Before You Go


You will have a lot personal things to take care of before you leave the country for a few weeks, like paying bills ahead and asking someone to take in the mail or feed your pets. This document focuses on just the travel related things you should consider.

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Passports and Visas



Is your passport current? Most countries will not allow you to enter if your trip begins within six months of your passport’s expiration date.

Look up the entry visa rules for your destination on that country’s embassy homepage. When you search for that beware that you will find websites for brokers that promise they can get that visa for you. These are usually for people looking for work visas. The other websites that offer visa services are tour companies that include the service in their overall package. There are a few countries that require visiting tourists to enter only with a tour group and it is understood by those governments that the state licensed tour agencies will handle the visa application for their customers. But you really do not need to go through a third party to get an entry visa for most countries, so make sure you always go to the official website for your destination country.

If you are a US citizen, you can land in a lot of places (Turkey, Japan, Argentina, etc.), show your passport at immigration, and they will stamp it for at least 30 days. Other places make you fill out a visa application on arrival (Cambodia, Bolivia, etc.) while other countries (Vietnam, China etc.) require you to have visa before you depart your home country. If you are going to such a country, consider getting a multiple entry visa as that will give you more flexibility if you are travelling elsewhere in the region. Often visas "on arrival" require that you pay a fee in US dollars. This can be as little as $10 or over $100. Be ready to have the cash ready.

On the entry form for most countries it will ask the address of where you are staying. This is a problem if you are moving around the country to different cities. So just put the first destination’s hotel name and address (which means you should have that address handy when you land).

Some countries have tricky visa rules. For example, Egypt will give you a visa on arrival. But you cannot get a multiple entry visa on arrival. So if you plan on going to Israel from Cairo and then return to Egypt, you will need a multiple entry visa from the Egyptian consulate in the US before you get on the plane.  

Another thing to know is that many Middle Eastern countries will deny you entry if you have an Israeli entry stamp in your passport. The only way around this is to enter Israel via one of the land crossings from Jordan and for you to ask the passport officer to not stamp your passport (they will stamp a separate paper for you to carry). But you may not request this if you fly into Israel.

Thus far I've only covered entering a country but what about leaving a country? Before leaving some countries you will be required to pay an exit tax in US dollars. No they will not even take their own currency! You will not be allowed to enter the rest of the airport without paying. Further, often countries will stamp a small document as you enter their country. Leave this attached to your passport. You wll be required to produce it as you exit the country. I always have a paperclip on my passport now.

The moral of the story is to take the time to read the rules on the embassy website.

Finally, make a color photocopy of your passport ID page (the one with your photo). And if you had to get a visa before departure, photocopy that page too. Pack it in a separate bag other than what you are carrying. You should always carry your passport on your body when travelling but it is a good idea to have a copy packed in your luggage or in the hotel safe in case something goes wrong. Many hotels are required to keep your passport while you are staying at their hotel. This is normal but it also means that having a photocopy in case anything happens to your passport is a good idea.

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Medical


If you are travelling to the developing world you need to have a typhoid vaccination. The live oral vaccine is probably the best way to go and you must begin taking it no later than two weeks before departure. Because it is a live vaccine you may have an adverse reaction, be ready for this. Follow your doctor's instructions on administering this drug.

A tetanus shot is critical. They say that it is good for 10 years before you need a booster, but that is only in the developed world where the likelihood of getting a serious infection is minimal. If you are going to be in the developing world (where a deep infection is a bit more possible) then you need a tetanus booster every 5 years. If you can’t remember when your last shot was, then it’s time for a booster shot. Because the serum is so thick some people experience discomfort in their arm for up to two days after. So get the shot in your “off” arm (i.e., if you are left handed, get it in your right arm).

The Hepatitis A vaccination is also strongly recommended.

Does the country you are visiting require a Yellow Fever vaccination for entry? Some require that you provide proof of a vaccination if you are arriving from a country with Yellow Fever.

Look up health warnings on the CDC website for the country you are visiting.

