Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On The Move With Back Chat

Travelling today is no longer a casual and leisurely affair.   On the contrary, it is full of pitfalls and needs a serious plan of action.

Travellers appear to fall into two categories:  the 'bring everything you might need' and the 'bring only what you use.'   Where do you fit in?

Do you appear to be carrying all you own, or are you one of those rarefied creatures that strolls up to the check-in counter - cool, calm and unhurried.   Just the elegance of chic luggage and a relaxed expression.

Preparing to travel can be easy and untrammelled or a muddled nightmare.

From the essential paperwork to perfect packing, Back Chat gives you the nuts and bolts.

If after you have read the article, you still have a problem to solve, do contact me at Back Chat at or email me at .   I would love to help you make your travel experience a breeze.


Do some research, learn about your destination.  Check the weather patterns and local dress codes, this will help you with your packing.   The Internet provides invaluable information on almost every travel subject.

Have a friendly travel agent who will go the extra mile to get you the best value.  By using the Internet one can make direct contact with hotels and often get special deals not available to travel agents   However when it comes to those interesting little gems, there are superb discoveries to be made; equally there are hilarious stories of quaint adorable hotels that were less quaint and less adorable on arrival!   So be cautious and make careful enquiries.

Prepare a checklist of ‘to do’ items and tick them off as they are completed.  Keep this list for future trips.

When booking your flights, consider the following.   Consult your travel agency about flights – early booking can result in special deals being offered.  When you see tempting offers of especially cheap flights, the catch is often the timing of the return flight., you need flexibility for these deals to be effective.

 If you know exactly when and where you want to go, you can book online.  This way you will save travel agency fees and probably land a better deal. 

Most airlines allow you to pre-book seats, however they cannot confirm them in economy class, although you often do get the seats you request.
The choice of seats depends on individual preference.  A window seat will afford you hours of looking at clouds and sky.  You will only see scenery on take-off and landing.   But you will be hemmed in and moving about will involve acrobatic feats over one’s neighbour’s legs.  Just a trip to the loo will be a mission.
Moving about and exercise is essential.  You can exercise in your seat by moving your toes, legs and feet. Not sitting with your legs crossed, and changing your position in your seat regularly can avoid the danger of immobility.  Wear loose fitting clothes and drink plenty of water or non- alcoholic beverages.  This prevents dehydration, which makes the blood stickier and more prone to clotting.         

The aisle seat allows you to move easily.  Attempt to book a seat near the bulk-head or emergency exit (be prepared to man it when necessary!).   You will have no one in front of you and lots of extra leg-room.
If you follow a special diet, state this when you book your flights.  Meals that follow religious requirements that are lactose-free, vegetarian and even fat free are available on most flights.
When you are in transit and have long hours to wait, this is where showers and rest are a so valuable. Check whether the airport has a transit area with a hotel or shower facility e.g. Schiphol has both!  The shower facility is available at a cost on arrival or you may get these through KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if you are travelling to USA or Canada from South Africa.

Lounges and shower facilities for economy class passengers are not easy to come by, however British Airways are offering them for full economy class fares.  For travellers that are prepared to pay, you can access the Premier Club lounges at major airports in South Africa.  The cost for international and domestic lounges differ.  If you are a member of Diner's Club they provide their members with lounges at certain major airports internationally.


Your Passport must be up to date with at least 6 months until expiration.  Most countries require this.  Incidentally, colour photographs are allowed on passports, far better than some of those black and white horrors!

Visa Requirements, not to be taken lightly!  These days obtaining a visa can be a fraught experience if you are not fully equipped with all the requirements.  Find out from your travel agent if the countries you are visiting require visas and allow time for these to be processed.  For a fee, the travel agent, or a visa company will handle these.  If you do it yourself follow these steps:

Pick up your forms from your travel agency - double check that the forms are current and correct!
Contact the Consulate and ask them to e-mail or fax you their requirements.  In order to issue the visas, some countries require the original air-ticket, proof of accommodation, either a confirmation of your booking from the hotel or, when staying privately, a personally signed invitation.
Sufficient evidence of adequate funds for your trip (a letter from your bank will not be sufficient).  They prefer an original and copies of your latest credit card statements showing the unused credit limit available.  Or proof of funds in other accounts.

In addition you will need medical insurance, sometimes a top up to your existing amount.

Money Matters.  When travelling, one can use a combination of Travellers Cheques, credit cards and foreign cash of the country (vital).    A safer option is a Travellers Cash Card, supported by a credit card in case of need and foreign cash of the country.  While travelling do not be surprised that banks do not welcome you with open arms!  In France for instance many banks do not change Travellers Cheques at all, others change American Express, still others only Thomas Cook.  The best course is to check where the actual branches are and go directly to them.  A Travellers Cash Card can be used at an ATM. You can change your Travellers Cheques at a Bureau du Change but not necessarily at a favourable rate. 

