1. Track down your PIN numbers.
The first comes from Dutch frequent traveler Ted van de Weteringe, who suggests that you "track down the PIN number for your bank or credit card. More and more places require it for payment. Got caught out at a French motorway toll booth recently."
2. Memorize your passport number.
In addition, I recommend that you memorize your passport number if you can; the human brain is very well built to memorize a seven-digit number, which is why people could remember telephone numbers so well (at least back when our phones did not remember them for us). Most passport numbers run to 10 digits, but this can come in handy again and again on your trip, including when checking into your hotel, renting a car or doing any banking -- and inevitably when you want to fill out your customs form during your flight home, but recall that your passport is jammed way in the back of the overhead bin, your descent has started and the seatbelt signs are on for good.
Poll: Have You Memorized Your Passport Number?
Okay, now on to tips to put into use during your travels...
3. Keep it clean.
Keeping yourself from getting sick while traveling can be a losing battle, but you can take some precautions along the way, especially in extremely high-traffic areas like airports, your airplane seat, fast-food restaurants and the like. Simply keeping your hands clean has been proven to make a significant positive difference in everything from kindergarten flu transmission to surgical outcomes.
To that end, nonprofit community developer Frank Lang keeps it clean (and simple): "One word: Purell!"
Avoiding the Airplane Cold
4. Find your quiet place at the airport.
Several veteran travelers I spoke to suggested you join or pay to get into airline club lounges, whether to catch up on work, decompress, or even shower and sleep. (See Seven Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access.)
If this is too pricey or too much hassle for you, check out AirportHavens.com, a crowd-sourced information site listing "the best places in airports across the country to find some privacy, get some work done or simply relax."
Nine Ways to Make the Most of a Layover
5. Enjoy your window seat to the fullest.
On a cross-country flight out of San Diego earlier this month, I had a window seat on a crisp, clear day. I pulled out my camera and took a heap of photos; you can see some of them here.
As I was taking the photos, I was intensely curious about exactly where we were; unfortunately, with movies and DirecTV dominating the in-flight offerings these days, the flight path channel is pretty much history, at least on U.S. domestic flights. I wasn't the only interested person; one family was driving a grumpy flight attendant batty asking where we were. With scenery like that in the photos linked above, it is no surprise.
To solve this problem, check out America from the Air by Daniel Mathews and James S. Jackson, an "illustrated guide of landscapes seen from commercial airplane windows across the United States." At 400 pages, the book itself is a bit of a brick, so the authors provide a CD-ROM with all the flight paths as well.
For a somewhat more compact print option, have a look at Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air by Gregory Dicum.
6. Learn about a new place, quickly and intimately.
Joe Brancatelli, editor of JoeSentMe.com and business travel columnist for Portfolio.com, notes that "People always ask me how to 'learn' about a new place. Well, you can read the guidebooks, of course, and watch the videos. You can also read the local newspapers and whatever. But, to me, the best way to get a quick feel of a place and get at least a basic understanding of the people is this: Go to their food markets and their local photography studios.
"What people eat -- how they butcher their meat, their fruit and vegetable options, what they insist should be purchased fresh and what's available frozen -- says a lot about a culture. Nothing is more elemental than what we eat. Everyone MUST do it and fewer and fewer societies are subsistence farmers, so they have to buy their food somewhere. Whether it is a supermarket in Chicago or the Nagy Vasarcsarnok in Budapest, you'll learn something if you cruise through the place where people shop for sustenance.
"And I love finding the local portrait photographer on a city's high street or even at a village center. Every culture photographs itself and likes to present itself in its best light. So I love looking in the window [of] the local photo studio in a town or a place where I am a newcomer. What holidays do they want to memorialize in photographs? What do they dress up for and how do they dress? What kind of 'official' family portraits do they take? Seeing these images -- and the photographer will always publicly display his best work -- really tells you something about a society.
"I'll always go to those two places before any museum or monument."
When Should You Hire a Tour Guide?
7. Come bearing gifts.
Having some simple items that you might present to a helpful person, or merely to friendly locals, can really enhance your experience of a place. Do some research, and choose your gifts wisely, even if they seem a little off to you. Back in his salad days, Ed Grose, President of Alta Management Services Inc., employed the following on a trip to Southeast Asia: "When I went to Vietnam, I brought a carton of Marlboro cigarettes. The locals loved them."
If you are not comfortable hauling around cancer sticks, have a look around your house or town and think on things that might really work where you are going: New York City pins for kids, cheap Space Needle replicas from Seattle, that kind of thing. You could also have American candies or other food items with you -- sticks of gum, you name it. Don't set the bar too high -- you're not trying to buy folks off; you're just sharing something simple as a friendly gesture.
8. Use free mailing labels in lieu of a personal business card.
I have noticed lately that personal business cards have become much more popular -- perhaps it is because more people are out of work or are changing jobs more often, so they don't have corporate business cards, or because they simply don't want to mix business relationships with social relationships. Kim Kramer Hancock has a solution that puts another modern trend to work for you -- the ubiquitous free mailing labels found in fundraising mailers. "Bring the free address labels that you get in the mail so that you can give people you meet your address to stay in touch or send you stuff."
9. Be prepared for anything, and adapt.
My traveler friends offered all kinds of offbeat advice. For example, Kathleen Boyce, an English teacher living in Beijing, blasts, "Car: drive (being in charge of the music can be overrated)." Japan-based ESL teacher Dan McLaughlin offers, " If traveling in Latin America, don't ask 'Is this the road to Ixtlan?' The answer will always be 'yes.' Ask 'Where does this road go?' instead." Dan adds, "When in Australia do go to a bakery and do eat pies ... often and in copious amounts. In many cities multi-day transit passes can be an incredible value. ... In the Third World, take a cab ... to the next city ... or further if you like."
And remember that some things are better left unsaid, even (especially?) if they are clever; for example, frequent traveler Michael Cox warns, "Don't call the guy who gathers up the plastic bins at security 'Bin Laden.' I actually stopped myself on that one, which is rare for me." Good call.
The point here is that if you keep your eyes open and your mind sharp, your own hardcore nature will help you find the hardcore travel shortcuts, right on the spot.
35 Travel Writers Share Their Secrets
10. Pack duct tape.
Finally, Shelli Gonshorowski, producer at Peter Greenberg Worldwide, has two words for you: "Duct tape! I constantly rip things, and need a hem for new pants/skirts -- it's a miracle fixer on the road." I concur; in fact, back when I was a young rowing coach, I called the roll of duct tape "the toolbox."
There are a lot of hardcore travelers in our readership; do you have any favorite tips or tactics we missed? Share them on our message boards or in the comments below.