Ask your doctor for an international certificate of vaccination card. It's a yellow card with spaces for the doctor to sign and date what vaccination you have received and the dosage. Keep this with your passport at all times. It is proof that you have been vaccinated and helps you keep a record as well. One card should last most of your life.

If you are going to a malaria zone you may have to start taking meds at least a week before your arrival. Mosquitos in some parts of the world are resistant to certain anti-malarial drugs, so you have to research each country you are visiting – the malaria rules in Cambodia are different than Guatemala. Also, malaria exposure can vary within a country and over time as mosquitos develop resistence. It tends not to be an issue in developed cities.

Go to a doctor who will prescribe Ciproflaxin (an antibiotic for when you eat something really bad) that you can take with you for emergencies. Some doctors refuse to do this because they feel that if you are that sick, then you should see a doctor. Or you should ride it out as most gastro-intestinal infections will run their course in 7 to 10 days. Both strategies are not really viable if you are traveling around in a foreign country. So see a doctor who will write that script.

Get a major pain killer, like Tylenol 3. The joke in many developing countries is that the best emergency room is the airport, meaning that if you get seriously sick abroad your best bet is to get on a flight to the nearest first world hospital. That means having some serious pain killers to get you through the flight.

Pack first aid materials and stuff for your stomach like Immodium along with band aids and alcohol wipes. Tylenol is also difficult to find outside the western world and is often called Panadol. Peptobismal is almost impossible to find.

If you take any prescriptions keep them in the original bottle. At customs they have the right to refuse pharmaceuticals into the county unless you have a prescription. And that is printed right on the bottle it was dispensed in. If you are bringing anything that looks like a drug (eg. Vitamins) you should keep them in their original bottles or an old prescription bottle with your name on it. Yes, I have been stopped for fiber tablets in a Ziploc bag.

Make sure you have enough doses to cover your entire trip plus an extra day or two in case of emergency. As a backup, take an old prescription bottle and pack an entire spare set of your meds for the duration of your trip and put it in a separate bag other than what you are carrying.

If you have to take meds at a set time, review the time zone difference between home and destination and set up your dosage schedule before you leave. You may need to medicate inflight so make sure you know the duration of each leg of your flight and your layover time at any connecting airports. You can check your time zone difference here. https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/

If you wear prescription eye glasses pack a spare set in your checked luggage and include a copy of your current prescription in the copy of your passport that you are storing.

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Money



Look up the currency and exchange rate of your destination. http://www.xe.com/

Don’t bother being too precise because the rate will vary from day to day and will also depend on who is changing your money at the moment (hotels don’t give a great rate). Just round off to a number that’s easy to remember so you can make ballpark estimates in your head. If a Ringgit is worth 0.33 dollars you might want to think of it as 10 Ringgits is $3. I like to think of it as “That currency is worth X $”.

Notify your credit card companies and bank for your debit card of the countries you will be travelling to so that they do not put a security hold on your account when overseas charges start coming in. They will ask for specific days of travel - add an extra day or two at the end in case you are delayed getting out of the country due to weather or aircraft issues.

One thing that people forget is that if you have a connecting flight, you need to include that country on the list you give the credit card company. For example I flew from the US to India. But since I was connecting through Amsterdam and had an 8 hour layover there, I informed Chase that I would be using my cards there. This way I was able to make purchases at the airport without it causing a problem. And if I had suffered a travel disruption and needed to spend a day or two in Amsterdam…

Confirm that you have the overseas number to call collect if you have a problem and store that with your passport photocopy.

If you do not have a PIN to get a cash advance on your credit card from a bank ATM, get one. In some countries the bank network is sketchy and you may not be able to use your ATM debit card to withdraw money. But the credit card cash advance will usually work. Whenever using an ATM machine anywhere be sure to jiggle the card reader. If it comes off the machine it is a skimmer and is there to steal your card number and pin.

Make sure you have money in both your savings and checking accounts as sometimes your debit card can only access one or the other from overseas. This happened to me in Guatemala where my Chase ATM card could only pull money from my savings account and not my checking account.

