How to Prepare for Travel

To make the most of your trip, and to save time and energy when you are there, it is worth doing some preparation. In some countries in South America it is difficult to get access to the internet, which makes it hard to look things up when you are there.

It is also worth doing your homework so you have some some basic knowledge, to avoid getting ripped off. Aside from the obvious like checking the currency and exchange rate, and visa and entry requirements, I suggest that you:

  • find out what the locals wear. A Google image search can be enough. Do they cover up? In Muslim countries, you may find that people wear long clothes, so you might not want to wear shorts, even if it will be hot. Do they generally dress in smart or casual clothes? In Cuba, the women wear leggings and vest tops, and the men wear shorts and t-shirts. Older men wear trousers but everyone dresses in bright colours. I never saw anyone in a suit, and the smartest dressed people were the bus drivers.

    Knowing how the locals dress will help you decide what to pack, so that you don’t draw attention to yourself. (See my posts Staying Safe and Spending as Little as Possible to learn the advantages of blending in.)

  • Check the weather for the time of year: it sounds silly but I went to Rio de Janeiro in May and assumed that it would be warm as Brazil is a hot country, right?
Escada de Selaron, Rio de Janeiro
Escada de Selaron, Rio de Janeiro
It was their winter and was not that warm. It is a huge country so the temperature can vary in different locations. I had packed all kinds of clothes as I was going on a long trip around the continent, so luckily I had what I needed.

Another mistake I made was assuming Morocco would be warm in March. “It’s in Africa, it must be hot!”
Essaouira Morocco
Essaouira´s Medina
I naïvely thought. No it was not hot, although often sunny. I went kitesurfing
kitesurf Essaouiria
in Essaouira, and I took a shorty wetsuit. My arms went purple in the wind!

Related to this:
  • check the average rain fall for the time of year. It might be warm but it may still rain! I went to Japan in June
Nijo-jo Kyoto
Nijo-jo Castle, Kyoto
and had checked that the temperature would be good. I had not, however, realised that it would rain as much as it did. Luckily they are prepared in Japan, and every hotel had umbrellas to lend to their guests- perfect! As it was so warm, the rain was quite welcome at times and it didn’t bother me much as I dried off quickly.

  • Talk to people that have been there: the UK foreign office website may say lots of dramatic things about the country that you are planning to visit, but they seem to advise against going anywhere outside Europe. Someone that has been recently will know best, provided they went independently and didn’t go to a resort (staying in a tourist bubble isn’t going to teach you anything about the place that you are in).

    If you don’t know anyone that has been, look online. There are lots of travel forums where people share their tips and stories. These can be very useful and you may learn something you hadn’t even considered.

    As well as the suggestions that I have covered, ask them:

    how much they paid for taxis

    if there are any common scams to look out for
    whether locals were friendly towards tourists if there are any areas where they felt unsafe

  • Read about the recent history: this can give you a basis for further understanding the economic situation, the culture and how people live.

    • Look up the minimum wage, so you have an idea of what is expensive in that country. For example, in Cuba, the minimum wage is 9-10 CUC per month, so when the taxi driver at the airport asks you for 30 CUC to take you into the city, you know you can laugh in his face.
Learn from my mistakes, and be prepared so that you can avoid wasting time being a clueless tourist, and get stuck in and learn about the culture.

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