Lessons learned on the road

Before we started our journey, I considered myself a seasoned traveller. Little did I know how much I would learn. Here are a few examples:

1) There’s a hole in the ozone layer over Australia. Yes, that’s right! Just over Australia. Now, some people say it’s moving, while others say there’s a hole over Thailand, but since Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer, I’m applying sunscreen multiple times a day, and I see everyone else doing the same.

2) Always carry toilet paper. Whether you’re in Africa, Indonesia or anywhere in between. You’ll never know when you might need it. Don’t think that just because you’re in an international airport, they would have TP, because that’s just not the case.

3) There’s no such thing as calling collect to your credit card company in third world countries. That 800 number that’s listed on the back of your credit card does not work outside the United States. It’s almost impossible to find a landline, let alone an operator. I’ve tried googling how to make a collect call and there is information on how to do it, but it never worked. I bought Skype credit very cheaply and it works well (even if I have to call on my dime).

4) Your international debit or credits cards don’t work in all locations. In developing countries, the cost of using cards is too high for vendors, so there’s a service charge added to your bill if you pay by credit. Cash rules. You’ll just need to find an ATM that accepts your card — and hope it has enough cash!

5) Always carry a flashlight when walking at night. I’ve seen sidewalks that have two foot gaps in them leading to the sewer 8 feet below.

6) It’s hard for a woman to get a good haircut. Now Bill wouldn’t say the same for men since he has had a few inexpensive haircuts that he’s happy with. But that hasn’t been my experience. I ask for a trim and end up getting it chopped off. I had a rather difficult time explaining that I only wanted my hair to be thinned out. I had to look for the right scissors and show them to her.

7) When checking out hotels on islands in the developing world, it’s a good idea to ask if they have freshwater showers (hot water helps as well). You really can’t get you or your clothes clean using salt water. White shirts don’t stay white for long with salt or fresh water. For long-term travel, pack dark colors only.

8) You don’t always need to make advance room or tour reservations. Booking in advance costs more. Most of the time, you get a better rate if you walk in off the street. If you have to make an advance reservation, make it for only one night. The hotel could be quite different from what they advertise online. You can always add more nights once you’ve checked out the hotel. This doesn’t apply during high season.

9) There’s the locals’ price and then there’s the tourists’ price; and there’s a big difference between the two. You can be sure that the locals didn’t pay $65 for a “nurse’s” visit on tiny Gili Air. I’m guessing they would pay about $2.

10) Always shop around. Don’t buy something in the first place you look and never pay full price. Negotiate. If you think you’re offering a fair price, and the seller doesn’t budge, walk away. 99% of the time, they will call you back and accept your price.

11) In developing countries, cigarette smoking is very popular and people can and do smoke in restaurants and bars.

12) Massages are really cheap in the developing world where labor is inexpensive. ($10 for a 90 minute massage.)

13) English is spoken (or at least understood) in most countries. Be careful what you say — people might be listening.

14) Squattie potties are difficult to use if you have bad knees and offer little, if any, privacy.

15) It helps to know the metric system. It’s used almost everywhere outside the US.

16) Most people are friendly and helpful. They are more than happy to give you directions or offer advice.

I’m looking forward to new experiences and what else I might learn.

What about you? What have you learned in your travels that has surprised you?

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9 thoughts on “Lessons learned on the road

  1. Great list of tips! Speaking of tips, how about tips on tipping? We had awkward moments in Tanzania where the places we stayed would arrange rides for us into town and once there we found they also arranged guides to escort us around. While we didn’t expect or want this, we found they were quite helpful in getting us into places we’d never have found on our own, explaining things about places we’d never have known otherwise, and keeping touts off our back. But in the end, a tip was expected and certainly deserved but the amount was a mystery. In one case, I offered an amount I thought was generous and made the mistake of asking if it was enough, to which he replied, “if you feel it is fair”. Even though I thought it was, I wound up feeling guilty and doubling the tip. What a sap. Tipping is different than negotiating because it happens at the end of the interaction, but they can employ some of the same tricks to maximize the money in their pocket, like looking sad with sorrowful puppy dog eyes. It would be great to have a good idea ahead of time of the right amount to tip.

    • Tipping is a worthy topic generally best handled by the Oracle, or in common parlance, Google. But for serendipitous situations like the one you encountered, your gut –and the depth of your pockets– should dictate what is appropriate. I first encountered this in Greece when I asked a waiter what was the common amount or percentage of a tip. He said something like ‘what you felt was right’. Americans are targets in this regard because, aside from the belief we are all rich, it’s known that a minimum tip is automatically expected and given at home. We all feel like saps on occasion. A Vietnamese guide from the south told me how he got nailed for the outsider’s (tourist) price on two separate occasions in the north because of two different ‘tells’. Try not to second guessing your tip, and of course, never ask if it’s enough because you already know what he/she will say. Maybe you over-tipped, and yeah, guilt is not a good reason to do so, but if that was in a developing country the person probably needed the bit extra much more than you.

  2. Dear Bill and Cindy,

    Happy New Year!

    It has been fun sitting here catching up on your blogs that I so enjoy reading! It is good to learn both of you have mended from medical complications! Travel tips…pack lightly, learn currency, learn some of the language, be assertive, have your eyes in the back of your head, develop an iron stomach, keep it simple, keep your expectations low, have fun, be safe, ask many questions, and trust your gut!

    I look forward to reading your blogs in 2014!

    Jodie XO

  3. Hi! I just found your blog searching tags. I love this post. You’re giving very helpful tips. I’ve never been to a third world country, but I have been to Australia, and you can get burnt so easily! And I agree, booking trips locally is often cheaper and just as easy. 🙂

  4. Love those traveling tips Cindy! My tip is a thought that just keeps repeating in my head, “There’s no place like home!” Wishing you a wonderful 2014!

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