...Or at least look like you know what you are doing
Mon 27 Jul 09
Greetings Fellow Travelers, and welcome to the latest edition of Travel Unravelled.
Do you find traveling a daunting experience? Does it all seem like too much to handle? Do you lack the confidence and know-how to just get out there and see what this great big world is all about? Well dear readers, this blog entry will attempt to alleviate those fears and help you prepare to become a traveler who knows no boundaries.
What is it about travel that scares us the most? For most people, it is the fear of the unknown… but hey, isn’t that what all fear is based on, the unknown? But you can, if you just put in a little effort and forethought, gain the confidence to go wherever you want (barring war zones…I don’t recommend those) and find how rewarding it is to learn about different cultures and peoples. The world is an amazing place full of wonders you won’t see at home, and people are remarkably similar throughout every corner of the globe (yes, I know we live on an oblate spheroid, and technically there are no corners, but you get the point).
Knowing the country and its customs makes travel a much more rewarding experience.
So how does one gain the confidence to embark on a voyage to the unknown? This is a multi-step process that begins with research. The hardest part is deciding where you want to go. Once that hill has been climbed, the rest is simple. Got a computer and internet access? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Start here (sorry, shameless Travellerspoint plug). On TP, you can find virtually anything you want to know about the part of the world you’ve chosen to visit. In addition, almost every country in the world has its own website. Handy, no? Any search engine will take you there; simply type in your destination. Read all about what that country has to offer, from culture to scenery to general travel precautions. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and once you know a little about your intended locale, you are no longer in the realm of the “unknown”, and fear begins to wane. Read as much as you possibly can about where you’re going. Knowing the country and its customs makes travel a much more rewarding experience.
Now that you have empowered yourself (with some basic knowledge), it’s time to start planning. How will you get there? How long will you stay (no, you shouldn’t say “until my money runs out or they throw me out” – trust me). Where will I stay? What do I want to see? How many souvenirs should I bring back? Where can I exchange my money for local currency? Do I need vaccinations? How do I send Isadora and Beerman a postcard? Is there chocolate there? Do they have beer (personal favorite)? These are all questions you should be asking yourself during your preparations. Future blog entries will discuss these and many other issues so stay tuned!! Be prepared, just ask the Boy Scouts!!
Once you have all of these questions answered, it’s time to start thinking about personal safety. Good and evil co-exist in the world, regardless of where you travel. So, think safety!! There are numerous ways to protect your money from thieves and pickpockets. For starters, don’t carry all your credit cards and cash in your bag or backpack. Spread it around in different pockets so no one pocket is obviously bulging with cash. Loose or baggy pockets make it too easy for pickpockets. If you are in large crowds of people during festivals or parades, be aware of your personal space and always be mindful of people casually bumping into you. Try to avoid areas or neighborhoods that seem a bit dodgy – you’ll usually know them when you see them.
Most hotels or hostels have safes where you can keep valuables. Most bus and train stations and airports have pay lockers where you can keep some personal belongings – though it is better generally to not keep valuables in them – excess baggage only.
Of the utmost importance, walk and act like you belong wherever you happen to be. Hold your head up. If a street vendor approaches you with some trinkets, be polite, and if you’re not interested in the wares, simply holding your hand up and waving it while saying “no” and walking away usually works. If you decide to purchase from a street vendor, don’t pull out a large wad of cash. It’s alright to turn slightly away while reaching for you cash, pulling out the necessary amount and paying for the item. Always be polite, even with the pushiest of street vendors. Walking away will usually let them know you’re not interested. If they get overly aggressive, look them in the eyes and sternly say no and continue walking away. People are just people, we’re all the same basically. Most countries do not want their street vendors to be overly aggressive with tourists because bad experiences lead to fewer tourists – bad for the economy. If there happens to be a local Constable or police officer nearby, you can always get their attention and point out the offending vendor; generally, they will respond favorably and come to your rescue.
The staff at virtually every hotel or hostel in the world can be an excellent source of information on what areas to avoid. They live there after all so who would know better.
Food in different countries can be quite daunting for many people. Street food in many countries is a challenge. Much is quite safe, while some will cause intestinal problems that will shorten your holiday. A good rule of thumb: if it looks wholly unsanitary for your tastes, don’t eat it.
I know many people will argue this point with me, and I have never had a bad experience with street food, even with some that looks like it had been plucked from the local sewer. But as a general rule, use your own sensibilities. It is entirely up to the individual.
Restaurants can pose an entirely different challenge. You’re not in your mother’s kitchen, so don’t expect everything to taste like it does at home. That’s why you’re there, to try new things and new experiences. Mind you, I’d think twice about ordering the jellied ox testicles, but that’s just me. Even if you don’t speak the language, the server can usually describe what the menu item is with hand gestures. This though is where it is handy if you’ve done your research ahead of time – knowing what the local foodstuffs are before you order them will save both yours and the severs time.
So, to summarize:
- Pick a destination(s) and RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH.
- Plan your travels – it keeps surprises to a minimum.
- Be aware of your valuables at all times – don’t stress, just be aware.
- Walk like you belong there.
- It helps enormously if you know a little of the local language, even if it’s just “may I have a beer please” – locals almost always appreciate your efforts at speaking their language.
- Don’t order the jellied ox testicles.
By following these tips, hopefully the experience will seem less daunting. Most of all, get out there and give it a try. Go on that trip and practice, and soon you will become a confident traveler in no time.
Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers. Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, maybe some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and if you fit the bill they will welcome you to the team.