Introduction: Handy Tricks: World Traveler Edition
First Prize in the
Lonely Planet Travel Tips Contest
These tips and tricks were collected through experience by Star, Tim, Orian, and Dustin, who've collectively traveled to Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Crete, Cuban waters, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Guatemala, the Occupied Kingdom of Hawaii, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Lichtenstein, Peru, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Palestine, Panama, Papua, Portugal, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, and Vietnam.
You can check out photos from Orian's bike trip from Alaska to Patagonia,
or read Tim's travelogues and various adventures.
Got more tips? Write them in the comments!
To see even more of them, check out
Handy Tricks 6
Handy Tricks: Bike mods and projects
Fifty Handy Tricks.
and 40 More Handy Tricks
and Australian Handy Tricks
and Guatemalan Handy Tricks
and Yet More Handy Tricks!
For a bunch of things that didn't work, check out How Not To
Here's some travel inspiration:
Step 1: Transportation: Get There & Get Around for Cheap
Scottish sailor Jamie Jordan (of Aberdeen) informs me that "if you know anything about sailing at all" you can join a sailing crew just about anywhere - hang around in bars in port cities, especially Gibraltar in Europe. Short of that, you can use the website Crew Finder (http://www.crew-finder.com) to join a sailing crew and go somewhere.
For information on hitchhiking, check out HitchWiki
Everyone wants to know how to get cheap flights.
A United Airlines employee told me the best time to buy is exactly 1 week before you plan to travel. He does booking and is familiar with the rhythms of ticket costs.
Victor Brar recommends the following for cheap/last minute flights:
"I usually use sidestep.com to find my tickets, but if you're buying last minute tickets you can go on priceline.com and name your own price. Most of the time you can just look at the list price and ask to pay half that much and they'll accept it.
It's sort of a pain though naming one price after another until they accept one, and also there isn't much leniency in term of times, but it usually ends up working."
Here's an explanation of how priceline works.
limited time cheap flying:
if you're between 18 and 22, and flying in the US, you can hop any AirTran leg for around $70. More information here. Be sure to check their blackout dates.
Once you're there:
If you're in central/south america, or anywhere that hasn't suffered too much development chances are there's a bus that goes where you're going. To avoid getting over-charged, ask the people waiting for the bus how much it costs, and then just hand the driver that amount. Usually, if you're local enough to know the local rate, you're too local to be fooled by an over-charging driver and they won't try to. Also, busses are a great way to sit and talk to someone to learn the language?
Step 2: Vaccinations: How to Save Money With the CDC
Lots of travel clinics require a huge (4-6 week) lead time, just to see you for an "evaluation meeting".
As far as I can tell, an evaluation is where you pay to meet a doctor, say what country you're going to, and the doctor checks the CDC's recommendations on what vaccinations you need.
Then, you make appointments to get those vaccines.
If you need a Yellow Fever vaccine, good luck - pharmaceutical company-instgated shortages mean that there are only ten YF vaccines doled out to each hospital, and many don't carry it at all.
I didn't have four weeks between booking my flight and flight-date, so I just skipped vaccines. They were all listed as optional by the CDC, and I'm fine.
Plus, most countries have medicine for dealing with whatever you might come across in their land.
This is especially true in Brazil, a country that, by government sanction, violates pharma-copyright, and makes their own generics if the real thing is too expensive. This makes a lot of sense. Public health is at stake!
If you do have four weeks to get vaccines, you can skip the evaluation meeting by going to the CDC's website yourself. Then, just make appointments for the specific vaccine you need.
Step 3: Learn the Language
So, you get off the plane, you're all full of enthusiasm and ready to meet new people, and.. the only phrase you know how to say is "please, I am naked and need a new grandmother"
What do you do? How do you pick up the functional bits of a language?
Pronunciation is key. If your accent is close enough, people will absent-mindedly repeat the word you're trying to say, pronounced correctly, and then answer you in their native language. If your pronunciation is too far off, no matter how good your understanding of grammatical structures, people will try to switch to whatever language it is that you're better at. So really try and form your lips around the sounds that people are making. It might feel weird. It might tickle. That's the best part!
If you want to trade language instruction, check out MyHappyPlanet, the social network for finding foreign language partners.
STREET PREACHERS. Pray that your city has street preachers. I listened to this guy for at least an hour. Why are street preachers awesome? Their *job* is to be effective communicators. So, all they DO is speak clearly. You can learn a ton about pronunciation by listening carefully to one of these guys. Secondly, they have a tendency to break into song. Yeah, that makes pretty much anything awesome. Finally, they tend to be telling stories you already know, so the words and ideas are extra-recognizeable!
Window-shopping. Not in windows, but shopping to interact with folks instead of buying things. Walk around, see if there are vendors in the streets, or go to stores and look at things. Form basic questions about what you can. People who sell things deal with a lot of people, and so are most likely to be able to switch gears, slow down, and communicate with you.
Go to grocery stores. They're perfect! Everything is labeled, and has pictures if it's packaged! It's like walking around in a fricking language picture-book!
Ask for directions. Ask directions of many people, even if you are pretty sure you know where you're going. It's the best way to strike up a conversation on the street! Just about everyone gets a kick out of being helpful. Also, every single person will describe the route from point A to point B in totally different terms, so you learn twice as much by asking two people!
MIT AI professor Patrick Winston says half daily language use is describing trajectories. So if you master the basic "this with respect to that" words for placement and "go from here to there", half of everything you need to know how to say is covered.
Fishermen on docks, and others doing interesting things in public will be okay with talking to you for a bit.
