I’ve indicated in previous posts, that most RTW trips suggested by Lonely Planet and other RTW web sites recommend at least 6 months to a year for a RTW trip. However, my RTW trip encompassed 4 months, with 10 countries visited, and I spent no more than 3 weeks visiting each country (2), with most being 2 weeks (7), and one country, Malaysia, I was there for only 3 days. Whew! I’m tired just reading that. 🙂
I was aware of the aforementioned advice prior to taking this trip and I disregarded it. Why? Simply because I wanted to be different and unique. More important, I wanted to challenge myself. I did – almost to the point of exhaustion. I also did not want to be away from home for more than 4-5 months. Maximum. Consequently, 6 months, 9 months, much less a year weren’t on this kid’s agenda. I love to travel, but I also love Denver, Colorado and equally important, my family and friends. If you are going to put a numero uno lesson at the top of the page, then this would be it. This lesson, along with the rest of my top ten lessons/tips are in no particular order . . .
1. Unless you are Tony Bourdain traveling first class on a TV producer’s dime or a contestant in The Amazing Race, stay at least a month, preferably a month and a half in each country you visit. No more than 4-5 countries should be visited for a 6 month trip. If you do get the urge to do what I did, then ensure you are YOUNG. 🙂
2. Always find out before you arrive in a country, if they have “multiple shrine, landmark, and museum passes.” These are great deals due to being much less expensive than buying each individual museum pass. Equally important, you’re able to AVOID THE INEVITABLE LONG LINES. Usually, the museums have two lines – one for ticket holders and one for those without tickets. Often times, these lines are a couple of hundred yards in length and in some cases, longer. Occasionally, it doesn’t matter if you have a pass or not, e.g., Versailles Palace, where the line was easily a few hundred yards for those people with tickets. Ugh. Istanbul, Athens, Florence, Rome, and Paris all have these multiple shrine, landmark and museum passes. Regrettably, I purchased my Paris pass a bit late and missed out on a few things listed on this pass due to running out of time.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, rent a car or motorcycle in Kathmandu. Why? Simply too dangerous. Sheesh, if you want a white knuckle experience, just riding in a cab is an adventure you wont ever forget. I was literally scared sh*tless the first few times I got in a taxi. I have described the experience as being part of a Bruce Willis or Vin Diesel action movie. However, I eventually found out that the cabbies are very experienced drivers and relaxed after my initial few experiences. Moreover, the traffic congestion never allows a cab to go much faster than 30 MPH. In short, if there is an accident, you’ll probably survive the dust up with minor injuries. Ha. Similarly, I would avoid renting a car in Bangkok, Thailand, unless you like interminable traffic jams.
4. Do rent a car in New Zealand, albeit, you might want to start your trip in Christchurch, a smaller city which is much less stressful than Auckland, where I started off. I was able to easily pack a month and a half of fun and adventure into a 3 week trip by renting my own car. Seriously. I had no idea that New Zealand only had 4.5 million folks living there. I mistakenly thought they had a population exponentially greater than that. This translated to about 1-2 cars per every kilometer I traveled on their excellent south and north island roads. I was so relaxed, I actually listened to music while I was driving. 🙂 I also have to give another awesome shout out to my friends, Paul and Gill, who encouraged me to drive the rental in Auckland (as I alluded to earlier, I was a bit scared driving initially) and even helped back it out of their beautiful home’s driveway, which was quite narrow for my “wrong side of the road” driving skills.
5. After you have determined exactly how much money you will need for your last day in a country, I suggest you donate any remainder of your Rupees, Euros, Bahts, etc., to someone that needs it more than you. I did this quite a few times during my trip. I also gifted my remaining half dozen Paris subway tickets (which were donated to me by Angie, my friend from Calgary before she flew home) to a Parisian local before I left.
