20 travel secrets you need to know (for your next trip)

Over the past year, Travel + Leisure editors and correspondents have scoured the globe to unearth the best undiscovered tips and tools for travelling smarter, faster, safer and more affordably. Whether you’re trying to identify the perfect seat on a plane or snare a top table at a restaurant, you’ll find all the right solutions in our guide.

1. Request extras with your room

If you’re booking several nights at a quiet time of year – or if you regularly visit one particular property – a hotel will often be willing to include some extra services (spa treatments, meals, transportation from the airport and other perks) in the price of your room. The Hotel Hana-Maui (+1 808 248 8211; hotelhanamaui.com; doubles from $495), a Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award winner, has recently informally offered guests planning to stay five nights or more in a standard room a dinner for two at Kauiki, its seafood restaurant, plus a massage (a $400 value). Emmalani Park, the hotel’s head of reservations, says the best approach is to speak to a manager or a sales or marketing agent before you arrive: “Both can be more flexible than reservation agents.”

2. Pack these security-friendly hotel amenities

Fiddling around, decanting your favourite hair and body products into security approved mini containers is a thing of the past with some of our favourite hotels around the world stocking high-quality products in containers which meet the new Department of Transport regulations (100ml/grams or under). Typically, in a standard room, bathroom products are 35ml and 75ml in suites. Sydney's Observatory stocks L'Occitane while the Hilton Hotels, domestically and internationally, have a range of especially created Crabtree and Evelyn products which are part of their La Source range. At Christchurch's Spire all rooms have 75ml New Zealand-made Evolu products which include a moisturiser with sunblock. In London the Connaught, Claridges and Berkeley all stock Asprey, while in the US all Ritz-Carlton properties have Bulgari bathroom treats.

3. Test the waters with a one-way cruise

“Repositioning cruises” used to be the only way to find a deal on a luxury cruise. When the weather changes seasonally the cruise ships move their ships from the Mediterranean in summer to warmer Caribbean waters in the winter and similarly from Alaska to the Caribbean. Rather than sail with an empty ship the cruises are discounted to encourage passengers to join these “repositioning” journeys. But as companies expand their itineraries across the globe one-way cruises have become a new way for passengers to experience life on the high seas for less. Holland America and Carnival Cruises are both lines that offer one-way routes from Vancouver to Alaska in seven days.

Meanwhile Majestic America has a one-way cruise from Juneau, in Alaska, to Seattle. Holland America also offers travellers the option of taking one leg of their Grand World Voyage cruise, which lasts 117 nights and includes 39 ports on five continents. Depending on where you join the cruise you can buy a single leg ranging from 22 to 69 nights. In 2009 and 2010 the cruises depart in January and through Travel the World (1300 857437; traveltheworld.com.au) legs start from $5428 while the full cruise starts from $26,229.

4. City secret: London

Spend the $4 deposit on a visitor's Oyster card at any tube or bus station and save up to 50 per cent on your daily fares. There is a built-in capping system so the most you can ever spend in a day on Central London public transport is $13. Children under 16 travel free on trams and buses.

5. Seek out the best seats on board

The distance between rows of seats (known as pitch and still calculated in inches in the airline industry) varies from plane to plane and even between rows. In general domestic carriers, the pitch for seats is between 30–33 inches while exit rows range from 37–39 inches. But how much of a difference does a few inches make? With 31 inches, a 183cm tall person's knee would touch the seat in front of him; with 34 inches he could put a hard cover book in his seat pocket without his knees touching; and with 36 inches he could get up from a window seat and walk to the aisle without disturbing the person next to him. Exit rows can vary within the same aircraft. When they are aligned one right after another the front exit-row seats will not recline. For more information on seat pitches and configurations for most carriers visit seatguru.com or check out the airline websites.

6. How to snag a prized table

T+L US contributing editor and restaurant guru Anya von Bremzen has two time-honoured tips: 1) Show up a half-hour prior to your desired seating to catch any cancellations; and 2) send a fax or email, a strategy known to work at even the most popular spots such as El Bulli, in Spain (+34 97 215 0457; fax: +34 97 215 0717; bulli@elbulli.com). Here are suggestions from reservationists at three other hard-to-book restaurants: L’ASTRANCE, PARIS “Two months before the date you desire, call at precisely 10am. Try to get on the waiting list, as we limit it to three parties; so if you make it onto the list, there’s a realistic chance of getting a table.” 4 Rue Beethoven, 16th Arr.; +33 1 40 50 84 40; dinner for two $581.BABBO, NEW YORK “Call at 10 am one month ahead of the date you want. And for a last-minute booking, try 9pm the night before, or after 3pm the day of.” 110 Waverly Place; +1 212 777 0303; dinner for two $120. FRENCH LAUNDRY, NAPA VALLEY “We’re open seven days, so call on the weekend, not during the week. Also, try opentable.com – we usually release two tables (one seats two, the other four) on a daily basis to the website.” 6640 Washington St., Yountville; +1 707 944 2380; dinner for two $480.

