Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Long distance international travel tips from a newbie

If  you are a seasoned traveler, I expect you will read and mutter "duh!" as you go thinking I'm surprised she made it back!

HOWEVER, if you too are a newbie to long distance international travel, I offer my tips to save you some frustration AND hopefully help you look seasoned and savvy!  Rest assured, I'm sure I could come up with one hundred more tips..... but what's the fun in that? I'd rather let you enjoy the discovery and thrill of coping with the unknown and unfamiliar like I did!

 - Compression stockings are THE healthy and safe way to fly! Go to a pharmacy with a trained specialist to fit you and help you pick out exactly what you need. I wore them the entire trip and remembered to do exercises in my seat to relieve numbness and soreness. I was able to sit for 30 hours without leg fatigue or swelling.
-Water does NOT swirl down the drain the other direction in the Southern hemisphere. That's a cruel urban legend designed to make newbies sound naive. I think its like telling a first time flyer to look out for wind sheer while taxing down the runway. Not that I've done that...oh, no not I!
-Be prepared for flight delays and itinerary changes, then roll with it.  I ended up going through London instead of Frankfurt due to a weather delay for my Raleigh to Chicago leg. My final flight from Chicago to Raleigh was delayed two hours due to a laundry list of complications. I'd rather be delayed than fly without a pilot or into rough weather, so I entertained myself in London Heathrow and met an interesting fellow from Raleigh while hanging out at O'Hare.
-Make the most of long layovers and explore. Here's my only regret - I could have gone through customs in London, jumped on the Metro and experienced a day in London. Since I was alone I hesitated thinking I didn't know London, might get lost, didn't know where to go and so on.  Looking back, I can't believe I opted for safe instead of adventure. What's the worst that could have happened? Lost? Mugged? Missed my flight? Seriously, I'm a very cautious, brave and resourceful adult.  Plus, it's the risks that make the journey memorable.
-A Southern accent is a door opener. Never underestimate the charm of a Southern Accent. I realize an American accent is easy to detect, but when I opened my mouth and smiled like we southerners naturally do, people were intrigued and wanted to hear more. The only exception was a fellow at a Heathrow cafe. He was very busy, so waiting for me to finish a sentence must have felt like an eternity.
-Try new foods you can't get at home. Who wants a Subway sandwich, ice cream or Pinot Grigio when there's Hake and grilled calamari, frozen granadilla pops and West Cape Chenin Blanc? Many thanks go to our South African in Texas, Gary, for giving us a list of foods to try. Many thanks go to God for inspiring someone to invent Greek Lamb Crisps (chips)! Don't knock it, until you've tasted them. YUM!
-Pack light. One checked bag and a backpack is all I took for a two week trip. I returned with only 1 clean top in my suitcase but truly could have taken less pairs of shoes. The backpack was convenient and easy on the back and shoulders.
- Ladies, you don't need more than 4 pairs of shoes. Tom's shoes pack light and are very comfortable walking shoes. They also are easy on and off going through security. One pair of Tom's, lightweight athletic shoes, flip-flops and a pair of leather sandals for dressing up was all I needed. (I took and extra pair of Toms & wore them once.)
-Leave expensive jewelry at home. I even left my wedding set at home. The only people who will notice your gold and jewels are thieves. Stick with inexpensive costume jewelry - a few versatile pieces is all you need. I DID take my Bulova watch, but only because it wasn't expensive.
- Buy your electrical converter at your destination airport. The nice, but clueless, Genius at the Apple store sold me a $39 international travel kit assuring me, the kit contained a converter that would work in South Africa. WRONG! South Africa has a very different 3 prong outlet. Don't believe anyone who tells you different.  Matter of fact, next time I will only listen to those who've actually BEEN to South Africa.  Now, I know what to look for, I might see if I can find one here in the states just for fun, but my advice is buy a converter in South Africa.  And regardless of what the Apple store people tell you, it doesn't HAVE to be an special Apple-made converter. Your iPhone, iPad and Mac will recharge just fine on a regular SA converter.  Being an honest woman, I won't be returning the Apple travel kit because I was able to use a few of the converters in UK and Germany.
-Turn off your cellphone roaming and data service when you leave the country...unless you are willing to pay a big bill when you return. My iPhone was great for pictures and worked great when there was Wi-Fi available.  Check with your carrier before you leave to see if you can use your phone in that country. Next time I will take a simple Trak Phone, old flip phone or buy a disposable one when I arrive.  Then, I can buy a SIMM card, switch it out and prepay for airtime/text. You can't change out the SIMM card in US iPhones. I only know because I tried that.
-Take pictures & video tape, but remain in the moment. I am sure many will totally disagree with me on this, but I think being in the moment is so much more important that recording it. My hubby gave me a camera and asked me to take lots of pictures.  I tried and I DID take a few photos, but I was careful not to distance myself from the experience South Africa by always being behind the lens of a camera. In my mind it is like choosing to watch an action movie on a 6" TV screen instead of on a movie theatre's big screen. It totally diminishes the experience.
-Limit time answering emails,checking Facebook and Twitter. I checked in twice a day and sometimes not at all.  People don't expect a reply as quickly as when you are in the states and will totally understand if there's a few day's delay or no reply until you return.
-Blog as you go. Looking back, I wish I had taken 10 minutes per day to blog, even if I couldn't post right away. This is more of a felt desire than a real regret because writing lessons was my real focus.  Write was the LAST thing I wanted to do after a full day of writing!  If this trip hadn't been a writing assignment, I'm sure I would have blogged each day.   I realize recording my experiences when fresh can be much more accurate in capturing reactions and feelings.  Emotional memories of the moment do tend to change and fade over time.
-Take little gifts for your hosts - Hindsight is crystal clear on this one. Now, I realize the little things I take for granted are the prized gifts to take.  Luzianne Iced Tea bags and Starbucks Coffee are very desirable. Who woulda thunk it? Next trip to South Africa, I'm making room for coffee and tea. Note: they don't want Hazelnut or Vanilla coffee either. They're not flavored coffee fans.  Too bad Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches & sweet tea don't travel well.  I would have been THE most popular person in CapeTown.

So there you are.  "Ding!"  You are now safe to move about the globe.

Go Ahead - Google it!