If you have more than one credit card, bring two: one on your person and pack the other in a separate bag other than what you are carrying. This is your spare if something goes wrong with your first one (lost, stolen, security block from your credit card despite your travel notification). If you have more than two credit cards, do not bring the one that you use to make automated monthly payments. For instance I charge my gym membership to one of my Visa cards automatically every month. If I lose that card in Egypt, that’s one more thing I need to fix when I get home.

Remember, in the US you are only liable for the first $50 of any fraudulent charges so don’t sweat it too much if something goes wrong.

No matter where you go in the world, they will almost always take US dollars. In fact, there are more US dollars circulating abroad than in the United States. Take US currency with you so that no matter what you run into when you land, you can pay for things. They also prefer new crisp bills; the exchange rate is actually higher than on old bills; larger denominations like $100 is also preferred. Also, in countries like Cambodia where they love US dollars, many vendors will sell you things for $1 (even though it’s worth less, but they make more money this way!) you should consider carrying at least 50 $1 bills.

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Travel Planning


Most hotels in the US are non-smoking. Not so in the rest of the world - you have to request this when you make your reservation.

Many hotels outside the US do not supply alarm clocks for some reason. Pack a battery operated one if you want to have a clock for the room.

Will your destination be having any major holidays while you are there? If so that will disrupt normal service hours in restaurants, museums, etc. and it will mean the transport system will be crowded and tickets will cost more. Visiting a Catholic country at Easter is not a good idea unless you are going to celebrate Easter with them. Same for the Lunar New Year in Asia.

Will the country you are visiting change their clocks to daylight savings while you are there? If so, and it’s a travel day, be extra alert to changed departure times for trains, boats, planes, etc. A good place where you can look all of this information (plus sunrise and sunset info) is https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/

Print hard copies of all your travel docs: airline tickets, car rental reservations, hotel reservations, etc. Too many times I have had the clerk at my destination not be able to locate my reservation on their computer system and without my hardcopy to prove I had a reservation, I would have been in trouble.

When you land, how do you get to your hotel? Airport transfers are a challenge because you are at your worst – you just got off the plane from a long flight, you are tired, everything is, well, foreign, and now you have to figure out how to get yourself and your luggage across town to your hotel. Save yourself some angst and look this up ahead of time.

Most international airports have a web page with a link to airport transfer information. And Google your destination city + “Trip Advisor” and in the forum of the TA landing page search by “airport”. You will usually get numerous postings by recent travelers describing how to get from that airport into town.

For example, I learned that in Buenos Aires there is a kiosk in the terminal where you can pre-pay for a taxi to your hotel. As a result, you don’t have to worry about the meter being on or the driver trying to play games with you - he has no incentive to take you anywhere but your hotel. It’s a nice clean system and knowing that going in was helpful. If getting a taxi at the airport sounds sketchy (Mumbai, Hanoi) have your hotel arrange a car to pick you up or arrange one yourself. It can be a bit pricey, but from a security point of view its very cheap.

Planning Your Itinerary
First, our general strategy when visiting a foreign country is to depart the arrival city as quickly as possible and make our way around the country, working our way back to spend the last few days in the gateway city. The reason for this is that most international arrival cities (even in the developing world) will have the country’s best availability of travel services (such as currency exchanges), retail (toiletries, electronics, etc.), medical care, and English speaking locals. It is out in the far corners of the country that you are less likely to find a clinic with English speaking staff, a WalMart type mega store, and so on.

So it is best to venture out into the “wilderness” at the start of your trip while you at your physical best and fully stocked with all of your toiletries and sundries. Then over the next week or so as you experience the inevitable travel issues (failing memory card in your camera, a broken shoelace, dying batteries, losing your bottle of Advil, getting a stomach bug, etc.) it’s nice to know that you are only a day or two away from returning to the gateway city where you will be able to quickly gather all of the replacements that you need. Doing it the other way around means that after having spent the first few days in the capital, just about the time that you are experiencing that first medical issue or running low on some crucial toiletry, you are leaving the Big City for the sticks.

