I have many bad habits. Particularly the inability to decipher between reckless and fun. Follow these handy travel tips at your own risk.
Just as important as lacy undies and comfy shoes, there are some critical bits that you must bring along when you wander off. Most importantly, a sense of humour. When you are on a bus careening through the Usambara Mountains in Tanzania, standing sock-foot in what you suspect is a warm puddle of vomit, you can either let that wreck your trip (or at least your day) or you can hope that someday you’ll be able to look back on this moment and laugh. I’m still working on it…
A willingness to venture into the unknown can be exhilarating. The flexibility to change directions mid-stride can lead you down unexplored paths, through colourful neighbourhoods, stumbling upon hidden nooks and meeting wonderful new friends. Take your nose out of the guide book and just go.
Sometimes planning is over-rated. My last road trip involved me hopping in the car, gummi worms and tent in tow, and aimed south… after an hour or so I had to text a friend – “um… which border crossing am I supposed to be aiming for?” Pre-planning is not my strong point. All the same, having a travelling side-kick who is a planning rockstar can come in handy. My usual partner in crime can tell you how much a taxi from a bustling bus stop in Zambia to a remote lodge should cost, how long it will take, and what colour the cab should be. She also happens to be a massage therapist, a brilliant choice on my part.
Be chatty– talk to everyone. Sure, often they are trying to sell their wares, but everyone is entitled to make their lunch money. But get beyond that, ask questions about the area, about their family, what they do for kicks. You’ll have insight the travel guides will never share. I have encountered the most humbling kindness, generosity and hilarity all from pausing and saying hello. Always ask them where you should have lunch, you’ll find some off-path nook with fabulous fried green tomato sandwiches. Talk, talk, talk to everyone – they are often happy to share their local haunts, hints and highlights.
Walk with confidence, pretend you know exactly what you’re up to – even though you’re lost beyond hope. This helps fend off the shifty ones and their shenanigans. Unless shenanigans is your thing (often the case for me…) Or, if you’re in a safe area, look as baffled as you can, some kind soul will appear and offer wonderful advice.
If you want to see how the locals live, do the sort of thing you would do if you lived there. Find the grocery store or local market. Run an errand – get the broken zipper on your bag mended. Wander into that questionable bar and strike up a conversation.
I can’t offer tips on what to pack – another bad habit is bringing everything I own. Just in case. Because really, who knows what I’m going to be wandering into next. But baby wipes to scrub down after a long trek, candies that won’t melt for a sugar rush or new friend, and a clean pair of socks to change into are essential.
I have oh so many photos of the places I’ve been. And about two photos of me. Which is just as well considering my hair often performs the most radical stunts while I’m away, but it would be nice to have a photo of me next to a hippo or standing on the edge of a cliff. If you’re with friends, snap lots of photos of them in action, and be sure they do the same for you. If you’re solo, offer to take pictures of others doing selfies (does anyone ever look good taking a photo of themselves?) and they will offer the same.
And go. Right now. Life is to short, quick, and fun to miss out on another travel moment. Seriously, put the computer away, and get the heck out of here. Off with you!