When I first started traveling, I was a young fool. But now, after years of experience, I have become wise(r). And as a result, I compiled a list of my limited wisdom for you, my dear readers. Hope it helps with the adventures!
Don’t be afraid to ask
This one is pretty obvious, but I feel like I have to include it because it’s probably the most important piece of advice I have. No matter who you are or where you go, there’s going to be at least one situation (i.e. can’t find a location, unsure of a bus schedule). Just ask somebody. Often times, people get nervous when they’re in a country other than their own and are afraid to interact with a random person. Don’t be afraid. Ask someone. The vast majority of people in every country are nice and helpful. Usually, if they can help you, they either will or they’ll point you in the direction of someone who can.
I know that we’re always told to be on our guards when we’re in an unfamiliar place, and many people fear that they’ll either be taken advantage of or given false information. Let me reassure you though, that this rarely ever happens. And if, for some reason, you feel apprehensive with what someone tells you or you think they’re wrong, you can always ask someone else and get a second opinion. Not to mention, it is usually fairly easy to find a public employee (like a bus driver or security guard) whose job it is to help. Believe me, it’s a much better idea than trying to figure something out on your own.
Plus sometimes you’ll be amazed by people’s generosity and helpfulness. For me, one particular instances come to mind. The first happened shortly after I arrived in Russia. Naturally, I wanted to go see a professional hockey game, but when I got to the stadium, I had no idea where to buy a ticket. I walked over to an older Russian couple standing outside the stadium and asked where the ticket window was. Before I could even finish, they led me to the place, bought the ticket for me, and refused to take the money I offered. They said it was a gift and told me to enjoy the game. So yeah, don’t be afraid to ask or talk to people.
ATMs on the street = Safe
This one is important. Safety is pretty much the first thing on anyone’s mind when going somewhere new, and it if often hard to tell which areas or cities are safe. One important thing I’ve learned is that if there are ATMs out on the street, the city is generally safe and crime is low. Usually, in places that are dangerous or where there is a higher crime rate, ATMs can only be found indoors in banks. If they are out in the open (and especially if you see people frequently using them), it is safe to assume that the area you are in is safe.
Hitchhiking can be safer than Taxis (Not in Austria)
In Western countries, we often have a stigma against hitchhiking (most likely due to an abundance of slasher movies) and as a result, many of us have never taken the opportunity of standing alongside a road with our thumbs out. However, it some places (usually the farther east you go), hitchhiking is not only looked down upon, but is actually the norm. In central Asia, for example, I even saw old ladies hitchhiking to get to work. And there’s good reason for this too.
In many countries, taxis are not really regulated. Therefore, the people who gravitate to the profession are those aggressively seeking to make quick money, and when they see a foreigner like you or me, they’ll often double or even triple the price. Not only that, but many taxi drivers won’t take no as an answer and will drive recklessly fast in order to get more customers. When you hitchhike, you wont get such maniacs. Instead, regular calm and friendly people are much more likely to be your driver. And best of all, the ride will be entirely free.
Just make sure not to do this in Austria. I found out the hard way that hitchhiking (and even standing near main roads) is illegal. Five large police officers confronted me about it and I had to walk several miles to a bus station. It was not pleasant. Other than that, however, I definitely recommend hitchhiking. Just check the local laws first.
Never turn down something free
If you’re like me, you don’t have much money. Therefore, if you’re trying to extent your travels as long as possible, always accept something that’s offered for free. If a family invites you for dinner, take it. If someone offers to drive you to another city, accept it. If some old man gives you a bottle of homemade wine, drink it instead of buying drinks at the bar. It’s hard to predict when you’ll be offered something, but when that opportunity rises, take it and don’t hesitate. If you’re proactive enough, you can add days to your travel budget.
Learn basic phrases in the local language
I cannot emphasize this one enough. Even if you learn just a couple words or phrases in the local language of wherever you happen to be, it can be incredibly beneficial. All to often, people just bank on the fact that likely someone will speak English wherever they are and don’t bother to learn anything. And while finding someone who knows English is usually pretty easy, I still highly recommend learning how to at least say things like ‘hello’ ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ in the local language. If you do, you’ll see the results immediately in how people respond. Plus its just common courtesy, as you are a guest in the country. It requires little effort and will benefit your whole trip.
Poor countries are often friendlier
I know this is a generalization, but it has held through pretty much everywhere I go. It has been in the less developed and less affluent countries I’ve been that people been significantly more willing to interact with me, help me out, an off a ride or place to stay. Even, and especially, in places where people have had almost nothing, I have been given dinner, homemade alcohol, and a place to stay if I choose so. There were villages I never heard of that welcomed me as some type of honored guest and given me experiences that felt truly genuine.
