Saturday, 14 November 2009

Travel Advice—how to do it, and stay good

Advice is sometimes, justifiably, considered the worst vice, however, here goes. My thoughts on how the smart traveller will maximize his (or her) travel pleasure. Things to do, and one or two things not to do. In no particular order of importance.

* If hotel wireless internet is not advertised as being free, then it is not free. *

updated: 5/02/2012.

a. Pants
Wear lose baggy pants, with lots of pockets. These trousers can be bought cheaply in most 3rd world corners of the world (or even 2.5). The advantage—cheap, and it is amazing how much, from time to time, you need to carry. Putting things in your pockets is the easiest way to do this. Also, by wearing ‘cargo’ pants, you are telling the world that you do not care about their trivial fashion rules, and that you are a traveling man.
b. Tips.
I have already posted a blog entry about tipping, but a good story bears repeating. Tipping in 99% of the world is mandatory, almost, certainly if you feel that it is justified due to exemplary or even adequate service. To tip, never over tip, give, say, around 10%, or the lose change from your payment. Important, make sure that the staff realize that you are giving the tip, not them demanding the tip. Power. Who has it. Who wants it. Who keeps it. Respect.
c. us$1
Carry a few us$1 bills, these are useful in a range of situations. A dollar is too much for most tips, but they can come in handy when you need to flash some cash and get things done. (like crossing a border, at a small border crossing, getting that stamp—all can be expedited by a small, friendly, ‘rapid processing’ charge.)
d. Money
Speaking of money, carry some larger notes hidden on you, and in your stuff, as a backup. For example, I have a back belt clip in which I keep a knife and notes in various currencies (including US). Ditto, stash some cash in your backpack, in your travel bags, in your camera bag. Sometimes, not very often (hopefully) you might just need this extra money right there, right now.
e. Your (i)phone/your life
Phone camera, smart phones, really smart phones (like the iphone). Phone cams are a gift from Darwin. Take a pic to be your backup memory. Take a pic of a place you have been so that you can show it to a samloar driver, store a pic of place to which you want to go and show it to your taxi guy, take a snap of that receipt or the face of that guy who sold you that thing (taking the snap itself ensures a measure of attention), and a pic of that thing, snap that document, that visa stamp, your passport, your visa. Anything you might want, at any time, any where, take a pic. And upload it somewhere, backup.
f. Location Location Location
GPS, google maps = mana from heaven for the switched on traveller (i.e. the iphone user)
How did we live in the ‘good’ old days? Thick rubbery condoms, no internet, and no google maps! The ability to find a place, be it a restaurant, a shop or a hotel, is amazingly useful, as is the ability to see your route, view an overview of your journey, and basically see where you are going. Totally cool. Of course, you need to have a good phone to be able to do this. Totally.
GPS—related and equally useful. Take a gps spot of your fav spots, determine distances, etc. GPS/google maps, digital compasses—all totally, unreservedly good. Use.
g. Duct tape!
Yes, duct tape. You know, that wide very sticky, thick, strong tape that sticks and binds to most things? Carry some. Every now and then, not too often, you will be in a situation where it is useful. A small roll will suffice.
h. Sex.
Always have a few condoms and some lube stashed within easy reach. You never know when the situation will arise.
i. Plastic bags
Minor, but useful. Have with you a few plastic shopping bags at all times. Stick a few in your backpack, your bags. They have 1,001 uses, and they are waterproof. Speaking of waterproof, carry a waterproof bag with you in which to place your valuable, non-waterproof gear, for example, your iphone. I use a Dri-Dock, $15au, and works a treat.
j. Locks
I always have 2 or more combination locks with me. These can be used to secure a host of things to other things, and to lock things and to keep things safe. I prefer combination locks over key locks in that keys can be lost. Buy 4 digit combination locks, not 3. Three digits can be ‘hacked’ relatively easily.
k. Medicine Man
Sigh, in four years I have done two things. a. drag around a swag of med gear and kit, and b. never needed to use any of it. Ditto for med insurance. Just what to do? I would recommend the bare minimum, disinfectant and bandaids, but after that it is up to you. Do some research, assess your comfort level, and buy accordingly.
l. Shoes,
Wear good shoes, and, if it is possible, if you are a woman, wear sensible shoes, not pretty shoes, but good shoes. Good shoes are shoes which cover your feet, and provide protection. I prefer MBTs. They provide good protection and great feet support.
m. The sun.
It is bright, strong, hot, and puts out a lot of UV. Wear a hat at all times during the day, and good sunglasses—the type which block UV, as opposed to merely looking stylish. Follow this advice and you will avoid becoming one more burden on the public health care system. And of course, suncream, it goes with the hat. Add to this a scarf. A scarf wrapped around your neck, which can be pulled up over your face when in direct sunlight. I don't care what it looks like, I don't want to join the annual 2000 dead Australian skin cancer victims.
n. Depression, yes, depression.
Travelling can be depressing. It can be stressful. Learn when to take a break, learn when it is necessary to take a break before it becomes necessary to take a break. Take it easy from time to time, take a day out to rest alone, read a fav book—take it easy. Note, alcohol does not help you relax, if anything the reverse, ditto for smoking. Learn to think, not to drink.
o. Business cards; yours and theirs.
For various reasons people will ask you for your name and number. If we are dealing with foreigners (of whom you will meet many in foreign countries), spelling names and reciting phone numbers can be slow and error prone, so make yourself up a ‘name’ card. This should have your name and number (possibly several of your phone numbers from different countries, if that is what you want). Also put a pic on the card, something from the country you are in, if you are staying in one country for a while. This will make the locals smile, as you are being courteous to their country, and perhaps in a small way make things easier for you. If not, put a pic of you in your home country, again, something to make the locals smile. In the case of Aust, a kangaroo. Everyone loves Kangas.
p. Be A Timelord
Keep track of times and dates, be it time for a new visa, leaving a hotel, getting onto a bus, whatever. It may sound unnecessary to say this, but after traveling for a while, life and dates can blur.
q. Important docs, put copies online.
Get yourself a gmail account, specifically for this purpose. Take a pic of your important docs: passport, visas, credit cards, statements, invoices, receipts, whatever, and email these to your doc gmail account. Do this regularly, setup a process—it is neither difficult nor time consuming. Time spent here will save you big time when something (as it inevitably does) goes wrong.
r. Stay calm, except when you should not.
I say this because you will be ripped off from time to time, even the best and most experienced of us have weak moments. Stand your ground, state your case. Sometimes it is necessary to pretend (try and make it only pretend) to get angry, and sometimes a smile and a joke will save the day. But, stand your ground.

