The Four Travelers Skills
I heard someone mention these offhandedly once and they instantly resonated with me as true. I did some online searches trying to find more info about them and couldn't fine anything; if someone knows something about them, please mention them to me.
To travel, one must know where to go, and more importantly: how to get lost with the confidence to get back to where you are staying! You'll discover many spots and getting back to them are very important, as is finding your way to any place that a travel guide, blog, or friend sent you to.
Carry a Compass
I know it sounds silly, but it works really well having some consistency in direction. Also: the compass on your iPhone doesn't count, you don't want to constantly have an expensive piece of electronics out. I look for the smallest reliable one I can find. My favorite has been one that can attach to a watch strap as it's easy to reference. You'll learn a city so much quicker never having to guess what way is North. Additionally, if you're an American, you most likely have grown up in a city that was layed out in a grid pattern with streets going North/South and East/West and can easily get thrown off by streets that violate this principal or intersections that have more or less than four ways to go; I know I was.
Have Offline Maps for your iPhone
Assumming you have an iPhone (or Android) of course. You can get maps that work with no WiFi or data connection (3G/LTE) as the GPS still works. Your phone knows where you are (lattitude/longitude) even with no internet, but it still needs to have the map; which is grabbed from the internet when you are using the Maps app in your home country, but can be grabbed from the internet ahead of time with certain apps.
Additionally, look for software that will allow you to store waypoints, essentially map bookmarks, like the place you are staying, places you want to go, and suggestions you receive.
My favorite iPhone software for this is currently Galileo. You can select many different kinds of maps, and even add map sources that don't come with it by default — such as my personal favorite: Google Maps. Head to their blog to add Google Maps to Galileo. US Hikers will also be interested in adding the nice USGS Topo Maps to Galileo.
Once upon a time, my favorite iPhone app for this used to be Cartographer as it could do all of the above functionality, but also synced to a Google My Map so you could add points on a computer. The apptely named My Maps Pro is the best current incarnation, but it's offline maps aren't as nice as I'd like them to be (you have to download maps down to the closest zoom level which can result in very big maps of full countries). I'm keeping an eye on it to see if gets better.
Quick: is 100 Thai Baht a good deal for a meal? What about 2 British Pounds? Being able to do quick math to figure out if something is a good deal or not is essential if you want to avoid just paying whatever it costs along the way and then saving the budget shock for when you look at your account after awhile.
Learn some basic rules to get a general idea how much things cost; you don't need to get an exact exchange rate, but a solid ballpark estimate. 100 Thai Baht is $3.15, but you can just remember that it's about $3. And for the British Pound, just remember that $25 is about 15£. Also, when remembering these general tips, try to set them up conservatively — it's always nice to find out you have more than you thought in your account!
If math isn't your thing, then of course there are some tools out there to help. Many are in this department, but my current favorite iPhone app is Vert. However, if you're in a poorer country, you might have a tough time bartering while holding your iPhone ;) Also: practice makes perfect.
Easily my most difficult skill. First I'd recommend becoming more cognizant of body language as it's very universal and when accompanied by a few words in the native language, it can get you very far. Here's how I'd suggest going about learning a new language:
- Learn common courtesies: please, thank you, I'm sorry, pardon me, I don't speak much [language], Do you speak English?
- Learn surivavl phrases: Where is the bathroom?, Where is the bus station?, What's the WiFi password?, One coffee please, etc.
- Learn the 100 most common spoken words of the language.
- Learn words and phrases surrounding a very specific and relevant activity, like buying food or giving directions to a taxi driver.
You'll of certainly put a lot of time and money to get you on your international traveling trip, so make the best use of your time. What do you want to see and where do you want to go? This can be a tricky balance because I think it's important to have enough flexibility in your plans to be able to make changes as you go along and your concept of the place you're in will change and you will also get lots of great tips from people there — which is one of my favorite ways to find out about great things to do in the area.
Give yourself a list of the major experience you need to have and then a list of the experiences you want to have and allow yourself the space to have experiences you have no idea you'll love to have. It's about a balance between planned and spontaneous here; try not to go too far in either direction and you'll have a wonderful time.