Real World Travel Tips

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Real World Travel Tips from my RTW Trip

It’s very hard for me to believe, but I’ve been traveling for almost a year now. Here are a few travel tips that I’ve learned along the way that will help you get the most from your trip.

The cheapest option may not be best — When I first started traveling, I was a stickler for buying my bus or train tickets at the station to save money. Sometimes this is a good choice but often it isn’t, once you factor in the cost of getting transport to the station and back to your hotel, and the time you’ll lose in transit. That said, with a little research, you can find cheap flights — I’ve found situations where it was cheaper and oh-so faster to fly between major cities.

If you’re only saving fifty cents or a dollar, is it worth the couple of hours you’ll spend in a taxi and waiting in line?

Your hotel or nearby travel agent will charge you a service fee to book your ticket but it’s often only 10% or so — it’s worth your time to add the costs before you lug yourself out to the station (usually on the edge of town). If you’re only saving fifty cents or a dollar, is it worth the couple of hours you’ll spend in a taxi and waiting in line?

There’s no free ride — No matter how friendly that taxi driver seems or how many times he promises to give you an hour-long tour of all the local sights for only fifty cents, don’t get in the cab. What you’ll get is a wonderful tour of his buddies’ clothing, rug and knick-knack shops where you’ll be pressured into buying over-priced goods.

If you need to catch a cab or tuk tuk, avoid the guys who are sitting outside the hotel — they’re just waiting for a over-priced tourist fare. Walk to the nearest busy road and wave down a driver who’s actually working for a living. You’ll have fewer hassles and pay a fair price.

Dealing with touts — Everywhere I’ve been, there’s always someone trying to sell me something I don’t want. In many places, they’ll merely ask if you need a taxi or whatever snack they’re peddling, then will leave you alone when you say no. There’s no harm in that — they’re just trying to make a living. But in some places they can be very insistent, following you for a block or more and asking you the same thing over and over.

The best way I’ve found to deal with persistent touts is avoid eye contact, give them a brisk, bored shake of your head and make a short cutting motion with your hand while you continue walking. If you engage them with a loud “No!” or a ‘talk to the hand’ gesture, they’ll often continue to pester you just for sport. Act as if you’ve heard their pitch a thousand times and move on. They’ll look for an easier target.

Often, the first questions a tout will ask are “Where are you from?” and “Is this your first time here?”

Often, the first questions a tout will ask are “Where are you from?” and “Is this your first time here?” They’re trying to get an idea of how “rich” you are and whether or not you’ve figured out the local pricing yet. Always answer “this is my second visit” — this ends the conversation at least half the time for me.

Never force a fart — This is the cardinal rule of travel. I would have put it at the top of the list but I didn’t want to scare you off — believe me when I say you never ever want to try to sneak one out. No matter how careful you are with your diet, things down south can and will get a little unpredictable on the road, often with no warning. Unless you want to relive my embarrassing experience in Bangkok, save it for the bathroom.

Sit and watch — Find yourself a cafe table at a busy intersection, sit down for an hour or two and watch people going about their daily routine. You’ll learn more about a culture in an hour than you would have on a full-day tour of the local sights.

Smile and make eye contact — I often surprised by the number of tourists I see stomping about with a huge frown on their face and making no attempt to engage or interact with the people they’ve traveled so far to meet. Some people only travel to see “the sights” and are content to visit a few temples or castles, take their photos and go back to the hotel — more power to them, I suppose, but they’re missing over half of the experience.

Meeting the local inhabitants and getting a feel for their culture and what their lives are like is one of the prime motivations for my travels.

Meeting the local inhabitants and getting a feel for their culture and what their lives are like is one of the prime motivations for my travels. I try to smile and make eye contact with everyone who looks my way. A brief nod of the head will almost always garner you a smile back and that smile can lead to a conversation, which can lead to… who knows?