Yes, you should be able to get the help you need in smaller cities. But it won’t be nearly as efficient or painless. In the capital if you want to replace your memory card it’s a quick question at the hotel front desk (in English) and you can stop at any number of places on your way to the sightseeing destination to buy a replacement (and I bet there are places open 24/7 that have a great selection). In a backwater town this will be a bit harder to communicate, memory cards may only be available in the electronics district which is not conveniently located near any of the sightseeing so you have to make a detour to get to it. And in that part of town where they don’t get many tourists, good luck asking for directions in English if you get lost! And don’t expect them to be open late. Or have a great selection, either.

In other words, yes, you can probably solve problems in the secondary cities. But it will cost you more time and effort than back in the capital. And the time you spend running errands is time you can’t get ever get back for sightseeing in a place you may never visit again. So save the errands for the part of the trip where you can address them the easiest.

Another reason for the “big-city-last” strategy is that the gateway city is most likely going to have the best international cuisines options in the country: I have had fajitas in Dubai, sushi in London, and Italian in Mumbai. I like to eat the local cuisine when I travel but after a solid week of Indian food in India or Japanese food in Japan, you start to burn out. Again, if you spend your first week in the big city sampling the local cuisine, just about the time you hit the wall with the local flavors, you are heading out to a part of the country where even McDonalds would be considered rare. But if you do it the other way around, just about the time your palate is getting numb to the local spices, you are only a day or two from being back in the cosmopolitan capital with all manner of food choices.

Finally, I prefer to wake up in the departure city on my last day rather than having to get up and transit several hours from a different location to make it to the airport on time. Even if there is a minimal transit disruption, it could really mess up the departure. So getting to the departure city (usually a capital city) a few days ahead of time to do some sightseeing makes a lot of sense.

Electronics
Most electrical devices made today can handle the range of voltage found anywhere in the world. But look up the electrical outlet type in your destination country and get plug adapters.
http://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/

Stay away from “universal” outlet adapters. In order to accommodate every possible plug in the world, they tend to be big and bulky. And at most you are only using 20% of it in any country you visit. But more importantly, in order to hold all the adapters, they have to be kind of boxy like this:

Which means that if the outlet in your hotel room is a recessed, like this…

… it will not be able to “reach”.

And even if it can reach, the plug may hang loosely from the outlet because the installation quality of the outlet is not very good. These bigger adapters are not very stable in such situations and I have had the misfortune of watching bigger adapters slip off by a half inch from the wall and lose the connection.

Instead, I recommend that you get three or four outlet adapters specific for the country you are visiting. But make sure that the female end of the adapter can handle the three prong version of US plugs.
photo tour travel tips

Here is an outlet adapter for US electronics to use the two round pin European outlet.

As you can see, it is missing a place to insert the ground pin. By all means do NOT use an ungrounded outlet adapter. Electricity in the rest of the world is not as stable as in the US and without a grounded plug you are just asking for trouble. Instead get one of these:

Also, all smart phones have that tiny little cable with the USB plug at the end.

And you plug it into an outlet adapter like this to plug it into an outlet.

How much do these cost? A few dollars at most. But what happens of you lose either while traveling and can no longer charge your smart phone? It’s a nightmare. Do yourself a favor – buy a spare set and pack it in your suitcase. It’s a cheap, lightweight piece of insurance. And trust me, even if you never need it, chances are someone you are travelling with will lose their chord and then you can be the hero!

Pack a power strip. It’s amazing how many hotels still have so few outlets in their rooms. If you have a phone, tablet, camera, etc. to charge this can be quite annoying. The solution is a power strip. Even witha power strip carry at least 2 adapters in case one dies.

This past year I got an Anker external battery for travel. It’s a great way to keep my phone charged on long distance flights or in situations where I may not have access to an outlet (like long hikes). This is important because when travelling I am using the phone for GPS navigation, taking pictures, Google Translate, web searches, listening to podcasts, etc. I can run down my phone pretty quickly. Being able to keep it charged with the Anker has been a life saver.

And if your trip is going to include some long distance driving, bring a car lighter USB adapter plug so you can charge up while on the road.

In Case of Emergency
Make an emergency contact card on brightly colored paper the size of a business card with the word EMERGENCY on top, laminate it and put it in your wallet. Put your passport number on it along with the phone # of the US embassy in the countries you are visiting. Add the name and phone number of a US contact. If you have a local contact in your country of destination, put it on there. Drug allergies? Put it on there. Your blood type is not a bad idea, too.

