Travel Essentials -The Best Gear For a Great Trip
For my list of travel essentials I wanted to focus on the things that make the most differences to people’s travel experiences.
Over my career I have travelled with thousands of travellers all over the world. During that time I have met all sorts of travellers, travelling on all types of holiday from budget to luxury ones.
No matter what the holiday has cost I have seen guests across all types of trips experience similar problems which have adversely impacted their enjoyment of the tour, the country they have visited, and their experience.
- Some have been disappointed by their trip, or aspects of it.
- Some have been frustrated at costs they didn’t anticipate.
- Some have had to compromise their holiday due to their travelling partner and some have ended up with no insurance cover.
So here are my top 10 Travel Essentials to make sure you avoid the problems I most commonly see travellers experience.
(Just so you know this list of travel essentials isn’t a list of apps or products. It’s a list based around avoiding the most common issues I see guests experience in holiday)
1. Enough Budget to Enjoy Yourself & Do The Things You Want To
You may already be raising an eyebrow or two at the mention of enough budget on my list of travel essentials at all. I’m not necessarily saying the budget should be a certain size. I am saying it should be adequate for the trip being taken.
I travel on my own, and I travel on a budget so I fully appreciate just how expensive it can be to travel.
That said time and time again I meet travellers who have stretched themselves so tight to book the holiday itself that they have nothing left for any activities or to spend locally while they are away.
Let me give you three examples;
One couple I travelled with bought snacks from an the supermarket and ate in their rooms every night when there wasn’t a meal included on the tour.
On the particular tour we were on together there were only included meals for half the nights of the tour and we were travelling through five different countries.
Now I love an ‘in room buffet’ made up of things from the local supermarket or deli but not every single night. Eating in their room meant they never ate out anywhere local, they didn’t even have a coffee outside of their rooms. All the included meals were in the hotel.
When I asked them about this they said they did it to save money.
The tour we were on was quite expensive and we were visiting Norway which can be more expensive for food and drink.
On the very last day of the tour we left the hotel at 2pm for our transfer to the airport and they spent the whole morning just sitting around the hotel reception area because they didn’t want to go out and have a coffee or anything outside.
To travel all that way, on a trip they were unlikely to do again, to a country they were unlikely to visit again, seems a bit of a missed opportunity when they had so little budget they couldn’t afford to do very much at all.
Missing A Local Experience
I took another trip to New Zealand. It was a trip that many people were taking as a once in a lifetime trip to celebrate their retirement.
One of the options was to take a helicopter up to the top of a glacier, walk about on it and then fly back down, after having your photo taken of course. One lady did the trip.
I went too because I always do things like that when I have the opportunity, in case I don’t get the chance again. We both had a wonderful trip.
It was a fantastic experience and we were both delighted when we got back to the hotel.
While we were both grinning about our wonderful trip our fellow guests grumbled that they wished they had done it but they thought it was a bit expensive (it was actually quite reasonable as helicopter trips go).
At the end of the tour two weeks later people were still talking about missing out on that trip and it really affected their experience.
Local Cost Differences Impacting the Holiday Budget
In the last two years I have been travelling with American guests around the UK.
They have found the cost of eating out difficult and the most common complaint is that it is expensive.
However, often it is because they haven’t been aware of the differences in costs between eating out in the UK and the US.
The food cost in the UK includes a minimum wage for example, food costs can be different and there are different taxes.
Feeling that they are ‘overpaying’ every time they eat out can cause a huge amount of frustration to travellers and can really impact their budget as a result.
Tip to Avoid This Problem
- As with any type of travel research can really help to avoid lots of these issues.
- Tour companies can help with information on how much to budget for local food and activities.
- If excursion prices aren’t available before booking i.e. on the website or in the brochure you can ask for this information to help with planning the budget.
- When researching tours it is best to compare everything – not just the price. One of the companies I worked for included most of the tours, breakfast every day, VIP transfers and lots of local things which made their tours seem expensive when initially compared to others. However, on a more detailed comparison they were actually extremely competitive.
