Tips you have to know whilst travelling – Part I

In a world where list-based articles are a lazily assembled bunch of stolen GIFs and an unfunny sentence to go with it (shout out to Buzzfeed) . Here’s an actually useful couple of tips which took me a couple of trips to learn. I’ll share them in no particular order or theme:

  1. Don’t make highly specialised plans, they never work out

First trip I ever went on I had every day planned out by the hour. On the day I arrived where my trip started, a hurricane hit the surrounding area and our 1 hour plane ride was delayed for 9 hours. To avoid the storm, after I landed, I immediately took an 8 hour bus ride and inverted my whole plan. Not only that, but I discovered an amazing hostel that I hadn’t planned for, I didn’t even know of its existence before talking with some people, and I ended up staying there for almost two weeks. Have a rough plan of things you want to do/see but know things will rarely turn out as you thought they would.

Getting stranded for half a day on a plane where half the people developed a fever wasn't very fun
Getting stranded for half a day on a plane where half the people developed a fever wasn’t very fun
  1. Don’t be penny wise but pound foolish

Backpackers are not the richest people you’ll meet, but at times their stinginess is baffling. They might be at the other side of the world, but once they’ve made it there they might not want to see the main attractions because they’re too expensive, whilst meanwhile they don’t bat an eye with going out every night. If partying is the only thing you’ll do why bother leaving your country? Actually do the things that are unique to the place you’re going to, or stay at home.

  1. Listen to the locals

Locals have great knowledge of the area, more so than travel guides, which may no longer be up to date. Additionally, you can see things off the beaten path this way as well. I also recommend the websites TripAdvisor and Wikivoyages for planning trips and learning what’s worthwhile doing.

  1. Try to get student discounts and the like any time you visit anything even remotely cultural

In some countries you might enter a lot of museums or attractions for free, so it’s worthwhile to have a student card handy ( if you have one) . You can often get discounts on meals, drinks, and stuff so I would say it’s a must have item.

  1. If you pack anything more than a big handbag, you’re over-packing

First and foremost you want to keep mobile. Having a bag you can barely carry is counter-productive. It’s worse still if you can’t walk around with it for hours. Secondly, budget airlines can often charge you more than the ticket itself to check bags in. So you actively end up losing cash if you pack a big bag

  1. Try to get bank accounts that don’t charge you money from withdrawals

A rare picture of how your local bank looks after charging you withdrawal and exchange rate fees
A rare picture of how your local bank looks after charging you withdrawal and exchange rate fees

Banks can often charge you as much as 8% of your withdrawal, plus a foreign currency conversion every time you use an ATM. A solution for small inexpensive trips is to have the money in cash in a small bag where you keep your cards, passports and such. That said be VERY careful with this.

  1.  Oats, pasta, rice, beans, lentils and such are great for saving money, but be sure to try the local food as well

There’s a reason these foods have become staples of many cultures. They’re cheap, plentiful and when cooked right are excellent. In some tropical countries vegetables and fruit may well be a much cheaper substitute or complement to these meals. However, in your desire to save money, don’t avoid local cuisine entirely. Otherwise, you’re missing an amazing part of travel, which is the amazing food!

  1. Be ready to meet people, but also be prepared to say goodbye to them

I have no idea who these people are, yet apparently I had a drink with them two years ago...
I have no idea who these people are, yet apparently I had a drink with them two years ago…

Me and another traveller were joking the other day that you can spot how recently someone started travelling by how fast they ask you for your Facebook. Newer travellers are just starting to meet people abroad, so they haven’t seen how fast you lose contact with almost everyone you meet. After a couple dozen such experiences you realise that most of the time it’s not even worth asking for it, unless there was a genuine connection

  1. Being alone for some time is really the only way to truly understand yourself

Often when I say I travel for long stretches of time on my own, people find it daunting. They cannot comprehend why anyone would do such a thing with nobody to share it with. They forget two things though.

Firstly, you often meet people on the road without much trying. Besides, people that travel in groups are extremely isolated from everyone else, as they often just live in their own bubble and thus might miss out on meeting new and interesting people. Secondly, long stretches of time alone allow you to go through the mental baggage you’ve accumulated over the years. It’s not always nice and I can tell you I’ve had bad days where I was only being confronted by my inner demons without anything else to distract me. Confronting your inner demons, and actually vanquishing them is something few people do, hence most people’s need for constant stimulation and distraction.This avoidance, I think, leads to weak people who are unhappy most of the time; the few times they manage to be happy it’s because they managed to distract themselves with something, not because they have developed an inner source of happiness. In the end, this type of “wakeful meditation” will lead you to truly understand yourself, as you unfurl all the details of your mind whilst travelling.

  1. Some cities have information offices near tourist attractions.

They usually don’t cost anything, and you can usually get away at the very least a free good map and discounts. That said, be sure it’s not covertly run by a company trying to sell tours. Ask them about everything, from bus times, to museum locations, they likely have a clue.

  1. Avoid restaurants near tourist destinations

The main clientèle of such restaurants are tourists, from that you can infer two things:

I. They almost never have returning clients, regardless of the quality of their food.
II. Their clients usually have higher disposable income by virtue that they travel around.

In other words, the food is expensive and may not be very good. It used to be  that you should almost certainly avoid restaurants with English menus, but it’s become so widespread that it may not be true. For the most part just avoid places that seem to mainly cater to tourists.

