Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Just Another 33 Travel Tips

Ada in Montenegro. 

There are some things you should never forget when travelling. I have discovered most of these the hard way. By screwing up myself. Through travels to 198 countries.

1. Download maps in advance
Before you travel, download the maps to your smartphone. This will usually save you a lot of money in roaming charges, especially if you travel to a new continent. The GPS in your phone doesn't cost anything to use, but to download maps will if you have to pay for data traffic. You can alternatively find a Wi-Fi spot after arriving, but don't count on them being available for free in or near the airport, the train station or at the bus stop. Even if you find a spot, it will delay you when you should rather spend time exploring a new gem of a place. 

2. Scout out your transport options
Find out your options on how to get from your point of arrival. You may want to just take a taxi, but you should then know what it should set you back. There are unfortunately a lot of price elastic friendly taxi drivers in many countries, and their prices never flex the right way. There are 11 reasons why I usually travel by public transport when I can. Still insisting on going by taxi? Don't forget this.

3. Make a note of the exchange rate
Find out what the exchange rate is before you go. How else are you supposed to haggle?

4. Bring cash
You know the phrase. Cash is still king, never forget. Norway may be the odd exception, Zambia, Panama and Tuvalu certainly are not. The latter out of those do not even except any credit or debit cards. US dollars will still create the biggest smiles in most countries, although Euros are not too bad in countries with a European colonial past.

5. Split your cash
You will sometimes become involved in nasty situations. A policeman, someone who poses like one or other scam artists may for instance demand money. Have most of your money in one safe pocket or purse, but always keep small notes in another pocket for use in such situations. You can then empty that pocket and lose only the small notes that are there.

6. Never show off stacks of cash or valuables
Common sense, ain't it?

7. Print out tickets, schedule and contact details
Some countries will not even let you into their country without a printed return ticket, while certain airports won't let you enter without your itinerary on paper. And you will always need the address of your hotel or final destination. You do of course have it all on your tablet, smartphone or laptop, but flashing any of the above gadgets attract unwanted interest like your sweat attract flies when hiking a mountain. And don't expect to pay less than normal to the taxi driver after having shown him a tablet that costs more than he makes in a year. Not to mention limited charging options in many countries around the world. Paper is king, especially in countries less travelled. 

8. Remember the right adapter
Not much is as annoying as not being able to recharge your favourite gadget. Often the only thing between you and a refreshingly green battery indicator and a new bragging photo on Instagram is that tiny adapter. And do not assume that the country you are going to has the same sockets or plugs as you do. Britain, the US, Switzerland, Israel, China, South Africa and most of Oceania have screwed up systems. To name a few places. The power plug is actually probably one of the few things the French got right. Said the Norwegian. 

9. Backup everything
Do not under any circumstances bring the draft of your groundbreaking genre changing novel, major thesis, proof of a mathematical problem or the newly developed cancer cure without a backup at home. Or better still, in the internet cloud. By using Dropbox, Google Drive or similar, you will always have all documents where you need them. Sort of. Given that there is an internet connection where you end up. And that you have power on your device. If you do not have a backup, your computer is likely to be stolen. Murphy said. 

10. Use guidebooks to find out where not to go
I hate guidebooks because they tend to influence people into seeing exactly the same things, often even in the same order. That means that service will get worse, prices will go up and you will be surrounded by other tourists. If that is what you are looking for, use guidebooks the way they are intended. If not, use guidebooks to find out where not to go. And discover why guidebooks are bad for you. Still not convinced? Read about Lonely Planet's big travel hoax.

11. Dare be impulsive, plan as little as possible
The more plans you make, the fewer of them you get to complete. Dare to accept possibilities for trying something new, getting to know someone new, tasting something new or to take part in activities you had not planned or didn't even know existed. Having to follow a schedule even when I am on holiday is so not my idea of relaxing. It is also the reason why I shy tour guides like the plague. Even in North Korea, where you are required to have two guides by your side at all times I managed to find a loophole to legally get to explore on my own. Planning ruins the best thing about travelling; the surprises and the unknown you could never plan for anyway.

