8 Incredibly easy tips to save money while traveling

While the bulk of my rock bottom budget travel days are behind me, I can still remember being a broke college student trying to see the world, so I know (and still use) a few tricks to help me save money while traveling.

Headed somewhere soon and find yourself a little short on spending money? Don’t worry, I’m here to help! Here are 8 ways to save money and adhere to your daily budget allocation once you’ve arrived at your destination. Feel free to save this post and then tag your travel squad. (At least the ones that aren’t 100% flaky!)

1. Make use of your hotel’s free continental breakfast and then grab an apple or wrap a muffin or sandwich for lunch too.

2. Skip the international phone plan and use tools like WhatsApp or Facetime to communicate, once you tap into free Wifi.

3. Eat locally whenever possible and visit a grocery store to stock up on fruits and snacks for day trips. Or get a place with a kitchen and do all your own cooking.

4. Stay close to the central area you wish to see and walk and take local transportation over taxis whenever you can.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bzu-tjHlEpu/

5. Ditch the hotel or vacation rental plans, swallow your pride or bench the ‘I value my independence’ streak for a few days, and ask to stay with friends or family who live in the area. By doing so, you’ll save a ton of money.

6. Try to avoid using airport ATMs. Their fees are usually on the upper end of the local range.

7. Look for Free Things to Do lists on community calendars in local newspapers or check your destination’s main website. Sometimes you can get lucky and find free public performances or ‘pay what you like’ contribution-based walking tours or museums to enjoy.

8. Volunteer while you travel. Very often those types of trips are very rewarding, and they include room and board.

You can see other practical cost saving tips here on ways to save money while traveling.

9 Safety tips for solo female travelers

Over the years, I’ve talked to a bunch of friends, family members and colleagues about my solo jaunts, and those conversations have made me realize safety is THE biggest concern for women considering taking a trip on their own. Now, while rational fear of the unknown is understandable, I think the debilitating dread that keeps some people in a perennial state of inertia can be avoided. In my experience, reaching for your dreams involves pushing through your fear, not caving into it.

So, if you’re reading this and anxiety is holding you back from taking that dream trip alone, don’t let it! The best moments and memories happen when opportunity meets preparation.  If you’re feeling scared or uncertain about making that reservation, don’t worry, I ‘ve got you.  Below are 9 simple safety tips to help you prepare for your first solo getaway.

1. Do your homework ahead of the trip.

Spend time researching destinations by surfing the internet to find news and travel articles about the safest neighborhoods and modes of transportation in each.  Being aware of things like local dress codes and customs in advance of arrival helps you to be better equipped as well.

2. Try to arrive in your destination during daylight hours.

Plan to do this if you’re visiting someplace new, and especially if you don’t speak the local language. Things like signage visibility, distance and depth perception change after dark, all of which can impact your ability to follow directions and your ease of mobility. Also, sometimes service counters at airport or city information desks go on skeletal shifts or are not manned after regular business hours, which means it’s harder to ask questions of designated officials.

3. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish.

That’s a very British Commonwealth way of saying ‘stop yourself from penny pinching’ for the rock-bottom, cheapest accommodation if the location or building gives you the creeps when viewing it online (or when you get there). To help with place selection, avoid looking at hotel videos or images only. Use traveler-sourced photos and reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and YouTube too, and check others like HotelTonight if you need to make an on-the-spot booking change.

4. Pack a doorstop alarm or door wedge to secure your room.  

Since reading about one woman’s horrific attack in her locked hotel room, this precaution will be a 2019 addition for me, for sure. Whether you’re staying at an Embassy Suites, a 5-star property, or an Airbnb, you never really know how many people have access to your room key or how foolproof the deadbolt is. If you can take anything that prevents the door from opening inwards or gives you fair warning that someone is trying to enter, it’s worth the extra investment in my book.

If you’re not sure where to start looking for one, don’t worry. I wasn’t either. Thankfully, two gadgets came highly recommended from a FaceBook group of frequent travelers I’m a part of. The first is a called a Door Jammer, and the other one is a Wedge Door Stop. You can click on the images below to find them on Amazon, and the great thing is, neither of them is priced to break the bank!

