1. Toilet paper
In many countries around the world toilet paper isn’t available, or can’t be flushed. You might have to buy it before entering the toilets, or it may not actually be available at all. So I always have a handy pack of travel tissues in my day pack to try and avoid that awkward moment of reaching over only to find you are grabbing air.
2. Taxi advice
This is a rookie mistake yet it’s super-common: always negotiate upfront exactly how much a taxi ride will cost (or the use of the meter), never just get into a taxi and expect to be driven somewhere without finding out the price first. It’s the best way to get ripped off.
3. Money changers
Stay clear of money changers in the very touristy areas of a city; they’ll charge extortionate fees, even when there’s a huge sign saying ‘no commission’. The best places to change money are always local banks – they’re easy to find and generally have the best rates. A rule of thumb to see how much a money converter is charging you is to compare the buy and sell prices. The bigger the difference, the bigger the commission.
Yes it CAN happen to you and NO you won’t feel or notice a thing. So make sure to keep a firm grasp on your valuables while in any busy area like markets or crowds. Same goes when sitting at restaurant tables, while taking pictures, chilling in parks or drinking at bars, as your possessions are fair game for thieves. Keep your items in FRONT of you, keep your hands on valuables in pockets and remember that a front pocket is better than a back pocket but still isn’t 100 per cent secure. Most importantly, just be aware of your surroundings and you’ll generally come home with your wallet.
5. Drinking water
When you plan on heading to a new area, find out if the tap water is OK to drink there. There are many areas around the world where tap water is totally safe to drink yet visitors spend a whole bunch of money each day on bottled water. One of the easiest ways to save a few dollars a day (believe me, $5 a day on water adds up!) is to bring a water bottle with you in a daypack and fill it up from bathroom taps as you go.
6. Never take anything from people on the street
If anyone tries to give you a rose/bracelet/coin/ring etc. AVOID THEM LIKE THE PLAGUE. It’s a great way to end up buying a $20 rose or a crappy wool bracelet. Once it’s on you they’ll demand money and most won’t leave you alone until you pay up. Shaking hands will generally end with you having to pay the person to let you go. Yes it’s weird, awkward and can end up being a big scene, so it’s best to keep your hands to yourself and ignore those ‘super-friendly’ locals who keep trying to give you their jewellery.
7. Language basics
Every country you visit will be an experience that can be far enhanced for both you and the local people if you make the small effort to learn a few pleasantries in the local dialect. Basic things like: yes, no, thank you, sorry, hello and please are in my opinion essential. You’ll have an infinitely better experience interacting with people in the service, retail and food industries if you use a bit of local lingo. As a guest in their country, be polite enough to learn a few local words.
8. Tourist prices vs. local prices
Rates and prices change based on where you are in a city and many restaurants will actually have tourist menus which are usually about double (yes double) the prices locals pay for the exact same food. Wherever possible order off the ‘local menu’ and to get the best prices avoid obvious tourist traps (such as the restaurants where someone is standing out the front hustling people into the place). My favourite spots to eat are usually off a street cart somewhere less crowded and commercial than the major tourist centres.
9. Brutal packing
Before you leave look hard at all the things you’re bringing then leave half of them behind. Going forward, a good guide is a bag about the size of airline hand luggage. This will not only be far easier to carry around, but you’ll save money on all those dodgy budget airline baggage charges they love to sneak over passengers for checked bags. Prioritise and be brutal, you won’t regret it.
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