The 2d’s travel for work and fun – it’s a bonus when you can get fun out of a work trip. Here are a few general tips we can pass on about traveling – all posts also have a few tips called out in them.
- Buy a guide – We’re big fans of the Lonely Planet series or for the uber-cool (and sometimes deep-pocketed), there’s also the Wallpaper series. The Lonely Planet series has a good overview of where you’re going, maps, easy to follow layout, and good, honest reviews on places to stay (also broken down in to a range of budgets) and eat. Obviously this isn’t for those who just want to show up and experience whatever happens, but as you’ve may have learned in the About section, dpr doesn’t excel in the ‘just winging it’ department.
- Visas and vaccinations – Make sure you know whether or not you’ll require a visa to enter a country *before* you get there (sometimes you’ll need to get it before you go, and sometimes you can get it on arrival). You can find this out online or through a good travel agent. The same goes for vaccinations – a good travel medical clinic will be able to counsel you on this or you can find out the information online. Make sure you keep your basic vaccinations up to date, and for some countries, you will require proof of vaccination upon entry. Do your homework before you go!
- Hotels/accommodation – Use the free resources that are out there to help you decide. Tripadvisor is a great resource we always go to before we book for hotels and even for some alternatives like condos, apartments, and houses. People are honest and you can always weed out the super high-maintenance reviews. Another good sign is if the management team responds to good and bad reviews. We won’t book a condo or an Airbnb reservation unless we’ve read at least one review. We always contact the owner with lots of questions, too, which will generally give you an idea if you’re a fit for the property/owner or not. The fitness centre is another big thing for us – what are the hours, are there pics, or where’s the closest gym?
- Cars/other transportation– We often find that hotwire.com gives great rates that we can’t get on cars from the rental places, but you can only do a return rental (i.e. pick up and drop off from the same place). We’ve never had to cancel a hotwire reservation, but this might not be an option for you if you think that might be the case. Will you need a GPS? Bring your own and save the outrageous daily fee or if you’re old-school, CAA and AAA have free maps and guides for members. If you’re staying in a city with good mass transportation, ask at the station about buying a daily/weekly pass or a card that will give you bonuses for use – these are often cheaper than buying a ticket for every trip.
- If you’re flying, make sure you have an assigned seat on your ticket – We will never book a ticket that doesn’t give us assigned seats – whether we need to pay a small fee or it’s part of the ticket price. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not for everyone. Just remember that if you don’t have an assigned seat, you’re going to be the first one staying put when/if the plane is oversold. If you have time on your hands and want a voucher, that’s cool, but if not, get the assigned seats.
- Buying your plane tickets online – They’re generally cheaper on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (even if by $20 or so – hey, that’s another meal at your destination!). There’s also usually a window 2-3 months before you travel where they’re also at their lowest (except for high seasons like Christmas). I’ll often use Expedia to compare from one carrier to another, but then we’ll book directly with the airline’s website – sorry, Expedia, but we’d rather deal directly with the airline if I have to make a cancellation or if there’s a change.
- Points (of all kinds) – We’re point-seekers and users – you’ll notice that when you read our Adventures. The main airline we travel with is Air Canada simply because we live in Toronto, so we seek out associated hotels, flights, car rentals where we can earn Aeroplan/Star Alliance points. Sometimes it’s worth paying a few more bucks for a flight or for a credit card that lets you collect these points (at least to us). And when we go to cash in those points, we always determine whether it’s actually worth using them or paying (e.g. we haven’t paid for a flight from Toronto to Edmonton for nearly 10 years, and why would we want to when it runs between $500-800 depending on the time of year?). Sometimes you’ll need to book points flights pretty far in advance, depending on the destination and the season, so if you start thinking that you want to use points for a major holiday, start checking things out as soon as you can (you can usually book up to a year in advance).
- If you travel a lot outside of Canada (especially between the US and Canada), have you considered getting a Nexus card? We got ours last year and haven’t looked back – avoid those nasty Customs lines and breeze right through the kiosks instead (be warned that you can’t carry food with you if you’re going to use your Nexus card, otherwise you’ll be in secondary screening, and also be warned that Customs agents can randomly pull you aside in to secondary screening anyway if you use Nexus). Many airports also have a separate security line for Nexus card holders that’s part of the priority lane. The application procedure is easy – fill out an online application, pay a fee, head to the nearest interview centre to speak with both US and Canadian Customs agents.
- Do you really need to check in baggage? Only rarely will we check in baggage, even for a trip of 2 weeks to Hawaii, it’s been carry-on only. Remember that all liquids over 100 mL need to be checked in – but can you buy the mini toiletries that suffice for carry-on allowance, and if you need a jug of sunscreen, can you buy it at your destination instead? Also, do you really need to pack that hairdryer, or will the hotel have one? Can you wash clothes while you’re away? Or do you really need a new outfit for everyday? Even when traveling for work, you can pack smartly with a couple of bottoms and a few tops to rotate. This will allow you to avoid waiting for baggage (and yes, our biggest motivator for this strategy has been waiting for baggage at our home airport, Pearson International – we’ve waited for over an hour, more than once, for our so-called priority-tagged luggage).
- Know what you need to pull out for security at the airport. Prepare for this ahead of time – this might also seem like a no-brainer, but for people who don’t travel often, it’s not. Put all your liquids and gels in a sandwich-sized baggie that’s easy to access in your bag (*remember, nothing over 100 mL here, so no bottles of water and down your coffee before you get to the security belt), and put it in a basket along with your laptop, belt, and stuff from your pockets. Put your shoes on the belt, and put your jacket, purse, etc., in another bin. If you have a metal bottle for water, pull it out – they always ask for this to be removed from dpr’s bag. Knowing what you have to do makes this part of the trip a little less stressful when there’s a big line up.