I had received the following response:
Your comfort is important to us, and we are sorry the seat you were assigned on your flight was not up to standard.
Naturally you should expect a properly functioning aircraft seat whenever you travel with us. With that in mind and as a gesture of goodwill we’ve made arrangements for an eVoucher (via a separate email) for you to use toward the purchase of a ticket to travel with us. The next time you travel with us Mr. Selfish, we’ll do our best to make sure your trip is a good one.
The squeaky wheel really does get the oil, it would seem.
That’s it for the DO’s. Tomorrow I’ll go over some of the DON’Ts we ran into.