What to Pack
Most guidebooks include a list of things to pack, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But a few ideas:

  • The addresses you need for the post cards you want to send.
  • Extra memory cards for your camera.
  • Ziploc bags, big and small. Keeping documents like your passport dry is vital.
  • A mini mag lite.
  • Coin purse: you will develop a collection of foreign coins on your trip and having them scattered throughout your luggage quickly gets annoying.
  • Eye mask and earplugs. Thick curtains in your hotel room are not guaranteed. And this is useful for sleeping on trains, etc. Most airlines will offer these on long haul flights as well.
  • Even if you are going to some of the hottest places on earth, pack a sweater for the over air-conditioned shuttle bus, hotel lobby, museum, café, etc.
  • Mini packs of Kleenex tissues. Toilet paper in public restrooms is not a sure thing and having a pack on you at all times (and a few spare in your luggage) will give you peace of mind.
  • A Swiss Army knife (in your checked luggage)
  • Extra passport style photos

 

Miscellaneous

 

How good are you with the metric system? You should be able to convert a kilo, a meter, a liter and a kilometer into its English equivalent and back. How many kilos of strawberries do you really want at the market? If your next destination is 120 kilometers away, how far is that really? If tomorrow it will 20 degrees Celsius do you need a sweater? Make a flashcard if you have to.

Learn the language. Okay, maybe not. But make a flashcard with five phrases on it: Hello, Please, Thank you, Pardon Me, and the most important one of all “Where is the bathroom?” Practice five minutes a day a few days before you leave and you should be good. A great bonus phrases is “Where am I now?” When you are lost show someone a map and ask this question and they will point to where you are. And that may be all you need to get oriented. I have used this phrase in just about every country I have visited. Because I have gotten lost in just about every country I have visited.

In Country

Currency Exchange


If you exchange currency at the airport, they will almost always give you big bills which are impossible to use in most situations, like taking a taxi or buying lunch (think about how hard it is to use $100 bills in the US for daily purchases). So after I get my money and count it, I usually take two or three of the big bills and hand them back to the cashier and ask them to change it for smaller notes.  

In some countries with a huge disparity in exchange rates be ready to handle a brick of cash. Although all your US dollars fit into your wallet, the new money may require a handbag; ok that’s an exaggeration but you get the point. BTW, 20 years ago this was not an exaggeration in Vietnam where you were literally handed a brick of money for $100.

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Local Maps

When you get lost in a foreign land and need directions, you can usually find someone who speaks at least a little English, especially if you are near a tourist destination. But that does not mean they can read English. Thrusting your Lonely Planet map at them and asking “How do I get to the Blue Mosque?” can be a bit disorienting for them. I mean, if someone handed you a map of your hometown in Chinese and asked “Where is the Holiday Inn?” it would take you a minute, wouldn’t it?

So when I land at the airport I like to go into one of the shops and see if I can buy a local map in the native language. While I can’t read it, I can usually locate my destinations on it using the map in my guidebook. When we landed in Aman, the capital of Jordan, we bought an Arabic language map of the city. More than a few times we asked English speaking locals for directions and they were a bit unsure as to how to help us. But once we pulled out the Arabic map and pointed to where we wanted to go, it immediately cleared up the issue and they were able to help us. And it was something of an ice breaker, they thought it was really cool that we were using an Arabic map.

Also, beware that not everyone is literate. If someone clearly has no idea where they are on a map or ignores the map and seems to be sending you off somewhere just agree, say “Thank you” and seek help elsewhere. Sometimes people are rude or just wave you away. Again consider that perhaps they just can’t read or are embarrassed that they don’t speak your language. Just say thank you and walk away.

And this brings up another key point. Tourist destinations can be translated multiple ways and its possible that the way you are referring to a place might not make sense to the locals. If a tourist from abroad asked you how to get to “Liberty Enlightening the World” it might take you a moment to realize they are referring to The Statue of Liberty. But “Liberty Enlightening the World” is actually its official name and that is how their guidebook may have translated it. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul? Its real name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. And so on. The point is that when you have a map in the native language you can avoid these misunderstandings because you can just point to where you want to go.

