Weekend with friends or family vacation? Tips to travel like a pro

  • Rachel Lopez, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 28, 2015 02:41 IST
Experts from across India share cool tips to make the best of your break (Photo: Shutterstock)

Weekend with friends or big-fat family vacation; impulse escape or bucket-list journey; do-it-all trip or do-nothing holiday – however you choose to get away, experts from across India share cool tips to do it better.

For a smarter walk on the wild side

* As far as possible, arrange for timings that allow you to reach before nightfall. This means you can rest and start your safari early the next morning.

* Book wildlife holidays well in advance. Not only will you get a good deal at the hotel/lodge, you’ll also be more likely to be assured of a park safari or walking excursion. The popular and well-known national parks in India have limited entry tickets for visitors, so last-minute travellers are often disappointed.

* Regardless of your location, always pack one set of full pants and full-sleeved shirt in earthy colours. It keeps you from sunburn in the day and wards off the chill after dark. And comfortable walking shoes are a must, as are insect repellent, a cap and sunscreen.

* Seek permission before photographing the local people, especially the women. Don’t wander off into forest patches even if they’re outside the national park zone. Humans understand boundaries, animals don’t and if you do surprise an animal, it could be risky.

(Photo credit - © Wildlife Conservation Trust/USAID/Maharashtra Forest Department | Camera traps: Panthera Inc.)

* Keep an open mind. A single-minded quest to see one particular animal on a safari may lead to disappointment. Take time to enjoy the beauty of other creatures as well. That way, you enjoy the wilderness in its entirety.

-Ratna Singh, Taj Safaris, & Beyond

For women who wander the world

* Pack a spare set of your clothes in your carry-on bag, something light and wrinkle-resistant, just in case you lose your luggage. It means no matter what, you’ll arrive at your destination in style.

-Tarika Mongia, TRAC Representations

* The simplest trick for a woman traveller to avoid unwanted attention from the locals is to wear sunglasses in public. You avoid eye contact and all the advances it might bring.

Piya Bose, lawyer-turned women’s tour guide. Her story was featured in You Can Make Your Dreams Work by Shalini Umachandran

For packing that packs a punch

* Many travellers squeeze in some kind of formal event, a meeting, a formal dinner into a trip. Pack a mix of touristy and business clothes. Go with a single colour and build your look around it so your shoes or jacket will always match, and you’ll be well dressed for anything.

-Hari Nair, HolidayIQ.com

* Keep forgetting your toothbrush? I do too! My hack: a bunch of toothbrushes, combs, hair clips, sanitary napkins etc that live permanently in my suitcase. They take up barely any space or weight.

* How to pack everything and bring it all back every time? Tape a list of the essentials (razor, socks, toothpaste, phone charger) inside your suitcase.

-Rachel Lopez

* Invest in a travel adaptor that fits into all types of electric sockets around the world.

* Carry an old newspaper on your trip. It’s great for cleaning dirty seats, soaking up a spill, it’s an instant tablecloth and will insulate against a sudden cold.

-Romi Purkayastha, travel writer

For flights that go the distance

* Book smart. If your aircraft has a 2-4-2 seating, most people take the two seaters at the ends. Book the aisle seats in the 4-seat row instead, chances are the middle two will go vacant and you’ll have more room to stretch out mid-flight.

-Hari Nair, HolidayIQ.com

* If you pre-pay the airline, you pay much less for excess baggage. Great for a return shopping trip, or if you have a connecting local flight after an international one.

-Rachel Lopez

* A seat above the wing is the safest (though all seats are safe). Remember that some long-leg seats don’t recline, neither do the last seats.

* To get first pickings for in-flight meals, book seats in the front or the middle. They normally get served first.

-Pali Badwal, RCI India

* Order your in-flight meal online while booking. Your meal will probably be served earlier and on a local flight, you don’t have to fish for the right change.

-Vinay Gupta, TripFactory

* Flying with another person? Book the window and aisle seat in a three-seat row. There is a good chance that the middle seat stays vacant, giving you both the whole row. If someone does get that seat, you can always ask them to switch.

* Check seat dimensions, especially on long haul flights. The widest seat and most legroom will let you stretch and use a laptop comfortably.

* If your flight’s full, board early. You’ll find more space for cabin baggage in the overhead bins.

-Abraham Alapatt, Thomas Cook India

* Weekday afternoon flights are the cheapest.

* The best time to fly domestically is 9am especially in winter.

* Opt for a nonstop flight, even if it costs more. Direct flights are less likely to be cancelled.

-Sharat Dhall, Yatra.com

For making the most of munchtime

* If language is going to be a problem, get visual. Carry printed photos of chicken, fish and vegetables, accompanied by ticks or crosses. It’s a better way to stick to your dietary restrictions than making gestures, especially in remote areas.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

* In places like Europe, where food is expensive, cut meal costs by more than half by booking a room with a kitchen. The hypermarkets sell good pre-made meals that need only reheating or slight cooking. In Spain, the chorizos with herbed rice sets would cost less than restaurant food.

-Piya Bose, women’s tour guide

* Keep a packet of toffees in your backpack for when you get too busy exploring and meals are delayed.

