7 Tips for the Shrewd Traveller

Looking back over the years of travelling throughout my lifetime so far, I’ve decided to share a few travel tips which I’ve picked up along the way to help enhance the experience and smooth the rough edges whilst on the road.

1. Be the “Yes Man” (within reason)

Take a leap of faith

Take a leap of faith

Travelling for me is about looking for something new, something to stimulate my curiosity of the world in which we live. Along the way I meet like-minded people who ask if I want to join in their own mini adventures. Don’t live your life in regret, just say yes! I’ve replied with an emphatic “Yes” to zip-lining, sky-diving to eating big ugly locusts without ever looking back. You will treasure and recount these fond memories right up to your death bed. However, notice the important caveat… I have also politely declined a line of Columbian Grade-A cocaine in Bolivia as well as a lewd offer to go back home with a fat Mexican lorry driver at a corner shop in a quiet Mexican town because it was reasonable to do so!

2) Admire sunsets the best way

You might be thinking to yourself how can anyone give you any useful tips on watching a good sunset. A photographer can! I am passionate about sunsets and as a photographer the use of light is paramount. The best sunsets are on a partially cloudy day and NEVER on a clear day. Sunsets on a clear day are the same anywhere you are in the world, whether it’s perched on top of a temple in Myanmar or playing a round of Topgolf in Chigwell! Clouds diffract the sunlight into beautiful hues of greens, blues, yellows and reds. I can gaze at the changing colours of the sky in wonderment for hours. I recommend taking a head torch so you can stick around at the viewpoint until it gets dark as the reds become deeper and the last few rays of light accentuate the details in the clouds. Now make use of that torch to make sure you don’t fall off the edge of a mountain as you clamber back to your hotel in darkness….

3) Haggle like an old friend

As I have meandered through the many souks, markets and even normal shops whilst travelling I have accumulated experience in wrangling for reasonable prices avoiding the overinflated “tourist prices”. Over and above the obvious advice such as shop around and don’t pay the first price I’ve picked up a few tricks of my own. Prior to any hard bargaining, I always take off my sunglasses when I speak to locals, it’s out of respect as well as being able to show my expressions. The purpose is to have fun, smile and engage in banter with the locals. I’ve gone as far as offering my partner in exchange for a turban! I also try to pleasantly surprise the locals with some key phrases such as “that’s too expensive!” in the local language. If appropriate put your arm round them like they’re an old friend and even the most hardened of traders will concede! And if all else fails, my favourite line is the “this is all the currency I have before I fly out” approach.

4) Learn to love night buses

As a traveller it’s important to take advantage of night buses. Not only do they get you from A to B but they also save the cost of a night’s accommodation. I´ve even had a better night’s sleep on a night bus than I´ve had on a bed! It’s the rhythmic whirring sound of the coach engine, the vibration of the road resonating through the seat massaging my back as well as the rocking motion as the coach negotiates the corners! Prior to boarding ensure you wear long sleeves, trousers and trainers no matter how hot the climate is outside the bus, the driver will always have the AC on full power. I learnt this the hard way by spending 10 hours on a coach huddled up shivering in the corner wearing flip flops and a vest when it was 35 degrees outside! Most importantly of all, try and force out that number 2 before you board!

5) Carry around a spoof wallet

Whenever I travel to areas where there is a high risk of crime, I always carry a spoof wallet with about $40 and some old store cards and phone cards so in the event I do get mugged, I happily hand it over. Of course there is a chance that the perpetrator could demand everything but your soiled boxers but it’s always a nice option to have! Fortunately, I’ve not had to use it yet but it also comes handy as another place to stash your emergency cash.

6) Be organised with your itinerary

Most people love to travel but most also hate the laborious task of meticulously planning it. If you are going to travel in one country for any time shorter than a month you need to plan in detail and get the logistics handled. I’m not saying you have to rush from one destination to another, what I am saying is to do your research beforehand to ensure that you are making prudent choices. Don’t rely solely on the guidebooks to highlight which places to see are unmissable.  Once a detailed itinerary is drawn you can see and do everything you planned in the time given. I’ve heard so many people utter hastily “we’ll go back next time” to see this or do that. If it’s a long haul destination, invariably you won’t. There will always be somewhere else new you want to go to instead.

7) Get up early and savour it

Out of all the tips I divulged, this is the most difficult one to execute and maybe the most rewarding. I’ve had travel companions describe me as militant when my alarm sets off in pitch black. Waking up before dawn on your holiday is far from relaxing but getting to a wonder of the world before the hordes is worth every hour of sleep lost. As an added bonus this is also a time of day when the light is phenomenal.  I guarantee the feeling you get will make you forget any fatigue. When I was the first to set my eyes on the Treasury in Petra, I felt I was the first explorer ever to discover it. Spending a moment (however brief) on my own at the foot of some of the world’s most exquisite places has raised hairs on the back of my neck and brought tears to my eye. I recall fondly being the first to reach the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu while it became illuminated by the day’s first rays of sun with only the sound of my breath to break the silence. Such experiences albeit for 5 minutes is one I will never forget.

Last words

I will leave you with a quote which highlights my own philosophy of travel and also extends to how I try to live my life.  It’s best summed up with this quote by Daniel Boorstin: –

The traveller was active, he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him.

So which one would you rather be?