Part 8: Travel Tips – Part 2
Don’t trust taxi drivers
I can’t think of any city in the world where I trust taxi drivers.
Most taxi drivers definitely cannot be trusted and will lie, cheat and scam you in any way they can. The profession just seems to attract a certain dodgy kind of personality.
As a rule of thumb you should assume that EVERYTHING a taxi driver says to you is a lie and every price they quote to you is HEAVILY inflated. Especially when you’ve just arrived at an airport. Believe me: If a taxi driver can fool you into paying 3-5X the regular price, $50 for a $10 ride or $30 for an $8 ride, they won’t hesitate to do it. And don’t believe they’re legit either because they have a stand at the airport that says “Official taxi stand” or “Official government taxi stand”. That means nothing. Less than nothing. There isn’t anything “official” about them.
Before arriving in a new city call your hotel to find out if they can send a driver to pick you up from the airport. If they can’t and you have to take a taxi because you can’t get an Uber and the airport doesn’t have a shuttle bus and you have no other option, negotiate HARD for a fixed price with the taxi driver upfront.
Watch out for bait and switch
Speaking of taxi driver scams watch out for one of their favorite tactics: Bait and switch.
What is bait and switch? Bait and switch is when one price is quoted to get your business and then another much higher price is quoted upon delivery.
In India, Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam and in many other parts of the world where taxi prices are negotiable, Taxi/Tok-Tok/Rickshaw drivers will quote you one price to get your business, and then will try to charge you a much higher price upon arrival as if that was the agreed to price all along.
It doesn’t matter how much time you spend confirming everything to begin with either. They will still try it on…
Me: “How much to the ashram?”
Taxi Driver: “1000 rupees” ($15 USD)
Me: “1000 rupees?
Taxi Driver: “Yes sir, 1000 rupees”
Me: “So it’s DEFINITELY 1000 rupees then? Not more? You’re not going to try and charge me any more when we arrive?”
Taxi Driver: “No sir, 1000 rupees”
Me: “Good because I’m ONLY going to pay 1000 rupees and not one rupee more”
Taxi Driver: “Ok sir”
2 hours later upon arrival…
Taxi Driver: “1400 rupees sir”
Me: “What? No! You said 1000 rupees!”
Taxi Driver: “No sir, it’s 1400 rupees” (As if you had simply misheard or misunderstood)
Me: “No it’s 1000 rupees”
The driver will then look at you as if you are the most selfish and unreasonable person on earth for only paying the agreed to price.
It’s not just taxi’s either. Bait and switch happens all the time all over the world. Vendors quote one price to get your business, and then try to charge you a much higher price upon delivery.
Buyer: “How much is this ferry ride?”
Seller: “Five dollars”
Seller: 15 minutes later when the ferry has already left and there is no turning back – “Twenty-five dollars please”
Buyer: “But I thought you said it was five dollars?!”
Seller: “No, TWENTY-five dollars”. (Shakes his head condescendingly and waits impatiently for you to cough up the cash as if it were an honest mistake and you simply misheard him).
Hotels sometimes do it when you call reception:
You: “How much is a standard room?”
Reception: “One hundred dollars sir”
You: “How many rooms do you have left?”
Reception: “We have two rooms left sir”
You: “Ok please hold one for me, I’ll be right over”
Reception: “Yes sir”
20 minutes later…
You: “Hi, I called earlier about the one-hundred-dollar room…”
Reception: “I’m sorry sir but that room has just been taken. We can however put you into our deluxe room which is normally $250, but we can give it to you for the discounted price of $180”.
This happens all the time so watch out!
Anyone who calls you ‘my friend’ or ‘mi amigo’ is neither
When travelling my friend has a rule which I agree with: Everyone is your friend except anyone that calls you “my friend” or “mi amigo”!
One thing you learn the hard way you need to watch out for anyone who seems overly eager and attached to going out of their way to ‘help’ you.
Generally speaking, if someone is overly attached to ‘helping’ you and doesn’t seem to want to leave you alone until you’ve been ‘helped’, you need to watch out because they’re not trying to help you – they’re trying to help themselves. Find out what it is and ask them what they want. Maybe it’s money or a donation or a sale of some kind.
If you do need help politely ask someone who is busy and just going about their day such as a police officer, professional on their way to work, or some local café, restaurant or hotel staff. Not some random stranger who popped up out of nowhere who doesn’t seem to want to leave you alone and appears to have a lot of time on their hands.
Unfortunately, as a tourist you are a target and there are dodgy people in every major city in the world looking to rip you off, scam you or steal from you. The key is to be aware because most of them aren’t that subtle or clever and don’t do much to hide their intentions. If you keep an eye out, you can often see them coming from a mile away. In fact, most dodgy people like to advertise their bad intentions and wear them on their faces proudly like a badge of honor.
Always read the fine print
Whilst travelling through Europe my friend and I decided the easiest and most convenient way to do it would be to buy a couple of Eurail train tickets which would allow us to easily travel all over Europe for a one-off fee of €1500 Euro.