Contrast that with wealthier Western nations (except Ireland which was incredibly friendly). It almost seemed as if the places that had more were much more distant as well. Rarely would any stranger go out of their way to meet and get to know me unless there was some tangible reason for it, and most of the interactions I had felt very business-like. Things were to be purchased, not gifted, and people in general took themselves seriously.
For me, I’ll take felling welcomed over all else.
Don’t be ‘that guy who compare’s everything to his home country
There’s always ‘that guy’ who does this. Usually, but not always, it’s an American or a Brit, but regardless, it’s obnoxious to both the locals as well as other travelers. It makes you seem as if you’re in constant judgement and are looking down upon everything. It adds this extra level of separation that diminishes the whole experience for everyone. Don’t do it. Appreciate the new experiences of you’re current location and ask people about their experiences instead. And sure, if someone asks you a question about how it compares to your home country, you can answer. Just don’t give constant unsolicited ear beatings about it.
Higher price does not equal better quality
Do not assume that the restaurant/hostel/hotel/attraction/shop that costs more is of better quality. What do higher prices usually mean? Tourist trap. High price often exists to cover the costs for rent in a tourists area or to pay for marketing on such sites as Trip Advisor. Here’s a little guide to see if you’re gonna be overcharged: If the front of the place is in English (and you’re not in an English speaking country) everything will be overpriced. Second, if a restaurant’s name is in Italian or French (and you are not in Italy or France), you will be tremendously overcharged. My advice, if you are looking for quality without any flashy gimmicks, ask local people and you’ll get a much better outcome.
Do not use tourist agencies
They will overcharge you for everything. That’s how they stay in business. For example, there is a city in Georgia called Mtskheta which is located about 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the capital Tbilisi. In Tbilisi’s rather touristic old town, there are tour agencies that advertise round-trip day excursions to Mtskheta for 50 lari ($20). This may not seem that expensive, but if you take the effort to go to Tbilisi’s bus station, you’ll find that public transportation to Mtskheta is just 1 lari each way (that’s 2 total for those of you who are mathematically challenged). It’s a 25x mark-up that sticks you in a group and restrains you from being able to wander about as you please.
And this is not just for trips and exclusions either. There are many tourist agencies that also offer to do things like exchange currency for you. Again, don’t do it. They charge absurdly high commissions. As long as you have euros or dollars on you (often pounds work as well), you’ll be able to fine a commission-free exchange office in nearly any decently sized city. Everything a tourist agency will do to ‘assist’ you will come with a substantial fee. I recommend just doing a little research online to figure out how to do whatever it is you want independently. Usually, it’s pretty easy and you’ll save considerably.
“Just one more,” is never ‘just one’
This can happen in any country and will likely happen to you several times if you take a prolonged trip. You’ll be eating/drinking with a group of people and eventually you’ll hit that point where you can’t eat or drink any more. Noticing you’ve slowed, the host will offer you more. At first, you politely decline, but the host will insist’ “Just one more.” (This can be applied to either food or drink.) Now, it is ultimately up to you to decide what to do, but just remember ‘just one more’ is never ‘just one.’ You either firmly hold your ground or open the flood gates and let the river run wild. There is no in between.
Don’t order sushi in a landlocked country
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Raw fish does not have a long shelf life and if it has to cross boarders and international customs just to get from the sea to your plate, it’s probably best to avoid.
Haggling can be very useful and effective
If you grew up in a country like the States, Britain, or Canada, this may be unfamiliar to you, but in many countries, haggling is not only common but expected. Most commonly, this happens in markets/bazaars and sometimes in taxis. Normally, items in such circumstances will not have a written price, meaning you’ll have to ask the salesperson. The first price they tell you is almost always higher than it should be. This is done because every once in a while, some tourist will just agree without realizing they’re being over charged. My advice here is to reply by lowballing your offer, say 60-70% of what was first asked for. Eventually, you’ll reach an agreement and end up with a little savings and a story to tell as well. Don’t worry about offending anyone by haggling. It is a game that is expected.
Sometimes flying is the cheapest way to Travel
Although this may sound surprising, since it is the fastest way to get from place to place, flying can often be the cheapest way to go from place to place. This is largely due to the rise in discount airlines and excessive increase in train ticket prices. Inter-railing has become a ‘thing’ so train companies (especially in Europe) decided to up the prices and cash in on it. But when it comes to flying, especially now with Ryanair, Wizz Air, Pegasus, Pobeda, and Spirit Airlines, you can frequently find $20-30 flights even to other countries. Just make sure to look up additional fees when doing this. Often times check-in bags, meals, and other add-ons will cost you extra, and with some airlines, you’ll have to print out your boarding pass prior to getting to the airport. Make sure to get all the details beforehand. That said, if you’re traveling light, flying might very well be the best way to go.