The Art of Travel

Mural in La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2010

I debated over the title of this post for a while.  It should really just be called “My Travel Tips” or something, as I don’t claim to be any kind of authority on travelling and there are some much better blogs out there which give great travel advice (such as this one by a Lonely Planet contributor).  But I liked the sound of “The Art of Travel” so don’t judge me by the title alone.

This list was inspired by my friend who just came back from a trip and is suffering from the post-travelling blues.  I wanted to offer him advice and help him out of his funk.

I then got thinking about a lot of great advice I have picked up from various people regarding travelling and thought I’d make a list (I love lists!)….

So, in order of the best bits of advice I have been given…

1. When going on a long trip you will get homesick after about 3 weeks.

I don’t know who gave me this piece of advice but it has served me well on all my trips since.  I think the 3-week-blues happen because this is the time that the excitement of being away maybe wears off a little bit… You’re on your 7th long-distance bus journey in 10 days, you’ve slept in a different uncomfy bed every night for the last 4 nights, you’re tired, you really need to do some laundry… Three weeks is also the point that something turns from a vacation into travelling – if it’s your first time travelling this will also be the first time you’ve been away for that long.  This can make you sad.  Even if you’re having a fantastic time, that lack of contact with friends and family – the safe and familiar – can suddenly hit you and you feel homesick… DON’T WORRY, it will pass.  This is the great part of this bit of advice – once you know that this 3-week homesickness is a common occurrence you can acknowledge it when it happens and know that you don’t need to change your plans or worry that you’re not cut out for travelling.  Just know that it will pass.  Feel down for a couple of days.  Maybe chat to other travellers about it if you’ve met some people you feel that you can share that kind of thing with.  Keep calm and carry on travelling.  You will get over it and you will have an amazing time.

2. When you get home, no-one really wants to hear all the exciting things you got up to.

And life has carried on without you just waiting for you to slot back in and get back to the ‘real world’.  Both these things can give you the post-travel blues.  When you get back all your friends will ask “How was your trip?!” in an excited voice.  But they don’t want a detailed account of all the adventure sports you did over the last 6 weeks and all the cool people you met and the funny story of what happened when the tall Canadian guy pushed you in the swimming pool in Iguazu… What they want is for you to say “It was fab!!”, with maybe one more sentence of detail… And then back to the real world.  They may let you know that they only want one sentence by asking “What was the best thing you did?” this question is annoying, as obviously you did so many exciting things you can’t possibly pick one!  But you have to.  And at least if you pick a different thing for each person who asks you that question you’ll get to reminisce about many of the cool things you did while telling them.  To get over the second part of the post-travel blues – the difficulty of fitting back into the ‘real world’ – I always find that thinking about the next trip I’m going to try and go on helps me get over this.  You might not know when you’ll be able to do it, and it might be a bit hypothetical, but it always helps cheer me up to think of where I want to go next (up the coast of Brazil and along the Amazon in case you were wondering).

3. Keep a journal.  

I have a bad memory (which is kind of ironic as I research memory) so to remember all the details of everything that happened on a trip I keep a daily journal.  Sometimes it can be a chore to keep up to date with it while you’re away and you feel that you should be out DOING cool stuff rather than WRITING ABOUT all the cool stuff you’ve done.  But it will be worth it in the end.  My travel journals are some of my most treasured possessions and it is great to relive the fantastic experiences and people you met by reading them years later.  You’ll be amazed at what you’ve forgotten.  Find time to write while waiting for buses or trains (or any kind of transport really) or just while sitting in a café watching the world go by.

4. Take more than one bank card and keep them in separate places.

This might sound obvious but my mum recently fell foul of not doing this despite being a seasoned independent traveller.  My dad was worried about the credit card being cloned when she was off in Indonesia so she went off with just the one debit card which then got blocked by the bank when a hotel tried to put two charges on it (which was legitimate, she stayed there twice).  Anyway, take as many cards as you can and keep them in different places.  I always keep some on my person/in my day bag, and some in my backpack in the hostel (hopefully in a locker, though I don’t always bother).  If I lose one of the cards or it gets stolen I can then cancel it and transfer the money to the other account/card via the internet.  On that note I also always carry a list of the international phone numbers for my banks ‘lost card’ hotlines on me when travelling (and email it to myself as well so I’ve got it saved electronically).

