There's a lot you can do to make a good trip a great one - and squeeze every last drop of fun out of your hard-earned time off. Lonely Planet's Best Ever Travel Tips offers advice on how to make the most of it.
If you're travelling for a special occasion, say so. While a business-class upgrade is rare, a special occasion might just tilt the balance in your favour when trying to score that room with a view, a table at a happening restaurant or a visit to the VIP lounge.
When taking a long weekend make it a long midweek instead. Not only will you find flights easier to come by – provided you avoid key business flights – you'll avoid the Friday-night and Sunday-night crushes at the airport. You'll also find museums and galleries open, missing the dreaded Monday closures, plus it'll be easier to get into restaurants. Bear in mind, though, that business hotels will be busier midweek.
Getting local advice is often recommended, but what if you don't know any locals or can't crack the language barrier? Many cities offer tours or arrange time with local volunteers who can show you a different side of where they live, such as New York City's Big Apple Greeters (www.bigapplegreeter.org). And if you'd like to stay in a local's home, sites like Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) and Globalfreeloaders (www.globalfreeloaders.com) can broker a free night on someone's floor or sofa in exchange for good karma and you repeating the trick at home.
Self-catering doesn't just save you money, it gives you the chance to do some unusual sightseeing. Cities all over the world have superb produce markets where you can put together a picnic breakfast or lunch for a fraction of the cost of eating a (possibly worse) restaurant meal. You'll also happen across local ingredients and flavours that may otherwise have passed you by. Go early for the widest selection.
Get the city's true foodie vibe by heading for still-hip, midrange places rather than the hottest ticket in town. And don't worry if you forgot your book: your Blackberry or iPhone will keep you amused and you can review your meal as you're eating it. If you're lucky, the restaurant may even assume you're a critic and load on an extra scoop of ice cream.
A passion for food can take you to some great places – and it doesn't matter if you're alone, either. Rather than hide away with room service, ask your hotel front desk to recommend some local restaurants with communal tables, or ones where you can dine at the bar. This can also be a great way to taste the menu at a hot restaurant that's booked months in advance.
From the experts
“Many of us read a great novel set in a destination we're keen to head to as inspiration before taking a trip. But in advance of travelling, why not also go online to search for the website of a local newspaper based in your location of choice? That way you will pick up on how residents view their home and can learn about local current affairs, events that are coming up and new galleries or restaurants that may just be opening – plus you'll have plenty of topical interest to chat about on your arrival”. – Peter Grunert, Editor, Lonely Planet Magazine (UK)
“There's always an advantage to being the calm one if you get into a dispute. You'll attract more sympathy and make a peaceful resolution more likely without anyone losing face, the avoidance of which on both sides should always be at the front of your mind. Focusing on talking quietly is an effective way to control your actions and not get carried away." – Tony Wheeler, cofounder of Lonely Planet
By Robert Reid, Lonely Planet's US Travel Editor
Seeing movies in foreign countries is better than taking a break watching sport on TV back in your hotel room. How else will you know that they play the Thai national anthem before your screening of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery or that if only a few people show up in some Vietnamese cinemas they will be expected to sit in the same row, side by side? Or that in Bulgarian ones they'll just cancel the whole thing?
Scared of rats in the dark in a strange room across the globe? Be sure to wash your hands. Those cookie crumbs on your fingertips will be the ones to get licked first.
Don't forget to give yourself time to stop. Those on a bike see more than those in a car, those walking see more than those biking, and those stopping – just to sit and stare, at a street corner, orbeside a rice field in Southeast Asia – see the most.
Travel lives when we say 'yes' to local offers – ahem, decent offers – and get a true window on how locals live. Like an invitation to join two grandparents for tea on the balcony, or an invite for tea and a walk around the lake, or to see a beekeeper's bees and fresh honey. The museum you might forget, but the people you meet – less likely. People everywhere are pretty nice.
Too much hassle where you are? Look around. If you are in the majority as a foreign traveller, walk two blocks to another part of town and get out of that tourist ghetto you're probably in. Hasslers and touts know where to go, so go elsewhere.
Taking courses on vacation usually leads to stories that can make the greatest trips, even if it's not that necessary you ever learn to speak Quechua or how to play the Bulgarian bagpipes.
You really don't have to try the crickets on the stick if you're not comfortable with it.
HOW TO TAP INTO LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
By Sally Broom, founder of the trip-planning website Tripbod (www.tripbod.com).
Get to know the locals before you get there. There are many community sites that you can use to connect with people who live in your destination, and the more niche the better. Are you a rock climber? Or perhaps you like a particular food? Tap into local knowledge networks and find out about life where you're going from the people who live there. This way you'll hit the ground running when you arrive and have more chance of meeting those unforgettable people who can really make a difference to your trip. Blogs written by enthusiasts can be a great place to start.
Make sure you're spending money locally where possible, and ask questions of the people you're buying from. You'll soon get an insight into whether they really are a thoughtful company or they're just in it for your cash. Just ask yourself, 'do I feel good about spending my money here?' If so, great. If not, are there other ways of going about it?
Travel Phrase (www.travelphrase.com) has handy translations of common phrases from English into French, German Italian, Spanish and other languages.
Glimpse (www.glimpse.org/tips/topic/etiquette) has fascinating snippets of dos and don'ts from around the world.
The Practical Nomad (www.hasbrouck.org) has some innovative and detailed tips on everything from booking fl ights to bargains.
Smartphrase (www.smartphrase.com) - useful phrases in seven different languages arranged by theme.
This is an extract from Lonely Planet's Best Ever Travel Tips by Tom Hall © Lonely Planet 2010. AUD$14.99