Phrasebooks. Carry one in your pocket and look at it when you're on your own, to bolster your ability to hold a conversation. Dictionaries are relatively useless. Think about it - nobody carries a dictionary while speaking their native language; if you can't think of exactly the right word, just use other words. On the other hand, phrasebooks are specifically designed to cover what you'll need to know on the streets, and do an unbelievable job of covering most of what you'll encounter.
Children's books are also incredibly good. I lived across from a public library in Amsterdam for a bit and taught myself a whole bunch of Dutch from their children's section.
Phil B wrote a great instructable on how to learn a language, by yourself, at home, without the benefit of native speakers.
Learning a language is easy. You just have to pay attention to how people say things and repeat their words verbatim.
Start with the phrase "thank you for your patience, i'm a stupid american learning your beautiful language"
This is funny and opens people up to you. They will likely attempt to show you their culture, that's a good thing even if it means drinking the blood of strange animals and getting fucked up parasites.
Also learn "what does x mean?"
Most people will happily give you a language lesson if you just say "hey can I have a language lesson?" because everyone loves explaining why people are not doing something right.
There is a simple phrase you can use to meet people
"Join me for lunch/dinner/a drink?" it's incredibly effective because it's friendly, open and makes it easy to say yes.
KEEP YOUR GODDAMN VOICE DOWN
When in foreign countries Americans feel the urge to scream everything they say. It is highly annoying to everyone, please stop. Traveling by yourself will highlight this and give you the acute urge to wear a canadian flag on your pack.
Traveling alone is great for language learning. Especially buses. A stranger sits down next to me, and before long we're talking about what's is like being a nurse, treated protesters with bullet wounds during the last police riot, and my brain is aching from trying conjugate right and not to say words in Arabic or Japanese, or whatever my 2nd best language is at the time.
In the Marshall Islands, a place where people aren't in a hurry, I'd just sit on my steps with a dictionary and a bilingual book, and my neighbors would come and help me find words and correct my pronunciation. Usually I'd get worn out before they did.
A taxi driver on the way to the airport out gave me some really good language help. To this day I regret not getting his contact info and asking to room with him next time.
Living in a house with kids is great there, because they speak the adult language not baby talk. Kids won't ever believe you can't speak it, so they'll keep talking to you 18 hours a day.
A girlfriend that doesn't speak your language is supposed to be good for language learning, but I've never done that on a trip. Travel makes me shy. In the States once I dated a woman who didn't speak English. It was fine, communicating with diagrams and dictionaries.
Until one day we had a fight. Suddenly she spoke tons of relationship jargon I barely knew and kicked my ass in highly technical relationship English. I was agog. I think she learned it from popular music.
Speaking of which, LEARN SONGS. I'll never ever forget how to say "pull the feathers from his head" in French, since it's in the song "Frere Jacques". Singing and especially moving along with it is supposed to activate the language learning parts of the brain in the most effective way.
To get pronunciation I talk along with the radio. Believe it or not, you can turn your brain off, connect your ear directly to your mouth, and speak unknown languages right behind the announcer.
Cars are usually bad. I drove across Europe with an American pal, and didn't feel like we'd gone anywhere. We saw the inside of the car, the road, talked to each other, and spent a million frankies on well-taxed gasoline. We traded the car for a motorcycle and met more people, since we had no parking problems, got onto smaller roads, and stopped a lot.
I've heard a car is good in Cuba, where hitchhiking is normal. Otherwise, it'll hurt your language learning.
Get a small notepad and carry it in you're pocket. If you're like me, and you forget new words about 30 seconds after you learn them, it'll help you a lot to have something you can write the word down on in that same time frame. Study these words so you don't have to ask 20 more times before you remember them.
Don't be intimidated to travel places where you don't know the language. It's amazing how much communication can be done with gestures or with drawings (remember your pocket notebook). Of course its nice to try to pick up a few words while you're there, but there are just too many languages to try to learn them all before traveling. In Guatemala, for example, there are 23 spoken languages so some charades are likely even if you're fluent in Spanish.
Step 4: Packing/Stuff
Make yourself a knife, first thing. I can't count the number of times a knife has come in handy on a trip. If you flew to the country you're in, make a knife using no tools with this instructable
While you're traveling, you won't be in the mood for reading fiction. But you will likely be hungry to learn everything about your fascinating new land. This is the best possible time to read history books on the country you're in, so if you're going to bring books, bring history and culture nonfiction related to your new surroundings. Reading about the history of a place and at the same time experiencing the sights and sounds that fill in the colors is a positive feedback experience that enhances both experiences.
Unpack your stuff every now and then and spread it out to see what you have and to let it dry out.
I bring some 20 foot chunks of 1/8" spectra cord to tie my windows and doors locked at night, or make falling-junk alarms. It helps me sleep. The windows and doors never lock properly and often don't even latch. Lots of people have keys.
You can secure a door by jamming a chair under the knob.
Friends were in nepal and a travel pal came to breakfast looking like hell saying "I saw a guy taking my stuff. We struggled in the window. He fell..."
one shoe was on a roof, the body in the street with police.
Another friend was raped her first night in london in a hostel, the guy came in the window.
Another friend was given a drugged drink and raped by a guy she was hanging out
with for a day. These are people I know well. Unfortunately women are targets for that sort of thing.
But families and older women will be very hospitable to a woman. You can ask them for anything. It will make them happy, so don't be shy about it. I met many more people when traveling as a couple.
Emily says appearing lesbian is great for travel, which is mostly about not paying attention to men or doing eye contact patterns.
The cord is also good for clotheslines to dry clothes in the room at night.
