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Travel rules I haven’t followed

Ta Prohm, Angkor temple

I’ve been on my RTW travels for one year already. I’ve done a lot of things and seen a lot of places and truly feel that I’ve got a bit of “travel cred” under my belt now. So I figured I’d share some of the things I’ve learned.

Well, the one thing that I learned about long-term, RTW (round-the-world) travel is that everyone is full of crap. Most people know this already, but still, it helps to say it out loud every once in a while.

I read a lot of books about long-term travel before I left, and the only one I can honestly recommend is Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at it, but it’s so much less than a guidebook and more like a book on life, or philosophy, or living. You don’t even need to be a traveler (or too terribly interested in travel) to truly enjoy it, in my opinion.

Anyways, before I left I read all these books and blogs. And everyone has suggestions and travel tips, including myself. I’ve shared plenty of my own. But really, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t much matter. I’ve gone ahead and traveled how I wanted to, and I’ve been just fine. If you read my previous post on my thoughts from one year abroad, you’d learn that I have not had anything stolen; I haven’t been maimed, injured, kidnapped or held hostage.

So, with all due respect to travel writers, bloggers & guidebook publishers, here’s the list of all the travel rules I haven’t followed:

  • I’ve left my passport in an unlocked bag, alone, in hostel dorms
  • I’ve left my bag unattended on the beach (with my iPod & wallet inside) when going for a swim
  • I’ve left my hotel room door unlocked when leaving the room to take a shower or use the bathroom
  • I’ve worn a nice (ie, expensive) wristwatch in developing countries, late at night, in dark alleys
  • I’ve left my day bag unattended on buses when getting off at rest stops
  • I’ve never once worn a money belt
  • I’ve arrived at border crossings with as little as $2 in U.S. currency, and just petty cash from the country I just departed
  • I’ve eaten the street food
  • I’ve gotten lost
  • I’ve given money to beggars
  • I’ve eaten food from strangers on buses & trains
  • I’ve traveled to countries currently engaged in continuing conflict/war (Israel)
  • I’ve gotten on a train with no ticket and not enough confidence to be able to bribe the conductor
  • I’ve bargained for as little as 50 cents sometimes from people I know live on less than $1/day
  • I’ve traveled entire countries without using a guidebook once
  • I’ve brushed my teeth with tap water
  • I’ve talked to strangers
  • I’ve taken organized tours, local buses & local trains

From the list above I may seem irresponsible, or that I haven’t been concerned about my safety or those of my personal possessions. In fact, I’ve actually been quite careful, and perhaps—lucky. But there have been so many times where I’ve felt so safe and unconcerned in a situation, that I’ve trusted my instincts and come away just fine. There have been times where I felt uncomfortable or didn’t trust someone or a situation, and in those times, I just removed myself from the scenario. Ultimately, it’s the decisions we make which affect our travel experiences. So when in a  situation I don’t like, I just find another way. But way more often than not, I’m in situations that feel quite comfortable and easy.

  1. Mikw says:

    Haha, so true. I did the same thing before leaving, reading all the tips and tricks, and have found most of it worthless in my six months. I’ve done several of those things too – no guidebook for Australia, leave day bag on bus, street food, getting lost, never worn a money belt and I’ve always used tap water for brushing teeth. The passport thing scares me though and I wouldn’t leave it, although who knows as more time goes on.

    • Adam says:

      I don’t really know because I’ve never had to, but I imagine a passport is one of the easiest things to replace! You just have to get to an embassy and have some cash, and you’re good.

  2. Emily Groffman says:

    Exactly! We do these things at home, making decisions based on our surroundings, so why be suddenly paranoid when overseas?

    • Adam says:

      Excellent point @344753cb1af8b9805ab2b367d35b0cd2:disqus! I hate doing things differently just because I’m abroad. Why should I change my general life habits just because I’m in a different place?

  3. Jessica says:

    Love the list. I’ve put valuables under my blanket instead of in a locker.

    • Carrie says:

      I put my $1500 laptop under a pillow because it didn’t fit in the safe, forgetting that a maid would be cleaning the room. When I came back, the bed was made and the laptop was still there, gadgets beside it and all.

      • Adam says:

        @twitter-136055380:disqus – Yep, I’ve left my laptop under my pillow about a gazillion times. More often than not the places I’m staying in don’t have lockers or else I’m too lazy to hide it in my bag and then lock the bag. And it hasn’t gone missing once.

  4. I’ve done some of those and didn’t regret them (apart from wearing an expensive watch in Peru and getting mugged).

    However, bargaining for 50 cents, why?

    • Adam says:

      Sometimes you’re just in the habit of bargaining… May not be the most noble thing to do but just because I’m a tourist doesn’t mean I can’t get as involved as the locals do.

  5. Mike Sowden says:

    Instincts, open eyes and common sense are worth almost everything. Suggestions and advice, they make up the balance.

    Oh, no room left over for “rules”? What a shame. ;)

    Fine work, sir.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think the key is as you said, trust & pay attention to your instincts. I’ve done many of the things you listed as well.

    • Adam says:

      It’s definitely important to pay attention while you’re traveling. Or else you miss out on so much!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wow, are these all considered “rules”?! I’ve broken plenty too, mostly because I tend to trust other people–I leave my stuff unattended a lot, especially at the beach or in hostels. I rely on good karma most of the time, and hope for the best!

    • Adam says:

      Karma comes up a lot. I think since I’ve started traveling I’ve actually learned to trust people MORE often. You kind of have to.