5. Always be observant of your surroundings.

Even though you’re checking things out on the sly, walk around confidently, not tentatively, and with a sense of purpose. Most crooks are looking for easy targets and can sense fear.

6. Try to blend in.

Dress modestly so as not to attract undue attention. If your GPS or directional apps don’t work without WIFI or data, try not to pull out maps that mark you as a tourist in public locations. Write out directions before you leave your hotel instead. Also, join day tours when you can to sightsee within the safety net of a small group.

7. Know when to stop sipping those margaritas and martinis dah-lings.

Not going overboard with your alcohol intake is a good guideline for life in general, but it is even more important for a woman on vacation alone. A good night out is a good night out. However, it’s no secret that excessive drinking clouds our judgment and weakens our reflexes, which makes us vulnerable.

8. Avoid posting to social media in real-time. 

In this world of prolific social sharing, I know this might be the hardest bit of advice to swallow, but it just might be one of the most crucial ones to know. To a certain extent, Facebook check-ins and live Instagram Stories are like flashing neon lights. Think about it. If you’re by yourself and are tagging your exact location in real-time, anybody with a phone or device attached to the internet can find you and show up where you are.  Wait a day or two to post that picture at your favorite attraction or restaurant find, and if you absolutely must show your friends how much fun you’re having, tag the country only, not the exact city or hotel you’re in.

9. Leave a copy of your itinerary with someone trustworthy.

And check in regularly with a family member of friend at home. I always give my family a list of my flights and the hotels I’m staying when I take off alone. Also, I don’t have an international phone plan, but I only stay at hotels with free WIFI so I can hop on WhatsApp to call or text home FREELY and REGULARLY.

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I hope these tips help alleviate some of your fears. But if they didn’t, you can read this related article for more inspiration: The benefits of traveling solo.

Disclaimer: The Amazon product links included in this post are affiliated, which means I have the potential to earn a tiny commission from qualifying purchases.

6 tips for traveling with elderly parents

As much as I love to travel, even I have to admit some aspects of it have become a bit of a hassle. You know, hurdles like the necessary but slightly annoying security check points, and the long lines to get through customs and immigration. Let’s not forget about gates that change at the last minute, which is always a frustrating experience. Who else recalls being forced to hike to another section of the airport or sprint there in Olympic 100 meter style fashion when you’re running out of time? But I digress. I’m sure one or more of you can relate to the growing inconveniences related to travel. Imagine then how daunting it must be for our seniors!

Dad and Mom getting ready to make new memories in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

When I was born, my mom was 34 and my dad was 40. Of course, now that I’m in the ‘grown woman’ category, they’ve moved into the elderly bracket. However, even though they’re not as energetic as they once were, they still like to travel. As they’ve grown older, my sister and I have had to develop our own little system to make things easier for them on the road. A few of our top tips are below:

Reserve wheelchair service with the airline
When you’re traveling with seniors, wheelchair service is always a good idea. It alleviates the need for them to walk long distances, and the special assistance they get helps them navigate the airport with ease. The added bonus is that they get to join the shortest lines in the immigration and customs halls, so if you’re along for the ride as their travel companion, you get cleared quickly too.

Several passengers take advantage of airport wheelchair assistance annually. (Photo courtesy of CBC.ca)

Book aisle seats for long flights
My mom likes looking out the window, but if the flying time is more than three hours, we usually book our parents in adjoining aisle seats. That allows them to get up to use the bathroom, stretch their legs, and walk around with the fewest restrictions.

Pack medication in convenient travel sizes, and keep them handy
If your parents are taking a combination of different medicines, it might be a challenge keeping all the tablets in order, so a pill organizer should become their new best friend. The cases come in convenient travel sizes, which makes it easy to stick them in a purse or a carry-on. The idea is to have them nearby if you happen to have flight delays or issues with lost luggage.