12. Eat local food
Seriously! You didn't go all the way to Asia to eat western junk? And worms are tasty too! At least they give you a slightly more special story to tell at home than one that involves the words big and mac.

13. Decide on who's boss
If you travel with someone you can never agree on stuff with, let each of you be boss one day at a time. For fun, give the boss a hat, a scarf, a ring or a horrible pink shirt. The boss will have limited powers, but should be able to pick restaurants, activities, which droute to take and other major minor details. The other(s) should still be able to veto in extreme situations if they really are not comfortable with the boss' decision.

14. Be humble
Yeah, I know you are a rich kid from New York, Paris or Seoul. Does that make you cooler than me? Think about it, would you act nicely against a stuck up prick? Toning down any arrogance will always be wise. There is a possible exception if you find yourself being conned.

15. Travel with hand luggage only
It is more flexible and relaxed and you will never have to take a specific big taxi or be banned from a metro or a bus because of too bulky luggage. To travel light gives you more control over the travel experience. And 8 other reasons.

16. Go to unusual spots
I find it intriguing that you enjoy standing in queues on your holiday. Or why else do you always travel to places where everyone else goes at just that time of year? Inspiration here.

17. Trawl the web for cheap tickets
There are many ways to help you find cheaper tickets. Some tips here.

18. Dress smart
That will get you better service. And suit jackets usually come with inner pockets which are great for keeping your passport, tickets and other valuables safe.

19. Always carry a pen
A pen can be a great friend when travelling as you will far too often have to fill out some sort of a form when for example crossing a border. Not having a pen can see you fall way behind in the passport control or custom line, as you will have to wait to boorow one. And do not expect to be allowed to do so from one from the passport officers. They will not happily wait for you or accept that you hold up the queue.

20. And a note pad too
You never know when you will end up in a place where no one speaks your language. Then a pen and a piece of paper may be your best friend. In a restaurant in Iran, this ended up being the way I would have to order food. Despite of my horrendous drawing skills, I managed to outline something slightly resembling a chicken and a cow. And what do you know, I got a chicken, my brother got a steak. Drawing beers don't work in Iran, though. Unless you find the right people in the market.

21. Show no fear
You may be nervous or even outright afraid sometimes if you are lost or find yourself in a dodgy neighbourhood. Do in that case try to not show that you are scared, but put on a determined face and walk straight to a point you can see, such as the next street corner, a shop or a taxi. People who are clearly lost or afraid make easy and attractive targets for criminals. Unfortunately.

22. Stay for free
Stay for free on someone’s sofa using sites such as CouchSurfing or Hospitality Club. You will not only get a free bed, but a free guide and maybe even a great friend too.

23. Use local people for the best tips
The best guides are usually the people who actually live in a place, and they certainly beat guidebooks. And who wants to plagerise the guidebook writer's holiday anyway? Take part in your own trips, instead. Use people you meet at the sites mentioned above, or the person you rent an Airbnb flat from. Just be clear and let them know what you are after, and be clear to specify if you want gourmet, non-toruisty or cheap and cheerful. And do keep in mind that local people rarely know much about where to stay. I mean, how often have you stayed in a hotel in your home town (except for when you ended up in bed with that certain someone after a liquid night on time)?

24. Smile a lot
Yes, totally free and very simple. Then again, it may not be to the shy among us. But try it, and you will suddenly find yourself invited to a party, a dinner, a mountain hike or even a wedding. I smile a lot more now than what I used to. And I guess it works. I was recently told that I am a postcard for happiness!

