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You only get so much vacation: 15 expert travel tips to make every moment count Add to ...

1. TAKE THE LAYOVER

I know direct flights are the bee’s knees, but arranging for a layover in a cool city can add a whole new dimension to a trip. Either take a five-or-greater-hour layover and pop into town or, better yet, arrange for an overnight (up to 24 hours after initial departure). The international aviation industry is set up to make it easy to do just that, with hubs in all kinds of quickly visitable cities, including Vienna, Frankfurt, Doha, Denver, Amsterdam and Paris. Some, such as Singapore, even offer free city tours during layovers. Bert Archer

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2. AVOID A LOCKED DOOR

What are you doing Sunday? What about Monday? Ask yourself those questions before you set off, or you might be stuck with a hole in your itinerary. Many museums, shops and restaurants are closed those days – particularly in Europe and South America. Plan to travel then. If you’re already on the ground, ask your concierge to advise you on closings, then organize a trip to the beach or a park to coincide. Happily, Mother Nature never closes. Ellen Himelfarb

3. EMBRACE THE DOUBLE-DECKER

Take the double-decker tour bus. It looks cheesy, and you may be rubbing shoulders with the wrong sorts of tourists, but consider it an executive summary of the city and a way to get your bearings. The most consistently well-managed one is City Sightseeing. They’re hop-on, hop-off tours, and tend to run frequently from early morning to early evening. Take notes or pictures of the stuff to which you’d like to return. It’s also a great way to see a city for the mobility-impaired. Just watch out for counterfeiters (the brand doesn’t protect itself well). Check city-sightseeing.com, which lists all the real ones. Bert Archer

4. ALWAYS PACK THESE FIVE THINGS

1. Your alarm clock: Never trust a wake-up call. 2. A bar of soap. Unless you’re in a five-star hotel, forego the wafer-thin bar that gets stuck halfway down your back. 3. A password-protected copy of your passport, bank details, drivers license, etc., uploaded to your e-mail account. 4. A power strip so you can use just one wall socket. 5. Going overseas? Take a bag of small Canadiana knick-knacks to give to locals, such as pencils or stickers. It’s the fastest way to make friends and spread maple leaf love. Robin Esrock

5. EXPLOIT TRIPADVISOR

People use TripAdvisor to choose a restaurant or read hotel reviews, but that’s only half of what makes the site useful. Before travelling, check the discussion boards to hear what people are asking and answering about the place you’re headed. Topics range from ways to save money in a place to the best way to get from point A to point B. I recently discovered how to make my way from Bordeaux to San Sebastian, despite the fact that there is no obvious train or bus connections, through reading a TripAdvisor forum. Alexander Besant

6. LEAVE YOUR CLOSET AT HOME

A hard-learned fact: The less you lug through the airport, the better and more relaxing your trip will be. Control the urge to squeeze just one more outfit into your bag by bringing one of each thing: one great dinner dress, one pair of versatile jeans, one pair of sandals, etc. This also saves you (and your travel companion) from the dreadful “What should I wear?” debate that better belongs at home. And don’t worry about wearing the same thing twice: No one expects you to cart your closet across the ocean. Rosemary Counter

7. FIT IN A FEAST

The DIY dine-around is the ultimate fix for when your list of restaurant recommendations outpaces the number of meals you have time (and room) for during a trip. Instead of settling on one spot, pick a neighbourhood with several restaurants you want to try – ideally within walking distance of each other – and make it a roaming feast with a dish and drink at each. The idea is to sample, so order a couple of apps or small plates to share, or split a main as opposed to ordering a full meal. Three restaurants is a doable number, and allow an hour and a quarter between reservations if you’re making them. Alyssa Schwartz

8. WARM UP TO COOLERS

Coolers have proven themselves valuable far beyond the campground. At the start of every road trip, I imagine how wonderful it’ll be to quit as chief meal maker and let other cooks and baristas take over. And then after a greasy, sugary snack or three I start craving more variety. With a small, collapsible cooler handy, I can pop to the grocery store even if my hotel room doesn’t have a mini-fridge. They’re also the ideal place to store edible souvenirs – those just-picked blueberries or farm-fresh cheese that help you bring the holiday home. Karan Smith