5. Don’t drink the water (all the time).

You don’t need to be annoying and OCD about this.  Drinking a bit of the local water is (rarely) going to kill you in one fell swoop (though it depends how remote the place is that you are visiting).  However, the minerals and bacteria in tap water in other countries will be different to your own and may cause you some stomach upsets, which could lead to more serious consequences if you get diarrhoea and get dehydrated from it.  Drinking a little of the water will help you build up your immunity to the local bacteria and help your stomach deal with eating ‘weird’ food.  Just use common sense.  A couple of ice cubes or one meal of salad leaves washed in tap water is not going to make you ill straight away unless you have the constitution of a goldfish, but drinking only tap water for two weeks in Argentina is going to give you explosive diarrhoea in the middle of the night so that you wake up in a brown puddle.  Sorry, was that too much information?!  Also, you can buy water sterilization tablets from a pharmacy which are tiny and very easy to carry on you and use.

6. Always pack a warm fleece.

Even if you’re going to a hot country it might get cold.  The weather may be unseasonally cold while you’re there.  You might take a trip into the mountains where it is cold because of the higher elevation.  It might get cold at night.  There might be super-dooper air-conditioning – on buses and trains this can be especially awful on long journeys.  And even if it doesn’t get cold, a good fleece doubles up as a great pillow in hostels, on buses, when sleeping out under the stars.

7. Edit your photos as you go.

You don’t need 17 photos of the same waterfall.  You are never going to look at all of them.  No-one else is ever going to want to look at all of them.  Editing your photos as you go along has always been a necessity for me as I never have very big memory cards for my camera but it also means that you don’t have to perform this chore when you get home.

8. Be able to be happy on your own.

Hopefully you will meet some amazing like-minded people while travelling, some who you may remain friends with for years to come, but there will also be times when you are alone.  You’ve just left some cool new friends as your travels didn’t take you in the same direction and have arrived in a new place and no-one in the hostel is being very friendly.  This can make you feel a bit down.  But take it on the chin.  Not everyone is going to be a kindred spirit.  Go out exploring on your own (you came travelling on your own after all).  Wander this city alone, enjoy your own company, learn things about yourself, do what YOU want to do.  This is one of the wonders of independent travel.  Enjoy it.

9. Take a medical kit.

You don’t need to fork out for a proper one as this will likely be a) more expensive, and b) include lots of crap you don’t need.  Just buy individual items and put them in a small make-up bag or similar.  Essential items:  Tablets for headache.  Tablets for diarrhoea.  Rehydration sachets.  Plasters/band-aids of various sizes.  Tweezers.  Safety pins.  A needle.  Gauze.  Medical tape.  A small bandage.  Blister plasters.  Antibiotic ointment.  Antibacterial wipes.  Mosquito repellent.  Bite-soothing cream.

10. Always carry toilet roll or tissues on your person.

Maybe this tip should have been no. 1 it’s so important?  You never know if there is going to be toilet paper.  Anywhere.  I always bring a roll from home (with the cardboard tube removed) in a plastic bag in my backpack and then take a little out with me every day in my day bag.  Essential.

11. Don’t buy a guidebook until you’re definitely going on a trip.

This isn’t really advice for better travelling, it’s just something that I do.  I don’t like to buy a guidebook for a trip until I am definitely sure that I am going on it.  I think it just feels like I might jinx myself or something if I buy a guidebook and get excited about going somewhere and then something happens that means I cannot go on that trip.  Definitely add it to your Amazon wishlist, but don’t click ‘buy’ until you are ready to book your plane tickets.

Sunset at JFK

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