- Your Tour Manager will also be able to help direct you to local spots which are often better value than chains for eating out
If you want to get some ideas of how much budget your might need to travel then check out Budget My Trip. It has details of costs from other travellers for various countries around the world.
2 – A Tried and Tested Travel Companion (Or No Companion)
This is high up on my list of travel essentials as it can have a huge impact on a trip – either positive or negative!
I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked to help sort things out when there has been some sort of issue between travelling companions.
It could be a husband and wife, family members or friends.
The most common problem I see is when people haven’t travelled together very much and sometimes they haven’t travelled together at all.
Sometimes to save on a single supplement single travellers will agree to a room share and this can be fraught with difficulty.
I have had to redo seating plans to seat travelling ‘companions’ at opposite ends of the coach because they have not got on.
I have also had to arrange single rooms on the fly, with guests paying the extra cost, because they have been unable to stand their new travelling companion. The cost they have ended up paying has been much higher than the single supplement.
The impact on this sort of issue on tour can be huge. I have seen guests try and avoid their companions by sitting elsewhere for meals, or pairing up with other people.
The issues can also arise because there is a mismatch in expectations between travellers – whether they have just met or travelled together before.
This can include one person wanting to do certain activities or trips and the other not wanting to. This then results in frustration and compromise and generally neither party being happy with the end result.
I have to say I have experienced this issue myself.
I travelled with someone I had travelled with regularly and for some reason he was very unpleasant on our trip. I checked myself out of our hotel, booked myself another hotel and had my first solo holiday.
Luckily I had the means and the ability to do that – if not the holiday would have been a miserable and difficult experience for both of us and a complete waste of that precious travel budget.
Tips to Avoid This Problem
- Think seriously about taking a room mate to save a single supplement. Single supplements are very unpopular and the industry is increasing supplement free options now as single travellers increase. Often tours will have an allocation of supplement free rooms per departure so if you have some flexibility with your dates or can book further ahead you have a better chance of getting them.
- If you do share with someone you have to try and find a workable way to share space together. This might mean adapting your routine to take account of theirs and vice versa. A good chat about all these things before the tour or at the start of the tour can pay dividends. Remember, your habits might be just as annoying to others as their habits are to you.
3 – Travel Insurance (Totally a Travel Essentials!)
I have seen what happens when people get injured or become ill while they are travelling and travel insurance is the one thing I would never skip or skimp on because it simply isn’t worth the risk.
Travel insurance is like any insurance, designed to not actually pay out if they can avoid it, so you need to make sure that all the information you give them is correct.
Here are some insurance issues that guests have experienced whilst on holiday;
Incorrect Declaration of Fitness
Some guests have deliberately not declared all their illnesses or medications, deciding that some conditions were minor so didn’t need declaring.
However, this can mean that your travel insurance is null and void i.e. you have no actual travel insurance.
To travel without insurance means risking huge costs – hospital costs, repatriation costs etc.
It simply isn’t worth the risk. Declare everything no matter how minor to make sure you are covered and the travel insurance company doesn’t have a reason not to pay your claim.
Change In Health or Fitness Between Booking or Travelling
I have had a number of guests come on holiday while waiting for knee or hip replacement surgery.
Whilst they have declared that they were fit and well when they initially made their booking, their condition has worsened by the time the holiday has come round (it can sometimes be many months between booking and travelling). They have not updated their insurance company or the holiday company of their reduced mobility or fitness.
This has resulted in some very difficult situations.
Firstly, it has been unpleasant for the guest themselves as they have not been able to enjoy the holiday as they had hoped. This has led to frustration from other guests about having to adapt or slow down to take account of this guest.
Secondly, it has put the guest in a very difficult situation financially.
They find themselves on a holiday they can’t fully enjoy, often having to stay at the hotel or on the coach. It has cost them quite a lot of money but they are unable to get a refund from the holiday company because they have invalidated their contract/policy.
