As a young female who has now spent a chunk of time traveling solo, I feel obliged to give my fellow and future travelers advice for their current and upcoming adventures. You can also find some great travel advice here, written by AC360 Contributor Chris Guillebeau. Happy reading, and travel safe!
1. Only carry your passport with you when you need it. At all other times, carry a copy of your passport. It’s easy to lose belongings while traveling, and trust me, you don’t want to lose your passport while in a foreign country. If you do lose it, you’ll need to go to your country’s embassy to get a new one.
2. Keep track of your laundry. Whether you make a mental note or a written list, make sure you get back all the clothes that you gave to the laundry mat. I learned this the hard way. On a few different occasions, I paid for my laundry, took it back to my hostel and then realized that I not only had missing clothes, but also someone else’s shirts mixed in with my underwear and pants. So, check your clean clothes bag before you leave the laundry mat.
3. Only carry as much money as you need. Keep the rest in a safe place. Along the same lines, if you’re going to carry a credit card, only carry one at a time.
4. Bring more than one card if you have more than one. I lost my debit card twice, and I sure am glad that I had back-up cards with me.
5. Try new food, but be careful! I once thought I had an iron stomach. This is most certainly not true, as I have gotten sick a number of times. A food daredevil and enthusiast, I am still not sure I have learned my lesson.
6. If you go to a questionable restaurant and ask whether food is washed in purified water, the answer you will receive is yes. Eateries want your money, so even if the lettuce is washed in tap water, they will probably still tell you that it’s safe to eat. There isn’t a sanitation standard in third-world countries, so even if the food is washed in purified water, they still might have sub-standard conditions in the kitchen. It’s not uncommon to find hairs in your food, dirty utensils and fingerprints on the rims of your glasses.
7. Book a trustworthy hostel. I recommend hostelworld.com. Anything 87% or higher is usually pretty decent.
8. Walk! Walking is one of the best ways to see and learn about a city. For bigger cities, definitely take advantage of the public transportation system too. It’s fun, and you’ll feel more like a local once you get the hang of it.
9. Use maps, but don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions (If they can understand you). You might be surprised by how many people speak English, or at least how many people can understand English and point you in the right direction.
10. When you’re not using a map, look confident in where you are going. Pickpockets are good at reading signs of uncertainty, hesitation, fear and ignorance.
11. Follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel “right,” then leave the situation as soon as possible. I cannot stress this enough. On some occasions, I have even decided to jog. When you walk fast or jog, people will think you know where you are going and are less likely to approach you.
12. Don’t help strangers. This can be tough. And in some situations, it’s okay to help them. But, if it feels like a shady situation, don’t do it. I remember walking down my street at night in Cusco, Peru. Suddenly, a man about thirty feet in front me fell over and started moaning. My first instinct was to help him. Then, I saw some other men crowd around him to help him. I proceeded to power walk past them as they stared at me and I stared at them. I don’t know to this day if the moaning man was faking or if there was actually something wrong with him.
13. Try to avoid scams. Check out Virtual Tourist for scamming advice. I also highly recommend watching this video, where Kevin Rose (founder of Digg), Glenn McElhose (blogger and video producer) and Tim Ferriss (entrepreneur and author of Four Hour Work-Week) recount a storybook scam in China where Kevin and Glenn fell right into the trap. It’s highly entertaining and helpful at the same time.
14. Don’t make eye contact with people selling something unless you want to buy it. In regard to this travel tip, I fail. I’m constantly observing and staring. And then, my curiosity gets the best of me, and I take a look at what the poor person on the street is selling. Just like that, BAM! I am the next target, and I must decline six times before I can be left alone again.
15. Go out to the clubs with people. Going by yourself is a bad idea. If you lose them, make sure you have enough information and money to get you back to your hostel/hotel. Write the address on your hand and/or keep a piece of paper with the address on it somewhere safe.
16. Be prepared to answer strange questions, to be stared at and to be scrutinized. In some parts of South America, it’s common for people to ask your age and if you are single right away. Someone even asked me my weight!
17. Make friends with new people. Having global connections is wonderful.
18. Step out of your comfort zone and look silly. It’s okay to laugh at yourself. I wish I could dance salsa the way the Peruvians do; I wish I could dance to reggaeton the way the pros do; I wish I could shake my butt the way Shakira does. The truth of the matter is that I don’t, and I have been known to look foolish on the dance floor. But hey, I had fun.
19. Pack light, but don’t pack light on medicine. You can always buy more clothes and toiletries in the country or countries where you go. However, it’s harder to find the same medicine as your own country. The last thing you want to be doing when you’re sick is trekking around trying to find some medicine for that inevitable traveler’s diarrhea or the nasty cold you picked up.
20. Keep your change. Then use it wisely. Many places (at least in South America) don’t like breaking big bills. The ATMs dispense big bills. When you can, step inside a bank to exchange them for smaller ones.
21. Take a taxi that’s not right in front of the terminal. It’s way less expensive.
22. If you plan to take a tour, research different tour companies. The prices vary significantly, and oftentimes there are little differences between the tours. Sometimes you don’t even need to take a tour. Personally, I’m an anti-tour person unless it’s with a one-on-one guide, which can be pricey. If you’re trying to save money, you can make your own tour by reading the itineraries of the tour companies and copying what you like yourself.
23. Don’t believe everything the guidebook says. A lot can change since its publication, and it’s not always the best source of information. Guidebooks can be great for getting yourself acquainted, but the best way to see a country is to explore and try what looks good. Many of the restaurants and destinations mentioned in guidebooks have become less authentic and more “touristy.” Asking locals, your hostel/hotel staff or other travelers for recommendations is really the best way to go.
24. Be flexible. Your country if different than their country. Things work differently. Get used to it, or go home. I’ve noticed that some people don’t like it when you make comparisons between your country and their country. So it might be best to refrain from making comparisons unless you are asked.
25. Ask questions. The more you ask, the more you’ll learn. Language barriers are hard. The more you try and the friendlier you are, the more approachable they will be.
Tomorrow night, I will start my 19-hour journey home to the states. I have had a priceless several months traveling, and I can’t wait to see, feel and share more. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to revamp my blog and website, so look out for a change!