Bar soap leaves residue on clothes. Shampoo and dish soap are good, laundry soap best.
Blue shampoo is good for fungus but can kill your skin flora leading to b.o.
Bring two longsleeved quick-drying shirts, with dirt-hiding patterns, and two pairs boxer shorts with the fly sewed shut. If it's too much give one away. A pair of zip-leg convertible pants/shorts are good. A hat. That's all the clothes you'll need.
Bring a pair of swim goggles so you can look at fish when you swim.
A sarong makes a good sheet, sun scarf, foot strap for climbing coconut trees, furoshiki, sheet. Some places the hotels don't have sheets.
I carry my passport in a neck pouch with emergency money. Make photocopies of your passport front page, some places the hotels need that. Split up your money and cards, but don't be so careful you'll lose stuff.
Inside pockets are good, those zipleg pants usually have good pockets inside pockets.
Some like money belts. I have one but haven't used it. I leave passport with the hotel manager in the safe. Sometimes they'll tape it in a bag and mark it to show they aren't tampering.
Write down the numbers of your cards and traveler checks. Email them to your folks. An
atm card works almost everywhere now, and is less hassle than moneychangers. My atm card has been eaten by foreign atms, which really sucks. Bring two.
I've carried a water filter all over the place and never used it. The I used it without reading the directions and drank the silver poison crap it came packed with. Then I let it get moldy. Buy drinking water. It costs one dollar/shekel/money thing everywhere in the world.
Your bag should be as small as something you'd carry on campus.
You've got money, that and the guidebook means you don't have to carry stuff.
Every now and then it's good to dump your pack upside down and take stock of what's inside.
pack your bags before you go to bed
You're bleary eyed, hung over and it's surprisingly complicated just
to gather a few belongings into your travel bag. Granted you slept in
a bit, and granted you need to take a shower and then wait for your
mate to take a shower and then go out and grab a bite to eat. Before
you know it 1:30pm has rolled around and you haven't done a goddamn
It's just much much easier to pack your stuff before you go to bed.
You can wake up and bounce out the door in five minutes. it's great.
bringing along a sarong is my favorite tip. It's light and fast
drying. Can be used as a towel, sheet (for those nasty beds), skirt,
head covering (sunny days)... you can tie things with it -- or to it
Don't take clothes.
If you're going to a third world country, clothes are cheap. You're
going to want to buy souvenirs anyway. Buy some that will make you
fit in with the locals. I've had great experiences buying local
sports jerseys, great conversation starter.
make sure you have a copy of your passport
(preferably scanned and uploaded somewhere) and copies of other
important docs (credit card info, paper plane tickets)
Also I like to stash a few $20 bills somewhere -- if I'm using my
daypack, then i'll stash in my backpack.
For traveling on a budget I always carry a small pot and sometimes a pepsi can stove or other small camp stove. Cooking your own meals from market or dumpster food can significantly reduce what you spend for food.
I usually carry a small sleeping bag, too. Sleeping outside is an excellent way to save money and a bag greatly increases your ability to do so in chilly weather. Put it in a compression stuff sack to save space.
I usually carry a bivy too in case it rains, and to keep bugs away at night. Mine's olive green so it's easy to sleep lots of places without people finding me. It's less essential than the sleeping bag though, since its usually pretty easy to find something to sleep under if it's raining (bridges are great, especially when you're not in a city).
Step 5: People
Pick up on body language. You can figure out pretty quickly what the minimum comfortable distance is for passing people on the street - it's a cultural thing, and following it is a low-level signal that you're not quite as much an outsider as you really are, or at least that you're somewhat familiar with the place you're in.
In some (usually poor) countries, people you ask for directions will guide you there and then demand a fee. You can avoid this by asking shopkeepers for directions, instead.
In Jamaica, people will stop you and accost you for not making eye contact with them as you pass them on the street. It's not that you're being demure or unobtrusive - not making eye contact means you're not acknowledging their presence, and is regarded, within Jamaican culture, as rude.
On the other hand, in Brazil, not making eye contact with anyone is a perfect way to go completely un-bothered, by anyone.
It's also the perfect way to not make any new friends.
So, be culturally sensitive, and you get to decide who you meet.
A dithered focus can work well - nobody ever gets beat up for having a "Lost in thought" expression on their face, and letting your eyes wander the streetscape or landscape ensures that you see a whole lot of what's before you.
Sunglasses can be nice, because then the eye-problem disappears entirely.
Know what you look like, you know? Don't go counting your cash while walking down the street and then casually stuff it all into your left-front pocket. Be aware of where you are, and what you look like.
Cadence is important. Let your walking pace match that of the people around you.
If you want to know what the right distance to leave between you and others on the street is, walk directly at a few people. If you want to know how far away to stand, strike up a conversation.
Emily says appearing lesbian is great for travel, which is mostly about not paying attention to men or doing eye contact patterns.
Don't assume people will hate you for being from the U.S. They might not have as much information about why they should hate you as you do. Our agents did some really horrible things in Indonesia. Shortly after arriving there someone asked me where I was from.
Me: "Canada". He: "Is that in New York?".
Even if the streets are full of shell casings with "U.S." stamped on the bottom, the men are all missing limbs and the women are all in black, the people probably won't hold you personally responsible. They are in a situation where individuals can't do very much about what their government does. They will assume you're not as influential as you think you are.
Also, having you in their village might keep death squads away. Friends of mine had great experiences being human shields in Central America.
sunglasses. this tip is for the chicks traveling solo in
countries where the men stare. Wearing sunglasses is a GREAT way to
reduce the staring, they can't see what you're looking at.
