Even if English is the international language, and chances are that someone speaks a few words of English where you’re going, learning a little of the local lingo is not just a question of practicality, it’s also a question of respect, cultural sensitivity and self-improvement.
When you’re travelling, you always need to factor in some uncertainty and mishaps along the way. The route you were planning on trekking is shut, or there’s a local bank holiday today, so you can’t visit the museum you had planned. Keep something up your sleeve for when things don’t quite work out as they were supposed to.
There’s just no excuse these days. Not being at least minimally aware of the most important cultural norms and rules in the country you’re visiting is not just ignorant, it’s also dangerous, as breaking these rules could potentially land you in trouble with the authorities or locals.
Unless you’re visiting somewhere notoriously dangerous for foreigners, you’ll want to ditch the guidebook and get out there to explore on your own at some point. Of course, this can mean running the risk of the odd bad meal, or a bit of a boring detour, but it can also mean discovering somewhere amazing that you would never have set eyes on otherwise.
If flying is the fastest way to get around, it also means you miss out on a lot of scenery along the way. Consider flying the longest distances, but then opting for trains or buses to make shorter trips. You may not cover as much distance, but you’ll get a much more in-depth appreciation of the area you’re exploring.
Dare to be a little adventurous when trying local food: if you only order what you know, you’re never going to experience anything new. The worst-case scenario is that you don’t like it and have to order something else. The best-case scenario is that you eat something delicious that you never knew existed.
Remember when travelling: cash is king in any culture. Always ensure that you leave your accommodation with at least a small amount of cash and don’t rely on your bankcard. This means that you will always have a backup should your bankcard be rejected or if it gets lost or stolen. Have plenty cash stashed where pickpockets and thieves cannot find it, such as a hidden money belt or in your sock.
No matter how much fun you’re having, how wild the party has got or how far away from home you are, always keep track of how you can get yourself back to your own safe place if you need to.
How much is that extra packet of cheap cigarettes really worth? And that shell you think will look nice on your shelf? Worth spending hours in an uncomfortable interrogation room and landing a hefty fine? No, we didn’t think so.
Whether it’s deciding which elephant sanctuary to visit in Thailand, or where you want to buy your souvenirs from in South Africa, invest your money wisely in businesses and projects that operate as sustainably and ethically as possible.
Statistically, you’ll probably be fine. But if something does go wrong – and it can easily happen when you’re travelling – if you don’t have insurance, you could rapidly rack up huge amounts of debt, or even find yourself without assistance or medical aid. You really don’t want to know how much a couple of days in hospital in the USA will cost you.
You might not think twice about snapping a picture, but not everyone shares your view. If you’re taking pictures of people in other countries, always ask for permission first, even if you’re in a public place. It will avoid any hassle and is a great way to strike up a conversation (or a hand-gestured interaction) with local people, too.
When you’re discovering new places and new experiences, you’ll undoubtedly need to make some choices at times: where to go, what to see, where to spend your money and who to trust. When you’ve done your research and weighed up the pros and cons, ultimately the best thing you can do is listen to your intuition.
Ask yourself what matters to you more: managing to get that perfect picture for your Instagram account, or really appreciating what was taking place around you. Sometimes, by putting down the phone and turning off the camera, you’ll be able to make a much more lasting memory.
Trying to tick absolutely everything off your list of things to do and see is likely to put you under a lot of pressure, and can even detract from your ability to enjoy and appreciate what you do see. Accept that you can’t do it all, and focus instead on really being in the moment and embracing what you do experience. Sometimes, less is more.