25. Decline overtime pay
Have I gone mad? Not really, I just prefer to rather get time off work. After working too many hours, I can then take a Thursday and a Friday off work, and suddenly I have a super long weekend. I will then head for the airport after work on Wednesday, get to where I want the same evening (for short trips) or sleep on the plane (for longer trips). Several days of quality exploration then awaits before heading home Sunday evening or dead early Monday morning. I have often landed at the airport in Oslo early Monday, dropped my hand luggage at home, had a shower and gone straight to work. It's all about creating more time.

26. Seek inspiration
Click on the photo above to buy "198", by book on
visiting random people on my travels
to in every country in the world 
Talk to other people who travels a lot or read one of the many great books out there that will inspire you. There will be books almost regardless of what kind of travels you are into or where you think you want to go. I am of course happy to recommend my own book: "198: How I Ran Out of Countries*" with a chapter for every country.

Or what it says on the back cover:
"Gunnar Garfors has visited all 198 countries in the world - as the youngest hobby traveler - and has encountered people, places and situations most can only dream of. The globetrotter has deftly woven his experiences together into a story that takes the reader on an emotive ride and establishes a connection with him and his quest. Expect outrageous tales grouped in original themes, complete with own chapters for every country."
27. Expand your horizon
There are 198 countries out there. And you can fit many of them in faster by utilizing some travel hacks.

28. Notify people at home
You will of course update all sort of status on social media, share photos and maybe even write your own blog. But why not even let people know exactly where you are too? It isn't only NSA that tracks people, you know.

29. Prioritize your money and spend sensibly
Almost everyone (in the Western world, at least) have the money to travel, it will however take some planning and require some prioritization. I work full-time at Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – NRK, and I spend everything on travelling. And it is so worth it! I would never want to live without all the stories, the sight, the smells, the tastes and just soaking up thousands of different atmospheres. Who needs or wants a fancy red car, a posh penthouse flat, a CD collection or designer clothes when the option is memories like these? Not to travel would be an insult to my intellect.

With the growth of low-cost airlines, virtually anyone can visit another country by booking tickets way ahead. And there are of course also trains, ferries and buses, not to forget hitchhiking and car sharing. For food and drinks, buy it in shops or markets, it is usually much cheaper than in restaurants. Except if you decide to come to Norway – then carry tinned food from home, it is expensive here.  You can also stay in a tent in many countries.

30. Practice
Travelling is like any other activity. You need to practice to be great at it. You never travelled outside your country except that sunny resort down south somewhere? Do not start travelling to Somalia, Yemen or Afghanistan. Start slow, even inside your own country. Then expand and try to travel both alone and with others. You will gain experiences and learn which travel style you prefer. You will gradualy become better, possibly even reaching a level where you might decide to go pro and travel full-time.

31. Avoid jetlag
I don't do jetlag anymore. And you can avoid jetlag totally too, or at least reduce its effect by following two easy rules. Do not drink on the long flight that takes you eastwards or westwards, and most importantly, stay awake until at least midnight, local time, after you have landed. Do not, under any circumstances give in to the temptation of lying down on the comfy hotel bed before midnight - you will then fall asleep in an instant and suffer jetlag for days or even a full week.

32. Challenge yourself or your friend
Nothing motivates me better than a challenge. How about motivating someone, and have them motibate you back? Not interested? Well, let me know and I will be happy to dare you. Check out my #CountryChallenge# and #Visit3 #Visit10 #Visit50 #Visit100 #Visit150 #Visit198

33. Excercise
Hell yeah, don't forget your body! It is allegedly your temple. You can of course excercice in fun ways by swimming in the sea, running on beaches with local spectators, kayaking or climbing coconut trees. And as a bare minimum, walk a lot. Why? Because you are on a big trip, having a lot of fun. Which means eating more than normal, probably downing a few extra drinks too. And you are likely to move less than back home. Just imagine the gruelling hours in cramped plane seats overcrowded buses or shared taxis, the short walk between planes in the airport and those long stretches on that particularly tempting sun bed. Travelling is less exhausting and much more fun when you are in shape! Potential dates are highly likely to agree. As a tiny bonus, should you be on the pull.