  8. Tom Stockwell says:

    I’m guilty of a few of these, too. I’ll leave my passport alone in a hostel room, but if I trust the staff and my room-mates, I don’t see an issue. Plus, anyone trying to pinch my passport would put it right back once they see my mugshot.

    I think you’re bang on when you say “trust your instincts.”

  9. Lilian Loke says:

    haha..I wouldn’t consider these 2 as rules:
    I’ve eaten the street foodI’ve gotten lostI would actually consider them to be must-dos. If you don’t how can you say, you have really explored the place?? =)

    • Adam says:

      Yep, but I’ve also found a surprising number of people hesitant to eat the street food. Until I drag them out of the hostel restaurant to the food stalls, then they realize!

  10. Leah says:

    Without experimentation then there is no experience! Rules are made to be broken isn’t that what they say?

    Adam I enjoyed reading this post reminding us that living a little and going with the flow can release our fears and let us enjoy the moment.

    Be happy, be safe your natural intincts are better than any guide book you can buy :-)

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Leah! Breaking the rules IS exhilarating! Leaving your computer unlocked and under your pillow one day might just feel really good – especially when you come back and it’s still there (like it more-than-likely will be), making you trust yourself and your neighbors that much more!

  11. I have to say, Adam, that just because theft or illness or personal harm hasn’t befallen you doesn’t mean it everyone will be immune to it. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to promote carelessness. HOWEVER, I do think that travel karma is a powerful thing. If you (plural) constantly dwell on the horror in the world, and the huge population of dishonest citizens you’re just setting yourself up for problems, and wasting a lot of energy doing it.

    I’m a little like you when it comes to traveling, making my way and not considering the consequences of what may actually be irresponsible actions, but therein lies the genius of it. When I was younger I was taught something called creative visualization: if your mind is always on the positive and unhindered, you will be positive and unhindered in life. That seems to have always worked for me, especially traveling, and it sounds like you do the same, perhaps the reason for your problem-free travels. But of course the opposite is also true, if your spend time visualizing your bag being thieved, or watch being snatched right off your wrist, or being jumped, those things are far more likely to happen to you. It’s all very metaphysical, but extremely hard to deny.

    Of course, the final word is common sense. Leaving your belongings unattended in a busy spot will always increase the likelihood of them disappearing, so if it’s a busy spot, don’t leave your stuff there. If the street vendor has old, cold food for sale, don’t eat it. Period.

    Thanks for starting this conversation. I’ve always wondered why nothing catastrophic has come to pass on my trips in the past. This may be why.

    • Adam says:

      Thanks for your comment Nico…

      One of the points I’m trying to make is just because you’re abroad, doesn’t mean that you will have stuff stolen or you’ll be robbed. Maybe I’m an exception to the rule, but I’ve met plenty of people (a majority, even) who haven’t had serious issues while traveling. And yet there’s this huge misperception that it WILL happen to you.

      I also don’t think I’m promoting carelessness. I’m hardly careless with my poessisions. Just because I trust my instincts doesn’t make me careless!

      I’ve heard similar things to “creative visualization” – reminds me a bit of The Secret (book/movie from a few years ago).
      I definitely think positive thinking is rarely a bad idea.

  12. Tiffany Olson says:

    Love this.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Fun post! We’ve broken a lot of these rules too. I hate a money belt more than anything.

    I always brush my teeth with tap water.
    Carrying that bottle of water into the bathroom all the time gets annoying, so I stopped using it after India last year. But I am not sure about the second last point, didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk to strangers :-)

  14. Hello Adam….Great to know the tips you have not followed…But frankly saying that,every-time it is not going to happen with you…the reviews of the other travel writers can’t be ignored..

    • Adam says:

      I’m not saying I haven’t been lucky at times. But people should realize that the world just isn’t nearly as scary as all the news, advice and tips from others may lead you to believe.

  15. Sophie says:

    Well, truly, when you have traveled a lot, you should be able to learn things yourself about travel without needing the help of anyone whether by reading books are actually asking them for tips. When I travel to Cape Town though, which is chosen as the #1 destination in the world for 2011, I will make sure that I know everything that I need to know to more fully enjoy my vacation.

  16. thepurplegallery says:

    The key word in this whole post is INSTINCTS! I totally agree with everything Adam said. Yes, things happen regardless of how “safe” you travel. Listen to your gut and if it tells you to do or not to do something, heed the message. Enjoy your travels!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks! While traveling, one of the greatest things I’ve learned is to trust my own instincts.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Lucky you ha! I have broken these rules too, but with not the best outcomes. I am normally very paranoid when I travel. The one time I left my hotel room unlocked for 1 minute in Belfast, I had my money stolen. It really is luck I think, but I didn’t let one bad experience alter how I travel. Some of us have to be pickpocketed so others aren’t.

    • Adam says:

      “Some of us have to be pickpocketed so others aren’t.” -haha! Well then a big thank you to all the people who’ve had stuff stolen from them!

      Also, I have a feeling petty theft and hostel problems are more likely to happen in Europe than most other regions around the world popular with travelers. Not really sure why, but I’d more “paranoid” in Europe than anywhere else.

  18. Ryan Johnson says:

    Well this seems to be an awesome experience. Though it is highly dangerous but still sometimes this becomes part of fun and good memories later on :)

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Ryan.

      Not sure that some of these things are highly dangerous. Of course it would’ve been terribly inconvenient and sometimes uncomfortable if things had gone wrong in many of these situations, but not too terribly dangerous. I’m by no means a thrill-seeker.

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