As I’ve stated many times, traveling is a growing and learning experience. It is inevitable to make mistakes along the way and to learn from them. For me, this Round the World has been a great learning tool in a personal level and for those travel logistics too. So, here are 10 useful tips I learned during these past 7 months of RTW travel.
1. The US dollar is still king, even in this lousy economy
When crossing borders, make sure you have the full amount for visas and any other payments in US dollars. There are a few borders (especially in Africa) that don’t accept their own currency as payment – only US$. And, it doesn’t matter if you’re Australian traveling to Zambia… you might need US$. Unfair, but true.
Otherwise, you’ll end up converting whatever currency you have at the border’s black market for outrageously ridiculous rates. That one hurt me a lot! Sigh…
2. Always carry two credit/debit cards
This one I’ve also done for a while, but now I reinforce it. Always carry two credit/debit cards. Many banks, ATMs, or businesses don’t accept certain cards. Or, maybe one of your cards magnetic strip isn’t readable on that specific ATM/machine.
You don’t want to be left out on the streets without any money, right?
3. Read the small prints of your Travel Insurance… it’s more important than you think
You might have read about my iPod situation at the Pyramids of Giza. Well, after going through all the trouble of getting a police report with the shadiest police officers you’ll ever see, and trying to find an official translator to translate the police report from Arabic to English; my insurance company told me, “nope, you’re screwed… we don’t cover that”. I failed to miss that electronics are not covered.
So, find a good travel insurance policy and make sure you read every single small print and everything that’s covered and not.
4. … and so is having a good first aid kit
This one I didn’t exactly learn on my RTW, but it is always useful. Last year, when I fell from the Mayan pyramids of Copan Ruinas and cut open my knee, I had a cross-country emergency (crossing from Honduras to Guatemala… bleeding the whole 7 hours bus ride). All, mainly because I didn’t have one common, yet important item in my first aid kit – butterfly Band-Aids.
So, make sure you have a well-prepared travel first aid kit.
5. Always have a light jacket easily accessible
There are places where the day and night temperature can vary decently, with the day being pretty hot and the night quite chilly. When taking a long bus/train ride, your jacket can be used as a nice pillow.
Also, why is it that overnight buses and trains are always freezing cold?!
6. Always pack your rain jacket in an easily accessible pocket of your backpack
Can I tell you how many times it’s been sunny, and suddenly it starts pouring and my rain jacket is at the bottom of my backpack? -_-
7. When transiting long distances (train, bus, ferry) always have enough snacks and water for the duration of the ride.
I once took a 12 hours bus, from Kampala to Nairobi, that didn’t do a single snacks/toilets stop. Enough said…
8. Avoid getting scammed by comparing prices with one or a few locals around you
When riding public transportation that doesn’t have a clearly marked fare (like chicken buses, matatus, dalla dallas, and others), ask the locals on board how much they paid to have an idea of the fare.
Big mistake… asking the “fare collector” for the fare before you board (especially in Zanzibar!). He will overcharge you three times the real fare… just because you’re a foreigner, or a mzungu (white folk).
9. Use your smart phone as an interactive map and GPS
If you have an iPod/iPhone or other smart phone, before leaving your hotel/hostel to explore the city, load a map on the Maps app of your current location and the city. Zoom it also while loading it so you can have the best resolution too.
Not only is it a pocket and “zoomable” map, but also, when walking in the city (even if you don’t have a wi-fi signal) in many occasions your smart phone can serve as a GPS to guide you through the city.
10. Take a business card (with the address) of your hotel/hostel once you check in
Following along the previous point, but in a less technological way. Always take your hotel/hostel business card with you to help you find the way back by asking locals where it is, with the card as a written backup (especially if it is not in your language).
When in Jordan, I stayed at this hostel located on one of the main streets of downtown Amman. I got lost and found out that many people didn’t know where this hostels was (even when I asked two blocks away from it). And of course, there was the language barrier.
If no business card is available, find out which is the closest landmark and use it as reference.
So here you have it… learn from my mistakes!