Friday, February 24, 2012

Tips for the virgin traveller

Throughout my time as a roving gentleman of leisure I learnt a thing or two about how to best get around the fair continent of South America while narrowly avoiding shanking’s, parasites, extradition and other generally unpleasant situations. Rather than taking these learnings of mine to the cold cold grave, I feel it is my duty to share this hard earned wisdom with the masses. This is probably most useful to the virgin traveller. So pour yourself a hot beverage of your choosing and settle in for some sage advice from amateur travelling’s favourite son.

·         Just fuckin’ relax aye. This is a good one for life in general but goes double for travelling. Getting sand in your bits over a bus being late or not having booked a hostel a month in advance will wreck your experience and push you towards an early grave. Just chill. If you miss your bus, there will be a later one. Can’t understand what the official looking uniform guy is saying? Bust some charades or find a translator. If you float on, things will work out and as an added bonus, you (probably) won’t have a stroke.

·         Work out what it is you want to get out of your trip. Focus on this. Make sure you get these things out of your time away. Achieve what you want to achieve. Be the star.

·         At times travelling is going to be hard, or maybe even very hard. Accept it now. It’s good for you. Hard things are often rewarding and this is no different. So keep battling with the language, the indifferent cashier’s complete lack of help, the abundance of gear you’re guarding constantly and the sicko heat. It will be worth it.

·         Travel light. I cannot stress this enough. Travel light. The lighter the better. If you are up at your 23kg flight limit you are in for a bad time. You will have to carry that a couple of km’s in the heat to your hostel (bus stations are never placed conveniently). Trust me on this. I travelled with a bike. It was a burden. I had the world’s biggest backpack, from which I was constantly shedding items. It was a burden. Moving place was a personal hell each time. Learn from my foolishness.

·         Look after your gear. It will be hard to replace, and it’s a hassle you don’t need. Despite this, don’t get too attached to it. There is a good chance you will be robbed.

·         The best way to find out about what is good in an area of the world is to talk to people that have recently been there (or are going and have talked to others who have recently been). This information is up to date. It’s got a face to go with the name. You can ask these people questions based on what you like and loathe in your travel. And it’s a conversation starter. Oh look, you just made a friend for the night. Or maybe for life. Hooray!

·         Following up on this: You know that lonely planet you just dropped the best part of 70 hard earned NZ pesos on? Burn it. That boat anchor is possibly good for a general (read: sloppy) guide to what’s around, but to follow it as gospel is folly. Save yourself much time, money and effort and photocopy some of the relevant bits from a library copy before you go if you feel too vulnerable without it. But it won’t matter if you don’t bother. So save the weight. I gave mine away in the end, and was far better for it.

·         You will have some amazing experiences, no doubt, but part of those experiences will be the people you meet. Be nice to your fellow traveller. You’re all in the same boat here, don’t let it sink. Making good friends is one of the rewarding parts of travelling. If you’re shy, remember that they want to meet you just as much as you want to meet them. Besides, it’s all about getting out of the comfort zone a bit, so be forward. Introduce yourself. It’ll pay dividends.

·         Firm itineraries are for chumps (and the extremely time pressed). Go with the flow. Follow the breeze and go to where it smells best. Remember, you probably won’t even know what the best stuff to do in the area is before you get there. At the same time, it is worth picking a few must do things and making sure you get to them. It’s all the better if they’re spread out around the place as it will keep you moving.

·         Try and find that balance between being on the bus constantly and getting tied down to one spot. Sure, there is a lot to see. But make sure you really see it before moving on. In most cases, I would recommend a two night minimum stay. If it’s choice and there’s lots to do, stretch it out to a week max. But keep moving, there is more cool stuff around the corner. Ignore this if you are studying or volunteering or the such.

·         Travel with respect. Learn the basics of the language. Follow the local customs. Be nice to locals, treat them fairly and don’t be stingy. These countries are broke and your dollars make a big difference to the people over there.

·         Travelling by yourself is not as terrifying as it seems on paper. I should add a disclaimer here: you will probably have a bad time if you are some sort of socially inept creature from the depths. However, as long as you don’t tick that box, you are never going to be as alone as you think. Travellers generally love to meet new people and you soon learn how to hold a conversation with a stranger. This stranger may turn into a travelling buddy. Then the travelling buddy could become a life-long friend.
Apart from this, cruising around on your lonesome is likely to improve your ability to handle discomforting situations, subsequently increasing your self-esteem and turning you into a suave(r) and (more) competent human being.

·         On the flip-side, I imagine travelling with old friends is pretty choice too. You might sacrifice a bit of flexibility but you get to share some of the incredible experiences with some of the people that mean something to you. So don’t be adverse to the idea of some company from back home. A nice little bonus for being in a group is increased buying power.

·         Try and stay off the waste at least a couple of nights a week. Backpacking is one big party but if you take onboard the liquid courage for too many nights in a row you will start feeling fragile in body and psyche. Burnout’s a bitch. Pace yourself champ, there’s another party on tomorrow.

·         Carabineers. These little gems are brilliant for attaching excess shit to your bulging luggage, and for leaving the things you need in a hurry in an easily accessible locale. They don’t have to be fancy, but some sort of function that prevents opening is probably desirable. I wouldn’t carabineer anything you’re fond of to your baggage that goes under the bus either, unless you want to be parted swiftly.

·         The sleeping bag goes onto the bus with you. That way, when the condensation freezes on the inside of the window, you’re still thriving.

There we have it team, a relatively good starting point for those yet to be corrupted by the ways of the traveller. I really can’t stress enough how good travelling is so take these words to heart, scrape some cash together, get out there and get it down ya.

1 comment:

  1. Quality write up mate, some very good shit there.