Wednesday, 16 July 2014

15 Things You Should be Aware while Travelling

I must admit I mess up at times in countries least expected. And I learned a lesson from my mistakes. You'll never know, there might be a time that you are coming back to a country the second time around. In this case, at least, you should have done your assignment. And this time, you must know what to do.

You can do things like; touching fabrics in HK stores. I did that. Because I did not know that touching their wares is a 'crime'. No English. No touch. No business. Just leave! They don't want your money....

Never, never, ever forget to validate your railway tickets in Berlin. That is another 'crime' that you will be getting into. As the 'officer' who held me and my family off the subway train said in a form of a question, "Do you know that, not validating your ticket is a 'criminal' offense? Can you guess what my answer was? Your guess is as good as mine.

I have warned you many times about Cairo. And will continue warning you that an Egyptian pound is worth a fortune to most "business-minded" locals. If you are travelling by train from Cairo to Alexandria and you seem to forget which of the trains you should be taking, behold! - do not ask anyone going around near the trains posing as a dispatcher because if you do ask, which I did, you will pay a price for sure. Not a pound, not two - it's 10 Egyptian pounds. You don't want that to happen, do you? So, get on the train and ask other passengers. Most of them will give you an honest and friendly answer...for free. And, that is one of the things I am going to do on my next visit to Egypt. 

Does things like these happen to you while travelling? Tell us, let's learn from your experience.


Things happen. So, to avoid untoward incident, we are creating awareness when travelling to a foreign country. 

If you are visiting a country for the first time, I would advice you to do some research prior to your trip. This is a very effective tool when travelling. Check everything, from the airline, the food, restaurants, hotels, what to buy, local people and your attitude.

I have a friend who wouldn't prepare for a trip. He hates it. He just pack his bags and go. I am into details. I do research, make reservations at least six months prior. My travels went on smoothly in my many years of exploring other countries. If you are a newbie, would you do the former or the latter? It's you to decide and ..... tell me what happens.

Live the simplest. Carry everything in one bag if you can, or, maybe two. I learned my lesson. I brought stuff that I did not even take out of my bag. You will not know this on your first trip. That is why, if you are a beginner, I urge you to read travel reviews, tips and warnings online.

Take the wisdom of others who have gone before you. You will meet travellers who have been where you are going. Listen to them and take their advice. But the best thing to do is ask before you go. And who do you think can help you with this? Your friends? Your fellow travellers? Or, the tips and reviews from travel websites? It could be all of the above.

Always take time to recharge your batteries. Travelling is all about memories. And memories will last forever if you don't forget your camera. Bring all the devices that you will need which means anything that goes with it - adapter, charger, tripod and memory cards. I am not saying that it is your camera that you only care about. Take complete rest before your trip. 
You should take time to recharge too in between your tours. Prepare yourself for frequent flying, taking public transport, physical activities....and a lot of walking. You have limited time to re-energize during your travels. If you have the chance, do it! Get some rest. Sleep. And, don't get sick.

Be observant. There is more to learn from sitting at a cafe or pub than you can from reading a book. Because reading a book is for those who just want to relax and for those who'd been travelling their whole life. You, as a new traveller, should observe a lot. See how things are. See how true are the tips and reviews that you have read. Observe the customs and traditions especially if it is entirely different from yours. This is one of the reasons why you came for a visit. To learn and feel like a local. Join them if you must.

Don’t make a scene. Travellers don't have to be loud and annoying, no matter how excited you are. It will not do any good. Talk to local people about the good things and nothing else. Religion or politics are not an option. Don't compare your country with them and don't tell them what you have that they don't.  Not unless they want to learn something about yours. Keep it to yourself, lower your voice and you will be out of trouble. There is a saying that I want to share...and it goes like this - a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable. 

Be very patient. You will experience flight delays, lost baggages, screwed up food orders and lost hotel reservations. Take it in stride. My experience at the Cairo International Airport is a nightmare. The EgyptAir ground staff gave our reserved seats to passengers who checked in ahead of us. He put me away from my wife and my daughter, sitting in three different rows. I did see at least two sets of passengers complaining about their check in procedures in front of me. I lot of yelling and arguing. Is this happening everyday?, I asked. And what answer do I expect? 

Expensive things are not always the best. Feel like a local and be one of them. This way, you can have a feeling that you are not in your own country. You can have a better experience eating street food or go to a restaurant where the locals eat. Better still, stay in a Bed & Breakfast accommodation. More often than not, it is cheaper and owners can provide their local specialties. You will not find them in a 5-star restaurant or hotel. I remember my trip to a big city in Italy where I was asking a hotel staff for an Asian restaurant. My companion interrupted me and told me, "If in Rome, do what the Romans do". "You are in Italy, eat Italian food". And yes, she was right. Because, if I want to feel at home in a foreign country, I would rather stay home. 

Wash your hands thoroughly. This is a must after using a squat toilet which is very common in the Middle Eastern countries. The same is true if there is no toilet paper. So, what can you do? It is a good idea to keep a small roll of toilet paper whenever you are out on a tour. Put small tubes of either hand sanitizer, gel or hand wipes. In most European countries, you pay a price for using their toilets. Prepare some coins in their local currency.  

A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet. This old adage is actually true. One of the reasons why I travel is to meet people - the locals. You can easily find them in places which is not touristy. In restaurants where they eat and the beaches where they swim. Locals are often friendly and they will like you more if you speak a bit of their language. Learn some words - the good words. You will be surprised. They will trust you as you make them comfortable. But then again - be cautious. Remember that you just met. Use your common sense. You don't lay all the cards.

Saying “hello” in another person’s language can go a long way. This is what I am saying. Take the time to learn a few words of the local language. Your conversation with a local can go on and on and on when you speak the language once in a while during the conversation. 

Eat lots of fruit. Who wouldn't want to eat rambutan in the Philippines or Indonesia or the kiwi fruit in New Zealand?  Try to eat fruit every chance you get. But make sure you are eating fruits that you can peel yourself. Otherwise, you need to wash and peel them before eating. Or, as they say, "Cook it, wash it, peel it or forget it." 

Put yourself in the shoes of others. If you think a place is exotic, just imagine what a local think of you. Exotic is all relative. Your sleepy hometown might be the most exciting place to someone who has never been there. Treat yourself as a local and believe me, you will love it,  no matter what. There are good and bad in every country. Yours is not an exception.

You don’t have to take a photo of yourself in front of a place to prove you were there. While 'selfie' is the trend now, it is not necessary that you take every photo with your face attached to it. There are many beautiful places  in the world. Most of them can be captured by camera without you posing.

Avoiding Theft. Thieves are everywhere. Seriously, in every country. Don't think that if you are in Asia, you have to be extra careful and relaxed while in Europe. You are mistaken. Pickpockets are everywhere, so, put your wallet in your front pocket. But don't be very suspicious. There are far too many good people in the world.

Don't act like a tourist. Why not? This is not easy to do but you got to do it. Dress simply, let someone else attract the attention of thieves. Keep your camera out of sight when not using it. Relax and enjoy your tour but maintain the normal level of awareness. 

The above are just some of the things you have to be aware of when travelling for the first time. Don't be scared. There are more tips on 'what to do' and 'what not to do'. Follow your instinct.

From the desk of: 
                             Freddie Miranda

A blogger and a freelance writer based in Toronto. He shares the value of his travel experiences and discoveries with his friends and travellers. Share your passion, join and visit him. Send him a message if you will @ fromatravellersdesk(at)gmail.(dot)com.