Step 6: Money
dollars are universally accepted (or at least they used to be before
the dollar tanked) being too lazy to change currencies guarantees that
you'll get ripped off and garner enmity for being a rich american
flashing your money around. as with step 2, learn how to say "how much
does this cost?"
ask vendors to explain the qualities of their wares. ask what is the
nicest you have? ask why it is so expensive? They'll cut you a deal
later and they'll help you learn the language.
Buy gifts for people you don't even know (yet!).
it's easy to buy large amounts of small gifts for people. Small
things are cheap and show that you were thinking of someone. In asia
I buy scads of chopsticks, people love them. giving people stuff is
fun, especially weird stuff from foreign countries.
If you aren't sure what something costs, and you're buying from a small shop, or in bulk, you can just hand the vendor some money and you will get exactly whatever that amount of money is worth. This can prevent misunderstandings.
Some banks automatically assume overseas transactions are fraud. Call your bank and credit company before you go, and tell them you're going abroad.
If you want to be really prepared, you can open a savings account at some bank that you know also exists in the place you're going. and get an extra debit card you use only for travel money.
With a magnetic card reader-writer, it's really easy to make a duplicate of your atm card.
Look for the card with the most network logos on the back - Star, Plus, Cirrus.
I was surprised to find Citibank in Brazil. It appears that they have branches in many major countries. So when my ATM card got denied because my bank thought the international transaction was fraud, if I'd had a Citibank account, I could have withdrawn some emergency cash from it through them.
Truly, cash is king. The best stuff, if you're getting any, is hand-made, and that stuff shows up on the streets, where people aren't taking credit. So carry enough on you to do what you want. And carry local currency.
To stash emergency cash, I ripped a small section of seam on the hem of a pair of shorts, rolled up a few twenties, and inserted them into the hem. They're easy to get access to anytime you're really stuck for cash. If you need to extract them, find the nearest convenient bathroom!
I recommend not buying any souvenirs until the third day of your trip, at least - that way you'll get a sense of what a reasonable price is, for the thing you want.
If you need money in a pinch, tell good stories, and sell things to other tourists.
I like to bring back a TON of weird foreign teas, some bizarre toothpaste, and small local bills for presents.
Tea bags are so light weight! You can pack them anywhere! And, everyone has some use for tea.
The toothpaste is amazing - from within the US, you wouldn't expect to see anything but "Mint", but I've seen toothpaste flavored "Strawberry-Banana", "Acai", "Guarana", "Acerola" (Brazillian fruit) - all of this very exotic and wonderful to give to friends! Toothpaste also packs small and light.
Finally, I like to write notes on the bills - once I'm back in the US, I can't use them. The 2 shown below is worth roughly a dollar, and isn't worth changing, and I'm also not going to use it. So I draw a text bubble from the figurehead's mouth with a note for my friend, maybe encouraging them to travel and explore foreign lands. Verrry easy to pack and bring with you.
Carry a few copies of your atm and credit card. Have bank cards from more than one company.
Once in Mexico an ATM machine ate my bank card. It was a holiday so I couldn't get the card back.
Fortunately I had a backup card.
On another trip the creditcard company disabled my card. They decided it had been stolen because of foreign charges.
Now I'm in Belgrade and I see that Bank of America is charging me a $5 "foreign ATM" fee each time I draw money. Can anyone recommend banks that don't do this?
I did an online chat with BOA customer service. Partial Transcript of the Chat Session:
Jose: Hello. My name is Jose. Thank you for being a valued Bank of America customer and choosing our Text Chat service. How may I assist with your personal banking needs today?
You: I'm traveling in europe. It appears you are charging me $5 every time I use an ATM. Can you change my account so I don't get these charges?
Jose: I understand your concern regarding the ATM withdrawl fee.
Jose: Let me check that for you.
Jose: Thank you for your patience.
Jose: Timothy, the $5.00 fee which you are referring to is a foreign ATM fee for using the ATM at other country.
You: So how do you remove them?
Jose: For your reference, while traveling outside the United States, you can avoid the $5.00 access fee and the transaction fees by using an ATM at the following banks in these locations:
Jose: - Barclays - United Kingdom
Jose: - China Construction Bank - China
Jose: - Deutsche Bank - Germany
Jose: - Scotiabank - Canada
Jose: - BNP Paribas - France
Jose: - Westpac - Australia and New Zealand
Jose: - Santander Serfin Mexico.
Jose: Please note that International Transaction Fee of 1% and 3% Foreign Currency Conversion Adjustment will not be waived.
You: howabout serbia, bulgaria, turkey, syria, and jordan?
Jose: I apologize, other then the ATM's provided if you use the ATM in any other ATM you will be charged with
Jose: You can use the Barclays - United Kingdom to avoid the fee.
Last text message receivedJose: Is there anything else I may assist you with today?
Step 7: Working on the Road
Being able to generate money on the road will let you extend your trip, or even keep traveling forever!
In Tangier there were too many young men hassling us like swarms of flies, so my friend Renee and I finally broke down and chose the youngest most harmless looking one to be our guide.
He wanted to take us to various businesses in hopes he would get paid a commission by the proprietors. Instead we had him sell things we were carrying but didn't need. He was equally happy to do that. He took us around and facilitated the sale of a pair of binoculars, a walkman, etc. to various shopmen. That's the only money I've ever made on a trip. My method has always been to spend less money than I had. That meant stealth camping, gleaning fields after harvest, dumpster diving, etc.
Friends of mine have made road money in various ways.
One acquaintance is a street performer who went all over europe and Japan performing at festivals and street fairs. After a few years of this and talking to other buskers, he knew all the best times and places for that trade.
