Chris Guillebeau, an AC360Â° Contributor, blogged his 28 things I wish I’d known before I started traveling. I’ve annotated it below for traveling with bikes.
1. You can legally buy safe medicine, including prescription drugs, for very little money overseas. When in Africa or Asia, I stock up on anti-malarials that cost $5 a day in Seattle. On location, it’s more like $1 for a 10-day supply.
Too much of a boyscout to have meds on-the-fly and stock up at home. Our trips are no more than 2 weeks and we’re absolutely freaks about keeping clean, what we eat, and drink.
2. The best health care is not in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. The best healthcare is in places like Thailand and Costa Rica; that’s why the practice of medical tourism will continue to surge as both travel and overseas healthcare become more accessible.
We haven’t traveling into South America or Thailand, but don’t doubt this and think the state of our health care is ridiculous, as is the political discourse about it. The State should provide health care yes. We travel with a road rash kit and the full compliment of inoculations.
3. Take a lot of cash with you, and make sure the bills are new and have no writing on them. If you go to a place that accepts credit cards, then you can just redeposit the cash when you get home. It is far worse to end up short of cash with no credit card option.
We’re usually traveling to cities and withdrawal cash from ATMS to get the best exchange rates. I lose paper money and don’t carry much of it.
4. If you do use your credit card, check the online statement at least once a week while traveling to make sure there are no fraudulent charges. Keep all your receipts, especially for large purchases such as hotel stays, and compare the amounts charged when you get back.
5. When you exchange money, hang on to the receipt you get until you’ve left the country. Once in a great while, someone at the airport will want to see proof of all your foreign exchanges.
I got asked this at Chinese customs and had to show receipts.
6. The U.S. dollar is no longer the world’s currency. ( In fact, some currency exchange shops will no longer accept dollars!) Travel with a stock of Euros to complement your dollars. The exceptions to this rule include some countries in Africa and Latin America that still use the dollar as their primary currency, and any country that has had a recent war.
And we no longer enjoy the exchange rates of the past. In London it’s 1.6 dollars to a pound and a very expensive city.
7. Hire a taxi outside the airport, not from the guys who approach you inside as you’re walking out. Even better, walk further outside the airport to where the taxis pull in, and you’ll get a better deal because the driver won’t have to pay the entrance fee.
Jason got the long ride with a change in price last time we were in Asia – we talked with a cabbie about longriding during Interbike.
8. Never assume that your taxi driver knows where your destination is. Double-check and get him to ask someone before you go if there’s any doubt.
We have the concierges write our destintation down for us when taking cabs. They’ll expect you to ask and give you a card. They will also write your location to get you back for your driver. Drivers do not speak any English in Asia.
9. The universal rule of taxi haggling, for both driver and passenger, is that once both sides agree on a fare before setting off, neither side can reopen negotiations once you’re en route. You should not try to get a better deal nor should you accept any increase in the fare from the driver after the journey has started.
Hotels in Asia often offer drivers and cars – it’s expensive, but also worth it if you’ve massively jet lagged and don’t want to deal with the haggle or trusting a driver.
10. If you have a dispute with a taxi driver and you think you are being taken advantage of, offer to call the police and have them settle it. Many taxi drivers are scared of the police, and often for good reason (see below). If they are being dishonest and you mention the police, they will quickly back down. On the other hand, if they continue to press their claims, they may be right and you’ll need to pay more.
11. The police are not always your friends. Sad but true–in a lot of places in the world, the services of the police are sold to the highest bidder. Therefore, if you can pay them, they may turn out to be your friends… but in other cases, they may actually be the least trustworthy people in the country. Don’t be afraid, just be aware.
They also do no speak your language – I had to intervene while riding with Bryan Rhoads in Beijing. There are lots of rules where you can and can’t ride a bike and we wanted to get into a shopping area and were confused. Based on the expressions and body language of the guards, we were about to get arrested. Backed it off, submitted, and saved us a deportion over a language barrier.
12. When you feel pressured beyond your comfort level by someone who tries to follow you, be polite but increasingly firm. Don’t string anyone along out of guilt–tell them you don’t want their help, and move on. If they keep following you, tell them to stop.
The aggressive shopkeepers got a literal smack down from me in Beijiing. With a step-the-f off. Later regretted it, but they were grabbing onto me to sell me a knock-off Nike shirt.
13. When it comes to visas (and all immigration issues), your experience will vary from place to place. The rules are flexible in most places, and sometimes they will work in your favor and sometimes they will work against you.
Visas have become increasingly harder to get and we use a service to help us with the paperwork.
Planes, Trains, and Buses
14. All plane tickets are changeable no matter what is written on them, and any fees for changing can be waived with the right airline agent. You have a few options for making this happen: a) Hang up and call back to try with someone else, b) Call the Premium Traveler line or ask at an airline lounge, or c) Offer a “tip” at the airline counter (do this at your own risk).
