Sunday, 26 June 2011

45 Miscellaneous Travel Tips

Here are 45 travel tips I compiled during my RTW trip.  Hope something in here helps you.

1.  Consider the weather.  I started my trip in February in India and moved south to north.  In March, I was in the Middle East.  In April, May and June, I was in Europe.  I felt like I got the best weather everywhere I went.  Consider if I'd done the trip backwards.  Europe can be cold and rainy in February, and India is extremely hot in May and June.
2.  Buy travel insurance.  Companies like Travel Guard ( offer modestly priced, customized insurance options that can be comprehensive, if you so desire (mine covered medical care, medical evacuation, flight change, lost and stolen luggage, etc.).  Having travel insurance gave me peace of mind.
3.  Consider buying round-the-world plane tickets.  They can save you a bundle.
Suggestions include:    
Round The World Experts:
STA Travel:  
Intrepid Travel (has flight specialists if you book a trip with them):
Round The World Flights:

4.  As lightly as possibly.  Most anything you forget or feel like you need more of can be purchased overseas for much less than you'd pay at home.  (I limited myself to a 50 liter backpack and wish I'd gone even smaller.)
5.  A student ID (ISAC).  Almost every tourist attraction gave student discounts.
6.  Something small and inexpensive from your country to give to new friends.  This could include postcards from your hometown (with your email or mailing address written on the back if you so choose), or some of your country coins.  One of the girls I traveled with in India brought along balloons for the kiddos and they were a hit.
7.  Earplugs.  There are a lot of snorers at the hostels.  I'm just saying...
8.  A Teva-like sandal.  The Teva has all the advantages of a flip-flop sandal (ample ventilation, not sweat inducing) yet it can be comfortably worn when walking miles through a new city.
9.  A day pack.  The day pack should fit your camera, your water bottle, and your cash purse.  Take the day pack with you when you're exploring a new city, and leave the backpack locked up at your hostel.  Buy a day pack that can be secured with a lock while it's on your back.  Mine just had a drawstring, so I often wore it to my front, or tied the drawstring into a knot.

10.  Tell your bank exactly which countries you will be traveling to.  That way, when your credit card is swiped at an ATM in Istanbul, the bank will not shut off your card or assume it was stolen.
11.  Make sure you know your credit card pin number.  I knew my debit card had a pin number, but not my credit card.  If you use your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM, the machine will ask you for the pin number.
12.  Check your online credit card statement weekly for fraudulent charges. Keep all major receipts.

13.  Find a local person to take you out for a meal.  They know the best places, and they're probably less expensive than the place you were thinking about eating.
14.  Look for a place without any tourists inside (you'll probably need to walk outside the main tourist strip for this and do some digging).  If the menu is only written in a foreign language, that's another good sign, too.  If everyone inside is a local, the food is likely to be considerably cheaper (and in my opinion, considerably better.)
15.  Buy your food at the grocery store or a local farmers market.  This is probably the cheapest option and most hostels have a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals.
16.  Avoid gas stations, vending machines, airport/train food, and tourist hotspots.  You'll be paying up the ass for stuff that probably isn't even that great.
17.  Buy a refillable water bottle and some dish soap to clean it.  You'll save a bundle on bottled water.

18.  Don't underestimate non-verbal communication.  Even without being able to speak the local language, I've gotten along surprisingly well with hand gestures, pointing at maps, saying a single word as a question (e.g. toilet, internet, bus), exaggerated facial expressions, and drawing pictures.  Be creative.  
19.  Talk in the local language when you can.  I don't speak Spanish, but when I was in Spain I made an effort to say "gracias" instead of "thank you" and "buenos dias" instead of "good morning."  I noticed that the locals respect you more when make an attempt to use their language, even when you only know ten words of it.

20.  In places where bartering is acceptable, always take 1/2 the price the shopkeeper initially gives you and start negotiations there.  Don't be afraid to go even lower (remember that the shopkeeper knows what the item is worth and is not going to sell you something unless they can make a profit).
21.  If the shopkeeper is being stingy, simply tell them the item is too expensive and start to walk away.  It's amazing how quickly they will cut 20 to 30 percent off the price when they realize you are leaving their store.
22.  Never keep a promise you can't keep (e.g. I'm not going to buy today but I promise you I will come back and buy tomorrow).  You wouldn't want someone to do it to you, so don't do it to others.
23.  Always be situationally aware but if you really aren't looking to buy anything, it helps not to make eye contact with the vendors.  When vendors see you staring at them, they hone in on you like a vulture to a corpse.
24.  I usually say "hello" or "good morning" when spoken to (it's basic politeness) but beyond that basic response I don't feel like I owe vendors/random men/beggars/etc. a lengthy conversation.  Many people will try to strike up a conversation with you in order to get you to see their store (or their cousin's store, or their brother's store).  If you don't want to buy or don't feel like getting sidetracked, ignore further attempts at conversation, look straight ahead, and keep on walking.
25.  Remember, there is usually no such thing as a favor.  When a person helps you find your hostel or the train station, lets you photograph them, etc. they will probably expect money in return.  Either do not accept a favor or be clear that you will not be paying them for a favor that often takes little to no effort on their part.

