My first trip overseas**was to India** in the late '80s. London would have been more logical, but India was the most exotic place I could think of. I'd saved enough to buy a backpack and a ticket to Bombay, and took a copy of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, his Booker Prize-winning tale set in the capital. Though it was all magic realism, the craziness seemed perfectly plausible once I arrived and entered the alternative universe of the subcontinent. India was overwhelming, fascinating, frightening and totally addictive. It set me in motion for a lifetime of travel.
I travel to learn. I'm not much good at reclining beside pools. And I'm an awkward shopper.
The most interesting thing about my job, apart from travelling a couple of times a year, is watching the rise of travel as a defining feature of the Australian character. We travel regardless of season, exchange rates, epidemics, job loss, warnings against travel. We go first, stay longest, hike further, aim higher. By and large, we're open-minded and pretty considerate travellers, and among the most important travelling markets in the world.
In my luggage you'll find mosquito repellent, noise-cancelling earbuds, smart device, pawpaw lip balm, and my first travelling alarm clock - it's years old and has never let me down.
I always try**to learn a couple of phrases** in the local language before arrival. It doesn't matter that I occasionally mix my Swahili with Sinhalese; it's the honest attempt that counts. I know four phrases in about 10 languages.
I always wonder why hotel guestrooms often have such poor bedside reading lights. Lighten up, people! And I wonder about the wisdom of hotel interiors so dramatically dark that guests end up leaving their gear behind.
My favourite place is generally the one I've visited most recently. Botswana, however, is one of my all-time favourites. Sample of my last morning on a recent trip: screaming baboons jump on tent at dawn. Float silently along a hippo highway in Okavango Delta in a mokoro canoe. Arrive back at camp and elephant steps into canoe moments after I vacate. Elephant's appearance at reception delays check-out. Then there's a rollicking four-wheel-drive dash because we're running late for the tiny plane that's about to land on a bush airstrip. But a herd of impala wander prettily onto said airstrip, forcing our driver to jump out and shoo them off. Honestly, I could have stayed forever.
Among the strangest places I've wound up on assignment was a trance dance in the Kalahari. Making plov in a backyard in Bukhara (a little like pilaf, plov is the national dish of Uzbekistan). Night snorkelling in the Maldives.
The first thing I do when I get to the airport is breathe, deeply. Almost there.
The best advice I can give is to always check the fine print. I know it's boring, but travel is among our biggest annual expenses and it's worth being clear about conditions and exclusions. And do read those sign-your-life-away indemnity forms before your next extreme adventure. Not all travel loyalty and rewards programs are created equal - it's worth checking the actual value you get when you come to redeem.
The most important things to have when travelling are travel insurance, manners and a sense of humour.
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