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27 travel tips (or, how to get more out of your trip)

By admin   1 December 2009 5:13pm Europe/London

Travelling is all about experience, so here are 27 generic* travel tips towards improving your experience** on your next trip.
*I mean “generic” in the sense that these tips pretty much apply to all destinations.
**I mean “experience” in the sense that it is about you and the destination sharing a moment together.

1. Before you go or while you are there, read literature about the destination. Travel literature, preferably, or a novel or history book. Films, too, of course.
For example, if you’re going to Vietnam, read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War and Michael Herr’s Despatches.

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2. Get up early in the morning. You’ll see different things, and fewer tourists.
This is a case of “do as I say, not as I do” as I’m terrible at getting up early.
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3. Try to talk to the locals (other than the ones you’re guaranteed to talk to in the service industry).
A good starter is to ask for directions or advice (“Where’s a good restaurant?”). If you reckon you won’t understand their answer, keep a map handy.
Saigon Park

4. Learn at least a few phrases of the local language. Get a phrasebook (whether a paper version or digital) and this becomes all too easy.
Even the children will laugh at your pronunciation. Keep at it. They respect you, really… kind of.
Th Tani, Street Market, Banglamphu, Bangkok

5. Use the public transport. Don’t get taxis everywhere.
Typically bewildering at first, but once you get the hang of the system you’ll experience much more of a destination. And get to see how grumpy people are in subway systems all over the world.
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6. Get lost (in a safe area of town, obviously).
This is best done on foot, of course. Probably not a good idea to try this in a forest, or any countryside.
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7. Travel as light as possible. You can always buy more clothes at the destination — which will help you fit in as well.
The mortal enemy of light travel is a large suitcase/backpack. It will fill up before you can say children’s belly dancing outfit.
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8. Variety is good, but deeper contact can be made by being a regular. For example, instead of having your breakfast in a different place each day, go to the same place and get to know the staff and clientele.
I mean, of course, go back to the same establishment if it was good the first time. And you haven’t moved on to a different city.

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9. Take your hobbies with you. If you’re interested in architecture, go on a tour run by an expert in the field; if you’re into kite flying, see if there is a local group and attend their meeting.
My hobby is photography. All the photos on this page are by me. I know … some aren’t relevant to the tips they accompany.
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10. Eat the local food. You don’t have to eat fried insects and the like, but do try a variety of the national or regional dishes.
Of course, not only do you improve your understanding of the destination, but you will also get better food. Non-local dishes are rarely very good. For example, from personal experience, I would advise against eating pizza in Fiji.
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11. Change your travel behaviour during the trip…If you are travelling solo then tag along with another traveller for a day or so. If you are travelling with another person, split up for a couple of days and experience the destination on your own.
This change will usually happen by itself if you are a normal human being: the freedom of solo travel becomes a burden when you need to take all your bags into a sweaty toilet cubicle to avoid their theft; and travelling brings out the best and the worst in your closest friends.
Pudong, Shanghai

12. Respect the local culture and customs and you’ll see the locals wanting to talk to you or help you more.
This doesn’t mean you have to adopt the local culture. In fact, this may be insulting. For instance, there is something wrong about visitors to Australia adding “mate” to the end of every sentence. Know what I mean, mate?
Buenos Aires

13. Where possible stay at family-run accommodation, rather than international chain hotels. You’ll help the local economy, and get a more intimate relationship with the destination.
Security is the only concern when staying at smaller hotels (not that theft isn’t an issue at large hotels). I’ve never had a problem, though. If you book through the internet, like Lonely Planet’s Hotels & hostels, then the hotel staff are more likely to look out for you or they’ll suffer the wrath of user feedback and being de-listed.

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14. Don’t plan activities all day, every day. The best days are the days you spend sitting on a park bench chatting to someone, even though you don’t have a common language. (Thanks to ImogenB for this tip.)

Buenos Aires park

15. If you like jogging, take a jog around town on your first morning to get your orientation and sneak a peek at some of the top tourist attractions before they get crowded. (Thanks to lcfranks for this tip.)
Jogging also has the benefit of making you look at places differently. Ask your hotel or hostel staff for a good running route.
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16. Similarly, if you’re not in Bangkok or some other crazy traffic town, hire a bicycle and ride around the lesser visited neighbourhoods.
Inner city neighbourhoods in large cities are rarely indicative of how the majority of the population live. There may not be a big difference, but there’ll be a difference.
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17. Take a compass. Walking around a city becomes easier when you can orientate yourself.
A compass also helps to get back on track when you get lost on purpose (or otherwise). See #6.
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18. Think outside the normal touristy things. For instance, go to a house auction. You’ll get to see inside a local’s house, etc. Or go to a court case.
Ramses Station, Cairo

19. Learn to do something while you’re there that is relevant to the local culture… A cooking class, a surfing course, etc.
Vietnamese Crepes

20. Make travel an experiment. John Steinbeck, for example, used to try to buy something in a city that he thought it couldn’t possibly have. When one shop owner didn’t have it he’d ask where else may. A wild goose chase will make you see a destination differently from a planned series of sights.

Pinocchio in Rome

21. Vary your budget. Splurge on the finest restaurant if you’re travelling economically, or limit yourself to the bare minimum for a day or two if you’ve been living in luxury.

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22. Test your normal limits. For example, try something adventurous like white water rafting. Challenge your taste buds by eating a questionable local delicacy.

Duck Foetus in Vietnam

23. Slow down at museums and galleries. Sure, it’s hard not to try to see it all because you’re thinking you may not return ever again. But getting to know a few pieces well will stay with you longer than browsing the entire exhibition.
In other words, most museums are like supermarkets, but try treating them like delicatessens.

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24. Locals like to see how/where you live. Bring a photo of your house and your family and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to be accepted in some countries.
Night photos are acceptable if your house is a dump (like mine).

Lunchtime at Giac Lam pagoda

25. Obviously, take a guidebook, specifically one that helps you get around (many other guidebook publishers have only arrival guides not travel guides). But remember that they are only guides, not the ten commandments. There are no set ways to see/feel/engage, etc., with a destination.
Khan el-Khalili, Cairo

26. Vary your focus to get the full picture. If you’re walking down a street, for example, look up at rooftops then look at the names on the door-bells to an apartment block. Experienced hikers do this instinctively in the wild: considering both the vista and the proverbial lily, to get immersed at all levels.

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27. Always remember that people rarely equate to their government (or, rather, your media’s representation of their government). A good rule of thumb is never bring up politics or religion in a conversation with a local unless they do. And, even then, avoid bringing in your point of view. You’re there to learn, not preach.
There are exceptions to this rule. Some countries, for instance, only have one or two citizens. It is perfectly fair to equate these people to their “government”.

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Anymore tips? Add them in the comments below.