Pillboxes come in several different shapes and sizes. (Photo courtesy of www.tokopedia.com)

Check on health insurance coverage
For overseas trips, it is extremely important to know what services are and are not covered in their existing health insurance plan. No one plans to get sick or hurt on vacation, but it’s always better to be prepared if there is an emergency. Don’t hesitate to purchase additional travel insurance that includes quality medical coverage if their current health plans aren’t robust enough.

Be thorough in your hotel research
My dad can no longer walk long distances, so we now make sure to check if the property has staircases or elevators. If the accommodation only has stairs, we request a room for my parents on the ground floor.

Keeping an eye on Mr. Mischief as he chilled outside his front door.

I’ve also found that having breakfast included in the rate has been a bonus because that’s the most critical meal of the day for them.

Plan day trips carefully
Try to pace excursions to allow for rest time in between activities, and check on seating and mobility options at attractions or venues.

Dad resting his legs after navigating the staircases in Hemmingway House, Key West, Florida.

Additionally, be sure to pack healthy snacks as pick-me-uppers between meals, and have water handy to keep everyone hydrated. We also encourage Dad to pack a blazer and hat, and Mom to carry a light sweater and scarf in order to help them weather the cold air conditioning on tour buses and at restaurants or other indoor locations.

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What other tips do you use when traveling with your parents?

6 Tips For Traveling with Elderly Parents

Jobs with Travel Benefits: E-Commerce & Business Development Manager

Great news! My Jobs with Travel Benefits feature is back this month, and I’m super stoked because I get to kick off this new set of career-inspiring stories with a fellow Jamaican wanderlust maven.  I’ve known Tara Bradshaw for 10 years, and during that time two things have been constant: she’s either been off exploring some far-flung destination, or she’s been diligently planning her next vacation.

Checking out the street art in Wynwood Art District, Miami
Checking out the street art in Wynwood Art District, Miami

Travel is definitely high on Tara’s priority list. I’d say fashion and shoes (the latter being another shared interest) are too.  It’s very likely she will beat me up for even mentioning this, but good food ranks high for her as well.  You would never guess her MAJOR foodie status just by looking at her, though. That’s because with her svelte frame, she could give Chanel Iman and Kendall Jenner a run for their money on any lifestyle magazine shoot!

But enough with the ribbing. Here’s what she had to say…

So Tara, you’re the E-Commerce & Business Development Manager at one of the most established and respected travel agencies in Jamaica. What does that role involve?

My role focuses on the e-commerce and development side of the business. Trafalgar Travel has always embraced technology, and we have a number of proprietary e-commerce solutions for corporations. My team and I are responsible for the development, roll-out, marketing and maintenance of those products.  In addition, I also book flights, hotels, honeymoons, cruises, and family reunions on behalf of clients. However, the majority of my work surrounds projects related to technology, and any electronic commercial transactions that relate to travel. On a regular basis,  I prepare proposals, make presentations, do demos of the products, write contracts, and sign on new accounts.

In awe of The Great Wall of China
In awe of The Great Wall of China

I love it when I get asked  “do people still use travel agents?”, because I’m proud to call myself a well-rounded travel consultant, and I’m confident of the value my colleagues and I have to offer.

I heard US TV personality Steve Harvey say something in an interview some years ago that has stuck with me for some time. He said, “your career is what you’re paid for, but your passion is what you’re made for.” Would you say this role gives you the best of both worlds?

I think when you have the opportunity to work in an industry that you love, you do get the best of both worlds.  Before this job, I spent a maximum of a year and a half in any position I was in.  I even disclosed that fact in my interview, and warned my employers that I may not be around after six months!  Close to five years later, I’m still here… and that says it all to me.  I love to travel, and I also love helping others to plan their trips.  I feel very lucky to be able to get paid to do something I’m so passionate about.

What are some of the destinations you’ve been to as a direct result of this position?

