Safety, Packing, Getting Off the Beaten Path… and Lots More in this Travel Tip Galore
Travel Tip #1 – Safety First!
Trust & Safety Among friends and family, travelers are at times considered adventurous, brave, or crazy. After much analysis of these judgements and fighting back over the years, I’ve learned that what I really have more of than some other people is trust.
Trust in Yourself & Others
I trust myself on making good decisions, avoiding or leaving situations that might be dangerous, and requesting and following advice from locals as appropriate. I also trust that nearly everyone on earth has no intention of harming me, mostly because they don’t even know me, and random violence is unlikely.
In fact, whenever I ask for help (and sometimes even when I don’t), the vast majority of people around the world go out of their way to help me. Some great instances of this: accompanying me on trains to ensure I transfer at the right station (an Armenian woman in Switzerland); emailing me specific bus schedules (an Australian woman); insisting I get on the back of their moped, so I’m not walking on my own (a Cambodian boy); phoning their friend for directions to the address I have written on a scrap of paper and walking me to the doorway (a Polish woman with whom I shared no common language).
Instead, I focus my fear on things that actually have a high likelihood of disaster. Will my luggage be transferred from one airline to another in South Korea? Will I make my flight connection if I have a 1-hour layover in a big airport?
Please see the full page of safety tips.
Safety must be taken seriously. It impacts both males and females. Anyone can get pickpocketed on public transportation, have a bag stolen when they glance away for an instant, or held up at knifepoint while hiking a volcano or returning to their hotel after dinner.
I’ve met more men than women who had these crimes committed against them. Although some women sometimes seem overly cautious, overall their caution truly makes them safer travelers. So, travel like a woman!
Travel Tip #2 – Where Should I Go?
There are so many places in the world to see. It’s hard deciding where to go. For ideas, I find out where friends live, check maps, blogs, posts on the Facebook group Travelettes (for women), and tours.
- Peruse my recommended destinations on the blog. They are Myanmar and Mongolia. I also loved Poland, although I don’t have it on the blog yet.
- Explore blogs of my fellow travelers.
- Tours that I think look cool— typically active sport tours, like sea kayaking, horseback riding, and trekking.
I travel slowly and inexpensively, and on various kinds of transportation, including long bus rides, motorbikes, trucks, and occasionally horseback. This is all arranged in-country, since local transportation does not always have a website, and even when they do, it is not in a language I can read. Last, I research airfares, request time off from work, and go for it!
Travel Tip #3 – Doing Good Abroad
Directly Support the Local Economy
I suggest supporting local economies by taking tours from locals directly, for example.
Volunteering Abroad & Voluntourism
Please research and be very aware of what you’re actually doing when volunteering, because unfortunately you can easily cause harm, even with the best intentions. You can read my personal experience about this below. Also, read this article by the Uncornered Market and understand the issues.
All Hands Volunteers is an organization I have collaborated with, and suggest you assess if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity.
Assess the Opportunity and Ask Tough Questions
Money and Time
How is the organization spending money? If they’re requiring I pay, is it reasonable? Should I donate my money to this organization, and select a different organization to donate my time? Does the organization really need my time, or would I be taking more resources than I would return?
What will my job be? Am I experienced in the area in which I will work, or will I receive training in the job, language, etc.? Do I really want to do this job, since leaving partway through the experience could be unprofessional or unkind? Will any language barriers be easily overcome, assuming effort by myself and the organization?
Orphanages & Animals
Am I truly doing good by interacting with these living beings for a short term? How would I feel if a stranger came one day, was nice to me, and then left without explanation and I rarely or never saw them again? What if this was repeated over and over– will the animal or child get psychological issues from ‘abandonment’?
Is the culture acceptable to me? Will I be treated better, worse, or the same as a local just because of my race, gender, nationality, education level, foreigner status, etc? How will my local colleagues feel about this, and what information is it instilling in them?
Why do they need a volunteer, rather than hiring a local person? I don’t want to take someone’s paid job. Should I just donate money, instead?
Will I get what I need from the experience? What is my goal and will it be fulfilled? Am I looking for a story to tell when I’m 80, something to make me feel good, a point for my resume or a school/work application, free or cheap lodging while traveling?
Personal Experience Volunteering Abroad
Personally, as a Peace Corps Volunteer (2-years for U.S citizens, all expenses paid at local cost of living), one of my colleagues had sad stories of a community that often refused to work towards meeting some basic needs. The community decided to wait each year for foreign church groups who came with school supplies, clothes, and volunteers who built homes and otherwise “helped” the town.
Drawing from the proverb ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’, these well-meaning church groups, including youth groups, mistakenly did a disservice to the people. This does not mean that foreign organizations are never beneficial to communities, but rather it’s an example of the best intentions gone wrong. For example, the community in which I served as a PC Volunteer had a wonderful religious community that encouraged positive behaviors, such as spacing the births of children for the mother’s health and the family’s economic and educational well-being.
