50 essential things every Australian traveller should know before heading overseas

Do you address someone by their first name in a foreign country? Should you take an antibiotic with you on your travels in case you get ill? Is it ever advisable to eat on the street alongside the locals in a capital city? What's the best way to wash your knickers on the move?

There are just so many countries to see in the world, so many people to meet, and so many things you wish someone had told you before you'd ever left home.

But now Traveller has the answers. It's asked 10 of Australia's top experts for their top five travel tips in their specialist fields. And some of them may well surprise you …

SCAMS

THE EXPERT

Jodi Thomas from Budget Direct Travel insurance, a group that provides more than 6.8 million policies to customers internationally

THE QUOTE

"To avoid being stung on your holiday, find out as much as you can about your destination before you travel," she says. "Also, inform your bank where you're going, and always take out travel insurance!"

THE ADVICE

1. It's convenient to withdraw cash in local currency, but ATM skimmers and PIN readers are a worldwide problem. Most ATMs have a flashing light where you insert the card. Skimmers obscure this light so if you don't see the light, don't put your card in. Always use your hand to shield your PIN and be on the lookout for brochure-holders positioned alongside the ATM which can hide a camera.

2. Never tell a taxi-driver this is your first visit and, if you can, agree on the fare beforehand and never take a taxi which doesn't have a visible working meter. Ideally call ahead for the taxi rather than catch one off the street. Uber can be a good option.

3. You could spend hundreds on a room you book on the Net with a sea view only to arrive to find they have no record of your reservation. When booking online ask questions about the facilities, location, and services nearby before handing over credit card details. Check the provider's responses against Google Earth street view, and reviews and feedback from other travellers.

4. Distraction artists run all sorts of ruses to part unsuspecting travellers from their valuables and many operate in pairs. One will spill a drink on you while the other pinches your wallet; others will offer to take your photo and make off with your camera or phone instead. Keep your valuables well-hidden, and be on the lookout for overfriendly strangers and quick getaway thieves on scooters.

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5. One common scam in major tourist spots involves telling you the temple/cultural centre/shopping centre you've arranged to visit is closed for the day, but there's an equally good attraction nearby – where you're pressured to pay a high entry fee or buy something. To avoid, research opening hours ahead of time.

SECURITY

THE EXPERT

Julie Bishop, Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

THE QUOTE

"We advise all travellers to take responsibility for their travel decisions," she says. "You need to prepare carefully. Every destination, no matter how many times you've been there or how short you're staying, has risks. Keep in mind that once you leave Australia, you don't have the same support arrangements as back home when something goes wrong."

THE ADVICE

1. Research your destination – understand the safety, security and health risks before you book your plane ticket.

2. Know the local laws and customs. These can be very different from those in Australia and the penalties far more severe.

3. Subscribe to the Smartraveller advice; you'll receive an email whenever the advice for your destination is updated.

4. Get the basic preparations right. Buy the right insurance, making sure you're covered for all of your destinations, all of your activities and the entire length of your stay, and share your itinerary with someone back home. Make copies of key travel documents and have contingency plans for travel to risky areas.

5. Always stay in contact with friends or family back home. In an emergency such as a cyclone or terrorist attack, it is especially important to let people back home know you're OK.

HEALTH

THE EXPERT

The Travel Doctor's Dr Deb Mills, one of the leading travel healthcare providers in Australia, and spokesperson for the Travel Medicine Alliance, an Australia-wide network of travel medicine doctors

THE QUOTE

"Australians live in a very clean and safe place with great public health infrastructure, and that can make us complacent and unaware," she says. "But every country has its own set of local hazards. So don't leave your good health to chance. Plan for this like you do for your flights."

THE ADVICE

1. Go and see a travel medicine professional six weeks before departure to get necessary vaccines, and health advice. They'll be absolutely up to date with what's going on in destinations around the world and know exactly what you'll need. Find a specialist travel doctor through the website travelmedicine.com.au.

2. Carry a traveller's medical kit with a letter of authority to carry these medications through customs. It should include items such as plasters, anti-diarrhoea medication, throat lozenges, Paracetamol, pills for motion sickness, anti-malarials if necessary, an antibiotic and a thermometer to check your temperature.

3. Have a dental check if you have not had one in the past 12 months

4. Check your destination on the website smartraveller.gov.au for advice not only on political or crime problems, but also health risks such as Zika virus.

5. Read the fine print on the travel insurance brochure so you know what you are covered for and what you have to declare. For instance, some policies may pay to have you airlifted out in an extreme medical emergency; others may leave you in a local hospital for treatment.

FOOD

THE EXPERT

Maeve O'Mara, an award-winning food author, journalist, TV producer and presenter of the SBS series Food Safari who now also runs food tourism business Gourmet Safaris

THE QUOTE

"These days, you can go almost anywhere in the world and still eat as if you were at home," she says. "But be bold! Trying other nations' food is one of the great parts of travel, and of life, and provide those real golden moments of travel that we can cherish forever."

