Douwe Osinga's Blog: 7 Rules for Traveling

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I haven't blogged in a long time. I promised a further explanation about why my blog went away for two weeks, but now I am thinking, who cares? Anyway, we're about to go off to Germany for Christmas and from there on to Ecuador to see among other things the Galapagos Islands. Very exciting. So, yeah, I like traveling. I've come up with 7 rules to make traveling even more enjoyable. When I say traveling, I mean the Lonely Planet crowd: you don't mind beaches, but you are here to see cool stuff and you are on some sort of budget.

  1. Sleep where you want to be
    We wanted to spend a weekend in Lisbon and when I booked the flight there was this offer for a luxury hotel at a relative small price, so I took it. Bad move. Yeah, the hotel was a upscale business hotel, but it was in the business district (dead on the weekend), miles away from the historic town. In terms of enjoying the city, any single starred pension right down-town would have been much better.
    You should sleep comfortably of course, but other than that, sleeping is sleeping. You wanna be close to what you came for.

  2. Smile, mime & 20 words goes a long way
    I traveled from Mexico to Venezuela on maybe fifty words of Spanish (maybe a little more at the end) and it worked fine even in places where English was scarce. People like it if you pick a little of the local language, but apart from that, miming and smiling usually works too. When I am confronted with somebody with whom I don't share any language, I usually talk to them in Dutch. Slowly and with lots of hand movements and it surprisingly often works out.

  3. Learn to listen and to ignore local advice
    We were in Namibia and wanted to cross to Zimbabwe through the caprivi strip. The bus was canceled and the local travel agent said there were no busses at all going there. We asked what the chances for hitchhiking were. Well, we could ask the ‘boys' at the gas station. The ‘boys' were the black people – the travel agent was run by whites and it turned out that they had their own (mini) bus system with continuous departures to Zimbabwe. We had an excellent trip seeing another side of Namibia.
    The locals are of course a great source of first hand information when traveling, but they have their own perspective on things. It's an important input, but not the end of all discussion.

  4. Trade time for money in your own currency
    We booked a boat from Java to Sumatra but through unforeseen circumstances we ended up in third class ten meters below the see in an overcrowded iron compartment. The trip was supposed to take 72 hours. We considered the situation for ten minutes and then upped and left. We booked a flight instead. That night sitting on our porch overlooking a tropical river, sipping an ice cold beer with Orang Utangs in the jungle back drop, we considered that the boat would need another 60 hours.
    Travel in third world countries can be cheap and that is great – on a tight budget you couldn't afford it otherwise. But there are times to snap out of the “10ct for a banana are you crazy?” mindset, especially if you can buy a lot of time with a little more money.

  5. Readjust your appetite for risk.
    Getting around in Kenya's Matatu's is of course way more dangerous than taking the subway at home – to the extend that Matatu's would be outlawed as certain death traps at home. So why take them in Kenya? If you use the same risk calculations you do at home when traveling, you obviously wouldn't be doing much and probably shouldn't go. But since you're going to be taking these risks for only a limited amount of time, it is all ok. Higher risks for a limited amount of time in return for extra ordinary experiences is a good trade off.

  6. Check the weather report
    While in Morocco, I decided to take an excursion to the sand dunes of the Sahara. It hadn't rained in 10 years, but that day it did. While it is true that in most places travelers go to, the weather is more stable than in say on the East coast of the US or Europe, nothing is certain.
    Most places are nicer with sun and if you travel around, you have the choice of where to go next. Any internet café can tell you where the sun shines.

  7. Don't under-spend on food all the time
    Years ago I was traveling with my brother in Syria on a tight budget. Falafel three times a day is indeed a cheap way to fill your stomach, but it does get old rather quickly.  Only much later did I discover that Syrian food is actually really good. Eat as much rice and dhal as you want while in India, but take one night and splurge on the best food you can find.