I’ve been fortunate enough to go on a few work-related trips since I’ve been at Trafalgar.  In my very first year, I went to Nice, France for a supplier visit.  I’ve been to Cancun for a trade show, Toronto for a training course, New York on a new airline’s inaugural flight, and Amsterdam for a conference.  The business development aspect of my job also allows me to travel to events and conferences if I identify potential opportunities for Trafalgar.

Having fun at the botanical gardens in Amsterdam
Having fun in the botanical gardens in Amsterdam

I’ve known you long enough to guess you’ve squeezed some sightseeing time into those trips. Tell us about some of the fun things you got to do in those destinations.

I try to make the most of any business trips I go on, whether it’s exploring the city after the work portion of the day has ended, or adding some personal days before or after.  I usually compare costs of the “official” dates versus the cost for the dates including my personal days.  If there’s a difference in cost, I pay the balance.  It almost always works out cheaper than if I had to buy a ticket on my own.

I research the destinations (and weather) beforehand so that I have an idea of what’s happening around that time.  I like getting a feel of local life and am always on the lookout for any special events happening during my stay.  I’ve been to museums, food festivals, wine tastings, art galleries, botanical gardens, and lots more.

About to sample some xiao long bao (food dumplings ) in a Beijing hutong (alley).
About to sample some xiao long bao (food dumplings ) in Beijing.

In addition to work-related travel, you globetrot quite a bit in your spare time.  How far in advance do your plan trips, and what tools do you use as inspiration to build your itineraries?

I tend to plan my trips way in advance, sometimes even up to nine or 10 months beforehand. I have booked a few spur of the moment trips, though.   My personal motivation is just always having a trip to look forward to.  I don’t really use a particular tool to build my itineraries, I just research several destinations and websites and seek out things that interest me.

I follow a ton of travel accounts on Instagram, so I’m inspired by many of the posts I see.  I seek accommodation that’s in a central location or very close to public transit.  I also read local destination blogs in addition to the usual sites like Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, TripAdvisor.  I especially like the local blogs to get information on what and where to eat.

Outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok
Outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok

You have a fantastic Instagram feed. How do you decide what images to share? Also, when you travel solo, how do you get the best destination photos with you in them?

Thanks!  Honestly, I don’t have a strategy to which images I share.  I just post the pictures I love.  My preference is to take photos of the destination itself, so having travel photos with me in them aren’t usually my priority.  I absolutely do not own a selfie stick.  If I really want a photo with me in it, I’ll usually offer to take another traveler’s picture, and then ask him/her to return the favor. The exception was my very first solo trip, which was to Beijing. I booked a 30-minute private shoot with Flytographer, a company that contracts local photographers in several destinations around the world.  That was awesome.

The Jamaican dollar is not very strong on the currency exchange market right now, yet you’ve been to some truly long-haul destinations on your own dime. What are the top three tips you can share with persons who are on a tight budget and do not believe that travel is affordable for them?

This is such a timely question.  Just last night I had a friend say to me, “I need to do what you do to rack up your miles.  Or do you get passes?  What do you do?”  I replied that what I do is purchase tickets and she said, “Oh, for your office?”  I said no…. for myself.  Like a regular person.  LOL.  I think most people are under the impression that I travel for free, but I pay full fare just like everyone else.

My top 3 tips are:

1.  Try to save in a foreign currency that’s stable and strong, if possible. Travel from Jamaica is less affordable than travel from other parts of the world, but it is still attainable.  Have a travel goal in mind and save monthly towards it.  Research your destinations – airfare may end up being the most expensive part, but meals and accommodation are usually very affordable.

2. Understand the difference between cost and value. Just because something is the cheapest, doesn’t mean it’s the best value.  You could book a hotel that’s dirt cheap, but then that also takes you 45 minutes plus taxi fare to get to any major attractions, which will waste your time and money.

3. Be flexible, especially if you’re traveling alone. Be willing to make more than one connection.  Be willing to travel in Economy class.  Be willing to leave from a different airport.  Be willing to travel in off-season.  Consider traveling mid-week instead of on the weekend.  I have persons who ask me for the absolute lowest cost, but yet have exact specifications on date/time of departure, which hotel to stay in, and which class to travel in.  Again, it comes back to cost vs. value.