The Eurail tickets themselves came with an annoying and seemingly unnecessary cardboard backing, which my friend and I decided to remove so that we could actually fit the tickets into our pockets.
What we didn’t realise however was that by removing the cardboard backing, we were invalidating our €1500 Eurail train tickets!
The next time we tried to use our tickets we were told by the train attendants that they were now worthless because they no longer had the cardboard backing and when we protested and said things like:
“But it’s just a bit of cardboard!”
“But we still have our tickets along with photo identification proving who we are!”
All these things fell on deaf ears.
We then asked if it was such a big deal why couldn’t they just give us a new piece of cardboard since we still had our brand new tickets with our names on them along with our passports proving who we were.
No. They couldn’t do that. That would be WAY too easy.
In fact, instead of wanting to help us, an over-zealous ‘customer service’ agent threatened to rip our tickets up!
Luckily I was able to convince another customer service rep to give us some new pieces of cardboard so that we could continue to use our Eurail tickets and travel throughout Europe.
Lesson learnt: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT!
Avoid tours where possible – tours suck
If I had my way, I’d never go on a tour.
Tours suck. Tours are good for the tour guide – not for the tourist.
When I go on holiday I want to do:
- WHAT I want
- WHEN I want
- WHERE I want
- HOW I want
- With WHOM I want
- For as LONG as I want
Going on a tour breaks every single one of those requirements.
When you go on a tour, yes you get to meet new people, but it takes away almost all of your freedom. You can’t do what you want, you have to do what the group is doing. If the tour guide wants to take you to all of the boring and crappy places and miss out on all the exciting, interesting and ‘best’ places, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
You didn’t get a chance to look around and take photos? Too bad! The bus is leaving in 2 minutes! We have to go!
I’ve only been on a few tours during the trip:
- At the United Nations in New York
- During my visit to the Pyramids in Egypt
- When I went to Petra, Jordan for a day trip
- On Safari in South Africa
- At the Salt Flats in Bolivia
In almost every case I had to. I had no choice. But that still didn’t make it any better. Tours suck!
I remember the worst tour guide ever in Petra, Jordan. He was constantly abandoning our group unannounced and doing everything he could to make himself hard to find especially when we were about to be hassled and harassed by various groups of aggressive beggars and vendors. Even if he was there he would just stand there silently and wait until someone in the group felt uncomfortable enough to buy whatever crap the vendors were selling so they would go away, or he would actively take the side of the vendors “C’mon guys! This man has a family to feed!”
On top of that he had no interest in showing us the best places, we had no time for that, but somehow we had hours and hours to spend at local souvenir shops and taking long lunch breaks doing nothing.
When I went to the salt flats in Bolivia, I had a Dutch guy in my group who was ultra-aggressive and angry with life. He somewhat ruined the experience for me with his bad attitude and negative energy. And that’s the problem with going on a group tour: It only takes ONE person in your group to ruin the experience, and you don’t know who you are going to have in your group before you go.
I’m sure that most tour guides are sick and tired of giving the same talks day in and day out, and I’m sure they’re completely bored of everything they’re seeing and saying for the billionth time, but they shouldn’t make that the problem of their paying customers.
I also understand there are times where you might not have an option. If you want to go to North Korea, you have to go on a tour. You can’t just walk around by yourself. It’s non-negotiable. I’m just saying if you can avoid going on a tour, I would. Most tours are boring and expensive and much less fun than simply going privately with friends.
Get everything sorted with your bank first
I made a few mistakes travelling around the world and one of them was not telling my bank that I was going overseas which meant that I was constantly getting charged excessive bank fees every week or so whenever I needed to withdraw money from an overseas ATM which ended up being over $1, 000 in unnecessary bank fees over my 3-year trip.
If you are going overseas, and especially if you are going to be travelling through many different countries that all use different currencies, I would advise letting your bank know of your travel plans before you go, and loading up some foreign currencies onto your bank, credit or debit cards.
Watch out for dodgy ATMS
When I arrived at the airport in Rio De Janeiro I needed to use an ATM to get out some cash but none of the ATM’s seemed to be working for me.
I tried out 6 different ATM’s in a row until finally I found one that could read my card so that I could withdraw some cash.
A week later however I was checking my bank account online and I noticed that I had around $2, 000 USD missing from my account!
I immediately called my bank in Australia to find out what had happened.
Me: “Hi I’ve noticed that I seem to have around $2, 000 missing from my account, I just wanted to call and check to see why that might be?”
Bank: “Where are you?”
Me: “I’m in Brazil”
Bank: “You’re not in Chile?”
Me: “No I’m in Brazil” “I haven’t been to Chile”
Bank: “Oh, someone is withdrawing money from your account in Chile. It looks like your card has been skimmed. We’re going to have to cancel your card and send you another one and change your pin number”.
Within just a week or so I got a new bank card sent from Australia and the bank refunded the $2, 000 that was stolen from me which I was grateful for.
If you’re travelling overseas, especially to a 3rd world country, check your bank balance frequently especially if you’re using a lot of ATM’s.