Other American friends have worked on U.S. military bases abroad, waiting tables, teaching part-time, etc. They're legally part of the U.S., so you don't need any special permit. If you get to shop at the PX or meet people who will do it for you, the prices can be much better than the local market. I was offered a substitute teaching job on a base in Germany, but didn't stick around long enough to take it. The U.S. has 700 non-secret overseas bases, so there's likely to be one near any place you find yourself. One friend worked at a restaurant at a ski area in Austria. The restaurant is U.S. territory, just like Guantanamo.
In Japan and some other places it's very easy to get work as a conversational English teacher. That means you get paid to talk to nice people.
Marty Demaine told me that travelers can sometimes make money as extras in movies.
With a whetstone you can sharpen knives, or find bits of scrap metal and wood and fashion them into pocketknives you can sell later.
A small weight or hammer and a nail, and you can turn scrap pieces of aluminum or tin from cans into ornamental hammered metal jewelry.
Other travelers I've met like to sell little found or carved trinkets. I met an Australian in Brazil who got by selling hand-drawn images of kangaroos. Another was really good at telling stories, and viewed his job as selling stories with little objects attached, so people could take home the objects and retell the stories themselves when they got home.
If you have a computer you can work online as a programmer or as a translator.
If you know a two languages and want to get started in translation, try the website ProZ.
Cleaning jobs are also popular. If you're truly strapped for cash and in a city, you can probably find work doing some cleaning in a hostel.
If you are interested in eating dumpster food, see the TrashWiki for local dumpster/skip information
Make cool things to sell. I've done well with these stoves traveling through Canada. Lots of people make jewelry or whatever else they're pretty good at putting together.
Advertise! People always have wood to cut, cars and bikes to fix, crops to harvest ... You'll already stand out traveling, so people are extra likely to see a sign on your bike or backpack. I put a "Will work for food" sign on my bike in Canada and had a job every other day. Some times people would give food, for which I was grateful, but often they would just pay in cash.
Step 8: Taking Pictures, Sightseeing
GO TO MUSEUMS! Someone put a lot of work and effort into collecting all the best stuff in the country and putting it in one building for you to look at. You can learn a lot, very quickly, and definitely do a lot of picking up on culture.
Also, museums are the opposite of every typical tourist trap, and can help you escape that "what do I do now?" feeling.
As for photos - some countries are pretty free about people taking photos on the street. Urban Brazil, for example, is not. I learned really quickly how to take photos on the stealth, and how to hide my camera.
Walking down the street, I kept the camera under my shirt, so that when I saw something I liked, I could whip it out, but it otherwise wasn't an easy target for theft or a giant tourist-marker.
Ask, before photographing faces. Every culture, and every person, has a different opinion on the subject.
Have humor. I took a photo of a McDonald's sign in Sao Paulo that read "McColosso!" I mean, it probably makes sense to Brazillians, but in that moment, it struck me as being fairly hilarious. Almost instantly, security descended. "Did you just take a picture of McDonald's??" he demanded, threateningly. I was still laughing about the McColosso, and pointed at the sign. "McColosso?!" I said. He said something else in Portuguese. I said I didn't speak that much Portuguese. Then he smiled, and told me not to take photos of McDonald's. Humor can help you out, especially when it comes to meeting people who think you should be in trouble.
Shoot from the hip. It can be lots of fun to get good enough at taking pictures that you don't have to look through the viewfinder, to get a good shot.
If you have to stash your camera (say, you're going swimming at the beach), take out your memory card, first. That way, if your camera gets taken, your photos don't.
Remembering your new friends: If you want to email the photos you took back to the people who are in them, get them to write down their contact info and then TAKE A PHOTO of it. Then, later, when you're looking at your photos, you have their face and their email address, automatically collected back-to-back!
Also, carry a small camera!
Billy's camera totally rocks, and takes high quality photos and video.
Tim's favorite is tiny, waterproof, and does time-lapses.
If you have a Canon Powershot, you can do CHDK on it, and get a whole lot of high-end features in a super-cheap camera.
Bring a couple of flash cards for your camera and a usb adapter or usb thumb drive. That way you can backup and share data.
If soldiers take your camera for taking pix in the wrong place, you won't lose all your photos.
Put a copy of your favorite software on the flash drive so you can edit and upload with ease at an internet cafe. I like Thumbsplus for editing/organizing and Picasa for image storage online. It's a lot easier to carry an extra flash card than a whole computer. I find that if I have the software I need on a flash disk, I don't need to carry a computer. That makes my pack a whole lot lighter and I don't have to worry about theft so much. Internet cafes tend to charge for connection. If you just want to use a computer that's not online, that's usually really cheap. Especially if you're somewhere with unreliable connections.
A little water/sand proof bag to carry your electronics in is a good thing, but put a hanky in there so condensation doesn't soak your stuff. Any plastic bag will do, and if you're going on water, more layers of bag. An empty peanut butter jar sealed with a bag gasket is extra secure. It's also good for keeping a passport dry. When sweat made my passport delaminate, the Chinese almost didn't let me in to their country.
Step 9: Water
I've carried a water filter all over the place and never used it. Then I used it without reading the directions and drank the silver poison crap it came packed with. Then I let it get moldy. Buy drinking water. It costs one dollar/shekel/money thing everywhere in the world.
My filter cost me $70. I wish I'd spent the money on 70 units of water instead.
Step 10: A Place to Stay
If you're traveling on the ultra-cheap, you can generally find a way to ninja/stealth camp anywhere, especially if it's a warm place. You may need only a bug net and a way to keep off rain.
