Lessons Learned

Margaret Wine and Clive Mitchell-Taylor

These thoughts are in no particular order.

Communications

In most places other than Turkey we were able to access our emails through either wireless or networked internet at the hotels.  It's sometimes very expensive but that will depend on how important it is to stay in touch.  Wireless networks in the UK are terrific and pretty much ubiquitous.  We were able to regularly upload our photographs and our blog so that our people in Australia were able to follow our travels on almost a day to day basis.  We didn't explore using ISPs linked to an Australian provider, but will look at this next time we travel.

We had a problem with the laptop screen in the UK and were delighted to find that knowing the appropriate reference numbers we were able to have the screen replaced within the day.  Good on you Dell, take a bow!

We had our mobiles switched on to global roaming and that worked well except that I hadn't had my provider take off the bar on international calls which I normally have in place as a precaution against theft in Australia.  it was fine once that was fixed.  SMS are relatively cheap at about 75¢ if you only want to give people in Australia a heads-up that you've arrived safely at your next destination.

Rental Cars

Book rental cars in advance.  We got caught out in the UK because we expected the agencies at Heathrow to be open at 5:30pm on a week day, and they weren't.

We have used www.vroomvroomvroom.com.au in Australia and www.vroomvroomvroom.co.uk to get good prices for rental cars. There's also www.vroomvromvroom.com for the US, but we haven't tried that one.

Rental cars are relatively cheap in the UK, and if your travel insurance covers an excess in case of accident then there's no need to buy expensive insurance from the rental agency.

In the UK some companies will include the price of a tank of fuel in the contract.  They then tell you that you don't have to fill up the tank when you return the car.  While this sounds attractive, you have paid an additional amount equal to the value of the fuel left in the tank when you return the car! Decline this option, take the car with a full tank of fuel, return it with a full tank of fuel.

Trains - Underground

We used the MRT in Singapore and the Underground in London extensively. They are easy to use, cheap and take you pretty much wherever you need to go. We didn't use the Metro in Washington quite so much, but it is also easy to use and relatively cheap.  We recommend using these systems whenever you can.

Trains - UK

The non-Underground trains in the UK are very expensive but reliable - it's probably way cheaper to hire a small car at around £Stg30 a day.

Trans-Canada Railway

Your suitcases go on the train separately so you will need to have a small carry-on bag with toiletries and a change of clothes/underwear.  The scenery is fantastic, the meals and wine excellent and the Canadians are extremely helpful and friendly.  We cannot recommend the train trip from Toronto to Vancouver too highly.

Tours and Tour Buses

Most major cities have open-top tour buses which run one or more circuits through the city, identifying landmarks and places of interest.  While they may appear to be relatively expensive, you can leave the tour at any point which you want to investigate more fully, then rejoin it at a later time.  The convention seems to be that the ticket has a life of 48 hours, so you can use it to travel from place to place.  We recommend using tour buses where they are available.  If you can't use the second day on the tickets, pass them on to other travellers.  What goes around comes around, or, as I once read, all good deeds are suitably punished!

Rebecca from Harvey World Travel in the Canberra Centre recommended a private tour of Gallipoli and Troy and it was an absolutely inspired suggestion.  Well done Rebecca, it was well worth the additional expense.  We had our own driver and our own tour guide and were able to adjust the tour to go to the places on the battlefield that we wanted to concentrate on.  There were other people from the Prince Hotel who did the tours on a bus, and we worked out that we actually spent six hours less than them in travelling time and the meals were of a much higher standard.  Our tour guide for Troy was the man who wrote the official tour guide as well as a number of books on Troy and Gallipoli, so we couldn't have asked for better.

There are 16 million people in Istanbul and the traffic is a nightmare. Don't even consider driving yourself.

Events at your Destinations

Events at your destination can have a profound effect upon your holiday, particularly if your time is limited.  Our visit to Washington was severely effected by the Marine Corps Marathon.

Tourist buses didn't run on the day and in consequence the trains were packed. We went to Arlington Cemetery and wanted to see the Iwo Jima Memorial, but couldn't get near it because that was where the marathon ended.

Some simple internet searches of the date and the city would have identified this and enabled us to make alternative arrangements before we left Australia or shuffle our destinations around if that gave a better outcome.

Airport Shuttles

Pickups from the airport are pre-arranged and for the most part work very well.

In Canada and the US we found that the contact numbers that appear on travel vouchers for the shuttle services weren't always correct, to the extent that in Hawaii we tried four different numbers using the local yellow pages before finding the right number.

In other cases, the shuttle service runs to a regular timetable and the concierge of your hotel will have a copy of the schedule. Vancouver is a good example of this. The concierge will also be able to identify your hotel on the schedule - for example, the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel is on the schedule as the "Vancouver Hotel". This isn't always obvious to the traveller.