I’ve been invited to tea by strangers I’ve met this way, had people bring their children out to show off their English skills, been invited to dinner, force-fed the local booze and have made dozens of friends in the process. When you’re in a foreign land, there’s a good chance that the people there are just as interested in you as you are in them. Make yourself approachable and see where it leads. You’ll be surprised.

Don’t be afraid to look stupid — I’m going to let you in on a secret here: if you’re traveling in a land far from home, the locals already think you’re funny-looking. You’re probably the weirdest thing they’ve ever crossed paths with, so don’t worry about looking foolish — that train has already left the station. Joke around, play the clown and try to get a laugh out of someone. You’ll be amazed at how well you can communicate without a shared language — use gestures and body language to get your idea across. Draw a picture if you have to. Lighten up and have fun.

Get lost — Leave that damned guidebook in the room or bury it in your pack, grab one of the hotel’s business cards, pick a direction and start walking. Get away from the tourist-oriented shops and restaurants and wander into the neighborhoods where people actually live their lives. Don’t be surprised when you pick up a small following of giggling kids or when people bug their eyes out as you pass — foreigners don’t usually wander through these parts. That’s a good thing.

You’ll find families sitting on doorsteps gossiping, kids playing the national sport in the street, and people doing laundry or chopping vegetables. You’ll also find a lot of smiles and people who are happy to show you around their neighborhood, show you how they’re preparing their dinner meal or –and I’ve had this happen– try to convince you to marry their daughter.

If you get really lost, so what? Catch a taxi back to your hotel.

Those are my tips for having a fuller and more in-depth experience while traveling. Let’s hear yours.

{ 104 comments… read them below or add one }

JC May 1, 2011 at 12:03 am

This is probably my #1 advice to help make for an enjoyable trip: give yourself a larger budget then you expect to need. Nothing is as much a downer when on the road then money-worries, and its always good knowing you have that little bit of extra to fall back on in times of need; and on a long trip those times are part of the adventure and just waiting to happen.

And in case you don’t need the extra cents then you can use them to make your trip a bit longer. :)

My #2 advice would be to be thoroughly anal about keeping track of your daily expenses.

In fact, I have three budgets for a trip: #1 for initial costs [long distance travel, gear, vaccins, vacinations, insurance], #2 for basic daily costs [accomodations, short distance transportation, food], #3 for FUN&LAUGHS.

Like I said, anal. :)

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DAN GOODALL June 1, 2011 at 4:14 am

its like you have read my mind love the site

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Jeannie July 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

You seem to have a great spirit! Thanks for sharing and all your good advices, for the time you dedicate to others making their lives easier ;-)

I’ll anal. !

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Ellen October 6, 2011 at 3:55 am

Great tips, all. Mine would be to learn as much of the local language as you can. Not only does it make everything easier, it also makes a ver strong impression on people you meet. You set yourself apart from all those obnoxious tourists you wrote about in another post. It’s also the fastest way to get rid of the touts.

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Ryan Clark November 16, 2011 at 10:38 am

You hit on the nose so hard you probably broke it! That is the best advice and you laid it out very clearly. Bet you know this, but I usually think what a normal tourist would do and then NOT do that, it makes for the best experiences. Happy Traveling!

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PJ January 11, 2012 at 6:15 am

I always carry a basic First Aid kit, but use local “medicine” where possible. But I’ve never had a real emergency, just an excited tummy or two. Blisters and small cuts respond well to 4711 perfume. 30 Plus Sunscreen from morning to night and a hat? What more would I need? Oh, sorry, I can’t relax without a book or two as well. Fortunately, readers are always happy to swap.

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wes January 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I do the same. I use it so rarely that half of the bandaids don’t work anymore :/

A good pair of tweezers (like you find at REI) are handy for splinters, etc.I also pick up some antibiotics in different flavors as soon as I can.

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valerie smith July 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Hi, i went to pattaya 8 years ago,very lovely,but a poor place,i now want to go back to thailand in nov,but not sure where to go,want the cultcher,shopping,sights ,but not to go to the exspensive part,anybody can you advice me,ive just turned 60,got a lot of go in me i need an adventure.

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