November 18, 2018

12 Cardinal Rules of Travel

Road Less Traveled

Flickr Photo Credit: Noah Bulgaria

Over the years, we have gleaned some wisdom (sometimes the hard way), of what it takes to make a successful trek and sometimes avert disaster.  

Here are twelve simple rules to live by:

#1- Always bring half as much stuff. Never forget that while backpacking, you’ll have to lug everything you bring, like a turtle carrying its home on its back. One thing that made the Mongols such a success is that they traveled lightly.

#2- Always bring twice as much money as you think you’ll need. Sure, you want to trek on a budget, but you also want to have fun.  Plus, there is huge difference in the feeling you get went you WANT to save money with a $2 dorm bed and you NEED to stay there.  Money is pretty much the fuel that makes the trip go. In this enlightened age, “bringing” money means having it readily available.  We found carrying a mix of  ready cash, travellers checks, and credit cards worked rather well, with the bulk of of cash in our bank account readily accessible via ATM.  The ready cash we carry in a mix of large note USD tucked safely in a hidden money belt, and a few days worth of local currency, always hanging on to those oh-so valuable small notes.  T-checks have become more annoying to use over the years, as fewer places are willing to handle them and charge outrageous commission rates (I’ve heard of as high as %20!), but still have the one redeeming feature of replacement in the event of theft.  Credit cards should only be used for large purchases, such as airline tickets and car rentals, and emergencies (a case of Corona or a blinking-Jesus picture is not an emergency). Also, we found it handy to have two credit cards, for those crucial moments when you’ve been using it in Gaza and your company decides to put a hold on it.  I’ve had good luck with ATMs world wide, but some places, like Ayampe, Ecuador, or Wadi Rum, Jordan, they’re non-existent.

#3- Never run out of Alcohol. Travel is stressful.  A good bottle or three of wine between friends can turn “they used my comb again…” into a more joyous “pass the corkscrew.”  Plus it can bring interest and vitality to places that perhaps don’t have any, like Poipet, Cambodia.  That having been said, perhaps being continuously drunk around the world shouldn’t be the sole purpose of your trip, and can seriously cut into a budget in some countries, like Israel.

#4-Test all gear before needed. On every trip we’ve taken, about a week or so in, a strange phenomena occurs. We start giving a hard look at the items our sore backs have been carrying and promptly mail back, give away, or throw out things we were certain would be absolutely vital.  Test things under harsh conditions. Strap on that pack and walk the neighborhood.  When NASA spends millions to send a probe to the outer solar system, they go with radiation hardened, proven technology, not the experimental stuff.

#5- Have a plan A through Z. Is that bus REALLY leaving tomorrow?  What if it isn’t?  What if that Hostel the guide book recommended burned down last year? What if that restaurant is closed for Passover?  Having a mental back up plan can be traced back to the beat up Boy Scouts’ motto of “Always be Prepared”.

#6- The Best intel is Human intel. Some governments have a real problem with this one.  We all use guide books and the internet, but usually, once you can read about something as “a hidden gem”, they’ve built a Starbucks there. Stay at hostels. Listen to other travellers who just came from were you are going. Talk to locals who might know a spot that’s off the map.  Guide books are invaluable but are just that: guides only.

#7- Don’t panic until someone says “no problem”. Chances are, independent traveling will give you enough worries without your mind inventing more.  Thankfully, most cultures around the world will agree with virtually anything you say, whether it actually comes to pass or not.  Current thinking on this is that it may be to avoid embarrassment, a sort of face saving measure.

#8- Never bring anything you couldn’t afford to lose. With every item you pack, ask yourself; “would it be a real show stopper if this was lost/destroyed?”  when in doubt, leave it home and bring more money (see rule #2).

#9- Your Passport is your single most important item. And now to contradict rule #8; you CANNOT afford to lose your passport.  It is your identity; without it, you are no one.  Every trip, we hear of the poor unfortunates who have lost their passports; the beach or their unlocked rooms seem to be the favored theft points.  This means that at best, a long trip to the nearest embassy is in order. And don’t think they’ll save the day, like in the movies.  Embassies have their own interests; they only grudgingly help vagabonds in distress. And it costs MONEY to get a new passport. Keep it on you in a hidden spot and a copy separate.

#10- Eat were the locals eat. Hungry? Don’t want to get sick while in Bangladesh?  Head to were the locals are;  places that routinely get folks sick aren’t really popular with them.  Plus they might not know how to prepare a cheeseburger in Dakar. Street food can also be a good bet; if you can watch them fry something at high temperature right before your eyes, chances are the bacteria it was swarming with were killed be for they could find a new home breeding in your intestinal tract.

#11- Always carry toilet paper. A simple, but crucial rule.  A luxury for most of the world, toilet paper is an absolute necessity for travellers in distress.  The locally provided variety, when available, may be the consistency of wax paper.

#12- Always travel with someone you love. The final and most important rule.  Solo travel might be necessary, but its not as much fun as having someone to share it with.  And a good travel partner means you can split up the load and problem solving.  Thinking of marrying that special someone?  Travel with them first, and you’ll get to see the full gamut of their (and your) persona.