Travel Tips from a Frequent Traveler

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” This year alone I have been in 12 countries and accumulated over 500k miles of travel and want to share my tips and tricks to make us better citizens of the globe. I want to provide some tips from my many days on the road. It is my hope this transforms you from clueless tourist to world citizen.

  • Learn the basic language – The quickest and easiest way to make connections with people is to approach them with their native tongue. You will be surprised after being a few places how easy it is to pickup “Hello and Goodbye” and “Please and Thank You”

  • Read about the local culture, history, and events important in the place you are visiting – This is partly security related and somewhat perspective. When you know about the locals’ current events you can get a first hand perspective. Our news coverage of the world is somewhat lacking. Additionally if there are demonstrations near a place you want to visit, you should probably shift the schedule.

  • Learn and program into your phone taxi, emergency, hotel, and embassy numbers and address – Heaven forbid you need them, but you will be glad you have them when you are in a sticky situation. Please have a POC in the states you check with every day or so and register for the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program with the US State Department. In your wallet or purse you should put some of these on written paper. You’d be surprised how fast your battery goes on the phone.

  • Never use the words odd, weird, silly, or anything else comparative – Their culture isn’t odd or weird. You are the oddball out here. I was at a very nice social gathering where the cook came out to the floor to see the tourists. His food was delicious, but I could see the dismay when the others started calling it the weirdest thing they have seen on a plate. His goodwill was shattered by their words.

  • Do not turn down gifts or meals from locals – Those who know me can tell you I struggle with gifts as I hate them. In other places though you accept that it’s a sign of peace and friendship and you accept. I have eaten many of places and drank many of mixes I hate, but it is worth it for the personal connections you make.

  • Do not go to chain restaurants in the new place. Find a local or taxi driver and ask for their favourite local place – It kills me when I see a group of Americans walk into TGIF or McDonalds in a foreign land. Why travel around the globe to eat the same thing you get at home? The best way for recommendations (Yelp and Qype aren’t always prevalent in other places) is to ask taxi drivers or the hotel staff. Ignore the concierge as they usually get kicks for sending you to places. If you do go to the place they recommend make sure you let them know your thoughts on return.

  • Do not ask for an English menu. Unless you have an allergy issue simply ask them to bring you their best – English menu’s are usually a few revisions behind the usual and full of meals designed for you, the boring person. Find the person who speaks a common language with you and ask them to bring you their best dish. The cook will be happy for the challenge and you are going to get a great local taste.

  • Try the local beer and wine. Do not have an American beer – There I was sitting in Southern Germany in a Biergarten watching an American group order a mixture of Coronas, Bud Light, and a Natty. I did my best not to yell at them. Try the local brews! Sometimes the local beer is crap. But if you don’t try them you will never know.

  • Patience and a smile will get you a long way – Things aren’t going to go as smoothly as you hoped. There are going to be issues. Getting angry or upset is not going to help your situation, but a smile and a dose of patience will help you chill out, keep your head clear, and make good decisions.

  • When speaking with someone remove your sun glasses and make eye contact. Your words are not understood, but eyes are universal – The eyes are a funny window into someone. I have plenty of examples of being stuck somewhere and between my Dutch, German, English, and eye contact getting to something I needed. This is especially true in hostile situations. Take your glasses off.

  • Be flexible and have backup plans. Don’t get stuck – This is more of a security tip than anything. You should always have two paths in and out of the place you are at. Be aware of your surroundings and have your head on a swivel. Also the travel guides are usually pretty bad and you may make plans to visit somewhere to find it closed. Have a Plan B ready.

  • Have an unlocked mobile and local phone SIM card – SIM cards are cheap in foreign countries usually and it lets you have access to the internet at reasonable prices. You never realize how much you miss Google Maps till you are wandering looking for something. Americans rarely have unlocked phones (it’s finally changing!) and are perplexed when their CDMA phones do not work in other places. Keep in mind that GSM (Tmobile and AT&T) will have a better chance on working around the world than your CDMA (Sprint and Verizon) phones.

  • Pack lightly and leave space for things – I can’t tell you the amount of times I have bought a small suitcase to ferry a cool souvenir back. Now I pack with that in mind.

  • Do not compare. This country exists separate your own. Yes it’s different. That’s the point – I don’t like to hear people compare this place to their place. When not in earshot of others feel free to compare your world to theirs, but in public places it is rude.

  • Meet people. Meet them everywhere you can – Tourists many times visit the sights, but not the people. My memories of places many times are solidified by the relationships I made vs. the things I saw. Bar tenders and taxi drivers are great first contacts.

  • Encrypt your phone and laptop. Shut them down when not in use. Lock your things up in the hotel room, but know it doesn’t mean security – Don’t be a security risk. The safe in your hotel room is very inadequate, but its better than nothing. Plan on your stuff being stolen and treat as such. Encryption, passcodes, and storage are all good ways to protect against.

  • Don’t yell or talk loud. It makes you look like an idiot – Oh you don’t speak French? I can assure you that saying in English the same thing only louder and slower is not going to help. Hand signals, translation books/apps, and looking for a young person (more likely to speak English) are better ideas.

  • The public transportation can be super convenient, but take a car and drive off the path. Most countries hide their gems away from those unwilling to find them – My favourite times have been road trips across a country. When I talk to my foreign friends and they tell me their view of America is based on New York and L.A. I cringe. Rent a car for a day or two and drive to the countryside. Most of the time its a great road trip and you see things not many others have. Also listen to the local radio stations when traveling. It helps you “hear” the local tongue and culture.

  • Please do not wear a fanny pack

  • Have fun and don’t be an asshole