Brett Atkinson has spent more than a decade bouncing around the planet as a travel writer and Lonely Planet guidebook author, and along the way has worked out a few travel tips to make any journey smoother.
Withdraw money from local ATMs and also take some local currency with you
Ask your bank to set up your EFTPOS debit card to work overseas. The rate will be competitive and banks, including ANZ and Westpac, have international networks and alliances where the overseas ATM fee – around $5 usually – will be waived. Be careful to use ATMs in more secure bank premises – not in convenience stores or petrol stations – to minimise the risk of being scammed. I learnt this lesson the hard way in South Africa. Also make sure you get some foreign currency before you go too, just to make sure you have a bit to get you started.
Carry a back-up stash of cash
I always carry a few hundred US dollars or Euros in cash as back up for the unlikely situation of losing my EFTPOS or credit card, or if my card won't work in a local ATM machine. I've never lost my cards, but recently my EPTPOS card wouldn't work in the ATM machines at Seoul airport. I was able to change US$ into Korean Won to pay for the airport bus into the city, and once I was in central Seoul my EFTPOS card worked fine at a bank's ATM. Having the backup of an internationally-recognised currency really proved its value, plus it's easy to do before you leave NZ.
BYO empty water bottle
I'm a big advocate of keeping hydrated on a flight, and while most airlines' flight attendants do a pretty good job of coming around the cabin with water or juice, I still like the option to drink water even more frequently. Take an empty water bottle with you and fill it once you've gone through security, avoiding the high cost of bottled water at most airports. Most flight attendants will also refill the bottle for you on the plane from the water dispensers in the galley.
Use packing cells in your luggage
To save space and organise my gear while I'm on the road, I use packing cells in my luggage. Using the cells – I'm a fan of the ones sold by Kathmandu – definitely maximises the efficient use of space in my pack.
Pack your own earplugs
Available cheaply from pharmacies before you leave New Zealand, foam earplugs are highly recommended. Look forward to a bit of aural insurance on flights or in the case of the occasional noisy hotel. Pack a few pairs as you're bound to lose some along the way.
Get to know local food blogs
In many cities nothing changes as much as the local dining scene. Enter “food blog” and the name of the city you're visiting into Google to discover a whole world of recommendations from like-minded local foodies. If the city is an English-speaking one, search the local newspaper online for reviews of recently opened cafes and restaurants.
Book a street food tour for your first day
For cities renowned for a great street food scene – for example, Hanoi - make sure you book a street food tour and book it ahead for your first day if possible. You'll quickly learn about the best local dishes and have the confidence to further explore local noodle stand independently across the following days.
It is a difficult decision but try not to pack too much into your holiday. Factor in a few days doing pretty much nothing – maybe spending a morning in a local cafe or exploring a market with your camera – and the serendipity of surprising encounters and experiences often soon takes over.