Taking the Travail out of Travel

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The perfect vacation takes a lot of planning. Vacationers should know before they even book exactly what they hope to get out of their trip: relaxation, culture, adventure, etc. Here are some tips to make the process easier.

Q. We know the Andersons travel a lot. Got any travel hints? Have you made mistakes? Could we learn from them?

Photography by the authorsA.Travel is easier if travelers understand themselves. Who are they? What do they look for in a vacation? Do they want a city adventure? Tropical island relaxation? A return to nature? Travel clinic doctors say it’s surprising how vague people can be when they ask about travel; they don’t seem to understand how active a cruise or tour is going to be — and whether they will be able or even care to do it.

Packing

The clichés still make sense. Take twice the money and half the clothes. Don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose. If possible take some old clothes you can wear and throw out at your final destination. It gives you more space to bring back gifts. Travel in your heaviest clothes and shoes if possible; it leaves more room in your luggage but may make the journey uncomfortable. If you are going to use European railways try to travel light. And cobbled streets need sensible shoes.

Security

Be aware of where you are and who is around you. Use the room or hotel safe where available. Don’t keep your wallet in your hip pocket. Don’t check your wallet when you see a sign saying Beware of Pickpockets. Thieves may be standing under the sign watching where your hand goes!

We’ve had cameras lifted from a backpack in Genoa, Italy and been scammed by a taxi driver in Rome, but we love Italians. We’ve been really taken in a restaurant in the tourist part of Vienna, but we’ve had that experience also in our own city, San Diego.

Don’t place comments on social networks about being on vacation or your home may be empty when you return. Our friend, David Spees, MD, a family practice physician who also runs a travel clinic in San Diego, has some advice that is especially important for women traveling alone.

“Never sit in the front seat of a taxi,” he says. “Have some idea of the fare, negotiate the price before getting in and pay the driver at the end of the trip before you get out of the vehicle. Never let the driver pick up someone else. If he does, get out in the next public area.”

Research

The British Army used to say, “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.”

Check local prices because the same object in Pier 1 in your home town may be cheaper than in foreign stores. Go to the library. Explore online. Use your search engine. We still like Google but it’s not as useful as it used to be. Despite its claims to root out manipulation, it doesn’t bring up the useful information first the way it used to. Check with other search engines like Bing. Verify different prices by shopping on line.

If your travel plans become too complicated consider going back to an old concept — using a travel agent. Agents specialize now and may be more knowledgeable.

Reviews

Check out your favorite website that encourages comments from its membership such as cruisecritic.com, traveladvisor.com, virtualtourist.com, and so on. Some travelers initially believed all they read and then later heard that the positive reviews for, say, a hotel were written by the hotel itself and the unfavorable ones by the competition. The websites are aware of this potential and police this as best they can. As always, let the buyer beware.

Choices

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Try to decide what your expected experience is in any destination. Is it epicurean perfection in Paris? For us not likely, but a friend tells us he goes to Paris once a year to dine at Tour D’Argent. However, he knows the restaurant is not keen to book an American whose party will likely be noisy and could spoil the evening for locals. He goes into the Hotel de Crillon and has the concierge make the reservation for him even though he is not staying there. He once insulted the concierge by trying to tip him. The concierge said earned as much as the general manager — as qualified professional concierges do in Paris — and would be embarrassed to accept a tip.

For our friend on vacation the cuisine is the reason, but for others it may be the view, the ballet, the theater, and even the best hotel for, say, a stay at Monument Valley.

Location

Hotels have always correctly claimed the importance of their location and this has never been so important when travelers wander the internet and make choices without balancing what they want from a trip. Or verifying exactly where that hotel is that offers such a great price.

Economy

Tour operators claim you can’t book a hotel with air travel as inexpensively as they can.

“We have bulk buying purchasing power,” a Trafalgar Tours operator once told us.

City Cards that give you multiple admissions to museums and attractions are likely to save you money only if you intend to go to many attractions. Less so if you have only one target museum in mind.

On cruises a local taxi for, say, two couples sharing, may be a lot cheaper than the ship’s shore excursions but this makes us a bit uneasy. The issues are: Does the driver speak reasonable English and can he/she understand your wishes?

A friend on a cruise down the Mexican Riviera in mid-summer had this conversation with a cab driver: “Do you speak English?” and the reply, “Yes.” Then, “I believe you had snow yesterday?” Again the reply, “Yes!”

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But other issues are the driver’s knowledge of the tourist area, his ability to explain it, the comfort of his vehicle and the safety of his driving. And most important can he get you back to the ship in time before it sails? A friend found this out in Vietnam where many canals intersect the roads back to the port. The bridges were up delaying vehicles on the long drive back to the ship and he missed the boat, literally.

Goals

This brings us to the thought: Do you have, a bucket list (the travel buzz word today)? More than anything do you want to gaze upon the signature scene for all travel photographers, Machu Picchu? Or have you long thought of traveling to Tahiti? Are you maybe wondering whether you’d like a cruise?

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Then you have to address issues: It will never be cheaper than it is today nor more fun because tourism is gradually becoming the clean industry that every country wants. Numbers of travelers in any area are growing like the national debt and some places are so busy it almost spoils the pleasure of travel. For example, Rome’s traffic, pollution and elbow-poking tourists means the city is nothing like the bliss it was 50 years ago.

do it now

If you fancy going somewhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting, .

Have a question? Write to PMD's team of experts at lmortkowitz@hcplive.com.

The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called