Hostels are an old favorite with travelers. Lonely Planet guidebooks are good for finding cheap ones popular with earthwalkers.
ecohun recommends the following resources:
Try WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunties on Organic Farms, at wwoof.org) for a cheap way to see different places. Also some of the hostel sites such as hostel world and hostel bookers can be good as long as you take the reviews with a pinch of salt. WWOOF international is at firstname.lastname@example.org
I've heard the odd horror story from WWOOFers but mostly things work out fine. The important thing is to leave yourself options in case you are very unhappy. Talk to the host rather than suffering in silence.
Accommodation with hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com is generally cheap, plentiful and good. However, some hostel owners perhaps bump up their ratings by having someone they know put in a false review. This should be self regulating by people posting poor reviews subsequent to their stay. Generally though, people are kind and don't want to complain. Try and talk to someone who has been there before. Post reviews if you didn't like it.
hostelz.com also appears to be a good resource for hostels.
If you're thinking of staying in hostels, check out couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is a website for connecting friendly local hosts to people who are traveling and need a place to stay.
It's pretty awesome to be able to stay with locals wherever you are, especially because of the immense added cultural perspective.
If you dig the social scene of hostels, couchsurfers generally have meet-ups on any (or every) given night, around the world, where you can meet a ton of people, swap adventure stories, find out what's good, etc.
Sleeping in public, try to be as hidden as possible. Pick spots that have a feng shui of protection around them. Lumber yards are good, for example: people are expected to come in and pick their lumber out, so there aren't any "no trespassing" notices. But it's owned and cared for by a business, the fact or aura of which will keep others away. The people you'll run into first thing in the morning are paid hourly and are interested in doing their jobs, and as long as you're not breaking things and clearly just trying to sleep, you should be fine.
Princeton's guide to winter camping is great if you want to sleep outside and it's cold.
If you have a sleeping bag and a bivy you can stay anywhere. Particularly good spots are under bridges, abandoned buildings, culverts (when they're dry), rooftops, beaches and public parks.
In Latin America you can almost always camp next to gas stations. Military checkpoints and police stations are almost always happy to have you, too, and you've got extra security there.
If all else fails you can camp just about anywhere (bushes, next to a house or building, behind a dumpster ...) for a night. Put your sleeping bag on the top of your pack, eat and brush your teeth somewhere else. When your ready to sleep, walk to you're chosen spot and roll out your sleeping bag real fast and get in it. If nobody sees you when you go to sleep it doesn't really matter what happens in the morning. If someone finds you in the morning and kicks you out, you're already well rested.
Step 11: Motorcycles and Trespass Camping
Here's are instructions by Tim on Bumcamping in Japan
Here I am on my Portuguese Casall dirt bike somewhere in Morocco.
It's got a 50cc two-stroke Sachs engine and a gearbox with an infinite number of gears.
It's a magic carpet that can fully transform my surroundings with a twist of the throttle.
It runs all day on a couple of liters of petrol. When I ran out and everything was closed, I'd get enough gas out of the hoses of a closed gas station to keep going to the next village.
I'd get a couple liters of water at the last dark village before camping. One to drink and another for my bath/laundry.
Then I'd look for a place to hide/camp. Evasive action for me means driving randomly, which usually means taking right turns onto smaller roads then into an orchard or scrub.
Lay down the bike and chain it to a tree, pitch tent with no lights.
No line of sight to road, trail, or house. Paranoid/shy from solitary travel.
100 days trespass camping between morocco and sweden. Usually I didn't know where I was. Bathe and wring out clothes. Hang it on the tent. Dry by morning. Or rained on.
Eventually the shirt went to pieces in my hands from wind and sun.
That was a four month trip. I spent a few hundred dollars, not counting airfare. I ate bread, yogurt, and food gleaned from the fields after harvest. The car cost $100 in Rotterdam because it had a rust hole. Then traded for the motorcycle, which I could ride all day on a liter or two of petrol. I only rode a couple of trains and didnt' stay in a hostel. I stealth camped or stayed with friends from home or people I met by helping them fix their cars by the roadside. After I sold the motorcycle I hitchiked back to Holland, which I don't recommend, but I met some nice and interesting people that way.
In Sweden and some other countries there's an "anti-trespass" law that says you're allowed to camp on any private land as long as you're more than a certain distance from a house.
Settlement patterns in Europe are good for random stealth camping. Farmers tend to live in villages away from their fields and there are nice little one-lane roads going everywhere through the countryside.
In Mexico the beaches are all public land 30 meters above the high tide line. Some places it's best to camp near a house or business. Talk to the owners and pay them a few dollars for their trouble and they'll keep you safe. In low population density places I count on invisibility for safety.
Car camping in the States, I like orchard country or desert that's not rich enough to graze. Then there isn't a fence between you and sleep. Gringos like to own and control everything, which sucks when you're looking for freedom and your map isn't detailed enough to show you the tiny pockets of land where it's concealed.
Step 12: Bumcamping in Japan
This step got long, so I expanded it more into a Bum Camping Instructable of its own.
My cousin Donna and I went bumcamping by train in Japan with two folding bikes in 2006.
At Nikko, we found a nice spot in the woods. In the next town we camped on an out-of the-way terrace in a park. That went so well, the next night we camped in a prime waterfront spot in Ueno park, Tokyo.
After we were fast asleep a crew of patrolmen woke us up with flashlights. Their gutteral exclamations indicated we were in a place not aproved for sleeping bums.
We spoke to them in English and they went away. We slept well for the rest of the night. Park Attacker Man seen in that poster also left us alone.
