The power went out in my hostel in Luxor, Egypt. What better time to retreat to the roof, take out my laptop (at 88 percent battery) and start writing another blog post, yeah? SO, lets make a list of 10 things. 5 things I seriously don’t recommend doing and 5 things I seriously do recommend doing. As a countdown… I mean, why not? I don’t think the power is coming on anytime soon.
Don’t eat raw chicken
Seriously… don’t. It’s bad for your digestive system and it’ll definitely make for a very bad day. Even if you’ve been pulled aside by a nice elderly man (who smells quite heavily of whiskey) try to avoid any chicken that looks undercooked. This doesn’t just go for chicken, but chicken will especially wreck havoc on your stomach. As he practices his English, gently say no thank you to the offers of chicken.
Do eat local food as well as street food
Although it might not appear healthy being cheap and, well, on the street; street food is often delicious and just as healthy as any restaurants you might find in the area. When the man offers you a plate of raw chicken, look to the side and I bet there will be a dish of fish and vegetables or breaded beans, or a local variety of nuts. Ask what that food it, and he’ll be more than happy to let you taste it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he called over his wife/son/friend/neighbor/kid-off-the-street to cook more of that dish for you while the two of you discuss life.
(This also goes for street vendors. Plus, based on my observations, street vendors have far less cockroaches than many restaurants I’ve been to.)
Don’t be a stupid tourist
Seriously. Don’t take pictures of people without their permission and don’t ask ignorant questions. We’ve all done it. Here’s one example that happens all the time in many countries. You arrive in a new country and you go out to dinner the first night. Your host is extremely nervous and wants you to have some good local food. You arrive at a restaurant that your host has never been to (because he doesn’t eat local food either… He doesn’t have time to cook and his office is nearby an Italian bistro). You get the first dish and it smells terrible. You turn to your host and say… “Why does it smell so bad?”. After this, you see a young woman and pull out your camera for a quick photo of the ‘locals’… Yeah, just don’t.
Do be a tourist
Often ‘ignorant’ questions stem from legitimate curiosity. Just fix the framing and ask in a respectful manner. “Why does it smell so bad?” quickly becomes, “This has quite a strong smell. Why is that?” Your host doesn’t remember, so he pulls out a smartphone to look up the word. While he taps away, you pull your camera out, point it towards the ground and lean towards the woman. You as politely to take a photo because you think her clothing is beautiful and very colorful. After she says yes, you take the photo, look at your friend and he says, “Fermented. It’s fermented! Yeah… I don’t really like it either.”
Don’t stay at a five star hotel.
If you can afford to stay at the most expensive place in town, don’t. Seriously. There are many reasons why you shouldn’t. These hotels are always aimed at two audiences, the rich locals and foreign businessmen. If you don’t fit into one of these two categories, skip the 5 star hotel and opt for something a little cheaper. I say this for countless reasons. Five star hotel chains always have the same neutral interior. They are always situated somewhere slightly out of the way. They are often targeted for muggings, pickpockets and even terrorism. The staff will be friendly, but cold. On top of this, a multinational corporation probably owns the hotel with no interest in the local economy.
If your receptionist greets you like a civil servant greeting the President, you may be in for a very boring time.
Do stay where you feel safe
This doesn’t mean you need to go for a dormitory bed in the cheapest neighborhood in town. Understand your limits and stay where you feel safe and calm. Safety is very important whenever you go to a new place, especially in a culture you don’t understand. However at the same time, the cheaper hotels of a city will be located in much more interesting places.
It goes without saying that the receptionist shouldn’t greet you like a piece of garbage the cat brought home. For me, the ideal level is a hotel where the receptionist greets you like an old friend. These receptionists are amazing because they will go out of their way to give advice on where to eat and what to do. Often, they care more about the city and the surrounding neighborhood respects their guests much more because the guests generally have a thirst for learning about the local area.
You’ll be in good hands, I promise
Don’t fret over digestion problems
Seriously, if you freak out because of a little diarrhea, you are in for a long serious of disappointing adventures. Often your stomach and other organs go under heavy stress when visiting new places. It’s important to relax, drink plenty of liquids and stay active. Don’t run to the hospital with any minor ailment.
Do go to the hospital if you have serious symptoms
It’s hard to decide what a serious symptom is, but if you feel like you have the flu, your body constantly aches with chills, your head twirls with pain, your stomach twists, and you just landed in Alexandria, Egypt – Go to the hospital.
I mean it.
Don’t trust anyone
When you travel, you will stick out. You will be noticed and you will be approached. That kind man on the street doesn’t want to ask you about your thoughts on democracy. He wants you to buy his ice cream. That young lady doesn’t care about where you’re from; she wants you to buy her souvenirs.
This is the dirtiest side of the travel industry. There are many, many people out there who want nothing more than to sell you something and make a decent profit. They’re not interested in your philosophy. They’re not interested in your local language skills. They’re not interested in your politics. They will act like they are with the sole intention of pulling a few more dollars out of your pocket.
Do trust someone
Because often they are interested in your philosophy. Often they do want to teach you their language. Often they are interested in your politics. There is a very fine line that takes a lot of trial and error to decipher, but for every peddler in the world, there are 10 interested shop owners.
How do you tell the difference between the two? I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you how I approach any store, coffee shop or restaurant. I start with reconnaissance. I start by simply walking past the store without making eye contact. Does the owner yell out to me? No… Good. After I’ve accessed that he isn’t too pushy, I turn around and walk in to the shop, making eye contact with a waiter, waitress, cashier, or owner and make a direct request for something cheap. Even if I plan to buy dinner, or a large gift for Mother’s Day (May 12th by the way… You’re welcome), I always ask directly for something cheap. This establishes that I have a specific desire and I’m not going to be easily swayed to purchase beyond my intent. Often, the waiter or cashier begins a conversation with me, and when they don’t, I start the conversation. These have always been enlightening and have led to friendships I know are life-long.
The power has come back on and I can go back to sipping on the cocaine of social media. I hope these tips are worthwhile. I want to hear what tips all of you have from traveling. Please leave a comment, FB comment, tweet, or what-have-you! I’d love to hear!
And remember, the world is out there. Go for it.