Monday, 15 April 2013

On travelling...

If you read this blog you'll be aware that I travel pretty often.  Just yesterday I returned from a trip to Gothenburg, via a long bus trip through Oslo and Rygge (hey, it saved a lot of cash).  With all the jet-setting I've done over the past few years, I've been able to get a few things right - and a lot of things wrong.  Which is exactly why I feel qualified enough to share a bit of travelling wisdom with you.  Ladies and gentlemen, here are my very own Do's and Don't's of travelling cheaply through Europe...

DO plan your trip carefully.  Print out maps.  Look up timetables.  Make sure you have detailed directions.  Otherwise you might end up experiencing something like my Italian audition trip fiasco.

DO compare prices. Use price comparison sites such as to find the cheapest flights - and if you're flexible with your schedule, you can also choose the cheapest days and times to travel.  A word about accommodation: if you aren't lucky enough to have a friend to stay with for free, find a cheap place to stay at a website like or  My friend tells me that Ibis hotels are always good - they're clean, safe, inexpensive, and can be found everywhere.

DON'T stay overnight at the airport.  Unless it's completely unavoidable - and I mean completely unavoidable - just don't do it.  Yes, it may seem smart to save money by sleeping rough and catching that cheap flight that leaves at evil o'clock in the morning.  But trust me, the sleepless night curled up on the airport bench is NOT worth the difference in price.  Especially if you're at London Stansted - or, as it's better known, Purgatory.

DO pack lightly.  Ok, so I haven't always been great at this, as friends and family will attest...

Simulation.  Not writer's actual suitcase.
But after being on several flights with strict carry-on weight limits, I have learned to hone down to the essentials.  One pair of smart shoes in the suitcase, one comfy pair worn on the plane.  Makeup bag, phone charger, toothbrush, and a couple of outfits - that's all you need.  Remember: unless you are travelling to the wilds of the Saharan desert, you will probably be able to do laundry.

DON'T assume buses and trains always run on the same schedule.  Travelling on a Sunday is a dangerous thing, as I discovered yesterday.  Buses that usually come every ten minutes suddenly get very lazy.  They may decide instead to only come every thirty minutes, or every hour, or two or three times in the day on a random whim.  Be prepared for lazy Sunday buses!

DO invest in the future.  Think ahead.  Will you be taking this same bus back to the airport?  Then get a return ticket.  If you'll be using a bus/train/tram/rickshaw regularly on this trip, think about getting something like a ten-ride ticket or a weekly or monthly pass.  It may seem not seem like much, but all those single ride tickets add up to a lot of extra money you don't need to spend.

DO stay hydrated. Planes are extremely dry, and it's easy to get dehydrated or even get sick if you don't drink lots of water. Yes, it might be embarrassing to be that guy who's always asking his neighbour to get up so he can squeeze past and go to the toilet. But trust me, it's worth it to not feel like this the next day...

Evian, why have you forsaken me??!
DON'T be a sheep.  I can't believe how many times I've seen people rush to line up for boarding just because they saw one guy stand up. 

And then they end up standing there for ages while nothing happens.  Why, why, WHY??  What are you actually achieving by lining up like that??  If you have an assigned seat, you will be sitting there whether you board the plane first or last.  If you don't have an assigned seat, get this - being the last to board is actually not the end of the world!  In fact, it probably means you will get an aisle seat, which means you can get up for the toilet as much as you want without bothering your neighbours (see hydration, above).

DO be smart about money.  Did you know Norwegian coins have holes in the middle of them?

They're like fancy metal Norwegian doughnuts.
That's pretty cool.  It's also cool to know that you'll need to carry cash in Norway - whereas in Sweden and Denmark you can pay for virtually anything with a debit card.  It's always good to know how money works wherever you're going, and to be prepared accordingly.

DO try to eat well.  Yes, it can be hard to find proper food at airports and train stations.  But if you eat real meals you'll be less likely to waste money filling up on crisps and chocolate.

Well, ok... maybe you can still have a bit of chocolate...
DON'T let your temper get away with you.  Here's a little story for you.  The last time I flew to Canada, I had an early morning and was feeling very tired and grumpy.  And to make matters worse, the person behind me kept punching the back of my headrest.  As I sat there fuming, and the punching continued, I built up a very clear image in my head of this obnoxious headrest puncher.  It must be a teenage boy, drunk or possible stoned.  He would be wearing some kind of sports jersey and baggy jeans.  And he was sitting there with his friend, laughing at me, punching my headrest, knowing I was too polite to confront him about it.  After several hours of torment, my anger and resentment towards this headrest puncher grew to such an extent that I finally exploded.  I whipped my head around in rage -

Not a simulation.  Writer's actual face.
- only to discover a meek and apologetic older woman cowering behind me.  She was not in fact punching the back of my headrest on purpose, as my sleep-deprived, travel-enraged mind had led me to believe.  She was just trying to turn up the volume of her movie on a rather unresponsive touch screen.  The lesson?  It's easy with all the stress of travel to get extremely irrational and angry.  So when you feel your temper getting the best of you, take a deep breath and count to ten.  Things are probably not as terrible as you think they are.

DO bring something to fight the boredom.  Whether it's a book or a magazine or the latest season of your favourite show - just make sure you keep it light and fluffy.  This is not the time to try to read War and Peace.  You will be stressed out, sleep deprived, and distracted by boarding announcements.  Basically, you should prepare to have about half of your usual IQ.

DO plan for recovery time.  Travelling is tiring, especially if you're crossing time zones.  And in my experience, jetlag only gets worse as you get older.  I recently made the mistake of scheduling a singing lesson just two days after arriving on a cross-atlantic flight.  I was still exhausted and jet-lagged, and I was completely useless in the lesson.  Know your limits and give yourself time to rest after a trip.  You'll need some time to be useless before you can be useful again.

DO bring a notebook.  Sometimes I get my best ideas when I'm travelling.  I zone out, look out the window at the scenery, and BOOM - I get a Eureka moment.  Maybe this is just me being an introvert, but I think the best thing about long trips is it can give you time to think.  So make sure you have somewhere to record your ideas and insights.

These are the most helpful tips I can think of now, although I'm sure that more will come to me the next time I'm travelling,  For now I'll leave you with one more tip: once you've booked the flight, printed the maps, and packed your bags - have fun!  After all, travelling is only worth all this stress if you get an adventure out of it.  So wherever you are in the world, take some time to enjoy the experience!

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