handy TRAVEL tips...

During years of travelling around the world - on a host of exciting projects - I seem to have assembled a few handy travel tips that I'm always being grilled for by others who would travel too. The list below makes no claim to being definitive, and is clearly some distance from a book (!), but these tips all work and will make the process of travelling a little more bearable.

Although I do enjoy travel, and seeing the world moving forwards as you revisit places, there is no reason why the more painful bits of this process should not be mitigated a little. Hence these modestly handy tips... enjoy

Prof Stephen Heppell

boards showing travllers names
Travellers leave their memories on driftwood tied
to the ceiling of a bar on tiny Little Cayman island

long queues in general:

especially with airport security these days, long queues, even in nations who do not like to queue much, have become the norm.

This tip is very simple:
the ends of two parallel queues are self levelling, even when one queue is moving a lot faster. People join the shortest, not the fastest queue. So, imagine seeing two lines approaching two passport controls; one line has two desks open, one line has one desk open. The 2 desk line goes twice as fast, but the end of the queues will be at roughly the same place. Pause before you join a line, take a moment, look at the front of the queues to determine which one to join.

This tip can easily save you 40 minutes of hell!


Flying in a plane dries you out - your nasal passages, your eyes, etc. We could discuss why, but it happens and it's quite unpleasant on a longish haul flight. Salvation comes with the first meal: take the pepper sachet, open it, take a pinch, snif it. Shortly, your eyes will run, you nose will run (you may sneeze a little) and all dryness is rehydrated. Keep the pepper sachet, repeat as ofteh as needed. Your seat companion will think you are mad, or on drugs, but just get on with it. Posh pepper or touristy class pepper all work.
Life changing tip, honestly!

Also, staying at altitude (eg in a ski resort - you should be so lucky!) means very, very dry air. At night this is awful - no more so than for young children and babies. Simple remedy - fill all baths and sinks with water before retiring (assuming that water is not too scarce) and they will increase humidity wonderfuly during the night.

time zones:

I once fell asleep taking off from Johannesburg and awoke as we hit the tarmac at Schipol. My seat companion was furious - "how did you do that" she exclaimed. "It's easy", I said, "all you have to be is tired". Which is a big clue towards jet lag avoidance. You need to follow a few simple rules:

aeroplane pressure problems:

With the wonderful exception of Concorde, most planes are built way too lightly to be able to contain a normal air pressure when up at 33,000 feet - the fuselage would literally blow apart of they tried. So the air pressure is significantly reduced at altitude. This means your ears pop as you ascend / descend, your shoes won't fit when you put them back on, your tongue is slightly swollen so you are more prone to biting it - in fact all your bits are bloated and slightly oversized (which may, ahem, explain some gentlemen's obsession with the Mile High Club type of activity - this may be their best chance to impress). Your body feels ponderous and ungainly (it is!) as you arrive. These tips all help this a lot:

Flying on Concorde was wonderful, if not particularly eco-sound, because the pressure stayed to same all the way, thus avoiding all these problems. To fly at over 66,000 feet the fuselage had to be so strong that a normal pressure could be contained by it.

hand luggage wherever possible:

It really doesn't matter if you are flying, taking the train, or even sailing, carrying all you need in one stuffed bag can avoid so many problems. You are nimble, on planes you can can save hours waiting for your luggage on carousels, you can rush to another plane/bus/train instantly (and get that last seat tonight...) and so on. But you don't want to be one of those sad saps who try to take 27 bags and the kitchen sink with them as hand luggage, so:

Wear your bulky items - coats, biggest shoes (not ski boots though!!) - you can take them off onboard. Put things in pockets, but mostly remember that it is a rare place where you can't buy socks, or whatever. Conferences will probably give you shirts, and you can get away with surprisingly few items. Some items (linen) looked distinguished crumpled, others look just, er, crumpled.

A bag with small wheels might look like a boon, but the chassis and wheels take up a lot of space - a decent back-pack is best by far, and you can run with it. Squashable shapes are more likely to be allowed onto a plane or coach with limited storage.

I had a pal who would Fed-Ex his dirty underwear and socks home to his (delighted?) wife to save carry-on weight when flying home. This may be a step too far: he has remarried.

robbery and similar:

It happens, so plan for the possibility. That means a simple log of your passport number, credit cards, etc - just put them all on a photocopier, of take a digital photo, but given that a robber may take your PDA or camera too, think about where you store that data. Sometimes paper still works.

I'm constantly amazed by people who carry posh leather shoulder bags with DELL or whatever emplazoned on the side, and then are all affronted when the bag is, inevitably, stolen. Nothing is more anonymous that a simple shopping bag for your laptop. Use one.

Most countries allow you more than one current passport; the UK allows four - assuming you don't carry them all at the same time this gives some real protection against the sheer inconvenience of theft. By the way, it isn't hard to memorize your passport number - you'd be amazed how often this is helpful. Remember it as three blocks of numbers.

Carrying a "sacrificial" wallet can be a sensible precaution - with a sensible amount of money and some useless cards in it. But make sure it has some value - thieves are usually not (that) daft.

cheap flights - no seat bookings:

On the currently fashionable super cheap no-frills flights you can't book seats and people get very stressed queueing ever-so-early to get on and get a "good" seat.

If travelling alone, don't queue. Early in the queue will be a number of elderly couples who queue for ever and thus get aboard early. They sit one at the aisle and one at the window, leaving a (much hated middle) seat between them - usually in the front three rows. Other passengers pass this by, in the hope of "better" seats further down the cabin. Wait till most passengers have got on, then join the last few and board. Go straight for these front three row middle seats - there will be one or maybe two paces left and the couple will want to be together and will move across when you try to sit down leaving you with an aisle seat in the front few rows. Never fails.

countries where English is very rarely spoken...

...but you don't have time to learn a few basic phrases, or can't pronounce them - Japan would be a good example, outside of the main tourist areas and in contrast to China, badly pronounced Japanese is not well received. Use your camera phone to take a picture of your hotel, the airport terminal (take it as you arrive), a beer, and so on. Get in a cab and show picture of your hotel... you'll get home every time. Show beer in bar, get beer. Easy. Smile a lot.

You can achieve wonders with http://translate.google.com too. I try to memorize at least a sentence or two. For example "well, I'm sorry not to be addressing you in <langauge> but now that you have heard my attempts at <langauge> you know why I have to use English"

I hope you found this all vaguely useful - happy travelling...
BTW, I'm very happy for you to cut paste and pass on these tips - but please do credit the source - Prof. Stephen Heppell

this page last updated: Monday, January 5, 2009 8:51 AM
© heppell.net September, 2007