Thanks for that great bit of advice, lady! The best thing about your tips is that they are easy principles to apply, wherever you live in the world.

The famous Chain Bridge in Budapest
The famous Chain Bridge in Budapest

You can follow Tara’s adventures – at home and abroad – on Instagram. Her handle is @tarabarrra.

(All photos used in this story are courtesy of her.)

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About Trafalgar Travel

Trafalgar Travel  was founded in 1995 and has enjoyed 21 years of success in the industry.  The agency has been recognized by the World Travel Awards as the Caribbean’s Leading Travel Agency for 10 consecutive years.  They are the largest travel agency in the Caribbean, with offices in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, St. Kitts and the Bahamas.  Trafalgar Travel also has an in-house software development team focused on creating technological solutions for the travel industry.

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Editor’s Note:

My goal is to make this a monthly feature, so if you know someone who has a cool job with travel benefits and he or she wants to talk about it, please email me at mytravelstamps@gmail.com. Thanks!

Ways to beat boredom on a long-haul flight

If you’ve ever flown on an eight, 10 or 15 hour transatlantic flight, you know that boredom can creep up on you easily. As excited as I get about my trips, let’s get real here, there is a limit to how many movies or television shows I can watch back-to-back. That’s my reality in spite of Netflix’s ardent desire to convert us all into binge-watching addicts.

Besides, laughing animatedly with my travel buddy or even diving deep into an engaging conversation with the passenger sandwiched next to me is not very appealing when everybody within a four-seat radius can hear what we’re saying. And, for most (myself not included), there are only so many book chapters a person can read in one sitting.

We’ve all been there! (Photo credit: graphics20.com)

So what can we do to avoid pulling our hair on those arduous, long-haul flights?  Try one of these suggestions.

Research and practice key words and phrases in the language of the country you will be visiting.

You can do it the old-fashioned way with a pocket dictionary and notepad. Or, you can learn the basics like “hello”, “where is the bathroom”, “how much does this cost”, and “I’d like to order [insert your favorite meals here] via an audio tutorial or with an app – if you have inflight Wi-Fi. No idea which translation app to use? DuoLingo seems to be a popular option.

Here's a quick shopping guide in Italian. (Photo credit: CutureDiscovery.com)
An example of the old-fashioned way: A quick shopping guide in Italian. (Photo credit: CutureDiscovery.com)

Fine-tune your on-the-ground itinerary.

While it’s always good to leave room for spontaneity, I’ve found that some of my best vacations were the ones where I had a clear blueprint of what I wanted to see and do in the destination.

Juts about to start a guided bus tour through the historic streets on Cartagena, Colombia
Giddy with excitement as I’m about to start a guided bus tour through the historic streets on Cartagena, Colombia

Structured activity plans, with room for adjustment, are priceless gems. Guidebooks, bookmarked blog posts, destination websites and TripAdvisor comments are good starting points. They’ll give you multiple ideas for ways to get the most out of your trip.

Complete a few puzzles or play a board game.

Thankfully, we now have many types of puzzles and board games to choose from. There are sliding puzzles, word-search puzzles, anagrams, numerical puzzles and logic puzzles. And my board game lovers, a quick search on Amazon  will yield results showing more than 1700 ways to playfully pass your time during a flight. Also, I just heard about the launch of a new math-based puzzle called Numbrcise  that is laid out like a crossword but it doesn’t use words or phrases as clues. It’s 100 percent number driven. If you’re a math buff, their brain-teasers could keep you occupied for hours.

Be honest, how much time would it take you to solve this?
Be honest, how much time would it take you to solve this?

Organize the photo gallery on your smartphone to get it ready for your sure-to-happen Instagram and Facebook trip snaps.

As a travel blogger, I take random shots all the time because I never know when I’ll need an image for a Twitter chat or a Facebook and Instagram post. Believe me, I always end up with a storage problem.