Donna's folding bike cost $60 at a "Cainz Home" hardware superstore in Japan. It's nice. Buy your bike there unless you're very tall or picky. Her sleeping bag cost $10 in a Japanese discount sporting goods store (sports authority I think). It's plenty warm.
I had a JR rail pass which must be bought outside of the country. It's still expensive, but a lot cheaper than individual train tickets. When bringing your bike onto a train, you have to put a cover over your bike. I used this bag. Later I bought a much lighter bike cover in a dollar store. In the station I partly folded the bike as seen here for ease in wheeling it around.
It's fall so bugs aren't a problem, but it can rain and get pretty chilly, especially at altitude.
I sewed the 8X10 tarp from silicone-impregnated nylon. I sewed loops at the corners instead of using grommets. The whole thing weighs 1.5lbs including tarred nylon codline guy strings.
The ground cover is a 5x7 poncho I sewed from the same material. It weighs 1 lb.
That silnylon is great stuff. Water beads up on it in a really satisfying way.
We shoved our umbrellas out the sides to close the sides. There are lots of ways to pitch a tarp.
That little green bag contains all the stuff I needed to climb a mountain and camp comfortably near the summit in freezing rain. A pair of windpants, a pair of wool socks and some plastic bags to put over them in my shoes. A sleeping bag stuffed small and an equally stuffable quilted polyester jacket, and a stocking cap. I'm wearing zipleg polyester pants, a fleece vest, a plaid puttondown 60/40 lightweight longsleeve shirt, cotton boxers with the fly sewed shut, a sun hat and a pair of crocs.
Step 13: What to See
Avoid tourist traps that cost money.
Check to see if there are any World Heritage Sites in the place you're going.
Use Travelistic to see pretty videos of the place you want to go or to daydream.
If you search for your destination on Trip Advisor, you can see "Things to do" with reviews by other travelers.
There's also travelpod which is a great place to keep a travel blog, and read the adventures others have had in the city you're going. If you like the writing, you can follow that traveler's blog on the rest of their trip, or just read more results from the same place. It's pretty genius.
Meet local people and talk to them as much as possible. What you learn and remember about a place will be far richer, and you may even discover some things you otherwise could not have known about. What is a city without people?
Step 14: Dustin's Tips
Being in a foreign country makes you acutely aware of the fact that
you can do anything because you will never see any of these people
again. You can make a total fool of yourself because it doesn't
matter. Guess what, that's true everywhere! Making a fool of
yourself is about your perception of how other people perceive you.
It is not about objective behavior.
Don't buy return tickets
yes it costs a little more but it significantly widens the
possibilities for adventure. You're going to feel like a total nitwit
when those really hot swedish girls invite you to those cool islands
no one has heard of. Sadly you have to refuse because you can't back
out of a plane ticket. Travel is about letting opportunities come to
you, you just have to be ready to take them.
it forces you to actually experience the local culture and people.
you have to cultivate a sense of awareness rather than building a
bubble out of what's familiar. Plus it builds character. Girls this
applies to you too. I know several petite girls that have traveled in
sketchy-ass countries all by themselves. 1 or 2 other people max.
make sure to spend a day or so apart here and there.
Keep a daily journal
at least bullet point the things you did everyday. years later you'll
find that it jogs very pleasant memories. You'll also find that it
forces you to experience a bit more. reflection is good for enriching
Write bulk emails to your friends back home.
goddamn they are curious what it's like out there in this great vast
world! and they miss you. it also encourages them to have adventures
of their own. also, fuck people who get all bent out of shape because
they are getting a bulk email.
Cultivate an attitude of acceptance.
Even though situation x seems like a total fucking disaster...it's
cool, roll with it. seriously, abandon your unrealistic expectations
and revel in the pleasures of what is happening now. say yes to
Step 15: PILLS!!!
When travelling, BUY DRUGS!
Medicines that is. They're usually a whole lot cheaper outside the U.S., and usually you can get them at any pharmacy without a prescription. Here are some of the medicines I like to carry and why.
Ciprofloxacin - bring 14 or so 500 mg. pills. - a broad-spectrum antibiotic.
Much cheaper in other countries than it is here. Available in most countries.
While trapped by a gale on an island off the coast of New Zealand, I got a bad infection in my leg from shards of oyster shell. I might have died if I hadn't had some Cipro with me.
Also works for Bladder/UTI infections in women. On a kayak trip in Costarica my girlfriend took Cipro for a UTI. Unfortunately there are side effects. Sun sensitivity causing nausea. She was fortunate to have skin pigment and it was hot, so she didn't believe me about the need to cover up completely in the sun. She was mildy sunburned, nausea/seasick, and very irritable for the next week and a half. We quit paddling and toured by bus, but her mood did not improve. A nice trip turned into a terminal relationship ordeal.
Malarone - 7 to 40 pills.
Malaria. Very good daily anti-malarial. Not usually available in malarial] regions. No side effects and effective against all five strains of plasmodia. Lariam is much cheaper and taken once a week, but try it before you go, it can give you nighmares. Some people aren't affected. If you're unlucky it can be a bad trip in more ways than one. Lariam is only prophylactic. Malarone can cure, so I carry it and won't take it until I get malaria.
In malarial areas the doctors will diagnose you with malaria regardless of what you have. Many tropical diseases present the same symptoms.
Do not take any antimalarials they give you there without looking them up. Some of them are horrible. One such drug gave a doctor friend-of-friend tinnitis (ringing in the ears) so bad he was unable to practice medicine or do anything complicated. As is typical with bad tinnitis, he became suicidal. For the rest of his life.
