No one is particularly fond of airports. (Unsplash)
I am always asked by people who know that I travel a lot if I have any tips for them. Well, frankly, no, I don’t. I hate airports just as much as everyone else. I also wait, with dread, as the checked-in baggage arrives on the carousel to see if the airline has lost my bags. I loathe most airline food. I often feel like getting a knife and slashing the backpacks of those passengers who forget that they have bloody great bags on their backs and shove them into people’s faces.
And yes, I sometimes think that the only reason that aeroplanes have sealed windows is to prevent irate passengers from throwing noisy and badly-behaved children overboard.
So, no, I don’t have any tips about travelling comfortably. We all suffer equally. But here are a few general rules I have made for myself about going on holiday.
Never go where everyone is going: Don’t go to London in June. Don’t go to Goa for New Year. Steer clear of Croatia during the school holidays.
The whole point of a holiday is that it should mark some kind of change from your everyday life. If you are going to go to the same places as everybody else, then you will just keep bumping into people you already know. Or you will be bothered by strangers who believe you should all hang out together simply because your passports were issued by the same country.
When you go on holiday, don’t treat it as an extension of your social life. Treat it as an adventure or an escape.
Never go anywhere in season: High season is the worst time to visit any city or region. This is when prices are the highest, hotels are hard to book, flights are full and every single place you want to go to is over-crowded.
Venice is one of the world’s loveliest cities. But it is not so lovely when St. Mark’s Square is so crowded that you can hardly move or when you can’t navigate the Rialto Bridge without bumping into massive groups of Chinese tourists.
Go to Venice, when it’s cooler and less crowded. You will see the city as it is meant to be seen, without the heaving crowds. And everything will be much cheaper, especially flights and hotels.
That is true of nearly every destination I can think of. Never pay high season rates. You’ll feel like an idiot for having paid so much for such a horrible experience.
Don’t take a downmarket cruise: There are two kinds of cruises : for the rich and for the rest of us. If you can swan around the Mediterranean on a yacht, then please, by all means, go ahead. But if somebody tells you that you are going to have a very good time in a giant floating motel, then laugh in their faces.
Look at it this way. Most large cruise ships are essentially hotels with very small rooms and indifferent service.
Ask yourself this: would I want to spend my vacation, trapped in a motel with thousands of noisy strangers, who will storm the buffet and get drunk every night?
If the answer is no, then a giant cruise ship is not for you. It is actually worse than a cheap motel because at least in the motel, you can get up and go out for a walk. Here, you are stuck in the middle of the ocean.
Worst of all is the air of fake celebration and false hilarity. One of my worst travel experiences was on a cruise ship that left from Singapore and went around part of the Indian Ocean. The ship was full of aggressive mainland Chinese tourists who pushed and shoved (I don’t mean to generalise; there are perfectly nice Chinese tourists everywhere—there just didn’t seem to be any on that ship) and the food was so dire that I wished I had brought my own. On the ship’s video system, the grinning ‘hosts’ would tell us what activities were planned for the day and assure us that we were all having fun.
On the other hand, there are some lovely cruises. One of my nicest holidays was on a smaller ship that went around the Amalfi coast. And I know people who do love cruise-holidays. Sadly I can’t really afford the super luxury yachts.
So the golden rule is: be careful and choose wisely.
Never queue up: You are on holiday for a relatively short period. The chances are that you began your trip in a queue: to check in for your flight or to get your passport stamped at Immigration.
Do you really want to spend the rest of your holiday still standing in line?
These days, with the internet, there is usually no reason to queue. You can book your ticket to most museums and sites on the net and usually sail past the poor sods who are queuing up. Most restaurants can be booked.
If you have been recommended restaurants that don’t take bookings and require you to queue, don’t go. It really isn’t worth it. I don’t see the point of waiting 45 minutes to get into Padella in London for a bowl of pasta (nice enough but not worth the queue) or at some trendy burger place in New York.
Go out. Enjoy yourself. Eat somewhere else.
Don’t shop: It is the Indian curse. We always feel obliged to shop when we are on holiday. It may have made sense once upon a time when nothing was available in India. But you now get almost everything you need here. Often it is cheaper: Zara and Marks and Spencer cost less here than they would in, say, England. So, oddly enough, do things like Jo Malone fragrances. It is foolish to shop abroad now, as the value of the rupee keeps sinking.
Save your money. Save your time. And enjoy the destination.
Be wary of cheap flights: I know that it sounds good in theory. You fly cheaply on the airline of some country you know nothing about. You are flown from Delhi or Mumbai to that country’s capital. And then you wait for your connection.
But what happens if that connection is cancelled? Or if it is delayed? Or if they lost your luggage during the transfer?
It shouldn’t happen. But all too often, it does.
So travel by a reputed airline. It doesn’t always help. (You will remember the recent page one story about British Airways throwing an unaccompanied minor on to the street at night after cancelling her connection.) But, most times, you have some guarantees of safety and responsibility with an airline you have, at least, heard of.
Get a phone package: You will need email, WhatsApp and the internet in general much more than you realise. Roaming is absurdly expensive. Buying a local SIM is silly. (Nobody will have your number.) Just get an overseas pack from your phone service provider. They don’t cost much. And they are well worth it.
Pack food: Yeah, I know. It is the Gujarati in me with our legacy of taking theplas and khakras whenever we go. But honestly, I have lost count of the times when hunger has struck suddenly (with the time difference, your body takes a while to adjust to new meal-times) and I have been saved by a bag of crisps in my hand luggage or a bar of dark chocolate or a packet of salami. At one in the morning in most cities and at most hotels, you are on your own. There is no room service available and few restaurants are open.
Pack a small travel iron: If you are very rich and can pay to get your shirts ironed by your hotel, then that’s fine but otherwise, remember that your clothes will get crumpled in your bag and will need to be ironed before you can wear them.
Get a taxi-app: Whether it is Uber or Grab or whatever is popular in the county you are going to, a taxi-app is essential. You can’t always use public transport and cruising taxis come with their own problems. They can be too expensive. (You have got to be mad to take a black cab in London.) The drivers may not speak English. Many cabbies will con you.
An Uber-type app is much easier.
Watch the weather: Global warning and climate change have altered our stereotypical views about hot and cold places. Never go anywhere in India during the monsoon. I am writing this in Rajasthan, hardly a ‘wet’ state, where there is flooding and roads have been washed away. And this summer there have been days when Paris has been even hotter than Delhi.
Remember that floods will ruin your holiday. And remember that Europeans don’t know what air-conditioning is. So when the heat strikes, all hell breaks loose. Go to Europe in the spring or the autumn.
Try and take day time flights: It sounds tempting to take a night flight to Europe or Singapore. You think you will save on one night in a hotel.
But here’s what will happen: you won’t sleep on the plane. So you will be a wreck when you arrive. You will get to your hotel and be told that your booking only entitles you to a room after 3pm.
So you will hang around, tired, sleepy and unwashed and will waste the day.
Take a daylight flight. Arrive in the evening. Go out for dinner. Get a good night’s sleep. And you will start your vacation the following day, fresh as a daisy!
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First Published: Aug 21, 2019 12:09 IST