6. Don’t stress out about booking everything before your trip. GO WITH THE FLOW should be your mantra. Other than my flight itinerary, I “winged” everything else. By winging it – I mean I only thought about the next country a couple of days before I was going there. I had two excellent Android apps on my tablet, Wiki Sherpa and TripAdvisor. I used both of them extensively. I would usually download specific cities I was going to and study these destinations the day before I left for a country, as well as in route on the plane or train I was taking. Both of these applications had excellent information about hotels, hostels, crime/safety, subways, taxis, buses, restaurants, landmarks, museums, shrines, etc. Another good source was the U.S. State department, especially about crime. Regarding hotels, I would normally book for a couple of nights in case the place was a dud, as well as to negotiate a better price. Usually, I was able to do this by eliminating the “middle man” (Expedia, Orbitz, and the rest of these travel places charge a 15-25% fee to the hotels). If the accommodations were less than satisfactory or inconvenient to the tourist sites I wanted to see in that particular city, I would also move.
7. Pack light. This was a biggie as it turned out. I brought along a 45 liter back pack and frankly, I could have gotten away with my 38 liter back pack that I utilized for my 2 month plus Central and South America trip last year. Now, some people will disagree with me. Good for them. Me? I don’t need a lot of crap, especially when I can buy everything on the road. I ended up tossing a fleece pullover in Pai, Thailand, because I got tired of carrying the &%#$@ thing all over humid Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. The 45 liter back pack was an excellent bag and I loved all of it’s features, especially the packing cubes (also a must have for easy organization of your clothes). However, the pack was heavy and frankly, I got tired of lugging it around. It got so bad, that I always checked it in on my flights. With the 38 liter bag, I was able to take it as “carry on.” For example, upon arrival at my last destination, Paris, France, I got caught in a rain storm. Not sprinkles, but a major storm. This was compounded by my mistake in getting off at the wrong subway station. Consequently, I spent two hours in the rain trying to find my hotel. I was one wet and tired amigo when I finally checked into the hotel. The rule of thumb when traveling goes like this – You will fill the back pack you have selected to the maximum, regardless of what size it is. Therefore, go small initially and that way you will only take things you absolutely need.
8. Bring a credit card or debit card that has no surcharge for the international transaction fee(s). I was getting cash from the ATM with my credit union debit card and the transaction fees were quite low. However, when my wallet got stolen in Athens, I had to go to Plan B (use of credit cards) and it cost me a lot more money to use them. Frankly, credit card companies might as well be called “loan sharks” because they charge outrageous usury fees, especially for International travel.
9. Related to number 8 – never, ever bring your wallet with you when you are sight seeing. I knew this lesson and always had adhered to it in earlier adventures. However, I got arrogant during the latter portion of this trip and began taking my wallet everywhere; thinking, “Not me, I am too street smart and I don’t look like a typical tourist.” Wrongo on both accounts. The cardinal rule goes like this: Bring a copy of your passport and sufficient money for that day. Nothing else is necessary. If you need money, take ONE credit card or debit card with you to get your money from the ATM and if at all possible afterwards, return the card to your room safe. If not possible, you should have your MONEY BELT on, not your wallet. By the by, front pants pockets are EASIER to pick pocket from, then rear pockets. The only consolation about having your wallet stolen in a foreign country is that the thieves will only be interested in the money inside the wallet, not the cards or IDs, which they have no use for. Conversely, an American losing his wallet in the United States does have to fear identity theft.
10. Always say “please,” “thank you,” “Sir,” and “Mam or Ms.” when speaking with someone from a foreign country. Likewise, always have a smile when chatting with them. Never make demands, raise your voice, or act like the stereotypical “Ugly American.” Which by the way, is a false stereotype in my opinion. Most Americans I met during my travels were well behaved. Think of it this way – would you go to someone’s house and act like you owned it? Of course not. You’re a guest and showing respect to the host country leaves two very important impressions: 1. A personal impression about you; and, 2. Perhaps more important, an impression of the United States.