Remember the character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney in the 2009 movie Up in the Air? Travels with just a carry-on bag, wears slip-on shoes for a speedy passage through security, knows exactly which queue to join?
That's smart travel, and it's tips from the pros that help you glide through the world. Travel is a fast evolving landscape with an ever-widening gap between those with the know-how and those without. Here are 10 great ideas to keep you in the fast lane.
1. Hotel reward programs put you in the winner's circle, at no additional cost. They're free to join and in many cases the perks begin as soon as you sign up. Room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, early check in and late check out, and more points for every dollar spent are some of the sweeteners hotels use to persuade travellers to join their reward program.
2. Travel three times a year or more? Buy an annual insurance policy and you'll save heaps more than if you buy for each individual trip. Even if you're only travelling for a handful of days, you can be affected by flight delays and cancellations or lose something along the way, and with travel insurance comes peace of mind.
3. When you check into a hotel, reception staff will usually block an amount against your debit or credit card to cover any incidental charges, a pre-authorisation. You can't duck it but always use a credit card rather than a debit card, otherwise your available funds are blocked and it can take a week or more after check-out to get them back.
4. There's a dividing line between being adventurous and living too close to the edge, and smart travellers don't go there. Being adventurous is bungy jumping, skiing or climbing mountains with an accredited operator and an experienced guide. Living dangerously is riding a scooter without a helmet and possibly without a licence, jumping off a cliff into the sea or piloting a jet ski without a lifejacket. Rule of thumb: If it's not legal to do it at home, you probably shouldn't be doing it anywhere else.
5. Google Translate is the must-have app for those places where you can't get your tongue around the local lingo. Type in what you want to say and back comes the translation. If you've got a Wi-Fi connection the app speaks it back, in Afrikaans, Welsh, Mandarin, Maltese or dozens more languages. Hold your camera up to text – a subway station sign on the Moscow Metro or a Thai menu – and Google translates it instantly.
6. Smart Traveller is the travel website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and it's a great source of wisdom. This website has a country-by-country analysis with advice on what precautions you might need to take and which areas to avoid. If you see a "Do not Travel" advisory stay away, apart from the risk, you probably won't be covered by travel insurance.
7. The price of air tickets can vary from one day to the next. When to buy is crucial and there is no simple answer that works for all destinations all year round but flight search engine Momondo has a cutting-edge tool to help you score a great deal. At the momondo.com website, key in your origin, destination and dates, hit "Search" then click "Flight Insight" in the upper right corner. Your screen lights up with a neat graphic that tells you everything you need to know.
8. Cruise ships with empty berths close to sailing time offer big discounts to travellers prepared to join them at short notice. You can often put yourself on board for as little as $100 per person per day on some of the finest names in the cruising world. Sign up for notifications from the cruise lines' websites but don't forget to buy travel insurance before you set sail.
9. Hotels that have just opened or just re-opened after a refurbishment often have rooms at cheap, cheap prices as they try and get business rolling in. How to track down these bargains? Google "new hotels in …." and you're on your way.
10. If you're offered a choice of paying in local currency or Australian, always go for local currency. Choosing Aussie dollars might sound like a great idea but you're invoking the Dynamic Currency Conversion, which allows the merchant to apply a less favourable rate of exchange, and it might end up costing you up to five per cent more.
This article was written in association with Southern Cross Travel Insurance. Their comprehensive insurance starts from just $15 and in the last financial year they paid over 80% of claims for Aussies. For more information, visit www.scti.com.au and find out why they are the experts in travel insurance.