7. How to dial emergency abroad

All EU countries 112
Australia 000
Canada US 911
Hong Kong 999
Japan 119
Thailand 191
Argentina 911
Mexico 060
Israel 100
New Zealand 111
Switzerland 144
Vanuatu 112

8. Late-closing Museums

Increasingly museums in Australasia, adopting a successful overseas trend, are opening their doors outside their normal hours allowing visitors to beat the crowds and visit popular exhibitions when most people have gone home. Melbourne's NGV Australia (03 8620 222; ngv.vic.gov.au) is open on Thursdays until 9pm while Sydney's Art Gallery of NSW (02 9225 1740; artgallery.nsw.gov.au has “Art After Hours” on Wednesday evenings. Visitors can enjoy talks and films about current exhibitions and the galleries remain open until 9pm. At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (02 6240 6411; nga.gov.au) it is worth ringing in advance to check if they have any late-night viewings as they change depending on the exhibitions on show.  At Wellington's National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa (+64 4 381 7000; tepapa.govt.nz) there is late opening until 9pm every Thursday. It is also open every day of the year including Christmas Day with public holidays often a time when you can have the galleries to yourself.

9. Kiwi hotel ratings

New Zealand does not use a star rating system for its hotels but rather uses Qualmark (qualmark.co.nz) which is an independently assessed agency backed by Tourism New Zealand. It rates all types of accommodation from backpacker lodges to the most exclusive properties. Qualmark’s user-friendly website allows you to pick locations and specify the standard and type of accommodation you want.

10. Watch out for the water

Flight attendants begin most flights serving bottled water, but if they turn to the plane’s onboard tanks, there may be cause for concern. According to the most recent available US study, one out of every six planes had coliform bacteria in its water tanks. Since 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered 46 domestic airlines in the US to regularly flush, disinfect and test their water systems. Richard Naylor, the EPA’s aircraft drinking water rule manager, suggests that concerned passengers avoid drinking coffee or tea on board (water may not reach a cleansing boil). T+L tip: Also avoid using bathroom tap water (use wipes or mouthwash). Opting for canned drinks or stocking up on water after clearing security may be the answer.

11. Country secret: Japan

Sick of lugging heavy bags, along with weighty, shopping purchases, as you get off innumerable trains in the land of the rising sun? Help is at hand. Japan’s network of eminently reliable courier van services, such as Nippon Express and Black Cat, can relieve you of your burden for as little as $20. Most hotel staff can easily organise a courier for you, with your items, including pieces of luggage or cartons, waiting for you at your desired Japanese destination within a day or two.

12. How flat is flat

Many airlines have introduced “lie-flat” or “flat-bed” seats in their business and first class cabins, but don’t assume that “flat” translates to horizontal. For in-depth analysis of airline seats on a range of carriers, turn to flatseats.com, an industry watchdog site that ranks seats on factors such as configuration, width, cushion comfort, privacy, massage options and more. FlatSeats’ data comes from Skytrax, a UK-based airline consultancy whose employees spend an average of 65 hours in the air per week. (Their top flat-seat picks? British Airways, South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic.)

Aer Lingus

El Al

Continental, Japan Airlines


Air France, Qantas

Air Canada, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Jet Airways, Qatar, Singapore, South African, United, Virgin

13. Score last-minute discounted tickets to shows

Theatre tickets are not only expensive but increasingly difficult to find. Many performances sell out months in advance before you have even booked your holiday. The good news is that around the world there are ways of enjoying an evening out but only if you are flexible about what you see.

LONDON The Society of London Theatre has a box office in the centre of Leicester Square which offers cheap tickets on the day of performance. It opens at 10am but you can check out what is available online in advance (officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts/today/). When we checked it out, tickets for big productions like Chicago were on offer for $62.80 instead of $114 and Brief Encounter had tickets for $54 instead of $95. There are different windows for evening and matinee performances so check you have the correct one or you will have to queue up again. Even if the half price ticket booth has nothing you like, it is worth checking directly with theatres to see if they have standby tickets.

NEW YORK Broadway offers lotteries of usually between 10–25 reduced priced tickets per performance, especially in the slow months of January, February, September and October. Different theatres have varying rules but typically you are asked to give your name to the theatre two to four hours before curtain and return half an hour before the start of the show to see if you are a winner. Each winner can buy two tickets usually for around $20. When we checked, tickets for Hairspray were on offer though the box office for up to  $176 but the lottery cost $25 and there were also standing room tickets at the back of the theatre available for $20.

