The urge to make up for lost holidays and reunions with family has brought upon the sort of airport mayhem that holiday-goers generally like to avoid. But ask any savvy traveller and they will tell you that the solution is not to dread the chaos but to be smart about it. This means you should exercise the safety precautions that every embassy has put forth; stay on the cutting edge of technology and anticipate the unpredictable, especially when hermetically sealed countries (we are looking at you, Japan) are still piecing together rules and policies. After all, informed travellers make better global citizens.
CHEATS FOR CHEAPS
The old rule of thumb that you should steer clear of booking your flight and hotel stay on a Thursday (because booking sites are busiest with people planning for the weekend) still applies but what if a Sunday sojourn is all the escape you can afford? Instead of watching prices drop like a hawk, make use of airfare prediction and booking app Hopper, which delivers international deals with up to a 35% rebate off normal rates straight to your phone. With an archive of trillions of flight prices, the app can recommend that you buy or wait for a better offer through push notification. Committed penny-pinchers should keep their eyes peeled for the addition of new routes as airlines typically offer great introductory fares, as well as bargains that allow you to arrive in one city but depart from another.
HOW NOW, AROUND TOWN
Getting to your destination is the easy part of your journey, but getting around once you arrive is a challenge — public transit app Citymapper wants to help. If its heap of five-star reviews online are any indication, the mapping service available in 39 cities has logged millions of downloads as it integrates data for all urban modes of commuting including walking, cycling and driving, in addition to taking public transport. Navigate the labyrinthine streets of New York with turn-by-turn directions, compare cab fares and beat the rush-hour crowd as the app reports live wait times for buses, trains and ferries. The company, founded by former Google employee Azmat Yusuf, has added a feature to choose between “fast” routes and “main roads” so you can avoid dimly-lit areas, along with tips for where to sit on the train and which station to exit to reach your destination faster.
ONE STOP SHOP
Stopovers used to be expensive because one had to pay for the privileges. But airlines are adding incentives to popular routes, making midway hubs a worthwhile second destination. Qatar Airways beckons passengers to stay in Doha for up to 96 hours on the same ticket; Finnair enables you to plan a five-day trip around Helsinki if you are flying between North America and Europe or Asia. In recent years, several properties have also opened at airports with attractive amenities, even if you only have a few hours to spare before your next connecting flight. For that, French start-up DayUse has partnered 7,000 hotels in over 500 cities to let you book a room for a limited time to freshen up, set up a temporary workspace or host meetings and interviews on the fly without paying the full rate. If lugging your bags to a hotel sounds like a chore, turn on your LoungeBuddy app to discover nearby VIP lounges, with entry priced from as low as US$25 per person.
DINING WITHOUT BORDERS
Much has been written about Michelin-starred restaurants, yet when abroad, we fantasise about befriending a mystical “expert”, an insider who will guide us to the best meals that are preferably authentic and off the beaten path. If you are not keen on cosying up to strangers, perhaps, seek out a digital companion. Dubbed the “Airbnb for dining”, the EatWith app connects food enthusiasts with local hosts, who open up their homes to serve humble meals, and love to entertain crowds. In fact, many hosts have racked up a following by becoming experts on specific cuisines — the four-course French-Vietnamese dinner by Masterchef France 2012 winner Jean-Yves Vuong is a hot favourite on the platform with tourists visiting Paris.
OUT IN THE OPEN
Planning to escape to nature for a socially distant getaway? AllTrails offers various forms of outdoor thrills without the frills. Boasting an extensive compendium of more than 300,000 hiking, running and mountain biking trails across the world, the app lets you filter search results by difficulty level and elevation gain, suss out paths with photo ops like waterfalls and gardens, or discover relaxing walks that are dog-friendly. Stay safe from the uncertainties in the wild with tips from users, who can update the app in case a trail gets muddy after rain, or if a route is too steep for families hiking with little kids. There is no need to skip a fitness routine even when you are jet-setting since you can discover new trails in national parks with the app’s hand-curated GPS (which can track your exact location even when you are offline) and topo maps. For starters, check out all 182 trails in Malaysia on the site, complete with information on track conditions and distance.
ETIAS AT LAST
If you intend to travel to Europe for business or leisure in the near future, you will need to familiarise yourself with the recently launched European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), designed for visa-exempt travellers to the European Union and the Schengen Area (except Ireland). Much like the US’ ESTA scheme, the programme is meant to make travelling without a visa easier, while still maintaining border control and aiming to reduce terrorism.
When ETIAS is fully operational in 2023, most countries in the European Union— including popular tourist destinations such as Denmark, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Finland — will require a valid ETIAS when you arrive at their borders. If you can currently enter the bloc without a visa, acquiring an ETIAS will be obligatory soon. This move has affected 60 countries including the US and the UK, which lost freedom of movement after Brexit.
To visit a participating country, you will first need to complete an online application, which prompts you for information such as personal identity, citizenship information, address, education and work experience, travel plans and, in some cases, proof of relationships. ETIAS authorisation will be valid for an unlimited number of entries over three years, and a fee of €7 (RM32.60) is charged for those between 18 and 70.
Travellers have been assured that the application process, conducted via a largely automated IT system, will be simple and seamless as the approval only takes a matter of minutes, provided you do not have a sketchy history.
This article first appeared on July 4, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.