THE ADVICE

1. Learn from the locals. Be friendly and talk to them. Chat to the waiter or hotel concierge and ask where they like to eat great food. Talk to other customers in the café and ask for recommendations. Follow that well-dressed couple you see going for dinner and go where they're going.

2. Get up early in the morning. Follow your nose to find the best bakeries. Check out the fantastic produce markets – the beating heart of so many cultures and cities – when it's only the locals there. I remember getting up at 3am one morning in Bangkok to visit a market when there were no other tourists and the locals are so much more open and friendly!

3. Take a food tour. That gives you a great entrée into local food, whether it's a street food tour in Vietnam or a Slow Food tour somewhere in Italy.

4. Do some research into the local food of the area you're visiting before you go. It's great to find out what will be in season, or what the region's most famous specialist dish is. Food has its own language and energy, and once you start learning, it can give you so much more enjoyment.

5. Never be afraid of eating on the street. If you see food being cooked in front of you, you know it's fresh, especially when there are plenty of locals lining up to eat there. They could well be the best meals you'll ever eat.

ETIQUETTE

THE EXPERT

Zarife Hardy, etiquette coach, stylist and director of the Australian School of Etiquette and Style

THE QUOTE

"The first rule of travel etiquette is to always be gracious and use your manners," she says. "Remember, a smile is a universal signal of being friendly."

THE ADVICE

1. Dress is important. Shorts are not common streetwear in many cities; they are considered beachwear, to be worn in coastal resort towns. Some churches have modest dress requirements: no shorts or bare shoulders. It is best to always a pack a nice dress, longer skirt, shirt and smart pants to be respectful in your attire.

2. Dining etiquette can be very different. Be prepared to sit on the floor, eat with your right hand, not eat with your hands, and try some very different food. Do some research first and always have a humble and respectful attitude. If a local is taking you out for dinner or cooking for you, you must at least try the food, no matter what it looks like.

3. Learn some important words and phrases in your destination country's language – "hello", "please", "thank you" and "where is …?" are a great start. It is also a good idea to determine what makes for an appropriate topic of conversation. Sometimes it's better to keep the conversation light and airy, about the weather and food rather than politics.

4. Know how to greet someone in a foreign country. It is embarrassing to hold your hand out to someone who is expecting a bow, or if you call someone by their name incorrectly. It is always best to start formal and use their title and last name until they invite you to use their first name.

5. Good etiquette while flying is imperative as many people are tired and squashed into a small space. Respect the space around you, don't use any space that isn't yours, don't take over the arm rests or recline your seat without checking that the person behind you isn't still eating or drinking. Don't turn into a chatterbox.

FLYING

THE EXPERT

John Guscic, managing director travel booking website Webjet, with flights, hotels, cruises, travel packages and insurance

THE QUOTE

"Flying can be exciting and stressful at the same time, but it is important to not let that get in the way of etiquette while on board," he says. "Remember that not everyone enjoys your voice as much as you do. Keep your voice at an appropriate level for a small space."

THE ADVICE

1. Compare flight prices and more importantly flight duration to get the best deal. If you haven't already booked your trip, it's important to know your options. Some airfares are more affordable due to time of departure, undesirable routing or perhaps long stopovers which may or may not suit you but can save you some money.

2. Consider any add-ons; budget airlines don't include checked baggage, meals and entertainment in the airfare. You'd hate to be five hours into a long-haul flight without food and a movie to get you through. Pre-purchase it for the convenience, guarantee and cost savings.

3. Prepare your carry-on for a long-haul flight; keep it light to comply with airline weight restrictions, but more importantly it will make your transit easier.

4. Carry a neck pillow, eye mask and jumper – it's nearly impossible to get some shuteye when you're shivering! Hand sanitiser is handy to apply before snacking to avoid any nasty travel bugs.

5. Most importantly, drink plenty of water … now I sound like your father, but it's true! Chapped lips, dry throat and skin can be avoided with H2O. Don't try to substitute with alcohol or coffee, you will end up worse for wear (trust me!)

CLOTHING

THE EXPERT

Jenny Cusick, director of Lightweight Traveller, a store of travel clothes and equipment

THE QUOTE

"Your clothing has to not only look good, but keep you comfortable in your travels," she says. "Plan to use every item you take with you. I always feel pleased with myself when I arrive back and realise that I have!"

THE ADVICE

1. For fewer trips to the laundry, pack some lightweight fast-drying Exofficio underwear, which has the tag "17 Countries, 6 weeks, One pair of underwear (okay, maybe two)", and a leak-proof 40ml bottle of concentrated laundry wash from Sea to Summit. You can wash your undies, wring them out in a towel, and have them ready to wear in a matter of hours.

2. Choose performance clothing for your travels so you get much more out of them. Lightweight, easy care, quick drying, no ironing, moisture wicking and wrinkle resistant are the first requirements then, depending on the item, look for sun protection, ventilation, stain resistance, water resistance and even insect protection labels. Leave cotton at home.

