My nephew, Riley, is getting ready to take his first international trip. He is part of a team going to Rwanda to study biodiversity. He’s a 20-year-old sophomore at Case Western University. Yeah, he’s pretty smart.
As Riley prepares for his trip, I began thinking about some of the experiences I have had traveling over the last few years. I wanted to tell him about some things I have learned on the road, but not in a way that seemed condescending because he can probably school me on most things. And, I don’t want to make my trip his trip. So, hey there Riley, this one is for you. Have your own trip, but maybe read this first.
Top 5 Travel Tips from a Wayfaring Aficionado
1. You never have to give your passport to anyone. Hoteliers will often tell you that they must hold your passport during your stay. Um, no, they do not, and I strongly advise you not to give it to them. They may give it to their uncle, who will take it to his house which is “many kilometers away”,to put in his “safe”, and then not be able to return it to you when you must leave because your train out of town departs in 30 minutes. Obviously, I speak from experience (Goa, India).
The hotelier wants your passport in case you do not pay for your stay. Offer your hotelier cash accompanied by a photocopy of your passport. This course of action has worked for me every time. It has not worked on the first offer, but in the end, I have a 100% success rate with this method.
Car and scooter rental shops also expect your passport as a rental deposit. In Thailand, I watched a couple get charged three times the amount of their one-day scooter rental for “damages” to their vehicle that they adamantly claimed they did not create. The next day, I watched a family of four go through the same scam. Unfortunately, everyone gave the company their passport, and everyone had to pay to get them back.
Vehicle rental shops can be tough. A photocopy of your passport accompanied by an expired credit card usually does the trick. Pay cash for the rental.
International Driving Permits are great documents to secure before you go abroad. If you do not feel comfortable using a photocopy of your passport, get this document. Leave it behind if there is a dispute. You can get one for $15 at AAA office nationwide. You need two passport photos for each license. You may want to get a few.
2. Scan important documents into Google Docs. Important documents include: a copy of your passport, immunization records and travel itinerary. You may also want to upload a copy of your bank statement and credit card statement (with account numbers blacked out). If there is any problem with your visa, you need to extend your visa, or you decide to visit another country that requires a visa, you may need to have financial statements that prove you have access to a set amount of money.
3. If you get sick, try to be your own doctor. The degree to which you must be your own doctor depends on where you are traveling. If you have access to a hygienic clinic with medical supplies, kudos. If not, you might find it easier to access Google. When my boyfriend and I got horrendously sick while visiting a remote village in India, it seemed like a good idea to get online and try to figure out what was wrong with us ourselves. In most countries, you can go to the pharmacy and get what you need without a prescription Seriously, know thyself. If you need medical attention, go for it. Just be aware of the type of service you might receive. Remember how you wanted to “have an adventure”? Well, this is part of it. Don’t lose your head. Even if you feel like you are going to die, you are going to be fine.
If you have health insurance in the States, you may want to fill all those scripts your doctor will write you before you go. If you do not, make a concise list of what you need, and purchase it at the pharmacy when you arrive.
4. Watch out for the creeps. I am woman. I carry a vagina. I might garner a little more attention than those who let it dangle. I’m not sure, but I can tell you that I have been followed in Italy, Greece, India, Croatia, Slovenia, Argentina and various places in the United States. I mostly suppose that people are just curious. However, I also do not want to find out.
If you are in a city, glance into storefront windows, and look at your reflection to monitor the people behind you. If you think you are being followed duck into a shop.
If everyone carries a machete where you are traveling, you may want one too. It will make you feel better.
5. If you get new gear for your trip, put all of it on and roll in the mud for a while. Do not put a Canadian flag on your backpack. Your fellow Americans do not need all of the cool American backpackers being taken for Canadians. We need you to be one of us.