You may not be able to contact a human being at the shuttle company on Friday in Moslem countries and Sunday in Christian/Western countries and leaving a message does not guarantee a call-back.

The bottom line is that you should confirm your return shuttle journey as soon as you can.

In Hawaii, you need to be aware that "VIP" and "Aloha VIP" are two separate and distinct tour/shuttle companies, even though the differences aren't readily apparent to us outsiders!

Tipping

Make yourself aware of the conventions of tipping before you visit the country concerned. Tipping is very much expected in the US and Canada, particularly in restaurants, hotels and taxis. Being aware of the conventions means that you can pre-arrange to have notes or coins of appropriate denominations available.

Baggage and Security Checks

Suitcase weight restrictions vary from country to country and between international and domestic flights. You are better off having two suitcases of moderate weight than one which is over 50lbs (22.7kg).

The US, Canada and some other countries restrict passengers to one item of carry-on baggage.  You must rearrange your baggage in order to accommodate this, but at the same time don't go over the overall weight for baggage items which are checked in.

If you lock your checked-in bags in the US and Canada you risk having the locks smashed should the Customs or Security staff decide that there's something in your baggage which needs to be examined more closely.

The down-side of this is occasionally baggage items come open and items are lost.  Consequently, medication should be in your carry-on baggage together with a letter from your GP and/or specialist.

Liquids and gels which are in your carryon item must be in containers of 100g or less, and must be in a snap-lock plastic bag.  You can't take on a larger container which is only partially full.  With the proper documentation you can get over this for medications, but don't rely upon it.

Security checks will require you to remove coats, shoes and metallic items such as watches, mobile phones, jewellery. Movie cameras must go through separately, as do laptop computers.

Accommodation

Singapore - Swissotel, The Stamford

Overlooks the harbour, close to pretty much everything in Singapore, although because the MRT is so good, it really doesn't matter.  Across the street from Raffles and around the corner from the Satay Gardens.  What more do you need? 

Turkey - Prince Hotel Istanbul and Akol Hotel Cannakale

Both hotels have seen better days but are clean and serviceable.  There are no tea or coffee-making facilities.  Smoking in restaurants and other public places has not been banned in Turkey, so non-smokers will just have to grin and bear it.  Don't expect to see bacon and eggs for breakfast, or even toast as we know it in Australia.  There are fruit and yoghurt, and sliced baguette (french loaf), which can be toasted and eaten with honey and jam which come in huge bowls.  Food choices generally are pretty limited.

Washington - The Capital Hilton

The hotel is close to the White House, public monuments and galleries, but you'll need to use the Metro to get around and save your legs.  There are only a couple of restaurants in the immediate vicinity and they are pretty expensive although the food is good.  The rooms are well-presented and comfortable.  Expect to see a lot of beggars and homeless.  We were advised by the reception staff not to go east of Chinatown after dark and I'm sure that there was a good reason for the warning.

Charleston - Holiday Inn, Riverview

The hotel itself has seen better days and we expect that it will be demolished within a couple of years at most because the immediate area is very much in decline.  That said, the rooms are comfortable if a little faded, there's a guest laundry which is pretty handy, free wireless internet and a regular shuttle into Charleston proper.  The staff are friendly and anxious to please and we enjoyed staying there.

Toronto - Bond Place Hotel

The hotel itself is pretty cramped, but it is well-located in relation to the CBD and restaurants.  The staff are friendly and helpful.  Expect to see a lot of homeless people begging and sleeping in the streets.  That's just the way that it is.  The tour to Niagara Falls was terrific.

Vancouver - The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

The hotel is excellent, but very much in the formal style.  It's centrally located and there are plenty of places to eat within easy walking distance.  Vancouver is a very pretty city and we'd like to spend more time there.  Again, homeless people begging in the streets detracts from the beauty of the place.

O'ahu, Honalulu - Pacific Beach Hotel

The hotel is a little dated and due for refurbishment, but the rooms are large and comfortable.  Between the hotel and Waikiki Beach there is a street and a narrow strip of parkland, so it is in a terrific location.  The area is very commercial in a similar manner to the Gold Coast, but it is what it is and we enjoyed staying there.  Heaps of places to eat and plenty of choices.

Hawai'i - Outrigger Keahou Beach Resort

The resort was far more extensive than we imagined it would be, and although it is somewhat remote from the shopping centres, that's not why we are here.  We went on a bus trip right around the island on the second day and got to see quite a lot,  coffee plantations, shops and so on, as well as one of the volcano calderas, complete with steam, sulphur and the works.  The next day we took the plane trip which covered the same area but also the active volcano.  The different tours each had a lot to offer and together were a comprehensive coverage.

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