This means that the only option they have is to stick it out and persevere or to end the holiday early. To end the holiday early would mean losing their holiday money and having to bear the cost of flying home as well.
Some companies do take a pragmatic approach and for the sake of their other guests and customer loyalty will terminate a holiday and provide a refund in such a circumstance but this is rare.
It also depends on factors like how many times the customer has travelled, the severity of the issue, the impact on the other guests etc – ie it is not guaranteed.
Not Having Travel Insurance Documents
When something happens on holiday it is often unexpected and in the worst possible place.
Often at the very moment when a guest needs to contact their travel insurance company they realise that all the documents are in the safe at the hotel, or stored somewhere for safekeeping and not actually on them.
This can make things very difficult especially when an incident results in a hospital stay as most insurance companies require travellers to get authorisation from them before being admitted overnight. Failure to do so can mean you are liable for that cost yourself.
4 – Clear Details of What You Have Booked, What Is Included and What is Not
I can’t tell you how many times people have become really upset and angry about something that they thought was included, or they thought we were going to do on a tour only to find out that it either never was, or the program had been changed or they just hadn’t read the paperwork correctly.
Here are some examples;
Guests Expecting Small Tour Service on a Big Tour
One of the companies I work with has a small groups program.
It is expensive because there is a maximum of 16 people on each tour. However, the service that people get from their Tour Manager is very different and much more personalised as a result of the lower numbers.
Guests who have travelled on these small group tours then book a large group tour with up to 46 people and get frustrated that they don’t get the same level of experience.
The price is less than half of the small group tour. To compare these two types of tour is not comparing like with like. The reason the large group tour is cheaper is because there are 46 people on board the coach.
Long Time Since Booking
It can sometimes be many months between a traveller booking a holiday and actually taking the holiday.
This can sometimes mean that what they thought they had booked is a bit different to what they actually booked purely because it is such a long time since they read through all the details.
This can lead to frustration on holiday, difficulties with budgeting and some potentially awkward conversations with Tour Managers as a result.
Inclusions or Exclusions
I once travelled with a group to France.
It was extremely hot, infact there was a heatwave and a number of residents in France died as a result of the high temperatures.
The hotel the group were staying in did not have air conditioning. In the brochure for the holiday there had been two holiday hotels available – one that had air conditioning which was more expensive and the cheaper option which did not.
Large numbers of the group spent the week being very angry about the lack of air conditioning despite this being very clear in the brochure and reflected in the tour price.
Local Culture or Cuisine
A couple of years ago I did a river cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow.
The river cruise ship provided tailor made meals for each guest each day by offering a huge selection of choices which were chosen using an individual order card.
It was quite an achievement given there were 130 guests. The meals were exactly of the quality advertised in the brochure which had said they were simple dishes with a rustic Russian flavour.
Despite this people were very unhappy with the food, having expected food to the standard of European river cruise ships.
They were then unhappy at each meal service which had a huge impact on their experience of Russia.
Tips to Avoid These Issues
- A bit of research in advance can pay huge dividends. If a tour is significantly cheaper than you have seen elsewhere there is likely to be a reason for that whether it be a larger group size, different accommodation, different meal choice, less included activities etc. Make sure you compare like with like to avoid confusion and disappointment.
- If it has been a long time since you booked your holiday get the contract, the brochure and everything out again before you depart and refresh your memory. Make sure you know exactly what should be included. The final itinerary that comes to you from the holiday company is their contract with you so keep it handy and make sure everything is as it should be while away.
- Keep your final itinerary with you so you know what is included and what is not during your holiday – this can really save a great deal of confusion.
- If you are unsure what sort of food is actually included ask, ideally before you book. Sometimes there can be fixed menus, or limited choice menus for groups. The menu choice can vary from company to company, the drinks policy can vary country to country. If you are unsure ask the holiday company to give you some sample menus to give you more idea of what to expect.
5 – Copies of Passports, Visas and Itinerary Left with Family Member or Friend (Travel Essentials Tip!)