26.  Always agree on a price before you get into a taxi.  Once you've agreed on a price and step inside that taxi, the price is set.  There is no asking for a lower fare mid-ride.
27.  If a taxi driver tries to charge you a higher fare than what you agreed upon after you reach your destination threaten to call the police.  That will must likely end the conversation.
28.  Carry the business card of your hostel with you.  The taxi driver might not understand English, but most of them can read and understand a name and address.
29.  When you walk outside an airport, or a bus or train terminal, do not take the nearest taxi.  Sometimes taxis pay an entrance fee to nab that lucrative spot directly outside the airport, bus or train terminal, and they are going to try and take advantage of stupid and/or filthy rich tourists.  Walk a ways down the line before you approach a taxi driver for a price quote.  Once you've gotten a price quote (and know generally what the taxi drivers are going to charge you), consider walking further done the line and see if you can get an even cheaper fare.  Don't be afraid to barter.

30.  Walk whenever you can.  You'll see more of the city (the biggest gems are often beyond the tourist strip), get exercise, and save cash.
31.  The metro, tram, trolley and bus lines are almost always cheaper than a taxi.  Some cities offer a 5-day pass or a 10-day pass or some sort of extended day pass that can save you money if you are going to be in that city for several days.  Look for it when purchasing your ticket.
32.  Take overnight transportation, if possible.  You'll save money on a hostel, see the countryside, and gain more sightseeing time at your follow-on destination.  Consider bringing up a blow-up neck pillow to help you sleep better.

33.  Journal every day.  It's amazing the details I've already forgotten from my travels that I remember again every time I reread my journal.
34.  Get lost sometimes.  I learned so much more about the people, the culture, and the country just by walking around for hours in areas I was not familiar with. Sticking strictly to the tourist attractions is overrated.
35.  Read literature from the countries you are visiting.  I can't explain it, but there is something about reading native literature while in the country that makes the experience of travel more profound.  Afterwards, you understand both the literature and the country better.
36.  Back up your photos every day at websites like Photobucket.  My sister pressed the "Reformat Memory Card" button on my camera midway through my trip and I lost 1000s of pictures.  Luckily, I'd downloaded many pictures on my blog and emailed others to family and friends, so I was able to salvage some of my photos.  But it was still a major loss.  
37.  See if the city has a Free Tour.  Most of the cities I've been to have one. You pay no money upfront and, at the end, you decide how much (or little) to tip the guide.

38.  Leave the club wear at home.  When I travel I dress more conservatively than I do at home.  When I'm in places like the Middle East I dress more conservatively still (e.g. long-sleeved shirts, pants, and sometimes a scarf).  Often, I wear sunglasses.  I am not saying you have to bring along a bunch of moo moos and track pants, but ditch the mini skirts and midriff-baring halter tops.  It attracts unwanted attention from unsavory men.  You're going to get enough male attention, anyway.  Why make it worse?
39.  Be a smart drinker.  I can't stress this enough.  Bad things happen to intoxicated females (and males).  I met ladies who had been dated raped and mugged when they were drunk.  If I did decide to drink, I often did so at lunch or an early dinner when it was still light outside.  If I wanted to drink at night I drank at an establishment that was within spitting distance of my hostel or I drank at the hostel (most hostels had a terrace, some even had a bar).
40.  Look both ways (twice) before you cross any street.  It sounds so obvious but I had several close encounters with cars (reckless and/or preoccupied drivers abound and traffic rules differ from country to country).
41.  Split up important travel documents.  Always leave your passport and one credit or debit card locked up at the hostel.  Carry an alternate ID (e.g. driver's license), and an alternate credit or debit card on your person.  That way if your day pack is lost or stolen you are not completely screwed. 
42.  Carry emergency information.  I carried a tag with my blood type, allergy information and a person at home to contact in case of an emergency.   I also carried the business card of the hostel I was staying at.  I figured it was good information for the police to know if they found my dead and/or unconscious body.
43.  Consider the status of your day pack.  Always lock your day pack (or knot the drawstring) when you're out and about.  Consider carrying your day pack to the front, especially at night.  When at restaurants, place your day pack on the chair next to you or on the table, not on the floor.
44.  Get lost (during the day).  I think the best way to get to know a city is to get completely lost in it.  You stumble across all sorts of things you'd never see if you stick to the (boring) tourist circuit.  But get lost in the morning and early afternoon.  I made sure I knew where I was again (and how to get back to my hostel) well before the sun started to set.  When it was dark outside I always stuck to main roads with lots of people on them.
45.  Be conscious of pointing the undersides of your feet at people, giving the thumbs up sign, etc.  In parts of the world, these gestures can be considered offensive and/or provocative.

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