MELBOURNE Half Tix (halftixmelbourne.com) at Melbourne's town hall offers reduced price tickets for sale on the day of the performance. However, the choice of shows is limited compared to other international cities. When we logged on, tickets for Menopause the Musical were on offer for $28.95 instead of the standard $48 price. Some theatres, including the Melbourne Theatre Company, offer “rush” seats which are available two hours prior to the start of the production and cost around $16-20. This is strictly first come, first served and be warned people are prepared to queue for hours for popular shows.

AUCKLAND Individual companies run their own “rush” ticket systems. Typically they are available if you are under 25. The New Zealand Opera has tickets for $25 on sale at 9am on the day of the performance with one ticket available per person with identification. The full price of tickets varies between productions but can range from $43.50 up to $139.

14. Extend the hold on your reservations

Most airlines don’t want you to hold your flight reservation for longer than 24 hours (the industry standard), as it ties up valuable tickets. However, there’s more flexibility than you might think, especially if you’re working with a travel agent over the phone rather than booking online, buying a ticket in a high-fare class, travelling during off-peak periods, or travelling internationally.

15. City secret: Berlin

From 6 to 10pm on Thursdays, you can get in free to the permanent exhibitions at several national museums, including the Picture Gallery, the New National Gallery and the Egyptian Museum. For a full list, visit smb.spk-berlin.de.

16. Fly business class for less

With the global economy forcing businesses to tighten their belts it’s a fine time to score deals for business class seats. To find out about drops in fares or specials, request newsletters from the airlines you use the most. Also sign up for online alerts from travel agents and web-based travel companies. Holiday seasons such as Christmas are traditionally a good time to fly because it is a time when business travellers stay home. Webjet (webjet.com.au) offers the option to compare business class seats and it is possible to see when in a week it is best to fly for the most competitive fare. Tuesdays and Wednesdays come out as consistent low-cost performers. The site also has a business class alert system and deals page. Mature travellers may also be able to pick up good business class discounts. At the time of writing Thai Airways (thaiair.com), for example, was offering special “seniors” fares for their Royal Silk Business that is available to those aged 55 and above. Also consider travelling part of your journey in economy and part in business to make significant savings. With the mix economy and business fares you can specify which leg you want in business. On a long haul flight you can move up to business on the leg when it is time to sleep and enjoy a “flat seat” without the full fare price.

17. Find complete train timetables

Rail Europe (03 9642 8644; raileurope.com.au) specialises in travel throughout the EU. It lists train companies within countries as well as itineraries that cross borders. There is also a helpful section on train travel tips. But when you are travelling within a country and looking for all available train times, be sure to check country-specific websites which often display more options. To make it easier for visitors, most European rail websites have an English language button. However, not all sites allow foreign credit cards so you may have to wait until you are in the country to buy tickets in person at a station.

Trip: Florence to Venice
Number of daily departures on Rail Europe
: 15

Number of daily departures on Italy's Trenitalia ( www.trenitalia.it)
: 18     

Trip: Seville to Madrid
Departures on Rail Europe

Departures on Spain's Renfe (www.Renfe www.renfe.es)
: 22

Trip: Hamburg to Berlin

Departures on Rail Europe
Departures on Germany's Die Bahn (www.bahn.de)

18. City Secrets: New York and Sydney

Avoid Looking for a taxi in New York between 4.30and 5.30am and 4.30 and 5.30pm. This is when many drivers change shifts or go off duty. Similarly, Sydney has an intractable 3pm driver “change-over” period when taxis can be near impossible to secure.

19. For whom the road tolls

If you are heading off for a road trip around Australia in a rental car there is no need to waste time in the long cash toll queues. If you already have an electronic toll tag in your car take it with you and use it in other cities. According to Melbourne City Link administration the tag does not have to match the registration of the owner of the tag so it is perfectly legal to carry your tag with you in a hire car when you go interstate. If you don't have a tag or are travelling into Australia there is currently no facility to buy a short-term tag but some toll companies and road authorities will let you pay later but usually with an extra fee. There are signs at the toll area giving phone numbers to call for late payment.

20. Search globally, not locally

Search engines scour hundreds of airline sites and then offer the results in one handy location. Yet many sites also have foreign companion sites. When you first search somewhere such as Expedia you may start with the US parent site but if you are accessing a computer in Australia then it will redirect to the local version. So in Australia searching expedia.com will redirect you to expedia.com.au. However if you are looking for information relating to travel in Britain searching expedia.co.uk will bring you more extensive results with more options and lower costs, than the other two addresses.



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