  1. Buy drinks rarely with food, drink tap water instead (where drinkable)

Drinks, and admittedly desserts (but who can truly say no to a delicious cheesecake?), are the items that have the highest mark-up. Even if it’s just a Coca Cola, over the course of a trip they add up quickly. As such, one should avoid

  1.  When sleeping in airports try going to the restaurant area, they tend to have better seats.

sleeping-airports1 (1)Whether you just have a shitty connecting flight, or you’re a stingy bastard. At times you end up sleeping at airports. Before even considering doing this though I highly recommend you check this site out, to decide whether it’s even viable on the airport that you’re considering.

In either case, restaurants, especially cafes like Starbucks have great seats to sleep in. For the most part, staff at airports don’t mind, as they see it all the time. Some employees can get antsy, but there’s usually a policy where they can’t kick customers out unless they’re a nuisance. As such, what a lot of homeless people end up doing in 24 hour locales is to buy something cheap and have it half eaten on the table – as long as it’s there you’re a costumer who just happened to fall asleep. You can do the same in airport shops, and you can sleep peacefully, as long as your meal/drink is still there.

Sometimes the restaurant area is simply closed and there’s simply no seats, only cold hard ground (fucking Stansted airport). Again, taking a page from the book of the homeless, you can build a “bed” from newspapers on the floor and use your bag as a pillow. At least then it’s bearable and you might get some sleep…

  1.  To avoid overspending, and if you have a finite end to your trip, have a daily budget.

You can “borrow ” from other days if what you’re gonna do is particularly expensive, but do keep in track of what you “owe” yourself and be thrifty at other days to make up for it. I have met far too many travellers who have no idea how much money they’ve spent. Sooner or later it’s going to be a recipe for disaster, as they’ll run out of money at the most inopportune moment.

  1. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes

In many countries they are heavily taxed by the government and overall they’re rarely worth the benefit you receive per unit of money you spend. These “sin taxes” are passed, almost entirely too, to the consumers, as the producers know perfectly well you’re addicted to them.

  1. Don’t feel the obligation to drink to make friends.

Socialising in hostels, more often than not, seems to be a drinking contest. Just remember this isn’t highschool, nobody genuinely cares whether you drink or not, as long as you provide value in your interactions and are fun to be around with.

  1. Don’t get pissed off with delays, they will happen.

When embarking on long trips, it’s almost a certainty that something will be delayed. I suggest having a stash of movies, TV shows, ebooks or anything to distract you when having to wait for several hours. If you’re doing things you would’ve done anyway in your free time it barely feels like a delay (only use electronics in safe and guarded areas though, you don’t want to get mugged).

Furthermore, delays can actually result in great friendships, as people are willing to share their experiences with each other when they have nothing better to do. Hell, that’s where the idea came from for the original, very famous Coca Cola ad. Legend says that the person who invented it was taking a flight, and it was so delayed that people who were supposed to be on the flight started bonding over a Coke, and thus he met fascinating people that way.

  1. When taking a plane, boat, bus, or anything, always go there with time to spare, even if you’ve been there before.

Sometimes there’s a checkpoint you hadn’t considered, which when in a rush can make the difference between making it on time or not. Or sometimes subway stations or streets may be closed without warning due to repairs. I once had to run up a very long flight of stairs  and run through multiple streets, with a full pack, after a heavy dinner, because a tube station had closed and I had to go around it, which made me lose the precious few minutes I’d estimated for the journey. Believe me, it’s no fun running, half holding your dinner back, only to barely make it to the station.

  1. Almost anything with a promoter is either overpriced or not worth doing

It’s essentially the same problem as the restaurant near a tourist location, but ten times worse. They will try to use every sales trick in the book to get you to buy their tour/services. Nevertheless, their main source of business are people who were hauled in by the promoter, who never had any genuine chance to assess through hearsay whether something was worth doing, so they can get away with subpar services

I remember this one time I took a nature tour in Mexico. We were supposed to see the site where the meteorite fell that killed the dinosaurs. Among other things, we ended up going to a shitty little village where there was a misspelled plaque saying that this was the place. I later realised, after the fact, that most of the south of Mexico and part of the ocean was the actual crash site. The only reason this shitty little village had any claim to fame is because it’s almost in the middle of the crash site and thus the meteorite was named after it.

Totally worth it, misspellings and all
Totally worth it, misspellings and all
  1. Keep your eyes out for buffets and fixed price menus

Sometimes you just want to stuff yourself with food you didn’t cook, problem is that you’re on a budget. There’s some solutions to this…

Buffets are a good way to do it. However, you need to keep some things in mind. Buffets operate under the assumption that they can charge you more than you’re capable of eating. There’s some ways around it though, to get the most bang for your buck, go there late in the afternoon after having little to eat throughout the day. You will be starving. Avoid soup at all costs, studies show that people who eat a soup eat less overall. The first twenty minutes are critical, that’s how long your stomach takes to tell your brain you’re full (sorta how you can keep stuffing yourself with bread in restaurants and still be hungry), so the bulk of your eating will occur during that window. I recommend going for the pricier meals, such as fish, meat, etc (the more exotic the better) as you’re gonna pay the same anyways so might as well make it special.

Buffets have a few problems though. It’s easy to overdo it, so know when to stop so you get stuffed, but not to the point you feel sick. They also rarely give out tap water for free, so don’t start the buffet when thirsty. Finally, it’s rare to find local cuisine in cheap buffets as you’ll mainly find Asian buffets, and you can easily get tired of sushi after a couple of times.

Fixed price menus, on the other hand, usually have more local cuisine as it’s often meant for people who work in offices who need to catch a quick bite to eat. They give you a price, and you can pick a soup, a main and dessert. I love these though portion sizes can vary widely. That said, they’re usually worth the price.

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