posted by Rachael Bruce | 0 Comments
In this guest post, Rachael Bruce of Today I ate a baguette shares nine things she wished she knew before setting off on her solo adventures around the world. To keep up to date with Rachael's adventures and more follow her on Twitter.
Eight months ago I condensed my life into a 15kg backpack and booked a one-way ticket to Europe via South East Asia. I'd be the first to admit that I've made a hell of a lot of mistakes along the way, but I've learnt a hell of a lot at the same time. So in the spirit of paying it forward, here are nine things, in no particular order, that I wish I knew before I left New Zealand on my solo travel adventures...
1. Hostels aren't just for young people
I got the shock of my life when I awoke in the middle of the night at my first ever hostel in Bangkok to find the guy in the bunk next to me was a obese Santa-looking creature in his mid-50s wearing only tight whities. He also had a bad case of Bangkok belly.... In fairness, I've since shared many hostel dorms with well-seasoned travellers and found them to be young at heart, and in some cases, much welcome parents away from home.
2. A phone with Google maps and GPS would be quite useful if you, like me, still grapple with left and right and can't read a map
To clarify, I do own an iPad which for my travels has become what Wilson was to Tom Hanks in the movie Survivor, but it's not as easy as a mobile phone to whip out of your bag when you're standing on a street corner in a country you don't speak the language of, with all your worldly possessions strapped to your back, it's 35+ degrees and you're horrifically lost trying to find your hostel.
3. Always check how far away the airport is to the city you're flying into
From my experience the budget airlines tend to fly into airports in the middle of nowhere, so while you may get a cheap fare, like I did flying from Paris to London and from Turkey to Greece, you'll spend hours of your time and a fair chunk of your cash getting into the city.
4. While I'm on the subject of airports... Don't pre-book an airport transfer
Airport transfers can be a total rip-off and there's always plenty of public transport options to get you from the airport no matter where you are and what time you arrive. There's usually always staff who speak English to point you in the right direction too.
5. Research common scams for the countries you're visiting
In short: In South East Asia do NOT get into a taxi or tuk tuk without agreeing beforehand that there will be no stops at a gem store or tailors along the way. Also don't let anyone tell you that a major attraction is closed for cleaning or prayer - they're probably lying so they can whisk you off in their tuk tuk for the day. Meanwhile in Europe, be wary of anyone who walks in front of you and starts up a conversation and then offers to escort you to your destination. They'll most likely turn around when you get there and demand payment for being your 'guide.' Sadly in developing countries I now travel by the philosophy 'nothing is for free,' as they often see foreign tourists as cash cows. As a general rule, I also don't accept anything someone tries to give to me eg: rings, petitions, and my favourite - the scam where they ask you to hold out your finger, tie it up with string and then demand payment to be untied. In short, what I'm really trying to say is - have your wits about you.
6. The person you meet travelling is not always the same person you meet later on their home turf
Clearly I'm talking about a holiday romance and I learnt the hard way that perhaps holiday romances are best left on holiday... Enough said.
7. Get a full medical before you leave home, hoard as much of your everyday medications as you can and always carry copies of your prescriptions
Turns out going to the doctor oversees can be incredibly difficult, especially if you're in a country that doesn't speak your language. I had to go in Turkey and even with a Turkish friend who played interpreter it took half a day to be seen. I also had to go in London to get routine prescriptions but because I didn't have a fixed abode I had to queue for five hours at a Drop-In Centre only to be given a measly month's supply of my prescriptions.
8. Properly weigh up which is the best season to visit your destination
While spring in Europe is cheaper and a good way to avoid the crowds and the heat, I was surprised to find I was the only person staying at my hostels in Turkey, Greece and Italy on more than one occasion. It was even more of a shock to rock up to summer tourist hotspots such as Daylan in Turkey and Skiathos in Greece mid-spring to find them still deep in winter hibernation. On the flip side, travelling somewhere like Morocco in the height of summer when the mercury rises to the high 40s probably isn't a good idea either. Even my sweat is sweating as I write this.
9. Travel is addictive
If you're anything like me you'll find the more you travel the more you'll want to. I've now been on the road for eight months and while I've knocked off a dozen or so countries, a dozen more have been added to my bucket list. Trust me, get on the road, you won't regret it, there really is truth in the hackneyed saying - travel is the only thing you'll buy that makes you richer.
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