Handbags.  Instead of a large handbag,  use a smaller bag with a shoulder strap.  It should have compartments and no room for anything superfluous.  Keep it close to your side and at all times with the fastening facing inwards!   Remember, there are scores of thefts reported daily at airports, train stations etc.

Medical & Travel Insurance
It is essential to have travel insurance.  This will include medical cover, lost and damaged baggage and any number of emergencies.   If you charge your air ticket to your credit card you get free travel insurance.  This is usually inadequate, especially for older people and needs topping up.   Medical procedures abroad are extremely costly which makes it worthwhile to arrange medical insurance before you leave.  Lost luggage may be reimbursed by the airline but at limited values.

You will need an INTERNATIONAL DRIVER'S LICENCE if you are going to hire a car.  Some countries also require you to have your original driver's licence of your country.

Prepare a BUDGET when you have made the decision about your destination, the duration of your stay, the costs of airfares, hotels, car hire etc.

Make the necessary arrangements if you are leaving your home unoccupied.   Notify a neighbour, cancel the newspapers and arrange for the post to be collected.   It is advisable to turn off the hot water cylinder, and other appliances that do not need to be on.   Advise your security company and the police of your absence. 

Now that the planning is completed the real work begins...

PACKING - Are you sure that you want to go through with this!

The frequent and sophisticated flyer already knows the magic formula.
Place everything you need on a bed.  Divide it in half and that in half again.
It sounds so absurdly simple, yet for some of us it proves almost impossible!

Packing is not only about clothes.  There is the essential carry on luggage.  Assembling this can be a breeze or a nightmare.  The very frequent traveller often has prepared pouches of necessities that are kept intact and used from one trip to the next.  This may sound extravagant, but it does save time and money over all.

Refer to Back Chat's article 'International Travel Update' for all the current information about Carry - On and Check - In luggage

Factors to consider when shopping for new luggage.  Do not buy the biggest suitcase available.  This will encourage you to pack too much and will be impossible to lug around.  Make sure the luggage is waterproof.  Buy a suitcase with wheels and a pull- out handle.  Porters and trolleys are never there when you need them!

Tie a brightly coloured strap around your suitcase for easy identification on the carousel, apart from being an extra security feature.  Some straps have combination locks, which will provide even more protection.  Buy a suitcase with a combination lock., this does not dangle and, provided you don’t forget the combination, will prove more discreet and therefore more effective.

Mark your luggage with your name on the inside and outside.  This will help with lost luggage when the outer tag goes astray. 

Place a trip itinerary in your luggage so your bags can easily be returned to you.  If an airline loses your items, make a claim before you leave the airport.  Carry a list of all your items and leave one at home to help you to make a complete claim form if your items go missing.  Don’t despair, it seldom happens and with luck your luggage will be first out on the carousel.


Carry as little as possible, but remember your umbrella!  The more often you travel, the greater the realisation that travelling with the smallest amount of luggage is the best way to go - so much easier said than done!

Packing clothing is probably the toughest test for someone who wishes to learn to travel light.  Two important tips to bear in mind are to colour coordinate and to layer for a versatile look.

When using layering as a guideline, try packing one predominant colour and add one additional colour to mix and match.  One classic suit for instance, with 3 or 4 different  blouses for different looks.  Alter your look with just a scarf, belt or shawl.  Have an extra jersey or sweater for colder days and a light coat when necessary.

Pack around minimal accessories eg. take shoes, and handbags of one colour.  Very importantly take shoes you have ‘broken in’.  These can affect your whole holiday.

Group and pack things separately in pouches or see through bags.  Unpacking is far easier and quicker.  Thin plastic dry cleaner bags can be used as covers for dresses, blouses, trousers etc.   If you can fit in hangers (thin plastic ones) even better.  Button all shirt and dress buttons, so that they will hang properly when unpacked.

Pack your hairdryer it has a dual purpose and can also be used to remove creases.  Remember the double adaptor to suit varying current strengths.  Simply hang them on a hanger and blow the creases away with your hairdryer.  Hang items in the bathroom to steam.  However, before you hang the entire wardrobe on the rail, check that it is strong enough.  You don't want to see your clothes descending blouse by coloured blouse into the boiling water below.

                  Celebrate when you have unpacked and
found everything in perfect condition.
Bon Voyage!

Illustrations by Catherine Lauinger


Mia said...

Mmmmm if BackChat can cure me from packing everything but the kitchen sink on my business trips what a blessing 5 days with my Colleagues and business meeting Gmmmfff not easy

SAY said...

That was a great article Leslie. Some of the things I knew, but many I didn't.
Loved the one about using a hair dryer to get wrinkles out of clothing.