My first ‘Ten Lessons in Ten Years of Travel and Adventure‘ post was very popular it seems, and I had lots of great feedback from everyone – plus a lot of encouragement to fulfill my idea of a ‘Ten MORE lessons’ post. So here it is! Make sure to read the original post first!
11. 99.9% of the world are not axe-murderers!
Yup – who knew? Despite what the media outlets would like to have us believe, people around the world do not wake up each day to set about attacking and murdering tourists. Unfortunately, we as humans are suckers for bad news, we thrive on it. So, the media capitalise on this by only publishing all the crappy things that happen – and who can blame them? They have to earn a dollar too, and if they will make a ton more money selling bad news than by trying to spread the news about good people are.
I am not for a second saying that you should dance down the streets of Helmand Province in Afghanistan with the Stars and Stripes draped across your shoulders, but if you take the necessary precautions and keep your wits about you – there is no need to fear for your life every time you step off the aircraft.
I need two hands to count the number of people that I know personally, or have read their stories of travelling through Iran for example. The biggest issue they all faced was not being able to keep to their schedules as the local people would always offer them tea! Those who have cycled through Iran as part of a round-the-world bicycle ride especially comment that it often took twice as long to cross Iran as planned, as they spent half their time drinking tea with the locals!
I think as long as travellers are not stupid, evaluate the risks as they would at any point in their normal lives, they can have safe journeys. A point that I am often reminded of when folks back home worry about safety in foreign countries, is the time a few years ago when a friend of mine in my rural English hometown got beaten to within an inch of his life by a bunch of street kids because he was wearing a stetson (cowboy hat) while walking down the street on his way home from a costume party, all because they thought it looked ‘a bit silly‘.
You wouldn’t walk through certain areas of Guatemala City at night, the same with Dar-es-Salaam, Tegucigalpa, Delhi, Nairobi, Medellín, and so on. – But are you also saying there are no parts of cities such as New York, London, Paris, Los Anegeles, Toronto, etc. that you wouldn’t feel the same about? Keep your eyes on your baggage, don’t fall for scams, don’t offer to take anything across borders for people, and you will be fine!
Think I am naïve? Comment at the bottom!
12. Collect airmiles
Update: I have since written a complete introduction on how to maximise airmiles. Click here to see the article!
For years I booked flights without being a member of a rewards program and I severely regret it! I was basically giving away free money! All the airlines’ reward schemes are free to join, and even if you never end up using the miles, you haven’t lost out on anything as the ticket prices are the same regardless. More likely however, is that even if you never earn enough for a free long-haul flight in first class, you can use what points you have earned for free upgrades, better food, lounge access, fancy hotels and more. All while still taking the same flights you would be taking anyway!
In fact, If it wasn’t for the fact that I am not a UK tax resident I would be signing up for credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses just for applying for the card – even up to 70,000 miles on some cards. (A first-class ticket from LA to London for example – for free!) Plus, each time you spend money on the card you get more miles – obviously you should pay it off each month as not to accrue tons of debt. But some people (known as travel hackers) actually ‘churn’ cards, basically taking out lots of credit cards and renewing them every few months (or as often as the card provider allows) to take advantage of the sign-up bonuses. It is perfectly legal and people who are good at it earn hundreds of thousands of free airmiles every year. www.onemileatatime.com is a great blog that covers travel hacking in a lot of detail – it is more aimed at the American market as the credit card industry there is much more catered for travel-hacking.
Traveling is not cheap, I make a lot of sacrifices in order to continue this way of life – why throw away free money?
This is a new one for me. Back during Christmas last year, I sat down for a few hours and plotted every flight I had every taken on a map, and the results were pretty shocking – and I don’t even consider myself a frequent flyer! So starting from the beginning of 2020 I will contribute the appropriate amount to a carbon-offset fund for every flight I take. I have been doing some research into which schemes are the best, but it seems the basic premise is that the site calculates the per-person carbon emissions for any given flight and you can contribute an amount based on this to projects such as tree-planting and renewable energy research etc.
