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The Badass Travel Advice Series: Vol. 1.

Scarf doubling as a ghost costume for Halloween

I’ve come across many different types of travelers along the way. There are the hardcore adventurists, there are the place collectors, there are the extreme backpackers. Though I like to think that my travel style falls somewhere between dirty backpacker and gourmand globetrotter, I always appreciate talking to people with more distinct travel characteristics. But before I embark on an interview series with these fascinating individuals, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here goes:

Always bring:

  • A compassThis may seem archaic in the age of gps and smartphones, but compasses are extremely undervalued. Think about it, you go underground to ride the metro, and then you pop up at your destination station, disoriented as a groundhog on February 2nd, and you’re smartphone either can’t figure out where you are or its dead or its been pick-pocketed. A compass can solve this. If you studied a map before hand and know you need to head north to get to your destination, then you just whip it out and let it guide you. And it doesn’t have to be a fancy compass! The one I have is a cheap plastic keychain compass that came out of one of those 25 cent toy dispensers.
  • A wide scarf. A good scarf can serve many purposes: napkin, sheet, towel, sarong, shawl, turban, sling, table cloth, laundry bag, ghost costume (see above) or you know, scarf. It is the single most useful article of clothing you can carry.
  • Stationary.  Before heading to South America, my mother loaded me down with a random assortment of farewell trinkets, one of which was a small pack of stationary. It turned out to be an extremely valuable gift. Whenever I moved on from a place I would leave a thank you note with my contact info for my hosts. If a tip is in order, this is also a polite way of leaving a gift of cash.
  • Always hold on to your metro and train tickets. I don’t know how many times I have found myself fumbling around in my bag or in my pockets for my metro ticket in order to exit the turnstile. I’ve learned to always keep those tickets in my front pocket, separate from everything else, for a quick getaway.
  • Always carry small bills and don’t be a smart-ass. When I first arrived in Buenos Aires I only had large bills on me. In the taxi my driver asked if I had any smaller denominations, and I, smart ass that I am, asked, “aren’t you a taxi driver? Shouldn’t you have small bills?” He sighed and whipped out the appropriate small bill. Pleased with my small victory, I tipped generously and exited the cab. It wasn’t until he sped away that I realized the note he gave me was a blatant fake. The edges were so jagged they could have been cut with child-proof scissors. A good trick for avoiding this scenario is to calculate your ATM amount withdrawal so as to ensure you’ll receive small bills, or to buy a pack of gum somewhere and break your big bills.
  • Not all ATMs are made alike. In many countries foreign cards only work with certain machines. In Japan for instance, very few machines accept foreign cards, though all post offices are equipped with machines that take foreign cards. For that matter, not all ATM dial pads are made alike. In some countries they run from 1-9 and in others they run from 9-1. Don’t mindlessly press buttons assuming a certain number configuration. In Hong Kong I spent way too much time on the phone with my bank trying to figure out why my card was systematically rejected at the ATMs, only to realize I had been typing in the wrong code out of habit.
  • Pre-cache maps on your smartphone. When you have access to wifi, make the most of it by loading any maps you’ll need for the near future. That way when you’re out of wifi range you’ll be able to access the maps without incurring absurd data roaming charges.

When in doubt:

  • Take a shower. If there’s a shower, and you’re debating whether or not you really need one, take it. You can never know for sure when you’ll see one again.
  • Have a shag. If you’re traveling with your significant other and you’re debating whether or not to get a shag on, do it. You never know when you’ll next enjoy a shred of privacy, free time, or decent hygiene.

If you have any tips you’d like to share please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!

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