Category Archives: Travel Issues

The Travelers Guidebook – My Best Travel Tips, Rules, Etiquette, and Common Sense For Life on the Road

Anyone who’s spent a good amount of time traveling will have their own list of ‘best practices’ while on the road.  If you’re in that category you may already do some things on this list but at the least it’ll be a good refresher for you.  And who knows, you may learn something new too. If you haven’t done much traveling, or much traveling in unfamiliar places, these recommendations could make your travels more enjoyable…not to mention less stressful!  Here’s a list of my Best Travel Tips, Rules, Etiquette, and Common Sense for Life on the Road.  Enjoy!  (note: I don’t cover tips for everything in this post, hotels are one example.  If I don’t use it regularly I don’t feel I should give advice so their not included.)

Hostels

  • Don’t make (too much) noise after 11:00/11:30 pm or before 8:00/8:30 am in a hostel dorm room.  It’s just a matter of respect for other travelers in the room.  On the flip side, if others in your room break the rule at 3:00 am, it’s perfectly acceptable to do the same to them at 7:00 am.  Turnabout is fair play!
  • Always wash, dry, and put away any communal dishes you use – This is not your mother’s house.
  • Before putting food in a communal kitchen look for the sign that states when they clean out the refrigerator.  You may need to put your name on your food to make sure it doesn’t get thrown away.  Unfortunately, I learned this one the hard way!
  • Don’t eat other people’s food – Again, not your mother’s house.
  • If you need to catch a bus early in the morning, pack the night before so you’ll make as little noise as possible at 5:00 am.

Train/Bus/Subway

  • On a train, if you’re sitting in a seat with a table, don’t put your bags on it.  People reserve those seats so they can work, not so you have a counter for your man purse.
  • On a bus/subway give your seat to the elderly woman standing nearby.  She is someone’s grandma! (This is a good rule of thumb anywhere there is an old lady and no empty seats)

Taxis

  • In over four months of traveling I’ve only used a taxi twice…because they’re normally more expensive than the bus or subway and much more expensive than walking!  That said, one thing to remember when hiring a taxi (especially in a place you are unfamiliar or where there is a language barrier) is to agree on a price to get to your location before getting in the taxi.  In some parts of the world taxi drivers are notorious for charging foreign travelers exorbitant amounts, in part because they can get away with it when they have an uninformed patron.  The person working the desk at your hotel/hostel should know a reasonable amount for a taxi to get you to your desired location.  If the driver won’t agree to the right price, walk away and try the next taxi.

Air Travel

  • Shop around!  There are so many online tools now that make it easy to find good value for your domestic and international flights.  Currently I use Matrix – ITA Software by Google and Skyscanner to begin all my flight searches.
  • Once you’ve narrowed down your flight options use Seat Guru to help pick the right seat for you.  It’s very easy to use.  Just put in the flight information and it will bring up a seating diagram with information showing amenities, exit row locations, ‘best’ seat choices, leg room, etc.

Safety

  • Listen to your sixth sense.  We’ve all been there…You feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and have a funny feeling when walking in a dark alley, or you can tell the people across the room are looking at you.  Don’t ignore this sixth sense of self preservation, embrace it.  If you feel uncomfortable in a situation…change the situation.  Leave the dark alley, duck into a well lit store to see if the people are following you.  Follow your instincts.
  • The best tip I can give is to travel with minimal valuables (jewelry, excess amounts of cash, expensive watches, etc.).  For what you do travel with, keep these two tips in mind: Don’t show off wealth and know where your valuables are. Keep them locked in the hotel room safe, or the hostel locker, or on your person in a secure money belt.  If you look like you’re rich, you’re more likely to be targeted by thieves and pickpockets.  If you don’t have anything on you while walking Las Ramblas in Barcelona or riding the metro in Paris (both notorious for pickpockets) you won’t lose anything.

Packing

  • It’s ‘Location, Location, Location’ in Real Estate but in terms of smart travel packing it should be ‘Light, Light, Light!!’  MORE stuff means MORE weight to lug around, MORE hassle, MORE time packing, unpacking, and repacking, MORE things to wash when you get home, MORE things to keep track of, MORE baggage fees, and MORE things to carry with you your whole trip!  I recently met a solo traveler, Jana, on her first backpacking adventure who initially packed seven pairs of shoes for an eight week trip!  Needless to say she regretted bringing that many and was down to 4 pair going into her eighth week (that’s still too many).  We agreed her packing style was completely opposite of mine.  Form vs. Function!
  • An old travelers saying: ‘take half as much stuff and twice as much money as you think you need’.  I agree with the first part.

General

  • Be nice!  Not all travelers are nice and is seems those are a generally jerks in day to day life are also jerks while traveling.  As a traveler you will run into issues and a large portion of the people you encounter work in the tourism economy.  They are used to dealing with issues.  If you’re nice they’ll most likely go out of their way to help you.

Highs and Lows of Solo Travel

I must admit, in a way I’m kind of a loner.  Being a never married (or close to it) thirty something lends itself to having a lot of ME time over the years.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a recluse, I spend as much time with my family and friends as anyone.  But while others were having long-term relationships that inevitably led to marriage and families I had shorter relationships that inevitably led to being single again.  I don’t mean to sound bitter; I’m not, because being a single thirty something has afforded me the opportunity to venture into this unknown lifestyle of ‘traveler’.  I won’t go so far as to say my time alone prepared me for long-term solo travel but I do think in certain situations it can help, especially if you’re naturally an introvert, like me.