I know I am but a drop in the ocean compared to everything that we all do as a species, not to mention that I have heard conflicting reports about such schemes and their reliability and honesty. But, even for those folks dubious about climate change and the effects aviation has on it – surely cannot deny that a few more trees is never a bad thing regardless!
What are your thoughts? Any recommendations on good CO2 offset funds, or perhaps even a better way I can give back for the privilege of flying around the world?
14. Go Slow. Spend Less.
Super simple this one!
Staying longer in places and cooking (and drinking) at home! These two simple points massively reduce two of the biggest expenses facing a traveller. As an example, I was looking at an AirBnB in Colombia at one point when I considering my next travel destination. I found a really great little cottage way up in the small village of Sorrento in the highlands, surrounded by coffee plantations and the best hiking Colombia has to offer. The price for a week’s stay worked out around $40 US a night – very reasonable for a private cottage in a prime location. However, a month’s stay was $300 – in total! The discount for a longer term rental was something like 80%!
A somewhat related example is right here in the Cayman Islands. If you are visiting for only a few days or a week, you may be astonished by the high cost of living here. People ask me all the time – “James! How the heck can you guys afford to live here?? It’s so expensive!” Well, the savvy, slow traveller knows the rather than spending between $5 – $7 a beer at bars and restaurants, you can buy a case of 24 beers direct from the brewery for $30 – just over a buck a beer – bargain! Or perhaps you wondered what that area in the front of your condo is? It’s called a kitchen! Sure groceries are expensive too, but not compared to the $50 – $60 a head at even the most reasonably priced restaurants!
Stop rushing around! It’s very exciting the prospect at moving onto the next place and cramming in as much in as possible. But – if you can slow down and play the long game – you will benefit at the end!
15. Take more photographs!
I cannot even begin to imagine how many ‘lost’ moments I have experienced but have no record of because at the time, I didn’t feel it was necessary to take a photograph. Or, more often than not, I thought – “It’s OK, I’ll take one later/tomorrow/next week.” and then simply never did.
The Guatemalan mother and her three sons who we stayed with in Antigua, my first car in Cayman that was covered in stickers, the black bear that was sniffing around our campsite in Canada, Candace and I playing in the waves in El Salvador, the Tajine pots we ate out of in Morocco, the Pizzas in Italy, My first BASE jump, the moldy Caravan I used to live in, and the list goes on. All moments and times of my life that I wish I had taken photos of, but at the time I just didn’t appreciate.
‘A picture tells a thousand words’ is a cliché for a reason! Get that camera out!
16. But – Don’t sacrifice the moment for the sake of a photograph!
“Left a bit, no, my left. Fine! Right a bit then. Smile! Hang on – your eyes were closed, let me take another one. Damn! – The sun was behind you, you just look like a silhouette. Turn around, OK…wait… Come forward… oops – too far! Go back a little. OK good. Now hold that position… No! you moved! Now the photo is blurry. I’ll take another. Someone just walked in front of me. It will have to be another one. This one is good … what do you mean you look weird? Sure – one more then. How about this one? No? My battery is running out – let’s hurry this up.”
Sound familiar? Photos are wonderful and as per the previous point, I wish I had taken more. But don’t let an insatiable desire for the ‘perfect’ photograph ruin what could have been an actually perfect moment. Sometimes the camera needs to be put away!
Sometimes I contradict myself! Judge the moment and decide whether ‘that’ photo is really worth it …
17. Remember where your home is
Sorry to my long suffering family! You have always been in my thoughts but I may not have been very good at communication. It is my 2020 resolution to get in touch more! I promise!
Missing weddings, birthdays and funerals sucks. Thank-You to my family for understanding!
