10 Useful Tips I Learned On My RTW… The Hard Way!

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?

Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt

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.

Copan Ruins, Honduras

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?  -_-

Lesson learned…

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…

Dalla dalla in Zanzibar, Tanzania

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!

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15 thoughts on “10 Useful Tips I Learned On My RTW… The Hard Way!”

  1. In Mexico, I once grabbed a business card at the place I dropped off my laundry thinking if I had trouble finding it again I could just hand the business card over to a taxi driver. That didn’t work. He had absolutely no idea where the place was and neither did several other people I asked. I just assumed my cloths were gone, but after walking around for a few hours I finally stumbled across the place again. Now I pick up a business card and also try to find the nearest cross streets/landmarks. Still great advice.

  2. Good tips 🙂

    I agree about the dollars: they can be used anywhere! Also, if you are European it’s worth doing some dollar research before you go as everyone will quote you prices in dollars – especially in central and south America.

    When you take your 2 debit/credit cards with you make sure you have at least one visa as MasterCard isnt widely used in some countries.

    If you’re travelling for long, take a travel kettle. You can boil water, make decent sized hot drinks, make pot noodles when you arrive somewhere late and hard boil eggs for brekkie or long bus trips.

    Enjoy!

    1. That’s a really good advice, Karen… doing some research on the dollar if you’re not American. ANd yes, Visa is most widely accepted, so it’s always good to at least have one visa card and any other of preference.

      The travel kettle is a good idea too, and I will have to consider adding it to my packing list. Thanks!

  3. These are all great tips! And the little things you don’t even think about until they are driven into your brain by several previous errors =)

    1. Thanks Andrea! Oh yes… so many small details you learn on the way through error… but those are the things that help us be “Better travelers” in the future. 🙂

  4. Great ideas. I actually never carry a first aid kit and now realizing what a horrible idea that is!

  5. Ian [EagerExistence]

    Yes, definitely read the fine-print on the insurance before you leave. I made sure my one had the best coverage possible for all the activities I was doing, and it saved my bacon in the end.

    1. Oh yes, activities are an important factor to make sure that are covered by your insurance. It would suck if something happened and that specific activity wasn’t covered.

  6. Great ideas! I was surprised about the US dollar. The first aid kit and two credit/debit cards, each of a different company, are great survival tips. I think MasterCard and Visa are the most commonly used, yet I would do a little research on this regard before going to a new destination, to verify that I wouldn’t get stuck.

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