The travel questions most frequently posed to so-called travel experts are not the sole concern of the person voicing those questions; they usually reflect a widespread desire for answers among large numbers of would-be American travelers. Here are the questions I most frequently hear, and here are the answers with which I respond.
(1) Is it safe? (And here my questioners name a destination):
Answer: Persons who keep up with world events are just as capable of answering this question as any travel professional. For an official take, consult the U.S. State Department's cautious warnings about where you can safely travel, and the similar advice of the British foreign office.
(2) Can a woman travel safely alone?
Answer: Multitudes of women do, and many of them claim that such travels are far more rewarding than the usual journeys of couples and family groups, because they heighten the chance of meeting foreign residents. Nevertheless, women should not travel alone to countries where such practice is frowned upon--most women will instantly know the names of such nations.
(3) Should I book the port excursions offered by the cruiselines?
Answer: You'll pay a pretty penny if you do. Numerous private concerns conduct such port excursions for a lower price, and in smaller vehicles. And many ports are easily explored--and better enjoyed--on foot, by yourself.
(4) Should I scrimp on accommodations and meals?
Answer: The ever-higher cost of airfares requires that you do; so much is now charged to reach your destination that you need to offset that heightened expenditure by lower land costs. For the tourist, eating at inexpensive, local restaurants catering to middle-income residents is often far more pleasant than the three-star shrines to food (which really don't want
your business); and often the difference between inexpensive hotels and costly ones is psychological only; a bed is a bed is a bed, regardless of the category of the hotel in which it is found.
(5) Should I book a group tour or should I travel independently?
Answer: My own preference is for independent travel, using public transportation, and not in a group. In my view, no destination can properly be viewed through the windows of a 45-passenger bus. However: be aware that vast numbers of seasoned travelers strongly disagree with me.
(6) How many suitcases should I bring?
Answer: One medium-sized one. We all take too much and end up carting around luggage of unworn clothing. We become prisoners of porters and taxicabs because of our decision to take too much.
(7) What is the most important rule of travel?
Answer: Prepare for the trip by reading ahead about the history and culture of the destination you will be visiting. Be an informed tourist; a night or two with a history book, even a biography of a famous figure associated with the destination, will add greatly to your enjoyment of your travels--and this rule applies even to a trip within the United States.
(8) What are the more mundane rules of smart travel?
Answer: Travel off-season; pack lightly; bring your own food onto the plane; avoid boasting about your own country, and listen attentively as foreign residents discuss theirs'.
(9) How can I avoid jet lag?
Answer: You can't, and all the so-called remedies are dubious, to put it mildly. Schedule enough time for your trip, and devote a day or so to simply acclimating yourself to the new destination before you begin thoroughly exploring it.
(10) How can I best choose a destination?
Answer: Occasionally, select a place whose ideolgies, lifestyles and politics are far removed from yours. Listen to other viewpoints; give them a fair chance; experience the novel and the different--all that is part of the adventure of life, and the best kind of travel.
(Photo credit: Ken_Mayer/Flickr)