Whether it’s your first time or twentieth time traveling, there are some rules you want know before stepping out the door.
1. Dress Appropriately
It’s a given that before you travel, you always want to check the weather of your destination so you can pack accordingly. What you might want to do is also check out the dress code for each point of interest. For example, if you are planning on visiting Bangkok’s Grand Palace or grabbing a drink at Sky Bar on the rooftop of Lebua State Tower Hotel, you should be aware that the dress code does not allow shorts, tank tops or open-toe shoes even on a humid 100º day. You should also dress comfortably for the ride. Have you ever been stuck in the airport security line behind people that have on a bunch of jewelery, bags, belt, jacket, bottles etc? It sucks. Look! I get it! You want to look fresh and stylish in case you there’s an attractive person on your flight. You can still look good in a pair of sweatpants and hoodie. I know it can’t be fun sitting on a plane for 15 hours in skinny jeans. And I’m sure it’s not very fun going through the metal detector multiple times because you forgot to take off your belt, rings, watch, or laptop out of the bag. Know what you can bring on the plane. If you don’t know, check the airline or airport website.
2. Up-to-date Passport and ID’s
It comes without saying that before you do any kind of traveling, you want to make sure that all your ID’s, passports and visas are valid and up-to-date. But you have no idea how many times I’ve heard from people say that they need to have to get their passport expedited because they are traveling out of the country in a couple of weeks. The last thing you want to do is to ruin your trip by being denied entry due to an expired passport. Some countries will deny entry if your passport expires within 6 months, so you want to update your passport at least 6 months before the expiration date. It’s easy. Go to a local post office, fill up a form, include a recent photo of you, and send it in with a check for the requested amount. It may take approximately 4-6 weeks to process, but then you’re good for 10 years.
3. Stash Your Passport
Unless you are at the airport, there is really no need to have your passport on you. Your hotel may ask for your passport when you check-in. Aside from that, once you get to your hotel room, lock that passport in the safe. Why risk losing or damaging your most important document? Instead, I recommend making a photo copy of your passport for you to carry around, just in case.
It’s always good to have cash on you wherever you go. Money talks and cash is king. This rings true especially in Asia. A lot of stores in Asia only take cash. Just because we are in the 21st century, it doesn’t mean every store takes credit card. Even if they do, charging everything can amount to a ton of service fees. Banks and airports are the best places to convert your money since they give you the best exchange rates. Hotels tend to have the worst exchange rates. Cash also helps with bargaining, which leads me to the next rule.
Know how to haggle to save money. Negotiating is an art. Nearly anything without a fixed price can be negotiated, even taxis. Shop around. You don’t have to buy from the first shop you come to. Chances are, there are plenty more similar shops with lower prices. Don’t be too eager. Once hawkers see how eager you are, they have the upper-hand. Be willing to walk away. One of the most powerful arsenal you have is the power to walk away when you’re unable to find the agreeable price. If the owner really wants to make the sale, they’ll try to match your offer before you walk out the door. Learning to bargain in their language also helps. Even just a few phrases or words. Shopkeepers are more willing to lower their prices on friendly tourists that take the time to learn their language. It makes it more fun and enjoyable for both you and the shop owner. Of course, it helps to have cash.
6. Business Cards
Networking is always important. That doesn’t change just because you’re traveling. Having a hotel business card can save you when you’re lost. Not every cab driver will know where your hotel is and not everyone speaks and understand English. Grab a business card from the hotel that you’re staying at. They usually have a map of the location on the back of the card. In fact, if you find a dependable driver that speaks English, you should ask for their business cards too. Being a repeat customer means guaranteed money for the cab driver, which makes it easier to negotiate pricing.
7. Get An Unlocked Phone
When traveling overseas, you want to get your hands on an unlocked GSM phone. Unlocked GSM phones allows you to insert international SIM cards which will come in handy if you need to make calls or Wi-Fi. Trust me! Having Wi-Fi can save your life when you’re lost or need to pull up reservations. Make sure you turn on Airplane Mode or you will be slammed with roaming fees. Alternatively, you can purchase or rent a MiFi unit as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot so you don’t have to get an unlocked phone. You would still need to to purchase an international SIM card. You can purchase SIM cards from any mobile store or even convenience stores like 7-Eleven.
8. When In Rome
“When in Rome…do as the Roman’s do.” That means behave however the people around you behave. Adapt yourself to the customs of the places you visit. Go to local hangouts. Learn local slangs and phrases. Make new friends. It gives you more reason to go back for another visit.
9. Take Your Time
Planning a trip within the allotted sick days can be tough. You want to make sure you get the most out of you trip so you pack as much into those days as possible. Being ambitious is good, but being overzealous might ruin your trip. I understand traveling can get expensive. You want to see everything possible so you don’t have to take multiple trips. But what’s memorable about the trip if you’re zipping through every attraction. Not only is it exhausting, but you probably won’t remember much. Try to find the balance that allows you to slow down and take it all in while still seeing enough to appreciate the full experience.
10. Open Your Mind
The most important rule is to be open and willing to try new things. What might seem weird or disgusting to you may actually be a cultural norm to others. The idea of raw fish sounded disgusting to me when I was a kid, but after finally trying sashimi, I can’t go two weeks without getting a sushi fix. So embrace what’s thrown at you. Open yourself up to a whole new world.