Travel Tip #4 – Off the Beaten Path; On a Budget
I’m not a complete introvert, but I don’t enjoy loud and late nights out, so I use some tricks for getting off the beaten path fast. Lodging and activities are the largest travel costs, especially in a tourist-y locale like San francisco or Vienna. And, I absolutely avoid staying in hostel dorm rooms, since I never get a good nights sleep there. Take a look at my Couchsurfing tips for a free local tour, overnight stay, or an evening event.
Travel Tip #5 – Gifts for Hosts
Gifts for People I Know
I always take small gifts for my hosts, whether it’s friends I’ve known for years (I ask what they want, since often there’s something specific they’d love that they cannot obtain in their current location) or couchsurfing hosts I’ve just met.
Gifts For People I Will Meet
Generally I choose chocolate, a postcard or magnet representing a major city near my hometown. Usually people love chocolate the most. I also bring photos of home to share with folks who are interested in seeing what my family, friends, local festivals, and hometown look like.
Also, I frequently invite my host to join me for dinner at a local restaurant of their choice one evening. One of my hosts in Poland who had only just begun traveling herself, selected a Vietnamese restaurant, since she’d never had the cuisine before. It was so much fun watching her try spring rolls, noodle soups, and other foods she’d never tasted before. And, it was an honor to give her this memorable gift.
Travel Tip #6 – Communication
Communicating with Home
Everything around communication has changed since 1994, when I would call my family for 5 minutes on a landline! Later I moved to weekly emails home from an internet cafe. Now I take my smartphone, and type in the Notes app as much as I want. When I get to a place with free wifi, I copy my writing from the Notes app into an email and hit ‘send’ or post to Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat (@LongestBusRide), or just send a quick text. No need to spend time in an internet cafe on a computer with a keyboard missing an important letter, like ‘e’ or ‘a’ or ‘r’. I have a lightweight, foldable keyboard with bluetooth. Another method to communicate with home is through a travel blog. For help with this (or turning it into a money-maker) you can join a course. The courses are useful, especially to a beginner! And, there’s often a private Facebook group for communication with your peers.
Communicating Without a Common Language
One of my grandfathers would always ask me about this issue. My answer never varied: If we want to communicate, we’ll make it work– gestures, tone, drawing pictures. Gestures with a smile is not so hard.
The communication isn’t quick or even always correct. It works out fine in the end though, even when I don’t know exactly what animal the cubed meat in Laotian soup comes from. I posted a photo of it on Facebook, and a Vietnamese friend informed me that it was actually coagulated blood.
What travel tip do you suggest for communicating? Maybe a language course or app on your phone?
Travel Tip #7 – Packing
Packing Camera Gear
Here’s a gear list for Machu Picchu in Perú.
Packing for Night Time
Bedding A silk sleeping bag liner. I’ve only bought this once, since it lasts forever and packs small and lightweight, making the cost a 1-time issue. I also use it on canyoning and camping trips, since it keeps my sleeping bag cleaner and allows me to carry a lighter sleeping bag. I wash it with soap and water, and it dries in about 2 hours in a warm place. Easy care!
Lighting Dark Places Headlamp! I’ve been hooked since the night it was pouring rain in Laos and I had a small headlamp on my forehead and my arms free to balance while sliding towards my riverside hut along a pitch black, waterlogged, muddy, downhill path in my flip-flops. I also use this when camping and as a back-up light when spelunking.
Keeping Warm while Packing Light
I cannot more highly recommend taking a shirt or 2 made of merino wool, if you sweat. They’re perfect for when laundry isn’t going to get done. I wore an Icebreaker merino wool shirt nearly every day for 3 weeks in Mongolia, and it barely smelled! For cold places I take layers
- Bottom half – warm tights, long underwear, or leggings to wear under jeans for 2 layers
- Top half – A thermal shirt, t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, and light jacket for 4 layers.
Underwear and Feminine Hygiene Products
I take all mine with me, for trips less than 2 months. Shopping in a village in a foreign language with varying sizes for these things scares me. I want what I’m familiar with. I know for a fact that underwear in Central America is on the small side for me. Plus, a stash of tampons or pads is the perfect place to hide emergency cash. If toilets aren’t indoors and water/baths limited, I recommend a small flatpack of baby wipes.
One word: Comfortable. Who wants blisters? I always take 2 pairs– my most comfortable closed-toed shoes (running shoes for me, since they double up as running shoes!) and a pair of flip-flops for whenever I don’t want bare feet when getting out of bed or in the bathroom. I’ve read reviews on Tieks ballet flats, and would consider buying a pair if I ever dressed up regularly while on vacation and they weren’t in the $200 range. Fortunately, I’ve always had a Couchsurfing host loan me a pair of dress shoes when needed.
What’s your best tip for shoes? Do you have a brand or style you recommend to your friends?
Did you find a particular travel tip helpful? Are any important tips missing? Please let me know!
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