9. SAVE THE POSTING FOR LATER

The urge can be overwhelming to Instagram, Facebook, Vine, tweet and Tumblr your way through every moment of your vacation. Sure, these are cool ways to document your trip and make everyone back home jealous. But all too often we’re so preoccupied with instantly sharing our adventures that we forget to unselfconsciously savour them. Try parking the posts until you’re back home and can thoughtfully curate your travel experiences. Your friends and family will thank you. So will your thumbs. Mark Sissons

10. HEED THE FIVE BLOCK RULE

A good rule that we used to impress upon friends visiting us in Paris – but it applies to many similar world capitals – is the five-block rule. If you find yourself hungry at the site of a major tourist landmark, such as the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, you must always walk a minimum of five blocks – including one turn – before stumbling into a random café or restaurant. This helps you to avoid the cafés that get by on serving mediocre fare to lazy tourists … and are typically staffed by cranky waiters who hate your guts on principle, to boot. Andrew Braithwaite

11. UNWIND YOUR BODY CLOCK

As a serious sleep enthusiast, at least at home, I get easily riled up when out of my element: What time is it in Toronto? Should I be sleeping now? Will I be too exhausted to function in the morning? This is the opposite of relaxing, so I try to veto any usual “sleep schedule” – even in the same time zone. I remind myself I’ll sleep when tired, or when I get home, and the excitement of vacation always overrides tiredness anyhow. So stop worrying. And – guaranteed – that will be the exact moment you’ll fall asleep. Rosemary Counter

12. READ ALL ABOUT IT

My globetrotting bucket list is filled with places I’ve only visited in prose. Great novels have the power to inspire travel, build anticipation for an upcoming trip and enrich the journey itself. I booked an impromptu flight to Bangkok midway through Alex Garland’s The Beach – you know, before the plot turns sour – while John Fowles’s The Magus made island-hopping in the Aegean Sea all the more mysterious and intriguing. These tomes can even help with vacation planning: Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence was practically my guidebook for the south of France. Adam Bisby

13. RELAX THE FAMILY RULES

Nothing says holiday like late bedtimes, dessert before dinner and jumping on the hotel beds. Try very hard to be Zen about the mistakes that will surely happen – maybe you’ll see something cool now that you’ve taken the wrong highway exit? Today’s argument and frustration is tomorrow’s oft-told, funny story. On that note: Pack flashlights – always, one for everyone – and paper maps for your road trip. Kids love to play with ’em and they’re much needed when you’re still on the road, late at night, reading the map to figure out why the GPS sent you to the wrong exit. Catherine Dawson March

14. TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE

Why rush a road trip? Even Canada’s dullest drives – Toronto-Montreal or Calgary-Winnipeg – can be spiced up by veering off the highway. Eastern Ontario’s Loyalist and Thousand Islands Parkway offer lakeside relief from slogs along the 401, with small-town eateries replacing generic rest stops and leafy parks providing prime spots to stretch road-weary limbs. Prairie drivers, meanwhile, can trade the Trans-Canada Highway for the Red Coat Trail, which traces the 1874 march of the North-West Mounted Police into the lawless Canadian West. The latter is a holiday in itself, with fascinating spots along the 1,300-kilometre route. Adam Bisby

15. BOOKMARK THIS WEBSITE

I’m not afraid of flying, but I am terrified of getting stuck in a middle seat on a long-haul flight. That’s why I keep seatguru.com in my bookmark page and consult it every time I book. The site provides detailed seat maps for hundreds of aircraft, so I know, for example, that 40B on Fiji Airways’ 738 doesn’t recline and in 11B on the Emirates A340 “noise from the more crowded economy cabin may be disruptive.” If it could only tell me where the crying babies are sitting it would be the perfect travel website. Chris Johns

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