I spoke to someone the other day who is going for a big adventure overseas. Traveling they said. They’d not been far from home before and were having an epic adventure out in the world. Going to visit a few far-flung unfamiliar cities and see some things they’d never seen before. Experience foreign cultures and climates. It occurred to me quite quickly that they weren’t going traveling at all. They were going on holiday.
There is a difference. I’ve discussed it before in general terms but now because I am a helpful soul who has been lot’s of places I’m going to offer some advice and information to the uninitiated overseas venturer, which is different to an adventurer. I’m not even sure venturer is actually a word at all but I like it and it works for this purpose.
People who are going to places further away than a shopping excursion might normally take them who are unfamiliar with how things work overseas tend to make the same mistakes. I’m reluctant to call them mistakes as people will do things for different reasons, but to me they are mistakes. Let me walk you through what I mean.
Let’s say you are going for a trip to a few European cities from here in the Antipodes for example. We aren’t unique in this but I’m here now so that’s where my focus is. Back to your trip. You will buy things you would not normally buy if you weren’t going overseas won’t you? Things like money belts, Cargo pants, bum packs, robust unattractive items of distance walking footwear that resemble corrective shoes. A safari type hat with a strap that goes under your chin. You plan to wear these items to make your wandering around a European city more…what exactly? Let me tell you what, you are making it more risky, that’s what.
You see, you are wearing items of clothing you would not wear if you were visiting your nearest town or city at home, why? Do you think you might suddenly find yourself morphing from city street to mountain pass without the chance to change your attire? Do you plan on carrying so much money you need something other than your wallet or purse to transport it about? Why are you going to carry it in something you wear outside your clothing or inside your shirt? To make it safer? Seriously?
What you are actually doing is effectively shouting the following.
“I am a naive foreigner who has never been abroad before. I am carrying a lot of money and travel documentation about my person and I have no idea what to do if you try to rob me”
It’s not a good message to convey to the small army of pickpockets and charlatans who look for people dressed exactly as you are while you linger curiously about the major landmarks, too busy looking up to notice the deft fingers rummaging in your personal effects.
What you do instead is by some nice, comfortable but attractive shoes. Wear normal clothes that do not signal you are one of the millions of the unaware and gullible and carry the items you would normally carry your money and personal effects in, you know, a wallet and a handbag, like you would at home. Chaps should carry their wallet in the front pocket of their trousers rather than the more accessible rear as a nod to the greater risk of pickpockets. Ladies should carry a shoulder bag you can zip shut, the shoulder bag is carried with your arm clamped firmly over it against your side. Simple stuff. You do not need to walk about with your passports and tickets unless you are crossing borders or leaving town.
When you are in far flung cities, many of the guidebooks will be full of information about museums and art galleries. I have no idea why. Are you an art buff or a historian? Most likely not. I’ll let you in on a little secret. All museums and art galleries all over the world have the same stuff in them. Old things and art. Inside looking at old things and art is not the best way to spend your limited time in a city you will most likely never visit again. Of course I’m not suggesting don’t do any of them, I’m not a Philistine, you just don’t need to do all of them. Because each and every one is full of old things and art, much the same as the last one, and the one before that.
Spend your time outside, looking at the unique beautiful architecture, the cool and different people from another culture. Eat, drink, the local stuff. Sit and watch, observe the lifestyles. Watch the tourists scurrying from one attraction to the next to see local variation of the same thing they saw in the previous city. Poke about in the shops. Walk along the river, they all have rivers. Go to the markets and buy some silly thing you don’t need as a souvenir.
Get up high and look across the city; listen to the noise that the city makes. Stop and listen. It’s amazing.
While you are seeing and hearing all the amazing things, you’ll want to take some photos of course. You’ll most likely do that with your phone as everyone seems to now. When you take your phone out to take photos, the same phone you will want to use in an emergency, remember that it s worth about $500. You wouldn’t wave $500 or Euros around in the air with one hand would you? No, so hold your phone close to you, with two hands. Always look around you before you start snapping away. If you are messaging friends back home to make them jealous of your new sights and sounds, hold the phone close with two hands, not at arms length texting with your thumb. You would be amazed how far away your phone can get in a few seconds in the hands of a thief you hadn’t spotted. Treat your phone like the expensive valuable item it is.
So, by all means go traveling and call it that, take a limited number of items you have to carry vast distances. Go and see the world on a shoestring. It’s a very cool thing to do. You’ll become very international savvy and street smart very quickly. You’ll remember the things you do and see for the rest of your life.
If you are overseas on holiday though, dress for the location. Don’t walk the streets of Paris looking like you’ve teleported in from a Namibian game reserve and vice versa. Big international cities work the same way as your local town.
People go to work, they go shopping, they dress in normal clothes; you won’t see any of them wearing a bum pack or what look like corrective shoes unless they need corrective shoes. You shouldn’t either. Look the part, blend in, and be safe. Relax and enjoy yourself.