18. Don’t just learn a phrase – Learn a language!
If you are only visiting a place for a short time, learning just a few basic phrases to endear yourself to the locals is as far as you need to go. As I mentioned in the previous post, showing you have made an effort will set yourself miles above the masses of others tourists.
But to truly get to know a country and it’s people – you have to truly know it’s language. (Or at the very least, be able to talk about stuff that isn’t ordering a beer or apologising to a Police Officer that you didn’t know that the girl from the bar was his daughter.)
I have had a love/hate relationship with Spanish for many years. I find that I will study hard and travel in Spanish speaking countries until my level is really good, before then returning to the English speaking world and it gets very rusty once again. I have even had Spanish speaking colleagues and housemates, but after 12-hours working in the hot sun, the last thing I wanted to do was speak another language at home!
Ultimately however, I have had some really meaningful interactions with some wonderful people through my basic level of knowledge with this amazing language. I have spoken with confidence throughout Central America, Cuba, Spain, Mexico, and the United States too. With over 480 million native speakers – it is a great one to know! With one-on-one lessons at an accredited school, secure accommodation with a local family, and three meals a day coming in at $200 a week in Guatemala – it’s economical, fun, practical, and fast to learn to boot! Try www.celasmaya.edu.gt
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”Nelson Mandela
19. Break the Ice
People are shy of strangers – regardless of the country! If you go and say ‘Hi’ first – 90% of the time you will get a positive response back. The worst case is a neutral or cold response. But a negative response is very rare.
Even here in Cayman, when I am out cycling – the folks sitting on their porches simply watch me as I cruise past with a passive face. They can even sometimes look angry or condescending. However, as soon as I wave and offer a cheery ‘Good Morning’ their expressions always light up and they frantically wave back! “Good Morning Sir!”
The only people that shrug me off or completely ignore me are the grumpy old folks – but that’s the same the world over!
As someone who has travelled solo for a large proportion of my adult life, I can personally vouch that it is very intimidating to approach other people to see if you can join their table, or otherwise engage them in some form of social activity. But, if you can pluck up the courage to head over there and say something along the lines of “Hi – I am James. I am travelling by myself and was wondering if you guys wouldn’t mind if I came to join you?” I have never been told no. (So far!)
Bintang. Chang. Singha. Toña. Imperial. Salvavida. Kingfisher. Modelo. Gallo. Cristal. Bucanero. Kokanee. Tooheys. Steinlager. Fiji Bitter. Regia. Caybrew. Landshark. Red Stripe. Presidente.
If you recognise the list above – congratulations! – You are a dirty, beer-drinking traveller!
Couple this copious beer drinking with the local food delicacies …
Papusas. Tacos. Nasi Goreng. Pad Thai. Butter Chicken. Doubles. Masala. Ramen. Gallo Pinto. Salt Fish. Run Down. Burritos. Schnitzel. Falafel. Enchiladas. Fish and Chips. Penang. Fried Chicken. Stew Beef. Festivals. Massaman. Tom yung. Schwarma.
Seeing the pattern?
Travel can be hard on the body and hard on your health! It’s important to try to keep active not only for physical well-being – but mental health too.
Walk. Run. Cycle. Swim. Yoga. Kayak. Hike. Paddle-board. Hotel Gym.
Get moving – you will feel better!
One work-out I am really liking during quarantine is the ‘Playing Card’ work-out. Take an ordinary set of playing cards, assign a particular exercise to each suit – e.g: Clubs = Squats, Hearts = Push-ups, etc. Then simply draw cards from an over-turned deck. The number on the card corresponds to the number of reps you have to do, while the suit dictates the exercise. If your fitness is not so good to do all 52 cards, a high number of reps, or both – simply remove any card above number 8. (or 5, or 6 etc.) You can do the opposite if you are fitter. For the supreme athletes among us – you can simply double, triple or quadruple the number of the card when deciding the number of reps!
Thanks for reading Part Two of my life lessons learned during my decade of travel and adventure.
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