Top 10 tips for international travel
Are you trekking overseas or studying abroad this summer? Here are ten travel tips I’ve compiled in my experience, which spans 25 countries.
1. Don’t cloister yourself — The best thing about international travel is the chance to experience different cultures, and you don’t experience the culture of a country from within the walls of a big resort. Stay in small, locally-owned hotels, eat at local restaurants and spend time in the community.
2. Accept and embrace different cultures, and let them accept and embrace you — When you stay in locally-owned hotels and eat local food, you will meet local people. If you greet them with a smile and respect, they will open up and be willing to share their culture. You can facilitate sharing by learning some of the language (you will not likely have time to learn it well, but a few phrases go a long way) and by bringing photos of your home, family or city to show people you meet. From the wealthiest to the poorest countries I have visited, people seemed happy and friendly and glad to share their homelands.
3. Decide the best number of stops to make — You can choose between seeing a lot of different places to experience the full range that a region has to offer, or seeing fewer places, but experiencing them more fully. Everyone has a different opinion on this issue, but in the end it is almost never fun to have to pack all your stuff and move every day. Fourteen European countries in fifteen days? You won’t remember any of them.
4. Be flexible — You will miss busses, trains, etc. Hotels will lose your reservations. Weather will force you to alter your plans. When these and other changes occur, go with the flow and make the best of it. It’s all part of the adventure.
5. Use local guides — A local guide can give you a great insider’s look at the local culture and help reduce the stress of dealing with unfamiliar transportation, language, etc.
6. Be on your guard with local guides — While the vast majority of guides are great, some are out to make some extra money at your expense. Watch out for guides who steer you to mediocre restaurants and shops with which they have kick-back agreements.
7. Eat the local food — The best thing about travel is experiencing different cultures, and one great thing about most cultures is the food. Be adventuresome for at least one meal per day.
8. Protect yourself from local food — While the local food can be the highlight of a trip, it can also be of questionable quality. A swig of Pepto Bismol prior to eating can protect your stomach from bacteria and other bad elements in food, as it did for my family when we ended up in a grungy backwater restaurant in Vietnam where all the cooking was done over fires on the kitchen floor, with dogs wandering through the kitchen. Not only was this place lacking a “Wash your hands after using the toilet” sign in the bathroom, it was lacking a bathroom. Customers and staff alike used the dirt lot out back. Pepto all around and no one got sick.
9. Choose your cab driver carefully — While most cabbies are great people, some are out to make a few bucks at your expense. Some will try to take you to their friend’s hotel rather than the one you asked for because they get a kick-back. Some have no interior handles on the rear doors and will only let you out after you pay an inflated fare. Go with well-marked, clean looking cabs and be firm on your destination.
10. Trust your cab driver — People in other countries don’t drive like we do in the U.S. For the most part, they drive worse. Much worse. Once you have chosen a driver and gotten into the cab, try to focus on your reading, the scene out the side of the car — anything to take your mind off the scene out the front window (running red lights, tailgating, driving on the sidewalk, etc.).
— Daniel Horns
co-written by Karissa Neely
Daniel Horns has been to more than 25 countries, but the favorite places he’s been are: Italy for food, art and architecture; Vietnam for people; Machu Picchu in Peru for amazing antiquity; and the coast of Belize for warm, clear water. His favorite adventure in food was a three-hour lunch of pasta, tuna, mussels and octopus on the island of Procida, near Naples, Italy. In the above photo, Dr. Horns is playing footbag with local kids on an island offshore Inhambane, Mozambique. Dr. Horns is the tall one.