USD is King
During the 2008 GFC I believed all the crap about the US dollar becoming worthless and soon going into hyperinflation.
However, travelling the world, not only was USD OK, but it was the most trusted and respected of all the currencies on earth. Everyone wanted USD. Everyone liked USD. Everyone trusted and traded USD. I guess that’s the benefits of having the world’s reserve currency!
If you’re travelling to another country, especially to a 3rd world country, I strongly recommend carrying some extra USD. Every country in the world will convert it and it’s good to have some on hand in case you need it. It’s still the currency of choice around the world.
Pay with large notes but keep small notes
If you’re travelling in 3rd world countries always try to pay with larger notes and break them as often as you can so that you don’t get stuck with them.
I was surprised many times when trying to purchase something in South America that I needed almost the exact change. For some reason a lot of places, especially in 3rd world countries, don’t have change. I remember trying to pay for my laundry in Peru with $30 soles, when the bill was $27 soles, and they didn’t have $3 soles change. Many times I would hand over the equivalent of $20 for a $7 bill, and I was looked at as if I had just handed over a million dollars and was being unreasonable for expecting them to be able to break such a large amount of money.
So pay with larger notes whenever you can, but keep the smaller notes.
Make sure that your bus/train has a toilet on board!
One of my most memorable travel experiences was on an overnight bus going through Bolivia for 15 hours straight from La Paz the capital, to the Uyuni Salt Flats.
We got on the bus around 7pm and I decided to drink some water to stay hydrated.
The traffic was so intense on the highway however that we were immediately caught in a traffic jam just meters from our original starting point. So instead of the trip taking 15 hours, it was going to take at least 15 hours and 45 minutes and counting because we couldn’t even move.
Because everything was taking so long I started thinking to myself: “I don’t really need to go right now, but just in case the toilet gets busy later I’m going to pee now”.
I walked downstairs from the 2nd story of the bus to the 1st, only to find a guy standing in front of the toilet telling me no baño! (Spanish word for toilet)
I immediately felt anxious. Generally, I can hold my liquid. But if I drink water I NEED to pee and I definitely can’t hold it in for 15 hours!
I figured I could hold on for 2-3 hours – MAX.
I went back to my seat and decided to try to go to sleep to take my mind off it. I didn’t know what I was going to do and what followed were five of the tensest hours of my life. As time went by I needed to go more and more and whenever someone would try to talk to me I wouldn’t even turn my head or move my body for fear of what might happen. I remember sitting next to my friend and thinking: “Do I just pee into this empty bottle in front of my friend?” “What if people hear me? What do I do?!”
Finally the bus stopped for a toilet break about 5 hours later around 1am and I had one of the best and most relieving pees of my life. It was a dream come true. A true miracle from God. I was so happy!
Since that time I’ve been paranoid about travelling any long distances on any bus or train that doesn’t have a toilet on board. It turns out that many 3rd world countries don’t have a toilet on board, so if you better know BEFORE you get on.
Take lots of photos
When I first started travelling, I had no idea that I would one day be writing a blog and that the photos would come in handy. Photos tell a story that is often much more easily conveyed than the written word. Instead of just telling you, sometimes it’s easier to show you. Although I took lots of photos, I should have taken more. It’s a mistake I definitely won’t make again.
Even if you don’t have a blog, I recommend that you take lots of photos whenever you go travelling. I know it can be a pain in the butt to take photos at the time, sometimes you just want to enjoy the moment and forget about taking photos, but it only takes a few seconds, and then you get to keep the memory forever. You may not even want the photo now, but 5, 10, 20 years from now, you will want to look back and remember where you’ve been and what you’ve seen and done.
Personally I’ve never liked being in photos, nor have I ever been very comfortable smiling in front of a camera. I’ve always found it difficult to smile on command, or just because someone said “cheese”. Maybe I can muster a few smiles at first, but I only have a certain number of smiles in me before they start becoming forced and difficult. It wasn’t until I went on this trip around the world that I was able to start getting comfortable being in photos.
Whilst I’m no photography expert, the 2 best tips I have for taking good photos are:
- Take LOTS of photos
- Get the person taking the photo to coach you
Take LOTS of photos
Taking a great photo is a lot like coming up with a great idea: The more ideas you come up with, the more likely you are to come up with a good idea. The more photos you take, the more likely you are to take a good photo. Often I would take take 20+ photos of something, just to get a couple of good ones. I would look good in 2-3, and in the rest I would be blinking, squinting, looking away, looking tense, uncomfortable, weird etc.
Get the person taking the photo to coach you
Get the person taking the photo to coach you because you don’t know what you look like or how you come across. Most people won’t coach you unless you ask them. They’ll just take one bad shot of you blinking, squinting or looking away and that’s it.
This is part 8 of a 9 part series: Life Lessons from Traveling the World
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 1: Don’t believe the hype
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 2: Wherever you go, there you are
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 3: Things that surprised me
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 4: Highlights of the trip
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 5: My favorite travel destinations
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 6: My least favorite travel destinations
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 7: Travel tips – Part 1
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 9: Why you should travel the world
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