15. Round-the-World tickets are the best bargains for extensive international travel. I use and recommend both the Star Alliance and the OneWorld products. Each have their advantages. SkyTeam also has a Round-the-World product, but it’s not nearly as good as the other two.
Agree that Skyteam is outstanding and are surprised to learn that more travelers don’t benefit from either service.
16. Most people flying Business Class are not paying full-fare. A high percentage of them on most flights are using awards tickets, special tickets, or have upgraded from Economy. Flying in premium cabins can help you in more ways than just being comfortable on long flights, because the tickets can almost always be changed or refunded without penalty. You’ll also get to hang out in airline lounges and get priority treatment, which may become very useful when you need to get in or out of somewhere fast. First Class is nice too, but the difference between First and Business is rarely as great as the difference between Business and Economy.
That’s absolutely correct and buying an upgradeable fare is well worth it. We think NWA – now Delta – has the best program in the business and we log miles with credit cards, rental cars, and so on. It adds up and we use them.
17. In some places, buses are better than trains for overland travel… in other places, trains are better than buses. Check out the options before you go to make the best decision for each place.
Coming from Seattle that lacks a good transportation system, we enjoy riding trains and do so in most cities we travel to with our bikes. One of the main reasons we travel with folders is for use on trains. We’re traveling London Underground with our bikes now. In Taiwan, they’ve got these magical business person buses.
18. The concept of personal space means very different things in different countries. You kind of have to get used to that.
Yes we’ve got crammed into trains, Asian style, and did not enjoy it at all. We try to just blend in with our bikes and enjoy the surroundings.
19. Like it or not, you have to be somewhat tolerant of smoking. There are lots of places in the world that haven’t picked up on the Western anti-smoking crusade. If this is hard for you to accept, you’ll likely be frustrated.
London is non smoking now! Asia is not!
20. Unless you can be very discreet, never take photos of people without asking. Don’t be surprised if they say no, because many cultures are not comfortable with strangers taking photos of them all the time. If they do say yes, you may find yourselves indebted to them for a gift or other favor.
We always ask and no one has asked us to pay them yet – we’ve offered.
21. Never touch members of the opposite sex. This includes sitting next to them on buses and trains–you’ll often be shuffled around to ensure that you only sit next to people of the same sex, although you’ll also usually be given the best seat.
Roll with this stuff, agreed. We’re strangers in a strange land, riding around. To find routes, we watch where the other cyclists are riding – besides maps of course.
22. Don’t point your feet at people or touch anyone on the head. In several cultures, this is disrespectful or otherwise inappropriate.
23. Be careful with all hand gestures, including the “thumbs-up” sign and the “a-OK” sign. Both of these are highly provocative in some places.
24. Never make promises you don’t intend to keep. Don’t tell vendors you’ll buy from them tomorrow, don’t offer to help anyone visit your country, don’t say you’ll write to someone later if you won’t really do it, and so on.
25. Most important: don’t be a colonialist. Be careful about calling people “locals.” Don’t assume that your culture is superior. People are not stupid just because they don’t speak English or think like you do.
We haven’t found ourselves in these situations on the bike and as we’ve written about the bike is a connector. We’re usually either talking bikes or demontrating how they work to people that ask.
26. Be prepared to represent your country, whether you care about politics or not. For better or worse, many people will expect you to know a lot about politics in your home country and how governmental decisions in one country affect the lives of people thousands of miles away. Don’t say you’re from Canada unless you really are.
27. Always point out that a government’s actions and the beliefs of an individual (e.g., yourself) are not always the same. Most people understand this and some will even say the same thing without prompting, but it’s usually a good reminder to put forward.
28. No matter whom you are talking to, never say anything negative about the government of the country you are in. Many rogue states, from Zimbabwe to Iran to North Korea, employ English-speaking spies who will deliberately try to incite foreign visitors into saying something incriminating. (I’m not making this up. In Guinea I was followed by the Secret Service everywhere I went. A friend of mine went to North Korea and found an extensive tape recording system in his hotel room.)
Lastly, remember that there are not many “undiscovered” places left in the world. Focus on the places that are undiscovered to you and you won’t go wrong.
We avoid talking politics – we talk about bikes.
Obviously, each place you go to will offer unique challenges, but following this list will get you off to a good start. Above all, don’t forget the cardinal rule of traveling–pack light. You really don’t need all the extra stuff.
Traveling with bikes, computers, and cameras has necessitated that we pack as light as possible – will write about that more in another post. Mark V is an expert in this matter.
Furthermore, I find the [State Department website](http://www.state.gov/) invaluable for traveling. It’s very well written and includes much data about the local customs, concerns, and dangers. We also practice situational awareness. Meaning being aware of our surroundings. That’s a challenge when jet-lagged, but hurtling ourselves into London traffic requires attention. Our skills as bike racers come into play and did so yesterday when we took a wrong turn into the path of taxis on a one-way. We stayed the course, held our line, and they backed down giving us room.