I am back! Earlier this week I returned from a most AMAZING trip to Indonesia. My friends and I found ourselves in a new place every day, often in a novel situation, and memories of other moments in my travels that had escaped me for years kept resurfacing. As we wandered down winding staircases to reach the hidden beaches tucked away in Uluwatu‘s cliffs and explored the islands of Indonesia, my mind wandered back to walking the weaving path at Byron Bay’s lighthouse. As we cruised around Bali with our driver and new friend, Ari, I remembered sitting in a Taxi as our driver navigated the longest, curviest road in Quito, Ecuador. With my first bite of Gado Gado, I recalled the first time I tried the staple meal of Nepal; Dal Bhat. From the backseat of our moped, I watched dogs (not without homes, yet street dogs nonetheless) perfect the art of crossing the streets of Bali, and I thought back to a time in Puerto Rico where I sat down to a meal with my family only to be greeted by a friendly Puerto Rican pup.
Some of us believe that travel is important. More than just fun, luxurious at times, and the opposite of luxurious at others, going new places broadens our horizons, eliminates prejudices and preconceived notions, and opens our minds to new ideas. Traveling allows us to see the world while practicing and improving the skills needed in life. Daily, one practices decision making, communicating with individuals of entirely different backgrounds, learning new skills, putting navigation skills to use, or even survival skills (hopefully when one is backpacking in Patagonia rather than enjoying a night out in Kuta!)
Indonesia was yet another successful trip in thanks to many people, but also in thanks to the lessons (humorous lessons at times) that I have learned along the way.
Keep your eyes on your belongings – at all moments.
It sounds obvious, right? But unfortunately there are professional thieves, and I happened to encounter some on my very first day in South America. Hours after landing in Santiago, Chile, my partner’s backpack was swiped as he tried to help a feigning amigo find his keys that he said he dropped among our luggage. With his back turned to his seat and backpack for a split second to move about our bags, an unknown accomplice swiped the goods containing his lap top, passport, camera, GoPro, and more. On this trip to Indonesia and on every other trip since that first heart-sinking moment, I have relentlessly watched our belongings. Be aware of schemed distractions and don’t become a victim.
Learn the lingo.
Accurately speaking the local language is better than flubbing, but flubbing the words is always better than not trying to speak the local language at all! My first time traveling in a Spanish speaking country, I just went for it. However, my far from perfect Spanish was the source of embarrassment multiple times. On my first day in Santiago at the museum of art, I asked for the “servico” which sounded like “cerveca”, when more commonly locals use the term “bano”. Weeks later in the Cochamo valley I was mortified to learn that I requested a fast cowboy instead of a fast horse.
Only pack what you envision yourself wearing multiple times.
If what you are bringing is what you are carrying, make it easier on yourself. Less luggage = more room for souvenirs! My trips to Nepal and Indonesia are two of the few times I was truly successful at this. While I always try to pack light, this guideline helped me immensely!
On bargaining: counter-offer low.
Swimming in the water in St. Lucia, a jet-ski skidded up to us and asked if we wanted to take it out in the bay. $40 he said. My reply: $35! It was my first time traveling to a country in which bargaining was acceptable. I thought I did a great job even remembering to bargain, but yet that story always gets told as what not to do.
Haggling is often part of the Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia cultures. It is often fun and a sort of game for both parties. There is a balance and a right way to do this. While you want to pay a fair amount to help the locals, you don’t want to pay the outrageous gringa or tourist price. This is when you put your haggling skills to use and find an agreeable price for each party; demonstrated by the phrase, “Good for you, good for me”!
Don’t drink the water.
Even if you are sure you’ll be fine. If you swear that you have a strong stomach. Even if you are staying at your friend’s hostel in Patagonia and they tell you it is the purest water you will ever drink! (They may not have seen that cow pie laid freshly on the pipes that morning. =P ) Save yourself the discomfort of giardia in a foreign country.
Or do. Because practicing good judgement, having novel experiences, and learning about life is what Travel is all about.
Heading to Peru, Colombia, or Brazil?! Be sure to check out these 50 must-knows for backpacking in South America!