IG

Yes, I know I can store images in the cloud but I prefer to upload them to my laptop or an external hard drive. The problem is, I hardly ever get around to doing that. That’s why sitting on a plane is perfect for cleaning house. Not only do I have time to delete the images I’ll never really use but I also get to sort and enhance existing photos. Oh, and on the return flight I recommend editing and curating images for sharing with friends and family, or with your online community. My photo editing software of choice is Snapseed.  It works for both iOS and Android phones.

Try airplane yoga!

Until recently, I never even knew that such a thing as a Cat-cow pose at 30,000 feet existed. But according to CNN Travel it does. I found several online articles about the subject and a ton of YouTube instructional videos that show you exactly what to do.

Who says you can't get your zen on inflight? (Getty image)
Who says you can’t get your zen on inflight? Apparently, you can. (Getty image)

See which of these 18 Exercises For Healthy Flying will work for you – and your seatmates. I’m all for avoiding deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) but I sure am NOT down with my neighbor busting out a downward dog in the aisle next to my seat. I’d be like,”Excuse me, please!”

When all else fails, get some sleep.

Have a great flight on your next lift off!

How to avoid getting sick on vacation

It’s pretty obvious that having a fever or other ailments like an upset stomach, gastroenteritis and diarrhea during your vacation is no fun. Getting sick causes pain and discomfort and the time you lose recuperating also takes away from the thrill of new destination experiences. And let’s not forget that doctors’ visits and medication can add up too – especially if you decided to forego travel insurance. (Hey, I say that with no judgment as I sometimes skip it too)

So what are some very simple ways in which travelers can avoid getting sick while they are away from home? See 10 tips below:

Vitamin C tablets can be mini lifesavers in an immunity crunch (Source: medmartusa2.com-)

Carry immunity boosters and nasal sprays

Pack an extra bottle of Vitamin C tablets, Emergen-C packets in your purse or carry-on; they are worth their weight in gold. Having items like that handy can help to strengthen your immune system so your body can fight off airborne bacteria. Nasal sprays also work wonders, especially on long haul flights and in heated hotel rooms because they reduce the dryness in your nasal passage caused by the lack of moisture in the air. It sounds yucky but the truth is, a thin layer of mucus in your nose and throat is healthy because when the lining in your nose is parched, you are more vulnerable to infection. Keeping it moist enables your body to flush out bacteria and viruses.

Never swallow tap water

Even if you do it at home, it is not safe to drink tap water when you travel because the types of bacteria vary depending on where you go. Your resistance threshold varies as well and there’s no way to tell when the germs you encounter may affect you negatively. So, always buy bottled water to drink and to brush your teeth. Oh, and even if you think you’ve got a voice like Adele or Usher, don’t sing in the shower either because you could end up swallowing Mr. or Miss E. coli that way. It’s safer to grab that hairbrush and belt out your tune when the water stops flowing!

Always avoid ice cubes even if tempted to ask for them (Image source: www.123rf.com)
Always avoid ice cubes even if tempted to ask for them (Image source: www.123rf.com)

Avoid putting ice in your drinks. This one is a challenge for me because I don’t enjoy drinks served at room temperature; I like them ice-cold. But when you think about it, skipping the extra chill factor makes perfect sense. Ice cubes are usually made from tap water and the same rationale applies – bacteria could be in it.

Don’t eat raw and unpeeled foods.

I’ll be the first to admit that fresh garden, Caesar, and Cobb salads are some of my favorite go-to meals but I also know I have to be choosy about where I order them as sanitation standards will vary. The same goes for unpeeled fruits that may still have remnants of soil with pathogens on them. There’s always the potential threat of contamination! You’ll never be able to verify if they were washed properly, or if clean water was used. So stick to the proven traveler’s mantra: “Cook it, wash it, peel it or forget it.”

Hand-washing(3)
The best way to kill bacteria is to cause friction so use soap and rub vigorously. (Image source: blog.themedicalcenterofplano.com)

Shy away from drinking out of glasses.

