Monday, May 26, 2008

Reflecting on Travel: Advice

Seeing as I am now almost home I thought I should start actually reflecting on what I've learnt from my year(ish) gone vagabond. Here are the basic rules I think help me most now that I am a seasoned, turn up in a place you don't know shit about and don't speak the language guy who only really exists with money in his pocket.

Rule 1: be nice.

This infact should be the general rule of life itself. In the US customer service is so "good" it is annoying. and the fucking tips - which is irrelevant. Anyway it all comes from the 'customer is always right' mentality which is inherantly flawed. Considering that in order to have money by rule of thumb most of us have to be producers before we can consume. Yet I am amazed by the lack of empathy amongst consumers and morons that feel it is productive to fly off the handle at any frontline employee.
I like to believe when service is tardy, there's confusion, you've been robbed, a man-child is trying to incessantly befriend you in a hostel, there is some rational explanation for it. Even if there isn't there is no way to win from being an arsehole. Unless you want to win spit in your food, then you can win. But being nice across the board means people are less likely to play tricks on you, more likely to help you out and in general at the very least are more likely to feel better about their day. Being nice can come full circle, as I have experienced from the phenomena of anytime I couldn't get accomodation reading in a park at night usually got me an offer of a bed from a good samaritan (of course exercise judgement though)

Rule 2: be kind to yourself.

It is almost inevitable in a foreign culture that you will get ripped off, robbed, extorted, misinformed etc. A good way to lose more money is spend the next three days regretting your own stupidity and brooding over it. I gamble more than a person someone would describe as organised would and just recently got caught in New Orleans with no hard cash, meaning I had to change hotels and missed my shuttlebus I'd prepaid for. But fuck, even as I desperatly ran around town trying to find a bank that would except my card, I stepped outside of myself to calmly take in the sites and snap the occasional photograph. After I gave up, rather than kicking myself for not drawing more cash before the weekend I just went out and enjoyed my day. More impressive to me was my efforts at walking around Barcelona whilst my kidney stones danced around.

Rule 3: beware conversations

If you combine rules 1&2 you learn to forgive a necessary level of rudeness which is to walk on by people trying to engage you. All in all I have had 2 conversations with strangers outside of hostels that did not end in a request for money. My mugging in Turkey was based on an exploitation of my ingrained social conduct, which is to trust nice people. In that case I would rather be nice trusting me that lost 50 bucks than nice untrustworthy turk that had to split his 50 6 ways (presumably) and who knows what glamorous lifestyle he leads. At anyrate just beware that it will almost always end in a request for cash and stop being dissapointed. No different anystreet anywhere in the world.

Rule 4: Pack Light

This was Pete's more or less only advice to me before I left which I wisely ignored. But it is really good advice. Not only have I lost 10kgs over my travels. SO has my baggage.

Rule 5: Slow down.

I fucking hate the handluggage culture on airplanes now, in fact I hate everyone else on the plane just about. Not only do they cumulatively slow down boarding and disembarkation but everyone seems helbent on reclining their chairs in economy class where there is no leg room that resulted in a condition being named after it.
Infact of all the services removed from airtravel to successfully make it less pleasent than catching a bus yes I am saying I would spend 72 hours on a bus driving from LA to Melbourne over flying even if all their movies feature Dennis Quaide because the seats are more comfortable, the bathroom less busy, more luggage space and so fourth.
Anyway about slowing down, and how this all relates, I am usually 1 of 5-8 people who still seem to check their luggage on any given flight. Not only does it take 1 minute for the person in row 1 to get their stuff out of the overhead locker, it takes 1 minute for the next row, and even if at any given time 5 people get down their carry ons at the same time, invariably this leads to same people charging up the isle blocking other people from getting theirs. All slowing the disembarkation process down by 15 minutes. By which time my checked luggage has done 3 loops of the terminal, even on domestic flights with no customs to clear (or going to Italy) my bag usually beats me. Anyway supposing you do have to wait you may as well slow down, take the time to collect a map of the city, ask about transport to and from the airport, find a net cafe all these thingsthat leave you with more control.
And the advice is more general than that. In a panicked rush generally I have cost myself more time than slowing down, getting information and finding out where to go. There are always alternatives and contingencies. You aren't fucked until they get the knife up under your ribcage.

Rule 6: Trust the community

Book ahead where you can, and if a hostel has a shitty review just pay double for a hotel room. Because a shitty hotel room at least has privacy and you can throw down for a decent sleep once a month. A shitty hostel by comparison can be cold, noisy, restrictively beauracratic, derelict or insecure. More often though they are all of these things, a review of 38% is worth avoiding altogether and if you have packed light you can always just wander the streets at night (provided you are not in a place that shuts down at 10pm, like Austria in its entirity) and just fuck off the next morning.

Rule 7: Trust reason

Just fucking think, whatever jam you are in, it will have been preceded, and someone may, most likely will have thought a way around it. There is always a solution, the more I think the luckier I get, case in point Nuernberg, I arrived with no cash and a good 12 hours to wait for it to come through, which due to a glitch in the system became 36 hours, I simply went to the hostel, asked to pay on checkout and offered collataral it all worked out and it was one of the best Hostels I've stayed at. Part of that I guess is also, if you don't ask you don't get. But even then there are morecontingencies, like calling reverse charges international and asking your parents for help.
Infact I am so good at contingencies I haven't had to hock any of my jewellery the whole trip.

Rule 8: Don't trust reason

Every country has stupid idiosyncracies, like American pricing, they have nice round prices that don't include tax hence justifying the ongoing necessity of pennies as a meal that has been cosmetically priced at 6.90 becomes 7.12! Or france where crime is up and the fuzz are renowned for being useless, all service infact is close to useless there their train staff will idly watch the line for tickets double and then decide to drop one cashier. Or Germany and Austria closing Supermarkets on Sunday leaving the locals desperately scurrying out for bread. Or Italy with pretty much its entire government. At anyrate the term 'worlds best practice' is meaningless, this just makes reasoning more fun, like when I needed to call Damo in Boston only to discover a virtual absence of public payphones. Not the case to states over in NY, Chicago or even Katrina ravaged New Orleans. So you can count on something reasonable always being missing from the mix.

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