Whilst we enjoy the wonders of the internet at home it is often not the case when we are travelling so going old school and low tech is a great back up in case of emergency.
As well as having photos of key documents stored on your phone or tablet it is a great idea to have copies of your passport and other ID documents with you on paper as well.
It is amazing how often faxes are still used for documents when travelling and having a paper copy of your passport can make getting a replacement easier.
If you have paper copies of other ID documents this can make proving who you are, in order to get another passport, much easier.
Likewise leaving a paper copy of your itinerary with friends or family in case of emergency can make things much easier if anything happens and they need to contact you for any reason.
While we expect to be able to use our mobile phones when we travel this is not always possible so again an old school backup is always a wise precaution.
6 – Adequate Supply of Medicines with Original Boxes
One of the most important travel essentials for anyone that relies on medication is to have enough medication with them for their trip plus a little bit extra in case of any delays or issues.
I can’t tell you how many times visitors have run out of their regular medication while on tour expecting it to be easy to either pick the item up from the local pharmacy or just get another batch of medication from the local doctors service.
Different countries have different medical systems.
Pharmacies in Britain for example cannot prescribe the same sorts of medication that they can in America.
Pharmacists in Britain are also not able to issue a prescription that is from America – an American guest has to make a doctors appointment and get a British prescription for the item.
Medication has different names in different countries also.
One of the issues I frequently encounter is that travellers have put all their tablets into a tablet dispenser or pill box – which is understandable to make sure they take what they need at the right time.
However, when something happens and they need medical attention it is impossible for the medical team to know what the actual tablets are for. This means relying on a travelling companion/relative for this information and of course you may be on your own.
Taking the original medical boxes ensures the medical team can quickly work out what the item is. They can do this by finding the local name for the medication using a computer system or if they need to they can work out what the drug does by looking at the ingredients.
In an emergency situation having this information available quickly can be very helpful to medical teams.
Whilst it is impractical to carry medication boxes with you when you travel you could keep photos of the boxes and the ingredients with you and ideally paper copies of those photos that you could carry with you.
Travel Essentials Medicine Tip
If you are able to write the dose you take and how often you take the medication so this shows on the photo that is really helpful. It may mean you have to take a photo, print it out, write the info on the paper and take another photo but it’s worth the effort.
If there is a label on the drugs given details of the dose and how many times to take then a photo of that will suffice.
The last thing you want to be doing if you are very ill or unwell is to be trying to explain what drugs you are on, what they are for, what doses you take and how often you take them.
7 – Backup Funding/Emergency Funding
During my years of travelling with groups I have been in all sorts of situations where something/someone has disrupted the travel plans leading to some sort of unscheduled change.
Generally if the whole group is affected it would be the holiday company that would sort the situation out.
However individual travellers can be affected for example by their outward/inward flights being cancelled or by missing flights due to missed connections.
In such cases travel insurers would usually say that you need to ‘pay and claim’ – so you may need to pay for new flights and then claim back from the insurance company on your return.
This can also be the case with travel insurance with the insurance company only stepping in and paying the hospital directly once someone has been admitted – this can mean that there is hefty bill to pay for tests and treatment which is then claimed back.
Credit cards can be real travel essentials in this sort of situation giving you time to be repaid by the insurance company before having to pay it back.
Many people are unaware of the pay and claim and how much they might have to pay before they claim it back.
They are also often unaware of the amount of cost they need to incur before they claim at all. For example small claims under £250 sometimes aren’t covered by travel insurance depending on what it is for and the type of policy.
As always the devil is in the detail so a bit of research to make sure you know the ins and outs of your holiday booking contract and your travel insurance policy will ensure you are not left in a potentially difficult and distressing situation.
8 – Sense of Adventure/Fun
I can’t tell you how many times I have thought that I have had a better time on a tour than some of the travellers.
I have been getting paid for going and of course working and they have been paying and some travellers seem determined to find fault in things that are different from what they are used to.