A friend just came back from Africa recommending a new antimalarial called Coartem
Albendazole - cures giardia and other swimmers. Love it.
Metronidazole a.k.a. flagyl - HATE IT. Makes you pee brown blood, lose your hair, and feel like crap. Cures nothing I've ever had.
Praziquantel a.k.a. Biltricide - cures bilharzia a.k.a schistosomiasis. Just cures it. Love it.
drugs and disease narrative, unfinished: In Jayapura, Papua, I and my girlfriend (the same one lost to cipro, above) were taking malarone daily. I got sickernadog with red blotches all over my body, bone ache, and very high fever at night. (night sweats). The worst thing that ever happened to me in my life up to that point was once when she woke me up to ask me how I was doing. Eventually I got gave up and we went to THE WORST HOSPITAL IN THE WORLD etc etc. The driver asked us "you live in the murder house, yes? Yes, apparently the house were staying in was known locally as "the murder house", because of an unsolved you guessed it. etc etc. Then it was her turn. She got the night sweats, etc etc.
I usually ask my friends if they have this stuff before I go on a trip. Especially Malarone, which isn't available in places I've been.
Check to see whether a specific drug goes bad over time, or if it does so in the conditions where yours was stored.
Airline security doesn't seem to care about pills, whose name is on the bottle or whether you have a prescription for it.
Bring along the drug information in your notes. dosage/time/bodyweight, what conditions, side effects, drug interactions. That is easily found online or in "Physician's Desk Reference" (PDR)
Be aware that drug counterfeiting is a problem in some countries. A friend who lived in Brazil for a long time told me no one trusted the birth control pills there because there had been so many cases of counterfeits leading to pregnancies.
Step 16: Bathing in Public
Tim: A cup/tub/bottle of water and a washcloth or shirt can be used in any restroom
stall. A friend used to always talk about how great mcdonald's restrooms are
for taking a bath.
My mom said her mom used to tell her 'A lady can take a bath in a teacup".
Somehow I remembered it as "drown in a teacup".
A friend of mine once said she'd just had a "whore's bath" meaning washcloth
My roadside bath is a jug of water over my head with my thumb in the neck. I'd
always thingk "statue of liberty". I leave my boxers on if I'm too lazy to
walk into the bushes. Then I'd wring them out. Laundry done, and usually
enough water for the shirt too.
Usually it was hot on a crosscountry drive and I'd put them on wet for some cool.
I'd fill the jug up at a gas station if I was driving. Hot water if it's cold
out, then the cold is no problem. I'd use my cooking pot for hot water if I
was on a roadless trip and feeling decadent. But usually when I'm itchy for a
bath I don't care about cold water and just go for a swim.
If I wanted more privacy at my roadside shower I'd open the car doors and
clamp an end of my poncho in the car windows, making a shower stall
just outside the car. Not such good privacy from the car side,
but usually people don't try that hard to gape at someone who's trying to
When I was addicted to windsurfing I'd fill a jug with hot water beforehand
and wrap it in my coat while I sailed off.
Then when I got back to land I'd get naked in the parking lot and shower -
cold november new england night in an empty parking lot in Southie.
Once a guy approached and tried to talk to me while I was jumping around naked
taking my shower. He said he wanted me to come to a prayer meeting.
Motorcycling through europe I'd get a couple liters of water at the last dark
village before camping. One to drink and another for my bath/laundry.
Right turns onto smaller roads then into an orchard or scrub.
Lay down the bike and chain it to a tree, pitch tent with no lights.
No line of sight to road, trail, or house. Paranoid/shy from solitary travel.
100 days trespass camping between morocco and sweden. Usually I didn't know
where I was.
Bathe and wring out clothes. Hang it on the tent. Dry by morning. Or rained
Eventually the shirt went to pieces in my hands from wind and sun.
If I had a place to stay, I'd take my clothes with me into the shower and wash the dirty ones along with myself, and squeeze them out when I was done with the towel.
If you can't wash your clothes, just wrap them around a bunch of mint tea bags, so at least you'll smell like a strong mint.
Step 17: Once You're Back
Culture shock can be a pretty serious, make sure to get a reasonable amount of sleep and eat well. Pay extra close attention to your body after you return. Feeling hungry, tired, slighty sick, dull? It might be a regular part of returning to your old lifestyle and leaving the excitement of the road behind but you might have brought back more than just luggage. That's right, the rest of the world has hordes of parasites, bacteria and virii just waiting to climb on board. Shitting blood is a sure sign you should visit a medical professional but there are other more subtle signs as well. Perhaps you have a strange persistent rash (it might be caused by inflamed tissue that occurs as a result of vastly increased white blood cell counts). Did you acquire a new allergy to something you've always eaten? Diarrhea, fatigue, anemia, strange blisters, excess farting (seriously)?
Regular doctors might be able to figure out what's going on, but I'd highly recommend looking up a doctor that specializes in "Tropical Medicine." Chances are it's going to be very, very difficult to diagnose what you have and they are going to give you a massive dose of antibiotics, seemingly for the hell of it. You can make this more effective by avoiding antibiotics in a reasonable responsible way as much as possible. You can also take acidophilus (available at most health food stores) to restore the balance of good bacteria in your stomach.
Getting back may also take some extra mental unwinding. Be prepared for this. Especially if you're traveling solo, you may become unused to talking to other human beings. When you get back, friends will want to know all about what you've seen, where you've been, the adventures you've had, and it may take a few days to process your memories into tell-able stories. Keeping a journal and writing every day can help, or writing everything down as soon as you get back can help. If it happens to you, know that the effect is common, and give yourself some space to decompress.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.