“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” So said the late author James Michener, and he should know. As the author of more than 40 books, some of which were non-fiction detailing his travels all over the world, one could call him a bit of an expert. His advice is absolutely spot on.
SEE: Going abroad: Tips to take the hassle out of long-haul travel
On leaving the sunny shores of South Africa, be it your first time or whether you’re a regular traveller you’re going to encounter people, cultures, religions, transport systems, currencies and lifestyles that are completely different to your own. How you deal with this will determine how successful you are as a traveller.
Here are six essential skills every traveller needs to make their journey memorable for all the right reasons.
1. Navigating the airport
“Your ability to navigate through an airport is one of the first challenges you’ll experience on your travels,” says Kelly. It can be very confusing knowing where to go especially if you have a connecting flight requiring you to change terminals. An airport like Dubai International, the second busiest in the world, can present some difficulties especially if your onward flight departs from different terminals. Moving between terminals may require a shuttle transfer or a trip on the Metro, and time is of the essence.
One reason why travel agents generally book a minimum of two hours between connecting flights is to allow passengers time to get to their departure gates. At an airport like Dubai literally hundreds of flights land and depart in a single day. Finding your next flight can be tricky and getting to the departure gate on time can be challenging. “I always recommend that passengers look for their onward flight on the airport board as soon as they land, then they should make their way there before doing anything else. Shopping at duty free can wait because your flight certainly won’t” says Kelly.
2. Haggle a bargain
There are flea markets and souks the world over and it’s one of the great pleasures in life to spend some time wandering through these in search of unusual goods and trinkets to take home as a reminder of your trip. Often the pricing system on offer is not set, leading to the dance of the dollars or haggling.
It’s a bit like a waltz of wills in that you have an idea of what you’re prepared to pay and the shop owner has an idea of what they’re prepared to accept, and so the dance begins. The general rule of thumb is this: the sales person will throw out an offer, you come back with half of that and you haggle until you reach a mutually agreeable amount. Be sensible and sensitive in this. Many store owners rely on your purchases to put food on the table, so don’t haggle too much. Pay a fair price and enjoy your purchase knowing you’ve supported a local family.
3. Read a map
If you’ve ever looked at the printed version of the Paris Metro and scratched your head in confusion, you’re not alone. Being able to understand a map, be that of the Metro, Berlin’s U-Bahn or even a road map is a special kind of skill that is worth knowing. There’s nothing worse than being lost in a strange city and not knowing how to navigate your way back to your hotel or hostel. So bone up on your map reading skills and learn your north from your northwest.
4. Parlez-vous anglais?
Everyone, no matter where they live, loves to be addressed in their home language. It’s such a huge sign of respect to the country you’re visiting if you are able to converse in the mother tongue and all you need to know are the basics. Hello, please, thank you, my name is…, excuse me where are the toilets will get you much further than making no effort at all.
With a little bit of effort you’ll soon master the words and be on your way to making a truck load of new friends overseas.
5. Make the most of your moolah
Rands, Swiss francs, dollars, pounds, euros, baht, roubles, rupees, dong, yen, yuan – almost every country has their own currency and exchange rate. Don’t be caught out in the markets and shops when paying for an item priced in the local currency when you tender in dollars. If you don’t keep your wits about you you’re asking for trouble and will definitely be short changed. It’s worthwhile having a certain amount of local money to use for these purchases or knowing what the current exchange rate is to make sure you don’t walk away with less change than you’re due.
Knowing the value of your money is also key to making certain buying decisions. In Paris you may be tempted to buy yourself that Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt or opt for the cabaret show at la Nouvelle Eve. The t-shirt will set you back about 80 Euros and the show (with a bottle of wine) will cost less than 70 Euros. You need to decide on whether to spend your hard earned cash on a single item or a lifetime experience that will have dining out on the memories for years to come.
6. Let’s keep it safe
Travel is one of the best things in life as it exposes you to people and places that you’ve probably only ever read about. But don’t be silly about your own safety. Kelly concludes: “Never let your South African sensibilities desert you. Keep your guard up in public places, be aware of pick pockets, know how to contact the Embassy, let family have a copy of your itinerary and be contactable – even if it’s only on Facebook.”
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