-Siddharth Shah, Flamingo Travels

* If you are adventurous and eat everything, it can be a slippery slope. Have one heavy meal earlier in the day (breakfast or lunch) and snack in little sessions till dinner. It lets you try out more foods, you won’t feel too full to move, saves you the hassle of a big sit-down meal, and is easier on the body. There’s less jet lag or (crucially) a chance of a stomach upset at night.

-Hari Nair, HolidayIQ.com

* Always have a full breakfast, and save a whole fruit to carry in your bag or backpack for later.

-Romi Purkayastha,travel writer

For hiking without harming the mountains

* A globally accepted principle (be it a trek in the Gangotri Valley or in Ladakh) is “Pack In Pack Out”. Whatever is non-biodegradable has to be brought back with you. There is no shortcut. Be prepared to pack your garbage and bring it with you.

* Many people who visit the mountains end up polluting the river or stream there. A good practice is to keep a distance of 100 feet from a water source when you camp, wash clothes or utensils or take a toilet break. This way you don’t contaminate a water source. To wash, carry water from the stream to your site.

* However much you like campfire, avoid one. The old, dry sticks serve as the firewood for the locals. By picking them up, you make it harder for them (particularly their women) to source. Carry small gas cylinders for cooking. And for that sense of bonhomie, use a gas lantern inside a tent.

* Don’t feed the animals. At Ladakh’s Pangong Lake made famous by 3 Idiots, the tourists have been feeding the marmots – shy, cute animals who now leave their burrows in large numbers when a vehicle approaches. Introducing them to new food makes them vulnerable to disease and can wipe out the whole colony.

* It’s tempting to give money or donate in kind to rural kids or communities on your travels. The act of giving is an important instinct that should be encouraged, but be responsible. Giving out money or things randomly makes them expect handouts from others. Instead, identify a community leader, NGO or school and get them to organise a contest for the kids so they have a sense of “winning” your award.

-Mandip Singh Soin, award winning Himalayan climber and Arctic explorer

For suite deals on rooms

* Make the most of a hotel’s cancellation policy. We tend to buy rooms in advance, but most hotels let customers cancel rooms quite close to their date of travel. I usually keep a buffer of two days before I depart, to check room prices. Last-minute rates are often lower.

-Hari Nair, HolidayIQ.com

For jet setting without jet lags

* Switch to your destination time as early as you can. Act like you’re in the timezone you’re travelling to, not the one you’re in, even if it means popping a pill to sleep early before you depart. Don’t skip your in-flight meal, they’re not as bad as they used to be and a healthy body helps you cope with the ordeal. Drink water, minimise alcohol.

-Harsh Sonawala and Joe Christle, Tripzuki

* If there is a day flight to Europe, take it. You save time and avoid jet lag.

- Kapil Chopra, Oberoi Group

For in-room amenities that aren’t on the menu

* Ask for two hotel key cards so you can leave your power on and can charge your cellphone while you’re out.

- Pali Badwal, RCI India

* My favourite part about trips? Big bathrooms. I carry all the beauty samples and little bottles of indulgent treatments I never have time for. A vacation is the ONLY time you have the patience to keep a hair mask on for 15 minutes, apply serum in gentle circular motions or sleep well enough for a night cream to work!

- Rachel Lopez

For keeping track of the trail

* Pack a headtorch. They are cheap and small and will light your way while your hands are free. Mine has saved me many times whilst staggering home along a Goan beach!

- Harsh Sonawala and Joe Christle, Tripzuki

* Your cellphone camera is for more than vacation selfies. Photograph your hotel exterior when you check in. Taxi drivers often don’t know the smaller hotels or you may be mispronouncing the name as you ask for directions back. Locals will identify the photo better. Photograph your room number too, those silly keycards never have them!

- Rachel Lopez

For explorations in a concrete jungle

* Go jogging at a public park on a Sunday morning. It’s the best way to get a sense of the city and its people.

- Siddharth Shah,Flamingo Travels.

* Each city has its own quirks so do a check on the one you’re visiting. One of my favourite cities in the world is Barcelona. While all of Europe eats dinner at 7.30pm, Barcelona gets down to it only by 10pm. Bars fill up at 9pm. You have to plan your day differently. Take a siesta like the locals so you can continue till late.

- Kapil Chopra, Oberoi Group

* Walk! Indians tend to take taxis and coach tours everywhere. But seeing a city on foot or by bicycle lets you take in the little details you’d have missed by bus.

- Tarika Mongia, TRAC Representations

For making every rupee go the extra mile

* While travelling in a group, use an app like Tricount to keep track of your expenses and how to split them.

* Tip your guide at the beginning, not at the end. It makes a big difference to the service you get. And he or she will also answer all the questions you may have for the next few days of travel.

- Siddharth Shah, Flamingo Travels.

* Duty free is not the bargain centre it used to be. Prices are mostly dictated by rent and what they think they can charge. Don’t let the feel-good factor of travel sway you!

- Harsh Sonawala and Joe Christle, Tripzuki

* Shop like a boss. Find the websites of the brands you like, and browse them in India. Like something? Check if your hotel accepts delivery of a pre-paid online order on the days of your stay. Make your purchase before your trip (Web shops are usually cheaper) and collect when you reach. No shipping charge either!

- Rachel Lopez


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From HT Brunch, September 27

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