Globetrotting journalist Rachael Oakes-Ash shares everything she’s ever discovered about upgrades (ha!) jet lag, giving back to the locals – and hanging onto receipts…

The myth of the upgrade. Some believe dress pants and a blue blazer will secure an upgrade to the pointy end of the plane. Others swear that checking in first or last is the way to go. The truth is airlines have a strict upgrade code. Frequent flyers and travel club members go first, with platinum members at the top of the queue. Of course it helps to know someone at the airline, or on the ground at check in, as they may be able to pull some strings…

Travelling on a group booking severely reduces your chances of an upgrade, but travelling alone increases them dramatically. So join a frequent flyer program, pay for an annual airline membership and book your flight separately if you are travelling with a partner, or your friends. You may find yourself sipping champagne while your mates are wrestling for legroom down the back.

Best seat in the house. It’s possible to pre-reserve seats with most airlines but there’s more to simply requesting an aisle or window. A window seat near the door on a 747 may mean less leg room due to the configuration. Ask your travel agent what plane it is, Airbus, 737, Jumbo and so on… Most airlines have a seat map of the planes and can be easily accessed online or via your agent. Then think wisely. The front row is usually filled with babies on long haul flights as cots can be secured to the wall. Too close to the toilet and you’ll have a queue invading your space.

If you have failed to pre book then ask at the check-in counter if the flight is full. If it’s not then request an empty seat next to you. Trust me, it works nine out of ten times you’ll be stretching out mid flight.

Shutter Up. Dust can ruin your camera lens so if you fancy yourself as a bit of a Herb Ritts then zip it. Zip lock bags will save your camera lenses from certain dust doom while on safari in Africa, in the fields of Rajasthan and during storage during those non-travelling months. Keep some spares in your suitcase and pack each of your lens in a bag size suited to them. Helps protect against any water mishaps too.

Jet Lag. It happens but it happens less when flying east to west. When you fly against the direction of the sun you play even worse havoc with your body clock. Reducing jetlag is a personal affair. Melatonin tablets help some folk, as does changing your watch to the destination time when stepping on the plane – and then changing your food and sleep cycles while flying to fit the new time zone. Either way when you reach your destination do not give in to the lag and crash, rather wait until the locally appropriate bed time no matter how hard it is to keep your eyes open, match sticks help.

Phone home If you’re traveling with a laptop or can access internet cafes then download an internet phone application like Skype at www.skype.com and invest in a headphone set with a microphone attached. Skype to Skype phonecalls are free and Skype to non-Skype numbers are cheaper than street food in Thailand!

If you must take your mobile phone then purchase a local SIM

card to reduce costs, global roaming is convenient but very costly. Ask your local provider to ‘unlock’ your phone so you can use it with other SIM cards and check if your phone works in some countries. When travelling in Japan recently, I was forced to hire a phone when my GSM phone didn’t work with their CDMA system.

Storing pictures If you’re on the road and snap-happy, where do you store those thousands of images? Your i-Pod is one option if you have room, and if you have a laptop then you can download and make back- up discs. Portable external hard drives can store over 180MBs of images and are as light as an i-Pod – but the best advice would be to invest in a 4MB image card for your camera. If money’s tight then set up an image library on a website like Facebook or Webshots and upload remotely.

Eye-ssentials. If you wear glasses always take an extra pair and a copy of your prescription. Keep one pair on you and the other in your luggage that way if any nasty lost luggage surprises happen at least you’ll be able to see!

Gym in a bag Stuck in a two bit motel in industrial China? In London during a downpour? When the hotel doesn’t have a gym or you can’t get outside to stretch those legs then reach for your bag. Travelling with a light skipping rope and a resistance band means you can get both a cardio and weight training workout in the privacy of your guest room. Work it baby.

Keep your receipt. If you’re claiming receipts as part of work related travel expenses or for your own personal income tax then write down the amount, date and purpose in English on each receipt. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting home with a bag full of receipts in Japanese or Greek and having no idea what they were for.

Giving back It’s hard to know what to give when travelling in disadvanted countries. Boxes of disposable (medical) gloves are light, take up little space in the suitcase and can be dropped in to local clinics in poverty stricken villages. Similarly, colourful toothbrushes can be given to schools, and boxes of coloured pencils or even biros are always welcome in schools where many children share pencil stubs.

Rachael Oakes-Ash

About Rachael Oakes-Ash

Rachael Oakes-Ash is a journalist, travel writer, documentary maker, author of two books and ski writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.