Travel Light (and don’t forget dry socks)
This is probably the most important advice of all. Do a fully-packed test walk before you go – say, along the Thames. If you can’t walk 10-15km easily without getting annoyed – then you’re carrying too much. Let go… let go… focus on essentials. For example, if you’re not wearing sandals: prioritise clean and dry socks – and leave the heavy flashlight behind. Makes a massive difference. Buy the best socks you can afford.
Add a little structure
Say, a sundowner. Life beyond work (if you’re vagabonding for real) can sometimes start feeling a bit messy; because there isn’t necessarily an organising principle. Well, stopping everything to watch the sunset every day (and raising a beverage to celebrate all that’s gone well) works a treat. Also a great time to talk about what has been difficult – before the dark sets in – and what you might do differently… if you want to super-advanced, add a diary / journal to that mix. See take note below…
Triangulate, triangulate, triangulate
Even if you have a GPS in your phone, always be asking for directions. In my experience wonderful experiences flow from this – and you find places beyond the beaten path whilst you’re at it. That said – be wary of doing the ‘Lost Tourist’ look…
You’ll quickly lost track of where you’ve been / what you’ve done. A notebook, starring things on Google Maps, sending postcards, recording a voice or video note are all ways to do that. Pick an approach that works for you. I personally value the analogue the most.
Things take time, and you’ll be surprised how sometimes nothing seems to take twice as long. It is very easy to get exhausted travelling. Don’t rush. My rule for Africa is that you can only do one (1) thing per day. For example: get a visa sorted. Or run an errand. Or book a ticket. Yes, just one. And for I’d say that in South America it is much the same.
Black-Swan Avoidance / Hard-nosed advice
It is *unlikely* that you’ll need most of this – that said, when it is cheap to insure against mega-SNAFUs, it is makes sense to do it. Bit like bringing an umbrella…
- Always avoid the ice cubes… unless you can truly drown them in good quality alcohol
- Don’t get dehydrated …
Other SNAFUs – based on painful personal experiences
- Avoid a single point of failure – have a Mastercard, Visa and Amex – from different banks
- And hide a couple of $/€50 notes somewhere for that rainy day
- And agree a protocol for whom can wire you money in an emergency – and how they should do it. Scams around this rare – but stressful for the relatives / friends when they happen! Easy to avoid with a simple protocol up front.
- Scan your IDs and leave a copy
- With relatives
- On a your locked phone
- And if you’re in a country for a long time, consider getting a notarised copy to carry instead of the original
If asked for your ID – always resist letting go of your documents. Either use a notarised copy as above / show originals through the window of the bus/car – or at least hold on tightly whilst they look. The exception is of course if you’re at a border crossing in which case you can’t hold on to the document. Or indeed inside a police station.
If asked for a bribe… my approach is to wait the asker out. Most get bored… That said, that might not always work, especially if they have taken your passport. Either way – have a deep conversation with each other about how you might handle a situation like this. Feels less stressful when it then does happen (as it most likely will).
And do yourself a favour – buy the highest cover travel insurance – you’re extremely unlikely to need an evacuation. But if you do. You’ll be glad to have that airlift…
DO READ THE SMALL PRINT. For example – most won’t cover if you’re not wearing a seatbelt… and stuff like that. Best to know up front. Even if it never becomes relevant. And wear that seatbelt either way.
Whichever company you go for, you want unlimited cover for the serious Black Swans: Medical Expenses and Repatriation. And a very very high number for Personal Liability. The price difference is marginal. The peace of mind isn’t.
If it all goes belly-up
As it has for me a few times – but also applies if detained or hospitalised:
- You’re not alone – even though you might feel like it in the moment – so reach out
- Let your respective consulates know that you are in trouble (even if their help might end up being limited). If your country does not have a consulate – go to a country that is an ally, say, EU or equivalent.
- Don’t take any shit. Be firm.
A short bookshelf for the easy-going vagabond through to intrepid traveller
- Vagabonding – by Rolf Potts – fairly timeless advice.
- Africa for the Hitchhiker – by Fin Biering-Sørensen and Torben Jørgensen – out of print and out of date (but available 2nd hand). Recalls a different time and might help you think beyond the expected.
- The World’s Most Dangerous Places – by Robert Young Pelton – eight editions, but sadly most recent is 2003… so some sections out of date. Some remain timeless. Enjoy.
You can find more eclectic books on travel here.
Maps for the intrepid
And if you’re intrepid and into mapping, then Stanfords. But thread below might also be of interest. You can go to the red bits if it is for work (rather than vagabonding). Just think very carefully, make sure you have a very good reason (say, a World Health Organisation project in Somaliland). And if the latter is the case, then these are your people for pro advice before you and whilst you are there: ngosafety.org/
Anyway, that thread as promised courtesy of Marcel Dirsus who is worth following either way:
Instead of just telling travellers how dangerous different parts of the world are, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows them in maps. And they are awesome. https://t.co/hn3mCn5QXi pic.twitter.com/jQh4PaZXP5
— Marcel Dirsus (@marceldirsus) 19 April 2018