After successfully completing secondary school, my teenage niece Maite is taking a gap year before starting her studies. One of her plans for the start of 2018 is to travel for three months through Central and South America. I’m simultaneously proud of her urge to travel and concerned about her welfare. I’m also moved to give her some travel tips for along the way.
First things first
Try to do more things in less time, instead of trying to quickly work through a list of highlights. Enjoy the moment; take time to let things seep in. Try not to be online too much. Send news every now and then to say where you area and where you’re headed, but regularly switch off your phone to get to grips with things in the country around you.
Travel freely as much as possible, in other words: don’t plan too much in advance. Allow for the element of surprise, be open to deviating from your plans. Travel light: most items of clothing can be purchased when needed; regularly wash your clothes. You’re capable of being far more flexible if you can pack and unpack quickly and carry your own luggage easily. Pack your clothes and other items in bigger and smaller bags inside your rucksack. This gives you more of an overview and provides extra protection if you get caught in a heavy downpour, for example.
Keep a copy of your passport and tickets separately. Along with an extra copy on your phone and/or in the cloud and/or on a USB stick as well as a copy at home. Back up your phone regularly.
Back up your photos regularly. Take along a sufficient number of memory cards. Take along spare batteries. Charge your batteries when you can and always make sure you have fully charged batteries if possible.
Your hotels and hostels
Make as few hotel reservations as possible in advance (unless you’re travelling on public holidays or expect to arrive at your destination late). Have a good look before taking a room (ask to look at different rooms) and check if there is a (hot water) tap, if the door can close property and if the room is located on a busy street. Compare a few different hotels. Always ask for a discount.
Ultimately, the art of travelling is to find a balance between trusting people and using your common sense and being cautious when meeting people you don’t know. One of the nicest things about travelling is meeting new people, making friends, and learning about different cultures. Be friendly, but in any event maintain a safe distance when meeting people for the first time. Don’t tell strangers where you’re staying.
Determine in advance where you want to go when visiting a city and try to stand around as little as possible looking at a map, telephone or guidebook. Don’t walk too close to the edge of the pavement (your bag could easily be snatched by someone on a scooter), but also not too close to the wall (then it won’t be possible to block your passage quickly). In the city, always keep your rucksack in front of you, and hold on to it. Use locks on your zips. Never give your luggage to someone else. Be sure to put your money in clothing pockets that can close.
Be careful withdrawing money from an ATM: as far as possible, try to do so during the day, at a cash machine located indoors and where there is a security guard. Divide your money across different places: large notes in your money belt, change in different pockets, or even your shoes or bra. Always have an extra stock of cash in EUR/USD in your money belt. You don’t want to find yourself arriving somewhere where there isn’t a working ATM.
Only carry your camera visibly if you need to use it. Don’t wear jewellery. If you go out for a drink, especially in the evening: keep an eye on who gives you your drink. Put your important documents and large notes in a plastic packet inside your money belt.
Ask the locals for advice: where it’s safe and where it isn’t, for example. Most people are proud of their countries and will help you to prevent something from happening. Never simply give your passport (or money) to the police or other authorities. Show them a copy. But, in general: in most countries, it’s a good idea not to trust the police too much. It’s not inconceivable that someone in a uniform isn’t even a police officer.
Definitely never trust taxi drivers. Wherever you are in the world, they’ll definitely try to take you for a ride. Tricks with change (you give them a big note, don’t get the right change or the note is switched for a forgery), taking detours, not turning the meter on, asking too many questions, telling you that a hotel no longer exists and that they need to take you to a friend’s hotel for which they receive commission: there are so many tricks. Ask a local beforehand what the ride should cost. Always agree on the price first (if the taxi doesn’t have a meter) and clarify the currency.
And, most important of all: trust your intuition. You will undoubtedly get things wrong sometimes. Think about your mishaps afterwards, about what would you do differently next time?
Your list of handy items to take along
- small torch
- small washing line
- extra locks (combination codes)
- disinfectant, wet wipes
- rubbish bag
- small gifts for along the way
- bathroom slippers
- mosquito repellent
- small sewing set
- emergency rations
- vomit bags (handy for damp things, rubbish)
- waterproof camera bag
- first-aid box
- maps.me on your phone, load maps for areas you plan to visit: possible to look at offline
Well, that’s just about it. Do you also have a “Maite” at home? Send my blog through to your nephew, niece, friend or girlfriend. And be especially proud of them!