I’ve been on the road for seven months now and feel like my skills as a traveller have improved considerably during that time. When I started out I was a little shy, nervous and always looking at a map. Now a more hardened traveller with a lot of experience under my belt, here are some of my secrets to go from rookie tourist to pro. I’ve tried to make most of them applicable to short-term holidays as well as longer trips.
- When you first arrive in a new destination, pick up a local map.
I’m a big fan of maps. They have these hidden powers, you see – they can stop you from getting lost. Not only that, they can prevent you from wandering into that dodgy part of town that you really didn’t want to visit. Now, I know many people are travelling with smartphones and tablets these days with 3G and good old Google maps or similar, but usually a local tourist map will point out a few awesome hot-spots that Google doesn’t necessarily know about. And yes, many guidebooks are printed with maps too, but I find these are usually out of date and miss some of the best stuff. Plus carrying the guidebook every time you go out is a pain and a classic rookie mistake. Grab a local map from your hostel, hotel or the tourist information centre and you can’t go far wrong.
- If you love food (as I do) ask the locals where to eat.
When traveling abroad, there’s something you should know about the locals… they live there! So, amazingly, they know where all the best stuff is. The guidebook might be out of date; the internet might have an ulterior motive for writing a great restaurant review. A local has no reason to lead you up the garden path and their information is as current as you can get. Plus, they tend to recommend more affordable options that really give you a taste of the authentic regional cuisine. Thanks to asking the locals, I discovered the best and cheapest Indian street food on Langkawi island in Malaysia, super tasty (and strong) magherita cocktails in Mexico, and superb, fresh Vietnamese nosh in Hanoi when I was too tired to think straight. Getting recommendations takes the stress out of finding somewhere decent and affordable to eat, and can bring about some of the best travel experiences.
- Stop packing loads of clothes you don’t need.
I’m living out of a 55 litre backpack which weighs, on average, about 14kgs. It’s not a lot of stuff, but it’s enough. Hell, there’s probably some bits and bobs in there I still don’t really need but I’m keeping hold of. The thing about travelling is you don’t need loads of wardrobe choices or 7 pairs of shoes. When you move around you’re only in most places a couple of days and your outfits are all new to each town every time – hurray! As a fashion-conscious girl I despaired at leaving some of my best stuff at home. But in reality I’ve bought some lovely items of clothing, lost some and ruined others so it’s for the best I don’t have a couture collection with me. Some of the most useful things I packed include: pretty sandals; sensible shoes for walking and hiking; sarong; sunglasses; really warm fleece; pashmina; small evening bag; a quick-drying travel towel (massive space saver). Some of my more useless items were a maxi-dress (too fancy and takes up space), books (you can buy/swap for new ones anywhere), jeans (what was I thinking?!), and a cheap pair of pumps which fell apart very easily. Obviously, your wardrobe choices will vary depending on your time away and destination, but the point I’m making is: don’t take a lot. Leave your vanity at home.
- Everything in miniature.
Another packing tip. Take small sizes of anything and everything. If you can get it smaller, do it. Boots in the UK is amazing for selling great minis and you can also purchase travel size toiletries of all shapes and sizes online. Try the websites http://www.gotiny.co.uk/ and http://www.sachetsandmore.com/. Minis last a lot longer than you think – especially if you aren’t getting around to showering every day! My favourite mini products are Simple eye make-up remover, Tresemmé conditioner and Burts Bees lip balm. Plus you can often get make up in small packages – visit a counter in your local department store and see what sample sizes they have lurking in their draws. Another good idea is remove as much excess packaging as possible by taking things out of boxes/bags/plastic casing and reducing the size as much as possible.
- Use public transport – go slow, see more.
I always get a bit daunted when I have to work out the public transport options in a new place. I’m usually alright with metro systems, taxis or tuk tuks but show me a bus timetable and I panic. Seriously, I can’t even work out the buses in my own country, England. Since I also can’t afford to take taxis or tourist transport everywhere, this is something I’ve had to overcome. Now I see it as a challenge – can I get from A to B without getting on the incorrect train/bus/[insert exotic vehicle] and going miles in the wrong direction? I don’t always get it right, but boy, do I feel pleased with myself when I do! Using local wheels to get around is a great way to immerse yourself in culture and see countries in a unique way. Even if it does take twice as long as the tourist bus. Added bonus – it’s usually cheap!
- Do the tourist spots. Then add a twist.
You’re in London for the first time ever. It would be idiotic not to visit such famous sights as Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. Contrary to popular belief, it’s ok to stick to the tourist trail if you feel like it. However, after traipsing around all day among other irritating tourists with their oversized cameras and stupid hats, it’s nice to make your experience a bit more personal. What is it you love to do? Is there something you always fancied trying but haven’t had a chance yet? Now’s the time. Find out what’s around and do it. For example, you might top off a day of mooching around London’s tourist trail with traditional afternoon tea in a quaint café or a quiet walk around one of the many lovely gardens. Find a quirky restaurant, an interesting street, a deserted beach, an exciting activity. Something different. I recently visited Cape Tribulation on the northeast coast of Australia. Not content with just seeing the place, my friend and I decided to go horse-riding on the beach the next morning. It was an amazing, fun experience; something we’d never tried before – and it topped off a great couple of days.
Definition: to ramble without a definite purpose or objective; roam, rove or stray.
This is one of my favourite things to do in life, whether travelling or not. There’s something very simple and pure about letting the pavement show you around, not paying too much attention to where you are heading and letting go of all conscious decisions. Nowadays it’s easy to feel like you are always on the go, always planning your next move and never properly switching off from life. Getting a little lost in a new town, city or the countryside is a great way to get back in touch with the real world. You’ll start to notice buildings, people, smells and sounds like you haven’t in a long while. It’s a great time for letting go of stress, thinking and forgetting yourself. While your feet wander, let your mind wander too. It might surprise you what comes into your head whilst you roam through unfamiliar and interesting environments. There’s a reason the term ‘wanderlust’ is so popular with travellers – they know what it’s all about.