A real departure for Charlotte Dawson

Charlotte Dawson's new telly gig is covering the South Pacific for Aussie travel show Getaway. We asked her for some tips for the aspiring tourist

Having been one of this planet's most inept rather than intrepid journeyers I am approaching this whole Getaway thing with some trepidation as I am still learning to be a seasoned traveller.

I have made plenty of travel errors in the past and can only improve. So here are some tips for getting through the first stages of your trip, be it business or pleasure.

The Packing

Let's begin with packing. I am the worst offender when it comes to over-packing.
I suffer from the "What if?" syndrome. When packing for my Treasure Island adventure in Fiji I was struck down with a bad case of this packing affliction.

What if there's a cold snap? What if there's a black tie function? What if they ask for a sophisticated look? What if I'm really going five star? What if it snows?

So into the bursting bag went an evening dress, heels, jumpers, ugg boots, raincoats and a smart pant-suit. I had a few sarongs and singlets and one pair of jeans I had to cut into shorts, and I forgot a swimsuit altogether.

I am learning to adhere to the less-is-more principle and have learned a handy tip from visiting a few of the luxury lodges: a bidet, the strange porcelain device looking like the lavatory's evil twin that most of us ponder but Europeans love to use on their nether regions, is wonderful for washing your smalls in!

Carry-on luggage is also a challenge, especially for the poor cabin crew who have been trying new and exciting ways to squeeze my overstuffed bags into the overhead lockers. I am amazed the planes don't flip over and fly upside down sometimes.

The Check-In

The check-in process can be fraught with disaster. Don't listen to the smarty pants, know-it-all traveller who claims it will be sweet to check in moments before the flight leaves to avoid queues as now, most airlines are overbooking flights and will more than likely plonk a patient standby passenger in your seat because of your tardy attitude.

You can bet it is certainly not going send the check-in staff into hoots of happy laughter if you try to humour them with a funny little terrorism joke ("Oh I better check I left my grenade-loaded sneakers at home ... ha ha"), but they will fall about the place in hysterics if you ask for an upgrade.

The chance of getting an upgrade these days is about as likely as seeing Brian Tamaki performing in drag at a church service.

Clearing Customs and duty-free shopping will be your next step, and you can easily make matters worse here. Once again, watch the humour with the Customs folk — to these guys, you are leaving the country and they probably don't really care if you come back, so body search jokes don't even apply.

Caution with duty free is advised. Unless you can drink, eat or smoke all that you buy during your trip remember you will have to lug it all back with you. I always have this strange desire in duty free to buy bits and bobs I don't need or particularly want in the non-duty free world; perfume, key rings, watches, walkmans and silly T-shirts with slogans that insult Australians.

These things tend to find their way into my already bulging bags, then I discover
I have also blown most of my holiday funds.

The Flight

When boarding, remember you were given the small seat in the centre-back row by the person who checked you in and not the poor cabin attendant you just scowled at. They are with you for the rest of the flight so best be nice, because whether your choice of the chicken or the beef is available is in their hands.

Threatening that you'll never fly with the airline again only makes them happier.

Also, remember they didn't actually prepare the food you will eat, so it's no use complaining or sending it back.

Inflight etiquette is important. This coming from the woman who was wisely told to drink lots of water while jetting about the globe, but instead felt it was a much better deal to drink as much free alcohol as possible from the drinks cart so I felt I had really got full value from the purchase price of the airfare.

I have now learned that hangovers, jetlag and boring fellow passengers with incessant ramblings while they try to watch the movie were the only result of this decision.

So lesson one is that H20 is the best tonic for air travel — and lots of it. I suggest taking your own bottle on board with you and guzzle away throughout the flight. Good for your skin, good for your body and wonderful exercise, as you will be getting up to use the bathroom far more often.

By the way the mile-high club is a myth — it must be, those bathrooms are way too small and there is always a whole bunch of people waiting to go. Another tip — wear shoes in the aircraft's bathrooms, bare feet and socks are not advisable, especially if there has been a spot of turbulence.


The Arrival

When you arrive at your destination make sure you have filled in your arrival form clearly, concisely and, once again, no jokes. One silly passenger when asked on his quarantine declaration if he was carrying any animals declared he had in his possession "a rather impressive one-eyed trouser snake".

Unless you feel like making an embarrassing appearance on Border Patrol or even worse, hearing the snap of the latex gloves, be polite and co-operative when dealing with Customs.

Last piece of advice (and I cringe when I see this happen) when a taxi driver approaches you and asks if you would like transportation don't speak down to the poor fellow in some condescending broken English asking "you got licence? You have legal cab? You know where you going?"

Chances are they have heard it all before and might just add a few extra bucks as insulting ignorant tourist tax. Happy holidays!

* United Travel Getaway, Wednesday, Prime, 7.30pm

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