Over the past few years, photography has taken me all over the world to many fascinating places and countries. During my most recent trip to Switzerland and France, it occurred to me that I should write down some practical advice for travelers based on my own experiences. This is not a comprehensive checklist of “dos” and “donts” but rather a few subjective bits of advice to keep you out of trouble and to enhance the traveling experience. Enjoy.
Don’t Be a Jerk
Yes, things are done differently here, but isn’t that the reason you came in the first place? Instead of rudely wondering aloud how this isn’t how it’s done back home, embrace the many differences and experience something new for a change. For example, try some of the local food. The fact that it’s different from what you are used to doesn’t make it inferior. Laughing or scoffing at something new, only because it’s different, only makes you look like a narrow-minded, ignorant jerk.
Figure out what you think you’re going to need and then reduce it by a third. If you run out of clean clothes, you can always wash a few items in the river or a the hotel sink. In the rare instance where you need something that you didn’t bring, simply buy it locally or improvise. You will surprise yourself by how little you really need when traveling while the freedom from lugging around useless weight is exhilarating.
Before You Leave, Do Some Research
I learned this the hard way. If I ever happen to meet you in person, buy me a beer and ask me about the time I narrowly escaped detainment after the Brazilian border police discovered I didn’t have have my required visa – AFTER I had already entered the country. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but hopefully you will learn never to repeat the same mistake I made.
In addition to the important stuff – like having the right paperwork – check out the currency exchange rates, maps (Google Earth and Google Maps are great tools), and any travel advisories issued for the area you’re visiting.
Do Not Photograph Children Without Permission
In many countries, this can get you into big trouble. You could be breaking a law and end up in jail. You could get shot or the crap beat out of you. All of these scenarios are sure to ruin your trip.
Learn some of the local language, even if only a few commonly-used phrases
This helps you get around a little and makes you appear fractionally less clueless than you actually are. Here are a few items you might want to consider:
Hello, Goodbye (exhibits good manners)
Thank you very much (better manners yet)
Where is the toilet? (for obvious reasons)
Help! Somebody call the police! (In case you really do need help or to recognize when it’s time to make a run for it).
No matter how well you plan, the plan will fail at some point. Things never go as planned. Never. Cancelled or delayed flights, getting sick, getting lost, bad weather, and unrealistic expectations are all part and parcel of traveling. Getting mad or upset doesn’t help, so I’ve conditioned myself to expect these things to happen and consider it as part of an adventure. Your own attitude about the little obstacles and predicaments will either make the trip exponentially better or worse. And really, wouldn’t it be a little boring if everything went down exactly as planned anyway?
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