5 Travel Lessons I Learned (The Hard Way)

December 16, 2013

The highlights of our vacation are countless – climbing parts of the Great Wall of China, dancing Gangham Style in Gangham (sadly there’s no photographic evidence of that), exploring the stunning countryside of Bali, drinking freshly picked green tea…the list goes on.

The lowlights of the vacation – well, I’m just glad they are limited to one hand.  Before I share with you the highlights, I want to dive into some of the challenges so you won’t make the same mistakes we do.  Hallie – I’m looking out for you, girl.

1.  Know your vacation limits
It sounds silly – when is too much vacation a bad thing?  In our case, 10 days of rest and relaxation is all we can stomach before we started checking e-mails and doing a bit of work.  We also spent about 1/3 of our trip actually traveling - which wasn’t awful when flying first class.  It was, however, god awful when flying the budget carrier AirAsia.  Henceforth, we plan to limit our vacations to 10 days, and no more than 1 day of inter-trip transit time. And speaking of inner-trip travel…

2. Avoid budget carriers at all cost
AirAsia – while I’m relegating that experience to its own post, let me just say that they are the worst for post-booking support.  Attempts to pre-pay for baggage was challenging (and a costly failure, at times) and changing a booking was near impossible.  Given how spoiled I am with having top-tier status on United, I know that budget carriers are not my cup of tea.  But if you MUST book them…

3.  Read the fine print.  All of it
Your best bet is to read all potential airlines’ policies prior to booking your tickets.  Always buy refundable fares, opt for carriers with at least one free checked bag, and consider your own comforts.  Plans change (in our case, booking our flight to Seoul on the wrong day) and it can be a costly mistake.  We were left with the option of paying an additional $750 to change our tickets on AirAsia (the original ticket being $500) or eating the ticket cost and using miles to book a new flight.  Guess what we picked?

4.  Plan out every day
This was, by far, the best thing I did in preparation for our trip.  I pre-booked all our excursions (am a huge fan of Viator and Vayable) before we left, and made sure to plan our tour days for the second full day at our destination, in order to give us ample time to recover.  If you’re taking overnight flights, this is especially important to consider.  No matter what airline or class you fly, you will be exhausted after an overnight flight.  A lazy day at the pool or hotel is just what the doctor ordered.  A spa treatment helps, too.

5.  Predict the language barriers
One major challenge we had in China was getting to and from the hotel via taxi.  Looking back, I should have printed out maps of our hotel locations in Chinese, which would have saved us money (I reserved my roaming data for emergency Google Maps lookups) and a lot of stress.  Beijing was especially bad in this regard – we ended up getting ripped off in a private taxi en route to the hotel, simply because the official taxi driver had no clue where our hotel was and spoke no English.  Ouch.

Bonus – Splurge on what’s important to you
I’ll be honest – I go nuts over a luxury hotel.  I love a private check-in accompanied by a drink order and a comfortable chair.  I love a lounge replete with unlimited drinks and a variety of foods.  I adore (and am secretly envious of) rooms larger than my own apartment, stocked with luxury toiletries.  So it’s no surprise that we choose to stay in a luxury hotel and saving on other items when traveling.  We opt for public transportation quite often on our trips, and save on huge meals by doing small food crawls in a certain neighborhood.  While this wasn’t a lesson learned per se, it’s one that was just ratified on this trip.  It also helps having gold status at all the properties we stayed at, which guarantees club access, free internet, and rooms on executive floors.

For the curious folks – we stayed at the following properties (all that I highly recommend!):
- JW Marriott at Tomorrow Square (Shanghai, China)
- Conrad Hotel (Beijing, China)
- BVLGARI Hotel & Resort (Bali, Indonesia)
- PJ Hilton (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia) >> this was a recommended hotel for Usha’s wedding, but it is one of the nicest Hilton properties I’ve ever stayed at.
- Renaissance Gangham Gu (Seoul, South Korea)

  • http://www.wearing-pearls.com/ Dana

    Love these tips! I’ve definitely experienced all of them at one point or another. Budget airlines tend to give me panic attacks, but especially in Europe they are just so cheap sometimes its hard to say no. With regards to the language barrier, one thing I’ve done is gotten a card from the concierge with the name and address of the hotel on it in the local language, that way you can just show it to the driver if needed.

    • hithaonthego

      Such a great tip once you’re there. Getting the map in the local language in advance is key, just to ensure you’re not getting ripped off at the airport OR can get directions to your hotel via public transport.

  • http://www.coralsandcognacs.com/ Hallie Wilson

    Thank you x 100! I’d have never thought of printing travel directions in the country’s native language. So helpful. You are (and continue to be) my travel savior! Can’t wait to see more photos from your trip, too. :-)

    • hithaonthego

      You’ll be fine in Hong Kong, but if you travel to more remote parts in Thailand, it’s useful to know. Your trip is SO CLOSE! I’m so excited for you :)

  • http://www.jbound.com/ Julie

    I’m so with you on not being able to enjoy vacations longer than 10 days. I start to feel guilty, which is the WORST when you’re paying for the opportunity to enjoy yourself. Plus, shorter vacations means you can take more frequent ones. And isn’t half the fun the anticipation before you take off?

    • hithaonthego

      Totally agree! More frequent trips is the motto of 2014 – though they’re not necessarily shorter!

  • http://tieraloha.com/ Tiera Kekaula

    Love these tips! I’m a big proponent of planning out everyday. You can be more efficient about where you’re going & when, plan how you’re going to get where, save the daily back & forth of “What are we doing next?”, and better plan what to pack!

    • hithaonthego

      Absolutely agree with all of these things! Though I must admit that I was sick of the sweaters and blouses I had packed for the trip when I got home…

  • thepearshape

    So interesting to hear these tips! We had the same experience in Beijing and have since sworn off mainland China for at least the next few years – traumatic! Can’t wait to hear more :)

  • Short and Sweet Blog

    Definitely splurge on things that are important.

  • Michelle Zapalski

    Informative post, can’t wait to hear about you excursions and experiences at all of these destinations!

    • hithaonthego

      I’ve had fun writing up the Travel Diaries, Michelle. Soon to come – the “View From Seat 20A” posts on our harrowing experiences. And some great ones too.

  • http://www.passportsandvisa.wordpress.com/ passportsandvisa

    Great tips, thanks for sharing your traveling wisdom :-)! I can’t remember the last time I had a 10 day vacation, but I could see how you’d be ready to get back into the action. Never thought about printing out directions in the local language either, also like another reader’s suggestion about grabbing the hotel’s card! Look forward to hearing about the rest of your excursion…I really need to make a trip to this part of the world…

    • hithaonthego

      Grabbing the card of your hotel is great, but having the location pre-printed in the local language is necessary to not get ripped off by private taxis in airports. #lessonlearned

  • Tim

    #6 you meet AWESOME people in the Hilton lounges :p

    • hithaonthego

      For sure, Mr. Tim. Reunion in Australia SOON.

Previous post:

Next post: