Everyone has a different travel story. My friend Sarah, who went to India for a month, quickly learned that taxi drivers are not to be trusted when she was ‘highjacked’ by someone at the airport who proceeded to take her to all of his buddies’ hotels and attractions and charged her a superlative sum for the pleasure.
Some people travel the world for a year, others only go to Italy for three weeks. But all of them learn a lot about the realities of travel, and what it is to travel effectively.
Whether you’re off across Africa, or simply taking a road trip through the Karoo, these apply to us all. I share a few insights with you here.
10 Things You Need To Know About Travelling
ONE: you don’t need all that stuff
I left for Germany (years ago now) to audition for an opera chorus with my suitcase so full that I was charged in Jo’burg, and then again in Frankfurt, for being overweight. At the time, I was convinced I needed all the different stuff (what if it snowed!). In hindsight, I didn’t use half of it.
TWO: cultivate a two outfit ‘me’ look
I’m not suggesting you worry about fashion here. But I find, without fail, that wherever I go (whether it’s a long overseas trip or simply a weekend in Greyton) I end up wearing a couple of things over and over again – they feel comfortable and I feel like ‘me’ in them. Add a few scarves or a hat and you have enough to keep laundry easy, and your pack light (throw out the second sweater, you won’t need it).
THREE: shop around and weigh up the options
It’s too easy to simply buy the first airfare or bus trip you see. When I crossed the channel from London to Belgium, I took the ‘cheapest’ option of a bus via ferry. I didn’t account for my lack of sea legs or the length of the journey. For a few extra pounds, I could have flown and gotten there a lot faster, and a lot less shaken.
FOUR: go with the flow
This takes on a new meaning when travelling. If there is one thing you can be sure of it’s that things will go wrong. Flipping out and having a hissy fit every time is going to exhaust you – there is only so much control you will have over these things. If you can’t learn to let go, it’s going to be a looooong trip.
FIVE: buy an e-reader
Without fail the heaviest items in my suitcase are the three books I cannot live without. I am lost without a book. And even if I swop these along the way, there is always a book, if not two, in my suitcase. Thank **** for e-readers!
SIX: learn another language
This doesn’t apply if you’re only in Spain for a weekend – you can get by with a smattering of ‘Si Señor!’. But if you’re there for a few weeks, you’re severely limiting your experience if you cannot at least ask where a good local restaurant is.
SEVEN: take it slow
I realise that you probably have an itinerary the length of your arm, but you will find that people in other cultures have a different pace of life. It would be advisable to join them. Savour your food, walk slowly, stop and look around and drink in the headiness of being somewhere else.
EIGHT: set up a ‘just in case’ fund
If there is one thing I’ve learned about travel – it’s more expensive than you think. And even if you stick to the strenuous budget you set yourself, there is always going to be something that you will never have the opportunity to do again. Plan your budget, and then add some. Even a credit card is a better option than no backup plan at all (and I don’t do debt easily).
NINE: be adventurous with your food
Going to India and then insisting on a Mac burger every day will rob you of the opportunity to experience other tastes and cultures – you may as well stay at home. Just try it, at least. It won’t kill you.
TEN: be openhearted
This just about sums up all the good qualities – humane, generous, empathetic, emotionally open, kind. If you embrace every experience with good will and with the notion that all you need is given to you, the world out there responds in kind. There is no better space in which to learn this than when travelling.
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