This can range from food, to plumbing, to travel, language, culture, treatment of animals, politics and everything else inbetween. For me part of the joy of travelling is to experience these differences, to learn from them and to bring ideas and things back home.
For some travellers though they are a constant source of irritation – don’t be one of those travellers.
Here are some examples;
On tours of China all the meals were included – Chinese meals.
Often these were served family style i.e. with dishes on a rotating server in the centre of the table so people could help themselves.
One guest ate in McDonalds for every single meal on tour because he felt this style of eating was unhygienic.
As such he spent every meal away from the group and of course had to pay for all his meals again because he was not eating those included.
He did not have any understanding of what eating Chinese style meant in terms of the food itself, or how it was served. He missed a chance to experience local culture and to learn about the etiquette of eating from the ‘lazy susan’.
I have lost count of the number of times people have complained to me about the weather while we have been on holiday. They seem to forget that there is not really much I can do about weather conditions.
Some people seem to be really affected by the weather being different to what they hoped for wished for.
A couple who had booked a week in the South of Italy were totally enraged that it rained for half the week they were away because it was the only holiday they were having that year.
They had a very spoiled holiday as a result of being unable to deal with the weather.
When visiting the Azores we experienced some heavy rain storms and strong winds.
The Azores is a group of tiny islands halfway between Portugal and the USA in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. They often get 5 seasons in one day – let alone 4.
The weather can be unpredictable and change quickly. The weather on this particular trip was exactly that because it was a bit earlier in the travel season and therefore cheaper.
However, we got to see some incredible waterfalls as a result of the rain and when we went to the lava rock pools there were the most fantastic waves surging over the black rocks – it was stunning.
On a trip to visit Uluru myself and the local guides and drivers were so excited to see a rainbow over Uluru – an actual rainbow over the top of the rock itself.
It was incredible.
However, a number of guests were disappointed that there was a cloud in the sky as it was not what they had imagined.
They were really upset and failed to appreciate they were seeing something that was very rare, despite myself, alongwith the local guides and drivers telling them exactly that.
9 – Some Sort of Plan
I regularly meet travellers tours who have done absolutely no research into the place they are visiting and as a result know very little about the itinerary.
They are often disappointed as a result and when given the opportunity to enjoy some free time they often feel unsure of what to do, meaning this time can be wasted or lost as a result.
Of course there is a balance to be had here – too much planning can mean frustration when things change (as they often do when travelling), or a feeling of pressure and being rushed.
Travelling is tiring so it is important to build in some easier time rather than going full tilt all the time.
As with many things a bit of research in advance can pay real dividends here.
When I travel I have some ideas for things to do in good weather and if the weather isn’t so great.
That helps me to save time when travelling by not spending my holiday time planning things but I leave enough flexibility so that I can make changes or attend/visit something that I find or discover while I am away.
I have guests experience both ends of this issue either with no plan at all and then feeling at a loose end or having such a packed plan that they actually end feeling exhausted from trying to fit everything in.
The balance will be different for different travellers, different places and different holiday types of course.
10 – Basic Phrases plus Google Translate with Language Downloaded
A Travel Essentials To Ensure Some Good Fun!
I am constantly surprised at how little effort travellers put into basic phrases when they travel.
With online guides and apps it is now so much easier to learn simple phrases such as ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Google translate will even say them out loud for you so that you can practice saying them.
If I am travelling somewhere I generally download the language in the Google Translate language so that I can translate offline. I don’t actually use it that often but it is a good back up in case of emergency and I feel better knowing it is there ‘just in case’.
People really appreciate the fact you have learned a few basic phrases in their language and it’s fun to try them out.
Practice before you go and don’t be shy about trying them out when you are away.
Google Translate is available online and also as an app as mentioned above.
If you want to try out speaking a new language before you travel the BBC has a language site with a mix of content to make learning more fun.
There are of course plenty of other apps!
One of my favourite sites for learning new words and facts is Memrise. It’s free too which is always good.
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