s. Beware of online hotel booking services.
I cannot give hard evidence or figures, but from what I have seen most of these are near scams. There prices are either higher than the norm, or the hotel throws in an extra charge or two. Contact the hotel directly, get there best price. You can negotiate. One website: asiarooms, I have read bad things about, and it looks sus.

t. Photograph your money.
If you carry a few (or more than a few) large denomination banknotes, as a security measure, photograph these notes. This will be evidence of your ownership if there is any dispute over ownership or theft. You have a record of the notes and the serial numbers. Upload copies of the notes.

u. Dogtags.
Wear a set on your neck. Show your name, an emergency contact, blood type, insurance details, medical issues—all this will help in a situation.

v. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is an insect repellant—USE IT. 
Insects (mosquitos, ticks, fleas, etc.) spread disease, diseases which kill or gravely incapacitate people. Use a concentration of up to 50%, reapply every few hours. Spray it onto your clothes when they come back from the laundry. Keep a tube by your door to use when you leave your room. Keep a tube in your backpack. As you travel you will hear many people say they never use it and that they have never had a problem. Strangely, the people who have died, or are house bound because of the diseases spread by insects are never seen out and about telling you this.

CITRONELLA, the same as DEET. Cit repels mosquitos. Do you need both DEET and Cit? I am not sure, but put it this way, 2x is better than 1x, most of the time. I spray both onto my clothes. Better safe than sorry!  

w. Stay fit.
This may seem strange advice for people who are out and about, but it is good advice. In reality, there is not a great deal of physical exertion involved with travel, certainly not the prolonged and varied exertion of good exercise. It is all too easy to sit back and relax, and let the kilograms increase while the cardiovascular system sinks into a morass of lethargy. Have you tried climbing five flights of stairs? How long does it take, feeling out of breath?
Visiting a gym while travelling can be a little tricky, but far from impossible. Finding a gym which is not bank breaking is the key, usually 4 and 5 star hotels have, but for non-guests these are pricey things. Ask around, do a google search, check expat fora, and find a gym. A workout, a swim, sauna, and a massage can be had for only a few dollars, if you look around.
Failing a local gym, work out in your room. A variety of exercises are possible, from simply pushups to more elaborate. There are websites with non-gym exercise routines, take a look. Stay fit, and stay in the game. Don't be that 200kg fat expat sitting in the bar all day.

x. Dogs.
Dogs, and maybe cats and other animals, carry rabies, not all of them, in fact a minority, but it is a scary minority. Rabies is a nasty, fatal, disease. Avoid.  
Play it safe, don't pet animals, try and avoid them. Also, dogs see you as a stranger, as someone different from the people they regularly see, thus a threat, therefore a dog might just attack you, even when it is peacefully inclined to the other people around. Consider vaccination.

y. Bag ID.
Your bags contain your gear and your travel documents, important stuff. You need to make every effort to keep these things secure. One means of doing so is to tag your bags. Tag with your name and contact details, and also with something which is immediately recognisable. Write your initials in big white letters, wrap a red scarf around the handle, do something to make your bag visible.

To do nots
  1. ‘bum’ bags. No. They look gay.
  2. Get drunk, or drink alcohol. Most of the mistakes made by most people happen when they are drunk. A waste of time and money, and self-respect and one more burden on the public health system. Don’t drink alcohol. Let the idiots do that.
  3. Smoking, see above.

Thanks to Yuki Ling 보연 for editing advice.