Those glasses and mugs in your hotel room or in some spotty-looking roadside eatery? Back away from them, promptly! Sadly, cleaners sometimes take short cuts while working and you’ll never be able to tell if a glass was cleaned with a dirty rag or towel, or, even worse, got tainted by a toxic spray of some kind. Use straws so you can drink directly from the bottle and for that must-have cup of coffee or tea in the morning, wash the hotel glasses in very hot water first or ask for disposables cups, instead.

Wash your hands frequently.

Airports, attraction bathrooms and hotel rooms are teeming with germs and when you touch public surfaces then touch your eyes, nose and mouth you are transferring microorganisms you cannot see. If you could, you’d be alarmed at variety of cold viruses present on remote controls, bathroom doors and light switches. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone wash their hands in a public bathroom then touch the door handle to exit. Not good! Use a paper towel to open that door or all the good you did with that rigorous hand washing will be erased.

Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.

Truthfully, I’m not a fan of sanitizer (although I know it’s popular) but I am a hand wipe convert. Sanitize when hand washing is not possible. As I’ve already mentioned, you’d be surprised at how many unhygienic surfaces your hands come in contact with during any one trip. Seat rests? Check. Tour bus door handles? Check. Airplane trays and seat pockets where mothers have been known to change and even rest used diapers? Check, Check.

Sleeping%20woman
Always, Always make time to get enough sleep. That’s how your body replenishes itself (Image source: www.psychologies.co.uk)

Stay hydrated

Drinking healthy doses of water each day helps your body flush out toxins and aids your digestion. Be aware that your water intake gets more important when you are tired, run down and under siege by unfamiliar germs.

Treasure your sleep

Along with hydration, being well-rested is your best defense mechanism against illness and sleep also helps in recovery if you are already infected. So the lesson here is: don’t shortchange yourself on some good old fashioned nap time when you’re on the go.

Make smart food choices

Eating local and trying new foods are definitely part of the travel experience but even then, you must still make smart food choices. Remember that cold meat platters, diary products that are left unrefrigerated, buffet lines and mayonnaise-laden foods are often home to flourishing bacteria. In addition, seafood dishes that are not freshly prepared are notorious for causing intestinal problems so ask the right questions before you place your order. And here’s one last tip – snacking on foods like yogurt that are high in probiotics (the “good” bacteria) may help reduce gas and bloating.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical practitioner of any kind therefore any tips given here should be subject to your discretion and the advice given by your doctor. 

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Editor’s Note:

In my research to write this post, I came across an app called MedMap. It helps you find the name of your medication in the country you’re visiting and suggests words you can use to explain your symptoms to the local pharmacist when dealing with a foreign language. You can plug in the pills or syrups you need, have it translated and then show it to him or her without the need for hand signals! Sounds quite useful!

Seven essential safety tips for travelers

If you aren’t an optimist by nature, making travel plans in today’s tense environment can suck the joy out of vacation planning. Not only does it zap the anticipation, in some cases, the scary realities actually mar the experience itself.

Case in point, I’ll never forget wondering what could have happened had I visited Egypt during the 2009 Cairo attacks as opposed to walking through the markets there some four months earlier. Nor can I ever fully expunge the shell-shocked and dazed feeling I had in New York City on September 11th, a day that started out quite innocently. One minute my sister and I were sitting quietly with other audience members on the set of the Live with Regis and Kelly show and in the next, we became increasingly traumatized as we watched a horrific event unfold.

Today travel to see even some of the notable wonders of of the world can be dangeours.
Today travel to see even some of the notable wonders of of the world can be dangeours.

Of course, predicting the future is impossible so working yourself into panic mode during the trip decision-making process will not solve anything. But while we can’t fully eliminate potential danger, there are some basic things you can do to alleviate some of the dangers in travel – especially in the busy holiday season. I’ve compiled a few pointers for you to note.

Do your research

Gone are the days when you only check the guide books or a great travel feature in your Sunday newspaper to select a holiday spot. Now, you must also stay abreast of the news. Check only fact-based and unbiased media sources – across print, television and digital platforms – so you can remain aware of potential areas of political, social and civil unrest.

