Postcards from the edge

'When you buy stamps on holiday, you almost always find they are far bigger than you expected and cover half the recipient's address'
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The Independent Online

I once bumped into Frank Muir looking rather distrait, or rather, as distrait as Frank Muir ever looked, which was not at all distrait. "What seems to be the trouble, Frank?" I asked. "Well," he said, "I started writing my autobiography this morning. And I had finished by lunch time. You see, I couldn't remember a single thing that had happened to me."

I feel in somewhat the same position. I set out today to bring you a collection of travel tips garnered from my own experience, and stolen from other people, and no matter how much I try to stretch them, they only reach as far as the bottom of the first column, because travel tips are short and pithy and take up no space.

Excuse me while I inflate them, stuff them with paper, and spread them out wide.

Right, here we go.

I was once trying to get through a customs and passport border control between Bolivia and Peru, milling around with a lot of other travellers who had all had to surrender their passports en masse. We waited for half an hour to be allowed through. All except the producer of the TV crew I was with, Tony Morrison, who was given special treatment and was ushered through within five minutes.

"Why you?" I asked him when we were reunited. "Why only you?"

"I think I know why," he said. "I always keep a $10 bill in my passport for emergencies. I forgot to take it out. One of the passport officials has removed it. They must have thought it was a bribe."

Draw your own moral from that. Oh, and on the same trip our cameraman Nick Lera was driving to get a line-side shot of the train that runs once a day across the Andes, and came to a police road block. He knew he would never get the shot if he stopped, so he accelerated and drove straight through. He had to come back the same way, and they were waiting for him, but Nick had no qualms – he knew that in his jacket pocket he had letters of filming permission from the highest in the land. He stopped and reached in his pocket.

They were not there.

They were in his other jacket, back at the hotel.

All he had in this jacket was a letter from the Archbishop of Cuzco, granting us permission to film in the cathedral.

He handed it silently to the police. The police looked at it. They handed it silently back. "OK," they said.

I don't know what the moral of that is, either. Now, down to a travel tip stolen from Catriona, a friend. She has tackled the problem of how to send postcards home to friends whose addresses you can't remember. She has worked out that we can, in fact, always remember people's addresses – it's only the postcodes we can't remember. So she takes a single sheet of paper with postcodes only written on it, belonging to the people who deserve cards. Brilliant.

My contribution to that area is simple, but well observed. When you write a postcard home, you almost always find when you come to buy the stamps that they are far bigger than you expected and cover half the name and address of the recipient. The solution is obvious. Always put the stamp on first. It's that simple. In fact, Lewis Carroll used to say that for ordinary mail you should always do the envelope first, because if you did it last you would write the address illegibly as you rushed for the post.

Have you, by the way, heard the story of the Oxford professor who was so organised that in the summer vacation he managed to arrange to stay for free at the houses of various ex-pupils and relations, in a complicated sequence? So organised was he that he wrote all his thank-you letters in advance, and took them with him, to post the right one as he passed each place.

Unfortunately, he carelessly left them all behind at the first place. From the second place he phoned back to the first place, in some panic. The butler answered the phone.

"No need to worry, sir," he said. "I found your letters."

"Oh, good."

"And I took the liberty of stamping and posting them all."

Not sure what the moral of that one was, either. The best travel tip of all was in a travel book written by Sir Les Patterson. Have you noticed, he said, that we always take too many clothes on holiday with us and never enough money? Very true. We always run short of money, never of clothes. Paul Theroux said that he never took anything more than he could carry in his hand luggage. And Charles Dickens once said that...

Phew. We've made it to the end of the space. Dickens some other time, perhaps.