I thought I would join in with Friday Reflections this week and give my top 11 (weird number but why not?) travel tips.
1. You will get sick. Deal with it. Pack drugs. Though make sure they’re not the kind that gets you into trouble.
Is this just me? So far on every overseas trip I have ended up getting a case of plague. On my very first trip out of the country, I ended up sitting next to a woman who had sneakily snuck her particularly diabolical case of influenza/black death onto the plane under the cover of what must have been about 800 doses of very strong cold and flu meds. Sadly they wore off about three hours into the flight and I was stuck next to this sniveling snot machine for another five until we hit Singapore. While I rushed out of that aircraft as soon as I could to shower and spray myself with antibacterial lotion, the damage was done. A week later, while I was in my friend’s flat in Japan, the cold hit. And then we went to China and I nearly died. The cold turned into one hell of a chest infection. Beijing at the tail-end of Winter was not the brightest idea I’d had at that time.
I was coughing up black shit for months after I got back to Australia.
And lets not forget that time I got honest-to-God DYSENTERY during a trip to Perth a few years ago. That was one fucking well-earned hemorrhoid.
2. Slow walkers are EVERYWHERE. Try not to kill them.
Bloody tourists. Sure, it’s fine when you’re one of those lucky sods who has the time (and money) to amble about a city for weeks at your leisure but for the rest of us, sometimes we only have a day, maybe two, in one particular place before being dragged away on a bus or needing to catch a plane to the next destination. We need to get places quickly and make smart use of our time and nothing pisses us off more than Slow Walkers taking up an entire footpath while they shuffle along. No amount of polite coughing gets their attention. Fuck, I don’t think a full-blown asthma attack would so much as garner a head-turn.
I have felt the rage. Seethed with it. Cheated death by walking out onto a busy road in order to get around groups of Slow Walkers.
3. Eat the damned food. And pack Immodium.
The whole idea of travel is to see and experience new things. In my opinion, those experiences include eating the food of the country you’re in. Now, I am not suggesting you go and eat scorpions off a stick or drink snake venom wine, but at least try something different. Don’t be That Guy who calls out from the back of a tour bus in the middle of Xian, China “Hey, were is the nearest McDonalds?!” (Yes, we had that guy at the back of the tour bus while we were in Xian, China.) That being said, if you’ve got a sensitive gut (like I totally do at random times), always pack some tummy meds. Nothing screws up a holiday like being stuck in the shitter for hours on end.
4. NEVER play “Pot Luck” in exotic places. And DEFINITELY pack Immodium.
Ok, imagine this, if you will. You’re in a foreign country. You wander into a restaurant that is in the very non-touristy area of a city. You sit down and your friend mentions something about the kanji for “beef” in Japanese is similar to that of Chinese. You blithely smile and nod because you’re tired and “hangry” and over everything and just need food.
Let’s just say I don’t think it was beef.
5. Don’t buy books at the airport. You’ll have to carry them.
Look… I’m a bibliophile. I love my books. When there are a couple hours to spare at an airport and I can’t find anything better to do, I will invariably end up in the newsagent/bookshop. And I will buy, at the absolute least, three books – and I can guarantee they won’t be 100-page novellas. These will be new large format editions that take up at least 6kg of my 7kg carry-on weight limit. And because I love my books, I will not read them and discard them. OH, NO. My babies come with me.
I carried no less than four giant books with me everywhere last time I was out of the country. Don’t do that. Buy a Kindle. Or download a reading app on your phone or tablet.
6. Don’t give street vendors your name. Ever. Just don’t.
Tourist traps are everywhere. And where there’s a tourist trap, there’s a gauntlet of street vendors plying their trade in souvenirs and keepsakes. Don’t give them the promise that you’ll be back to take a closer look at their stuff because you know you won’t. Don’t try to be kind. Keep your eyes down and plow straight on through. I made this mistake when visiting the Great Wall of China. It was the slightly less popular area of the wall, but still teaming with people selling the odd “genuine” fur-lined, Mongol cap and colourful kites. Like the sap I was, I gave a particular vendor my name because she said that she would put something I had a passing interest in away for me. I can’t even remember what it was but the sound that came at me when I returned from my walk on the Wall is ingrained into my brain for life. The entire line of vendors knew my name.
“Erreeeeeeeeeen! Erreeeeeeeeeeeeeen! Come here, Erreeeeeeeeeeeeen! I have many good things for you, Erreeeeeeeeen!”
7. If they’re still smiling when you walk away, you got DONE. Learn to haggle.
If you are game enough to browse for keepsakes of your trip at any sort of outside store or market, you will have to haggle. You could be a wuss, like me, and just hand over ridiculously large amounts of money for a small ancient, yet surprisingly plasticy-feeling artifact, but that’s no fun really. Regardless of what they might say, if they’re still prepared to sell to you at the highest price you’re saying you will go, they are still making a big profit. Trust me, you are not ruining that person’s day if they are glaring at you as you make off with your goods.
8. Stay in hostels. You find the best people in them.
If you’re light on cash flow, this might be the only option for you anyway, but if you have the choice, I totally recommend hostels as a place to lay your head for the evening – or continue partying, depending on your choice of hostel. You don’t have to do it all the time but do it at least once. Apart from saving a shitload of money, you get to meet people – people who encourage you to go out and do stuff. Explore a city a little deeper. Actually eat that scorpion-on-a-stick.
And sometimes you may find yourself rooming in a hostel in the middle of Old Town, Edinburgh, with two young men from Australia and New Zealand respectively who gleefully announce at five o’clock in the evening that it’s “Beer o’clock!” and vanish down to the Grassmarket for the rest of the day, only to return at some time in the wee hours and very drunkenly navigate their way onto the top bunks while alternately trying not to talk too loud or throw up and then fall into such a state of unconsciousness that you feel compelled to check for a pulse on one of them the following morning before you leave for your day of sight-seeing and then come back to an empty-but-for-a-bucket-of-vomit room in the afternoon…
NOT THAT THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME.
9. Choose the path less traveled. Avoid tourist traps.
The best advice we ever got while in China was to avoid Shaolin at all costs. The lovely staff at the hostel in Pingyao warned off the area after overhearing a conversation my friend and I were having about going there. Instead we were handed a big brochure about Chengdu. What’s special about Chengdu?
Lemme give you a hint:
Chengdu is still a big city and fairly touristy, but I reckon we chose the better option. An awesome time was had by all. So if a local warns you off somewhere, pay attention. They might have a good alternative. Though be safe, make sure you research any suggestion thoroughly before actually going – you don’t want to end up the victim of some nefarious crime ring.
10. You will inevitably fight with your travel companion(s). Don your big girl/boy panties.
Look, it’s going to happen. Weeks on end with the same person, sharing each others very personal spaces, enduring massive culture shock, the stress of traveling, getting used to each others REALLY FUCKING ANNOYING habits… Yep. It’s just a matter of time. What is important is that you get it out of your system and then get over it. Sometimes you just need to quit whatever plans you made and do something else. Sometimes you need to take a break from each other.
Sometimes all the situation needs is for some weird and slightly sleazy European to attach himself to you and start asking you all sorts of personal questions to make you forget whatever pithy argument you were in the middle of giving/getting the silent treatment for and instead haul arse to the train station to take shelter there while you wait the four hours for your train back to London…
(This may or may not have happened to us.)
11. JUST TRAVEL.
Go. See the world. See things. Take it all in. Don’t wait for a more convenient time. Do it while you’re young and stupid enough to enjoy being in mild levels of danger and getting drunk at five o’clock and eating stuff that will give you the runny shits for a week and staying up all night talking philosophy to people you just met.