Tapping into the hotel wifii to do a little online research on things to do in the area
Tapping into the hotel WiFi to do a little online research on things to do in the area

Stay under the radar

Nothing screams ‘tourist’ more than gaudy jewelry and clothing that stands out from the local garb. And loud, obnoxious behavior that draws attention to yourself or your group has a similar effect too. It is always best to respect local customs and dress codes, to be courteous, and to speak in low tones that allow you to blend in rather than stand out.

Avoid clichéd tourist traps

Inevitably, the most written about festivals, shopping malls, outdoor concerts and busy street cafés top many travelers’ must-see lists but nowadays it may be best to avoid the areas sure to attract large crowds. Check with your hotel concierge or a local insider for recommendations on where to find the work of resident artisans, chic boutiques and entertainment venues. Also try to patronize the ‘Mom and Pop’ eating establishments over international chain restaurants with a distinctive Western brand. The one-off eateries are likely to be safer and your experience is guaranteed to be more unique as well.

Local arts and craft vendors
Local arts and craft vendors are a good source for neat shopping finds

Take note of the city and hotel you are in

Get a general idea of where the offices of the city’s emergency services such as the police and fire department are and get their numbers, then keep them close. Also, while you check-in, look around the lobby to note all the entrances and exits which, in an emergency, could be your best escape routes. Do the same thing when you step out of the elevator to go to your room and study any maps provided on the back of your door. You may have to evacuate the property in the dead of night, when panic is at an all-time high and visibility is poor, so having a good sense of where to go ahead of time will help.

Hotel lobby at Jewels Dunn's River Resort. It has multiple entrances and exits.
Hotel lobby at Jewels Dunn’s River Resort. It has multiple entrances and exits.

Avoid unnecessary risks

Sometimes simple precautions can make all the difference in the world, so try to evaluate all levels of risk. For example, try not to accept rooms with a balcony on the first floor because they give the bad guys too much access. Also, never assume a knock on your door means it is housekeeping or room service. Call the front desk to check before you open up. Additionally, lock your doors behind you, select local transportation wisely and avoid keeping your cash and credit cards all in the same place. At least one money source should be away from your person. Use the safety deposit boxes provided; most are reliable and free.

Heavily trafficked street in Cairo, filled with licensed and unlicensed taxis and buses,
Heavily trafficked street in Cairo, filled with licensed and unlicensed taxis and buses,

Share your travel plans with a trusted confidante

Whether you are traveling with someone or going solo, it’s always a good idea to make it easy for family and friends back home to get a hold of you in an emergency. So I recommend leaving your itinerary and contact information with one person you trust. It helps if that family member or friend has a clear idea of where you are supposed to be and when, and as much as possible, you should try to touch base with him or her regularly. With phone apps like Whatsapp, Viber, Skype and Facetime, it’s now easier and more cost effective than ever before.

Keep copies of your passport in a safe place

Always, always have a copy of your passport stashed somewhere safe! You can scan it and e-mail it to yourself or take a photo and save the image on your smartphone. Plus, you should have a copy at home. That way, if an unforeseen event happens, like a natural or a man-made disaster, you’ll have access to all your details. That copy will speed up the replacement process.

Passports are important documents that are not easy to replace
Passports are important documents that are not easy to replace

Register with your embassy or consulate

Embassies and consulates provide assistance for their citizens in emergencies so remember to register with them before you leave home and ensure you have their address and telephone number on you at all times. For instance, U.S. citizens and nationals planning to travel abroad can enroll in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service designed to enable them to share trip details that would facilitate making easy contact in times of trouble. It also provides travelers with important updates on safety conditions in your destination country. Click link for more details here.

British citizens can subscribe to their Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) for travel advice alerts and follow FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter for real time updates.

Other countries have their own emergency assistance systems in place so familiarize yourself with them before you go.

 

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Do you have any valuable tips you can share?