Wednesday, January 14, 2009

10 Foreign Travel Tips

Since I’m traveling right now, I thought I would write down some of my “rules of the road” for travelers…
  1. Most Americans are going to look like Americans no matter what they do (ie: you won’t be able to “blend”)—just try to not live up to the American stereotype (loud, dresses funny, embarrassing behavior, etc).
  2. A well-stocked first aid kit can be a God-send—both for you and others. Actually my first aid kit has been used much more by others than by me. Everything from infections to intestinal problems to blisters to the flu has been treated with its contents.
  3. Be prepared to entertain yourself. We are used to hundreds of cable channels, 24/7 internet, iPods, text messaging, X Box, et al. to keep us entertained on a daily basis, however in many countries (especially of the third world kind) they may not even have dependable electricity so being able to keep yourself entertained by doing something that doesn’t require technology or electricity is a valuable skill. Bring a book, bring a harmonica, bring a deck of cards, etc.
  4. When traveling to foreign countries, bring patience—things usually run differently, slowly, or not at all like at home. Be patient and personable. Rudeness and insolence usually gets you no where and may even slow down the already slower than slow process of whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.
  5. Learn some of the language. The locals may not be able to understand you even if you are speaking what you think is their language but even a few words that they can understand makes them happier to deal with you (we aren’t talking about Paris here, this goes for most third world countries--the more unusual the language the more they are surprised by your efforts).
  6. If you forget something you usually take with you, go local. All countries have a method for brushing teeth, using the bathroom, and curing the common cold. If there is an American product you really need, check tourist areas of the country you are visiting; these items include toilet paper, any name brand item (shampoo, toothpaste) that you can’t live without, SD memory cards, etc. Of course, if there are some items you can’t live without, bring them with you because it isn’t always a given that the specific items you need can be found at all in some countries.
  7. Eat local. I gladly pass up the tourist hangout for local street food. Go to the stands that have lots of local customers as this usually means that the food is good, the prices are low, and the turn over of food is quick.
  8. Travel as light as possible. Lugging luggage is a hassle. People who travel often travel light unless they have a staff to carry their stuff for them. I can fit everything I need for an extended trip into one 50L backpack.
  9. Be open to new experiences. You don’t know what you don’t know so you need to be open to new experiences in order to learn new things. I was in southern Mindinao once and a friend had to stop by and see his sister in the hospital and asked if I wanted to come along. Always open to a new experience, I said yes (and brought food, see next point). I was a bit concerned when we went into the hospital room and the girl had purple splotches from Dengue fever all over her body and the nurse that was tending her had a mask on. Although at the time I didn’t have time to run out and research Dengue fever, I just crossed my fingers that it wasn’t contagious. It was an interesting learning experience.
  10. You will rarely go wrong by bringing small gifts to give to the people you meet in your travels. Packaged food from home is often welcome as is purchasing food at your destination to bring with you if you are invited to someone’s home. You of course want to be careful that you don’t give overly expensive gifts, personal gifts to a person of the opposite sex if you don’t know them well, and be sure to read up or ask a local about the whole gift giving thing if you are headed to an Arab country.

Travel can be as interesting or as complicated as you make it. A “go with the flow” attitude, common sense, and patience will take you a lot further in most of the world than insisting on things running the “right” way like they do at home.

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