Here are a few pros and cons of solo travel I’ve encountered while traveling:

Pros

  • At times travel makes even the most reticent introvert come out of their shell (which is a good thing!).  Since there isn’t anyone else to count on you are the doer.  So…say you want to try the native cuisine but don’t speak the language, you can’t figure out the automated ticket machine at the train station, or you just want to tag along to the pub with some people at the hostel…it’s on you.  You must step out of the shadows wallflower and ask that girl to dance.  If you don’t; there’s only one person to blame.
  • There’s no compromising.  You get to pick what you spend your time doing, all of your time.  If you don’t want to go to another museum…don’t.  The only person you have to please is you.  Recently I met another solo traveler, Jana, on a bus to Newcastle and she put it perfectly: “I get to be as selfish as I want!’
  • If you’re traveling unmapped, like me, you can make decisions on the fly about when/where you go, how you get there, and how long you stay…without needing a consult from anyone except Mr. Budget.

Cons

  • The opposite is true for the first point above.  It’s on you…always on you.  That can get old.  There’s nobody else to make reservations, buy and cook food, wash clothes, decide when/where to travel next, etc.  As nice as it is to have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, and how you want, having another decision maker on board is nice once in a while.  I think that’s one reason solo travelers, if only for a day, join with groups or each other.  They not only gain the camaraderie that’s missed in a ‘table for one’ setting but also someone to share the decision-making ‘burden’ with.
  • At some point you’ll want to get away, lay in your favorite recliner, and be alone.  The problem is your favorite recliner will be 7000 miles away and all you’ll have is the common room at the hostel.  It’s not always the best place to just veg out.  (a good hack to fix this problem is to find a scenic park, pop in your ear buds, and ignore everyone around you)
  • When you cook…it’s hard to only cook for one person.  Hostel refrigerators are usually small and full of other people’s food items so you won’t often be able to save ‘leftovers’.
  • You can’t take advantage of the discounts given to two or more.  Some include railpass discounts, plates for two at restaurants, and rooms for two at hostels.

This is a small list but whether you’re solo traveling for a weekend, a week-long work trip, or a gap year…at some point you’re bound to encounter some or all of these situations…and more.  I’d love to hear your ups and downs from being on the road alone.  Comment here with your solo travels pros and cons!

5 Things I Learned in France

  1. The Paris subway system is a behemoth!  It’s vast but efficient and apparently you’re never more than 400 meters from a subway stop.  I thought it was great!  Easy to understand and navigate  ….and a good value. 
  2. In Brittany the church bells ring a lot…even during funerals.
  3. The French people are not as PC as I thought.  While in Paris there was a huge demonstration against the newly passed law allowing same-sex marriage.  The authorities
    Visiting Hours Don't Stop For Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
    Visiting Hours Don’t Stop For Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

    estimated over 150,000 people but the promoters claimed it was closer to one million strong.  I happened to walk through the area as they were setting up in the afternoon.  There was a big stage and for a quarter-mile  there were several video boards, and cranes with speakers hanging from them.  I thought it was for a concert or I would have taken some photos.

  4. It’s possible to spend two weeks in Brittany and only hang out with expats from the UK.  My tally for the 16 days in Brittany:  I met 2 or 3 French people and about 45 Brits.
  5. Notre-Dame is quite amazing even when there is a zoo of tourists (like me) roaming through in the middle of Mass.

One Drawback of Traveling Unmapped

If you followed the Unmapped Travels Facebook page back in mid May, you may have known about the first Unmapped Travels Postcard Contest when I asked for suggestions of where to travel on my way to Brittany, France for my second Workaway gig.  It turned out my brother Matt had the lone dissenting opinion of all the comments and his reasons were solid so he won the contest.  His intended prize was a postcard from Bordeaux.

From the beginning of my travels I knew one drawback to the way I’m traveling (on the cheap while not planning routes and accommodations far in advance) could be occasionally hitting a situation that doesn’t fit into my budget.  It’s a risk I’m willing to take to allow more room for spontaneity.   I ran into such a situation on my way to Brittany through Bordeaux (Matt’s suggestion).  I was in San Sebastián, Spain looking for a place to stay in Bordeaux, France and to my surprise, there are next to zero budget accommodations in Bordeaux, and zero hostels.  So I went to the train station in San Sebastian and instead of buying a ticket to Bordeaux found a decent priced ticket to Paris.  So the drawback led to me SPONTANEOUSLY going to Paris.  For me, a nice consolation to Bordeaux, and for my Postcard Contest winning brother a nice consolation Brittany postcard.

Big Travel Mistake

I was an idiot today.  I made a HUGE travel mistake.  Actually it wasn’t a travel mistake as much as it was just a stupid thing that happened because I wasn’t paying enough attention.  If I was French or had known the local customs it wouldn’t have happened.  If I was paying more attention to my surroundings it wouldn’t have happened.  And I wasn’t alone.

My WorkAway friend Dave and I were walking around this little Breton village and saw a nice tall church (all the small villages in Brittany seem to have a nice tall church).  We were in the back and saw a sign in French that roughly translated to ‘free church tower visits’.  Like any good traveler I like to check out the old churches I come across, especially those that are free.  After a couple of hours walking around the village and taking pictures we found ourselves walking in front of the church and noticing a few people walking out we decided to take a look at the inside.

There were only a few people inside, all in front, and it looked like they were talking with the priest.   I sat down, as I normally do in big churches to get a good look around, and Dave was wandering up the center aisle.   I began looking at the pamphlet on the pew next to me and upon looking up saw the people at the front turning to leave with a small casket.  That’s right….it was a funeral.

I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard of the movie ‘Wedding Crashers’.  At the end there is a scene about crashing a funeral.  That’s not exactly what we were doing, but close enough.

I immediately got up and we swiftly left.  After getting out the door we saw what should have been noticed while walking in…the 45 or so people standing outside in black, and the hearse waiting with back doors open.

We accidentally walked in on the funeral of a French child!!  At least I hadn’t pulled out my camera and started taking pictures yet.