As regular travelers, we're often asked for travel advice: How to prepare, where to go, what to do and how to make travel as carefree as possible.
Here are some of our best tips:
1) For any international travel -- and often for almost any travel beyond your traditional vacation destination -- you're best to use a travel agent.
A travel agent? Are they still around?
You bet they are.
Indeed, the very best ones have survived the Internet revolution and provide unparalleled service at minimal cost. They save you plenty of hassles and most of the time they can also match any deal you can get anywhere else, including all those "do it yourself" deals.
We have two special, trusted travel agents that we use: One for land and air travel, the other specifically for cruises. They're both great and they both handle all the details for us. It makes everything so much easier.
2) Work with your travel agent. Get all your questions and concerns sorted out and addressed beforehand. Often the travel agent may have already been to the destination you're thinking about traveling to or may have used the same airline or been on the same flight or cruise line. If not, they can put you in touch with people who were. Take notes, if necessary -- but make sure your questions are answered.
3) If you only want to unpack once and you never want to worry about where you'll be dining, nothing beats a cruise. It's basically a floating hotel. But, be careful. Some new, mammoth cruise ships are overwhelming, carrying thousands of passengers on veritable floating cities. Some are known for round-the-clock partying or attracting only a certain demographic. And of course some have become well-known for mishaps, viral outbreaks and/or sanitary problems.
Know your cruise carrier, its reputation its safety and health record and the demographic that it caters to. We've found that when it comes to cruise travel, smaller is better. You may pay more for a smaller ship but you're bound to get more personal, more attentive service and you'll also have the opportunity to get closer-in to both big cities and smaller towns and hard-to-reach attractions that the big ships cannot take you to. We're having a great time on our current cruise with Viking River Cruises. The ship, the staff, the tours, the food, the ambiance and the company are all wonderful!
4) Having said all that, you can still see more and spend more time in the towns and cities you want to be in if you fly, drive, train and motor coach your trip. But then, you'll have to get used to living out of a suitcase and in that case you're well-advised to use a major tour agency (such as Globus or Thomas Cook) so that your itinerary is packaged and complete. It's important to make sure that all your transfers and connections are included and taken care of. That eliminates lots of hassle and guarantees you'll see all that you want to see, particularly if this is your first time at a certain destination. Most packages also give you plenty of free time and allow you to add on extra time in various cities or at various attractions. They're quite flexible. Also, when you travel in a group, you'll meet many people and make new friends.
5) Pack lightly. Pack lightly. Pack lightly. We can't say it enough. The secret here is layering. Make sure you have three or four layers of clothing so that you can add on or peel off depending on climate conditions. But don't bring any heavy coats or bulky or burdensome items. Make sure you have a good, lightweight, all-weather jacket with a hood. A light cotton hoodie is a good idea as well. Pack a nice cotton sweater and/or include a denim overshirt. Make sure you have a good, compact collapsible umbrella that fits easily into your jacket pocket. Don't forget a hat. And don't pack too many contrasting colors. Keep everything adaptable and interchangeable. Simple earth turns always work well. And, one more thing: Always wear a good, cotton undershirt. It's a great insulator, absorbing perspiration in the summer and keeping you warm in the winter.