Think about the following scenario: You arrive alone, or with a friend to an airport in a foreign land, in a country, possibly a continent, which you’ve never visited before. You know nothing about it, apart from what you’ve managed to pick from various guide books, and the internet before hand. And guess what? It’s completely and utterly different to how you expected. All the reports you’d had from friends had given you a different feeling to how it actually feels when you’re there. The first few times this happens you arrive to the airport and spend an hour, sometimes longer, wandering around getting a feel for the place, before you go on to your hotel. This is fine. Totally expected. However after doing this a number of times you will pick up certain habits that will help you better make decisions. You will know whether you are getting ripped off or not, and how to keep yourself safe. Please find our 6 step guide below to fast track you to becoming a seasoned traveler.
1. Have $100 in local currency and $100 in cash ready, but not all in the same place.
Turning up to a foreign land when you’re clearly not a local, with a wedge of bills hanging out of your wallet, will increase the likelihood of you getting ripped off. Better to keep $20 in your wallet until you get a fairly good grasp of how much things cost so you don’t look too conspicuous when buying a drink in the airport shop, or getting your card out to pay for something. $200 dollars worth in value will be enough to cover any eventuality, with a little insurance cash to cover you for a few days in case something terrible happens such as a cash machine eating your debit card. Take $100 in each $ and local currency in case the economy has taken a downturn, or a mistake was made with the currency you got. Sometimes it will turn out that things are far cheaper in dollars, as this is the most widely accepted currency in the world, and a lot of nations value it highly.
2. Write down where are you staying, which neighbourhood it is in, the address and the contact details. Print off a map to have with you.
It will be beneficial to you to have directions to where you’re staying, a map, and an address on both a tablet / phone (saved offline), and in printed paper version. This will account for all eventualities such as: not being able to access WiFi or mobile data on your phone or tablet in your destination, give you the freedom to be able to find your way by public transport if possible if the taxi is too expensive. Have it on hand, so you can give a taxi driver further detail if he does not recognise the address, or know exactly how to get there. As a last resort you can phone the place to ask them what the best way is to get there if you are stuck, or nobody at the airport knows!
3. Find out is there is any risks involved with getting local transport or taxis, the expected cost and the exchange rate to your own currency.
Having an idea of expected costs for transport will enable you to find your way ensuring you are aware of the relative costs, and enable you to weigh up the most cost effective way of getting there, whether it be taxi or public transport. If you do this, you will know what a reasonable price is which will prevent you from letting yourself get ripped off. Knowing the exchange rate is key for weighing up costs. Researching the risks will teach you whether to be cautious or not for fake taxis, and if there is a likelihood, when travelling with large luggage on public transport, of something getting stolen.
A good example of the usefulness of knowing expected costs can be taken from when I first arrived in Santiago, Chile. I was quoted a price by a taxi driver of 60,000 pesos. I thought this was unreasonable and I was going to get charged this price because I am a tourist, so was quite dismissive of the taxi driver, who was just trying to be helpful. I then arrived at my hostel to be told this was the normal price, and felt awful because I was rude for no good reason. You can find this sort of stuff out most easily, by contacting your hotel or hostel staff, or by posting on a travel forum.
4. Be aware of the value of the luggage you are carrying, and if there is any risk of somebody trying to steal it.
For example, if you are carrying a huge backpack or suitcase you are less likely to want to walk from a bus station for 30 minutes to your hotel if you are in a country where petty theft is common. Carrying a money belt or bum bag concealed and close to your person can be useful if you want to keep personal items such as your passport and bank cards in a concealed place.
5. Learn a number of useful phrases in the local language and the expected responses.
Knowing a number of phrases in the local language, and being able to understand their responses is essential, unless, of course, you’re visiting an English speaking country. Strangely, a lot of people from English speaking countries, assume they can get by with English any where in the world, however this is not the case! In hotels you are quite often O.K., however in the cases of other service staff, such as waiting staff, bus drivers and taxi drivers, you need to know some of the local language, unless you are visiting a very touristy place, and even then it is not guaranteed.
When arriving in Quebec city in Canada, I thought I would be O.K., as Canada is a predominantly English speaking country, although for most people in Quebec, French is their first language. I arrived at the airport surprised to find that few people spoke English, and even some of those that did were reluctant to do so, unless you tried to speak a little French with them first. In this case, having a phrasebook was useful, so I could show the printed phrase to somebody when they had trouble understanding my accent! For common phrases we recommend the Google translate app (be sure to download the specific language package for use offline) and Lonely Planet phrasebooks.
6. Know what to expect from the local people and culture.
It is useful to know if the people are generally assertive or reserved, and some of the local etiquette. Is it more common for people to be polite or direct? Knowing such things will enable you to communicate more effectively with locals and better judge somebody’s character.
7. Improvise, go with the flow, and above all have fun
All the above is not essential, the most important thing is that you have fun and stay safe. A little planning does take the stress off future situations, however, half the fun can be had by improvising and finding your way. Often people’s most interesting stories, and most powerful learning experiences are from when something has gone wrong and they have lost their way and had to find it again! Whatever you do try to stay calm and have fun, and approach situations with a humble and open mind.
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