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At the Hotel

When you check in at the hotel, confirm that you have a non-smoking room. And get the hotel’s business card and put it in your pocket straight away. When you get lost walking around the city during your sightseeing and cannot figure out how to get back to your hotel, hail a cab and show them the card. They will get the idea. Simply saying the name may not work because some hotels have more than one property in a city. And because of pronunciations issues, just saying the name might not work either. In fact, even when I have not been lost, I found it handy to have the hotel business card to overcome language difficulties with taxi drivers.

And while we are on the topic of taking taxis to your hotel… there is a time honored tradition in most countries of taxi drivers trying to run up the bill if they think you have money. So if you are staying at a nicer place like the Marriott or the Hilton, they will often play this game with you. The solution? Before you go on your trip look at your hotel on Google maps. Nearby most nice hotels will be some nice restaurants. Pick one and keep the name handy. When I need a cab back to the hotel I give them the name of the restaurant instead. It is amazing how well this works, they almost never try to run up the bill. If you forget to look one up before your trip, just scope out the street your hotel is located on when you arrive and pick one for future reference. You can even walk into the establishment and ask for a business card.

Local Currency at the End of Your Trip
Except for the world’s major currencies (the US dollar, British pound, Japanese yen, and the Euro) the money in your destination country will be impossible to convert outside of that country. So you will want to change it back at the airport on your way out. Just make sure you do this before going through security as many airports do not have currency exchange on the other side. But It is almost impossible to convert coins. That is why you should bring a coin purse and keep them in one place and spend them down when you can.

Almost all international airports used to have a departure tax that you had to pay separately at the airport on your way out. The trend has been to include that in the tax in the cost of your airline ticket so this is not as common anymore. But find out ahead of time - there is nothing worse than getting to the airport having spent down your local currency only to find out that you have to pay a departure tax in local money.

Anyway, while you want to spend down your local money, be careful. It is better to have a some local money in case you need it than to need some local currency at the last minute and not have it. The worst that can happen is you wind up bringing it home. It makes for a nice souvenir.

Security
There are two types of security. One is protecting yourself against general petty theft and scams. The other is more serious. In terms of property theft like getting your pocket picked, you can minimize the risks by being discrete with your cash and possessions and being alert to your surroundings. But the only fool proof way to guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen is to never leave your hotel room.

As for scams, if anyone approaches you for assistance, be prepared to give a quick apology and move on. That may run counter to your better nature, but think about it – if a native of Paris or Hong Kong is having car trouble or is looking for an address, wouldn’t it make sense for them to ask a local rather than a tourist? I mean, who is going to be better equipped to help them? If you were trying to find an address on a busy street corner in Chicago would you ask the businessman standing on the corner or the tourist gawking at the skyscrapers? Obviously, if there is no one else around or it’s a medical emergency I will help out. But other than that, I am pretty skeptical of why anyone would single me out of a crowd to ask for assistance when I am clearly the least able to help.

The more serious security concern is being the object of a more coordinated threat, either an abduction or terrorist act. While the chances of this happening are very slight, the consequences are serious enough that its worth thinking about for a minute. The key is that while such an activity requires a bit of coordination and preparation, it is still a crime of opportunity: no one is going to see your name on a list when you enter the country and then hunt you down. But if a group with ill motive learns where you are going next, that gives them time to set something up. By simply being discrete with your travel plans, you eliminate most of this threat.

For example, when at a tourist site, café, or metro stop you will meet locals who just want to make small talk or sell you trinkets. If they ask where you are staying, just name any hotel in the city, don’t tell them yours. And if they ask what you have seen so far in their country (a very common question) the next logical question is always “What will you see next? Where are you going now? And tomorrow?” Don’t give them your actual itinerary, just mention what comes to mind in random order and add a few things that you may not really do. Or say you don’t know, you are meeting friends who are taking you around. It is likely that the person asking you this is just making harmless small talk so it’s not like they need an accurate answer anyway.

