Wednesday, January 23, 2008

International Travel Tips - Part II

Here are another two international travel tips in our ongoing series.

Understand Local Transportation
Trains, tubes, trams, subways, metros, busses, cable cars, taxis, and every form of transportation in every city and country is different. If you get nothing more from your guidebook, study in great detail the intricacies of using public transportation systems. On London’s Tube, you’ll want to get one type of ticket depending on your journey, length of stay, etc.; on the Paris Metro, it’s a completely different system, even though many ticket types are similar. On some systems, you’ll need your ticket to exit a station. On some trains/trams you’ll be expected to self-validate your ticket upon boarding; on others, you’re expected to wait for the conductor to validate your ticket. And once you finally get the hang of the system in one country, you’ll cross the border into another and everything will change again. Ah, the joys of travel.

Cell Phones Are Surprisingly Indispensable
Americans think they can’t live without their cell phones. In Europe and much of Asia, “mobiles” are even more ubiquitous (and almost essential). It can sometimes be a hassle finding a cell phone and service for the country you’re visiting (see our previous post), but it may be your most useful travel tool. You can make lodging reservations in advance, leave a call-back number for contacts you’ve missed, or call for dinner reservations. Once, in Amsterdam, we would have missed the best Thai meal of our life if we hadn’t had a cell phone to play phone tag with friends-of-friends who we finally met up with. Get a phone, as well as a good international cell service plan, a local SIM chip, or an international roaming chip (that actually works). And unless you’re a heavy-user business traveler, don’t worry too much about call-per-minute costs – the convenience and reliability of the phone and service is what’s most important.