Travel Tips

There’s a morass of travel information out there and our aim isn’t to add to the confusion. These Travel Tips are just a few things we’ve learned, sometimes the hard way. We hope they may be useful to other independent travellers negotiating information overload.


Getting there and back

  • To Europe we’ve always flown Emirates/Qantas via Dubai. We are big fans of arriving at our destination around the middle of the day local time. The airfare may not be the cheapest, but it will be worth it. Get to the hotel, freshen up, then get outside and start to acclimatise. Early dinner, crash and you’ll hit the ground running the next day. Guaranteed.
  • We’ve used a lot of ‘jaw’ airfares to help trips flow i.e. fly into one place and out of another. Say into Venice out of Rome, into Nice out of Paris, or into Italy out of Malta (via Sicily). There are lots of possibilities and if you can afford best rather than cheapest airfare it’s no more expensive to do it this way. (Confession – I hate backtracking and will do much to avoid it.)

Getting around

  • This is obviously trip and country specific. Multiple trips to many places have however revealed a few strategies that work time and again.
  • Hiring a car allows you to go beyond the major tansport routes, though driving in foreign countries can be stressful. Particularly in big cities. We’ve developed the practice of always picking up and dropping off hire cars at an airport. They have rental car facilities, are well signposted in and out, and are well connected to arterial roads. There may be a bit of overhead in getting to and from the airport, but for us it’s a stess-buster that works a treat.
  • Some people we’ve met travelling seem to feel like they need to drive a lot of kilometres to justify the expense of hiring a car. We have no problem parking the car for a day or two. The further you spread the fixed cost, the cheaper it is per day. Hiring a car is like buying a rail pass. Use it when you need it.
  • Transits by car can just be about getting from A to B, or they can be a means to explore. With some research and planning, it’s possible to make great use of transit days with a car. For example, when in Greece in 2018 travelling around Central Crete, we drove from Agios Nikolaos to Plakias over a couple of days with an overnight in Matala, enabling us to visit the ancient sites of Gortyna, Phaestos and Agia Triada. It was well worth the effort.
  • Some countries provide baggage transfer services that aren’t very expensive and are great if you’re using public transport. In Japan in 2017, between longer stays in Kyoto and Okayama, we had a couple of shorter stays in Koya-san and Kinosaki that involved several trains and a cable car. We sent our big bags from Kyoto to Kinosaki and packed a small bag for the two nights in Koya-san. We then sent our luggage from Kinosaki to Okayama so that we could stop and see Himeji Castle on the way without having to lug and stow the big bags all day. It all worked a treat.

Hubs and spokes

  • We’re slow travellers compared with most. We’ve generally had a rule of ‘one country one month’, with stops of 3, 5, or 7 nights in one place interspered by transits. You can’t cover as much ground this way, but we prefer fewer, well chosen stops with more time to experience them.
  • The words ‘well chosen’ are key. We spend a lot of time researching where best to spend those 3/5/7 nights so that we can explore the place we’re staying as well as everything else within the vicinity.
  • A well chosen hub has many spokes.
  • For example, on a trip to Italy in 2012 that included Campania, we based ourselves in Sorrento. We could catch a ferry (or bus) to the Amalfi coast, catch the ‘Circumvesuviana’ train to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples, as well as a ferry across the bay to or from Naples. It was a great hub.


  • It’s almost always true that there’s more to do in a place than you can experience in the time you have available.
  • We’ve found it useful to develop menus of possibilities to choose from on the ground. This allows you to factor in things such as weather, opening hours, site maintenance, local knowledge etc. Our ‘four quadrants’ approach to Paris provides an example.
  • A major benefit of doing this is that it makes you think about site access. You might be planning to be somewhere to see something at a time when it’s not open, or is undergoing major repair. As one example, the opening hours of tourist sites in Italy are notoriously convoluted even within cities. You run the risk of being disappointed if you don’t do your homework.
  • Along the lines of doing your homework, we’ve been surprised how often a bit of research has revealed ways to book in advance or jump the queue, usually for little or no cost. The death stares as you waltz past long lines and straight inside are just extra benefits.

Assisted Independence

  • We’re committed to independent travel. For us that doesn’t preclude accessing in country assistance where it allows us to do what we want to do, in a safe and culturally approriate fashion.
  •  For example, we went to Morocco in 2013 and could plan much of the trip ourselves. The leg from Fez to Marrakesh however wasn’t coming together. We wanted to see the desert and the mountains, but the buses went overnight. After some research we decided to hire a driver and guide from a small, local company owned and operated by a Berber family. It was fantastic.
  • We had similar experiences in Turkey (2011) and Vietnam (2007, 2004).
  • For us, locally owned and operated has been the key.

General Comments

  • We’ve had lots of discussions with people who think our approach to independent travel is too ordered and doesn’t allow for spontaneity.
  • In our view, enjoyable spontaneity happens at a place you probably want to be in, at a time you probably want to be there.
  • We’ve seen many people spending valuable time in country figuring out where they are going to stay the next night. Or angry that something they wanted to see wasn’t open that day.
  • Do the research and planning on rainy days at home. Then open yourself up to local stimuli where you are, when you’re there, with whoever you meet. That’s our kind of spontaneity.
  • We hope that will be of some help to like-minded souls.