So why not tell the truth, then? Because word of mouth spreads surprisingly fast in a community and that is often how people with ill motive usually first get the idea that you might be worth looking at. The less accurate their initial information about you, the better. If some bad guy notices you in the plaza talking to a vendor and you walk away, they will wait a few minutes and then run up to the vendor and describe you, saying they are from your hotel and that you forgot your phone or passport and they are trying to catch up to you. They will ask the vendor if they know which way you are headed…

If this sounds like a fever dream from watching too many episodes of 24, then I apologize. But at the end of the day being vague about your plans when talking to strangers is smarter than it is paranoid.

Aggressive Peddlers
Most people selling tourist trinkets, postcards, and the like are well behaved and will leave you alone if you show no interest. But every once in a while you will run into a crowd of peddlers that are bit more aggressive and this can be stressful because they are not trying to make a sale so much as bully you into buying something.

The first rule is to put your hands in your pockets. The aggressive ones will try to hand you the item they are hawking, all the time shouting “Please sir /ma’am, just have a look. It’s the finest jade (or silk, or teak, or whatever)…” Their goal is to get it in your hands because then they will refuse to take it back and force you to pay for it. If you keep your hands in your pockets, it’s much harder for them to do this. And if they do get something in your hand and won’t take it back, then put it on the ground and walk away.

The second rule is to keep walking. Like dogs, they have their own territory and the sooner you exit their space, the sooner they will leave you alone. If they cut in front of you, cut back the other way and go around them. Resist the innate urge to walk through them.

The third rule is to keep repeating “No thank you”, that you already have it, etc. Resist the urge to use obscenities or give smart ass answers. In other words,don’t engage. Believe me, they have already heard all the clever comeback lines already and have prepared counterpoints.

The fourth rule is that if they touch you in any way recoil as if you had just been given an electrical jolt and say “HEY!” By acting genuinely threatened, they usually back off, at least a bit. And since most of these hawkers are men, if you are a woman, this is a bit more effective. If they do it again, raise your voice and yell “DON’T TOUCH ME”.

The fifth rule is if they attempt to drape an item on your body such as a scarf, hat, a t-shirt, swipe it off your body right away and let it fall to the ground. If you take it in your hand to give it back to them, you have just bought it. Letting it drop to the ground may sound a bit harsh, but remember, this person is not trying to sell you something. They are trying to bully you into giving them your money. It’s a mugging.

The final rule is that the hawkers know the rules and if you abide by them you will be okay and they will give up on you and go onto the next tourist without it degenerating into a confrontation.

Small Bills
Keep a wad of small denomination bills or coins handy in your pocket so that when making one of your many small purchases during the day (taxi fare, a bottle of water from a kiosk, a postcard, etc.) you are not constantly pulling out your wallet and showing the whole world all your money. It also avoids the occasional bouts of “inflation”: sometimes when a vendor or taxi driver sees all those big bills and they quickly raise their price.

The Three Rules of Travel
If you are hungry and see some food that looks good, eat. Unless your next meal is right around the corner don’t save your appetite for later. By the time you are really hungry the place that looked good just closed or ran out of the dish you wanted. It always happens that way – you wait, you lose.

And If travelling with others, don’t force yourselves to eat at the same time. I have sat in places and had a coffee while my wife ate because she was hungry and I wasn’t yet. Or it was not the food I wanted to try. And she has done the same for me. Don’t worry, you will get plenty of meals together over your time abroad. Don’t force it and don’t starve yourself - or your travel partner.

If you feel like you could use the restroom and one is available that meets your hygiene standards, use it. Deciding to wait until you reach the next one often ends badly. The next one is out of order. Or its being cleaned. Or its for women only. Or it is fouled. And so on.

If you think you could doze off for a few minutes (and you are not travelling alone), then take that quick nap . It is surprising how a 15 minute snooze on the metro or a 10 minute nap on the hiking trail can pay off over the course of long day of sightseeing. You don’t have to be “on” the whole time.

So remember: if you can eat, eat. If you can use a bathroom, use it. And if you can sleep, sleep.