3. Plan your wardrobe with the layering system in mind. Have a first layer next to your skin that can be worn by itself in the heat, then become the base layer when you move to cold climates, with mid-layers for different situations and insulation, and ending with a waterproof, windproof jacket with a hood.

4. Choose colours carefully, so you have more combination choices. Basic black, beige or grey can be brightened up with colours and use accessories such as a scarf to give yourself a new look.

5. Pack so you have easy access to your clothes and avoid constantly searching. Packing cubes of different colours and sizes with rolled items in them and a garment folder for shirts will keep your clothes organised, accessible and looking good, while compression bags are great for dealing with bulky items such as a down jacket.

MONEY

THE EXPERT

Tom Godfrey, spokesperson for leading consumer advocacy group CHOICE, which reviews and test products and services

THE QUOTE

"Make sure you have enough of the local currency to cover a couple of days' expenses when you arrive," he says. "Cash is still king in some less developed countries, particularly in regional areas, and not everywhere will take credit or debit cards."

THE ADVICE

1. Monitor the exchange rate of the currency you'll be using over a couple of weeks using an independent service such as XE.com or the RBA and then exchange your currency in advance and at the right time to get the best deal.

2. Banks and some other providers will usually give you competitive rates and fees but if you don't order in advance you may miss out and be left paying a higher rate at the airport. Banks and other moneychangers will still take a cut above the official exchange rates shown on independent sites, but you'll do a lot better than you would at the airport or other tourist-oriented services.

3. Pay in the currency of the country you are in. When travelling you may be offered the option of paying in Australian dollars by an overseas hotel or shop but you run the risk of being stung by high conversion fees.

4. Prepaid cash passports let you load money onto a card in a foreign currency before you leave but make sure you read the terms and conditions. These cards can attract fees that aren't immediately apparent, and if you're travelling on a shoestring they may not be worth it.

5. Try to avoid using credit cards for cash withdrawals at ATMs, cash advance fees will really put a dent in your travel budget. A debit card will be generally a better option unless it's an emergency.

SHOPPING

THE EXPERT

Melissa Penfold, known as the "one-woman style Bible", who is a guide to all of Australia's best shops and services

THE QUOTE

"Holiday shopping can be a fantastic way to get the beautiful and unusual, but it's easy to get wrong-footed in a city that isn't your own," she says. "There's always the risk you'll come back from Aspen looking like a cowgirl, or from Paris encased in high octane haute. At home you'll look out of place at best, ridiculous at worst."

THE ADVICE

1. Window shop in the best parts of town – it's free and you'll pick up the latest looks and display ideas to steal. You may not be able to afford the designers, but you'll be able to imitate them at home. Get to know what colours look good together, and note little things, how a scarf is tied, or the way a leather border gives a throw rug instant chic.

2. Dress like a diva. It keeps your confidence up, and gets you good service every time. And keep moving. Walk fast. Don't linger in any shop too long. If it doesn't work for you, or you don't like the feel of a strip, move on.

3. Get into chains. There are a lot of great reliable standards at the big international chain stores when it comes to fashion and homewares. Look for good, plain basics in fashion-forward looks – you'll be surprised at the great styles and the difference in price.

4. Don't buy anything you don't love just because it has a famous label, and don't miss brilliant no-name buys. Absorb the ideas, but never buy more than one piece in the same look.

5. Listen to your friends. If you admire their taste, find out where they get their real treasures while shopping overseas.

ROMANCE

THE EXPERT

Dr Ruth Simons, clinical psychotherapist, psychologist, sexologist and author of Sex, Lies and Relationships

THE QUOTE

"The cardinal rule is not to go on holiday expecting to find your perfect partner," she says. "Statistically something like 7 per cent of holiday romances end up in long-term relationships. The best bet is to go with the intention of having lots of fun – much more attractive than desperation."

THE ADVICE

1. Many women who go away with their female friends are often very vulnerable so the first guy who pays them attention can be exciting, flattering and even passionate and romantic. But both men and women should remember that holidays are short-term situations; they don't allow the time to get to know each other and their lives properly. It's more a lovely, unreal fantasy.

2. Be prepared: take condoms. Older people who have not had many sexual experiences, or are recently divorced or widowed, are not usually educated in safe sex. Don't believe anyone who says you are their first partner since being single. Always be cautious!

3. Drink alcohol in moderation. There's nothing worse than vomiting in someone's bed – except perhaps for waking up beside some stranger who, under normal circumstances, you wouldn't look at.

4. If you intend to have a holiday romance, make sure you have waxed all body parts and have sexy underwear rather than being caught in old undergarments.

5. Many people get carried away with believing long-distance relationships can work. But what about cultural differences, who will relocate, what happens if children are involved? Most people "in lust" will promise the world without thinking seriously about the future.

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