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Time to start traveling abroad!

Wednesday, February 06, 2019, 12:59 GMT+7
Time to start traveling abroad!
Vietnamese people leave for outbound trips on the first day of the new lunar year in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: VT/Tuoi Tre

A few months ago I reported on the dramatic increase in overseas trips taken by Vietnamese citizens featuring this chart:

We can estimate that travelers will make roughly 10 million trips abroad during 2019!

 

If you’re not already travelling, your turn is coming soon, and if your turn isn’t just around the corner, you can still dream about the exciting places you want to visit and think about how you would organize trips.

How to plan a trip to get the very best out of it? Well, you’ve come to the right place - travel is my lifelong passion and was my job for many years while I was working for an airline, then continued later while writing for overseas travel and living publications.

Buying qairplane tickets

Let’s say you’ll start in Hanoi and go to Phuket, Thailand.  Do a Google search for Phuket Airport, select Wikipedia from the results, then choose “Airlines & Destinations” to see which airlines fly directly into and out of Phuket.  There are no direct flights so you’ll have to connect somewhere.

There is a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phuket which looks good at first glance but Ho Chi Minh City runs far over capacity and is prone to delays, plus only one airline flies that route.  When only one carrier flies a route it means passengers are limited by schedule and prices are usually higher than when there is competition.  It’s an option, but better to continue looking….

Now search for “Hanoi aiport” and Noi Bai International Airport will pop up.  Again, select Wikipedia from the results and look up “Airlines and Destinations” to see all the airlines that fly in and out of Hanoi.

The big advantage of Wikipedia is it lists almost exclusively direct non-stop flights by airline and destination, so there is no need to sort through circuitous routes with stopovers and changes of aircraft.

There are several airlines that fly directly to both Bangkok airports (Suvarnabhumi is the larger of the two and Don Mueang is for low-cost carriers - the two are about one hour apart by free shuttle bus) from Hanoi, so that ensures competitive prices on that route.  Then it’s easy and cheap to get to Phuket from either Bangkok airport because it’s one of the top domestic destinations.

Vietnam Airlines, JetStar, AirAsia, and VietJet Air all have flights between Hanoi and Bangkok, thus giving you flexibility on airline, schedule, and price.

In most cases companies such as SkyScanner, Kayak, Traveloka, Booking, Kiwi, and other online ticket brokers advertise cheap deals, but usually those deals aren’t cheaper once options are factored into the price.

If you buy from a broker website you’re only a direct customer with the airline if re-directed to buy on the airline website.  Otherwise, buying from a broker means you can’t select the seat you want, nor order a meal in advance, insurance, baggage, or any other add-on you may desire.

When you buy directly from the airline the only reason the ticket is more expensive is because of those add-ons you can select.  If you deal with a broker you’ll pay a higher luggage and meal costs because you can’t pre-order either, and you’ll have to accept a seat from whatever is left over at check-in time. 

The airlines pay those brokers a commission on tickets they sell, so the cheaper deals are often for itineraries that the airlines themselves cannot easily sell.  That may be because one or all flights are at undesirable times of day or connect through another airport, so shop carefully!

My policy is to minimize risk and hassle and buy directly from the airline.  If there are delays or cancellations I’m a customer of the airline instead of a third party broker, so the airline is responsible for my trip.

Choosing the right hotel

The most practical way to decide where to stay is to plot all the places you would like to visit on a map using Google (you’ll need a Google account) or one of the many other map and trip planning applications available. 

Here is a map I made for Osaka and Kyoto in Japan: 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1wZC272dNpTLkyd_kLW2iYGVaY8s&usp=sharing

With this map I have a list of places I want to visit in one place, so it’s easy to choose a hotel in the best location.

Just zoom in and out on the Osaka map using the “+” and “-” icons and you’ll see most of the sights that interest me are in the Dotombori area, so that’s where I always stay.

I usually use either Agoda or Booking.com to book my hotel room because they usually offer “no cancellation fee” reservations.  There are dozens of other reputable hotel broker websites for you to select from. 

Also check the official website for the hotels that you shortlist in case they have special offers available for the dates you choose.  Just be careful of lookalikes-websites that appear to be the official hotel site but are brokers in disguise.

Getting around

Many airports have poor ground transportation options which are better avoided after a long airplane trip, so do your due diligence.  When visiting a destination for the first time I usually arrange transportation directly with the hotel I’ll be staying at.  The price from the hotel is often higher than what an airport taxi would charge, but I minimize the risk of confusion, shady taxi drivers, and getting lost on a first trip.

In this particular case Osaka offers excellent rail and ground transportation services, with airport bus being my preferred option because it stops right in Dotombori.

Using the map of sites you want to visit you can also decide how you’ll best get around your destination during your trip.  In the above example, Dotombori is an easy one because the MRT and trains connect with just about anywhere.

Visas

Holders of Vietnamese passports can enter the other 9 ASEAN member countries without a visa for a time limit of up to 30 days.

To enter any country you’ll need a passport in good condition with over 6 months remaining validity and at least 3 empty pages in your passport, plus hold a return ticket for a date within the duration approved for your visit.

Always apply for a visa before buying airplane tickets because you could be refused the visa.  Plug in estimated dates for your trip on your visa application.  If a country insists on you providing a prepaid itinerary you can buy a fully refundable ticket for your visa application, then cancel it and buy a cheaper ticket later.

The ease of obtaining a visa varies from one country to another, but one theme usually applies:  You may be required to show stability in the form of a steady job, enough money to make the trip, bank account, and in some cases clear ties to your home country in the form of business or home ownership.

Cash management

Never travel with a lot of cash for the simple reason that if it’s lost or stolen it can’t be replaced.  Enough cash to cover expenses for a couple of days is all you need to start out your trip.

Get an ATM card with a Cirrus logo and make sure your bank activates it for use abroad.  My Visa credit card is my back-up should my ATM card not be available.  My credit card has a PIN number for cash withdrawals but I only use it if I have no choice because the interest rates are high on those withdrawals.  

Don’t walk around with your ATM and Credit cards - use them and return them to your hotel room immediately. 

Key takeaways

If you don’t follow many of the tips presented here, remember this:  Pack, then remove half of the stuff and you’ll still have more than enough clothes!

The only must-haves are your passport (and visa if applicable), ticket, some cash, and ATM and credit cards.

If push comes to shove, all the rest can be arranged on the fly!

Rick Ellis

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