Before I begin this entry, I need to say a quick FUCK YEAH SF GIANTS!!! After all, this is technically a San Francisco blog, and you’d better believe that I was whoopin’ it up with the young whippersnappers in the Mission last night, watching as all kinds of garbage cans and furniture were set aflame. The last time we won I was in a foreign country with somebody who didn’t care about the game and it kind of sucked; this time around I was in the city I love with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends. I definitely yelled “yeeeaaahhh!” more times and high-fived more people than I have on any other night of my life.
Update: I kind of forgot about this post and now it’s the day after Election Day, so I need to say a quick FUCK YEAH OBAMA!!! After all, this is technically a San Francisco blog. I was actually in the Muni (public transportation) when Obama won, and my sister texted me “YEAH BITCHEZZZZ”. If it weren’t for that, I would have never known. It was a much, much weaker celebration than when the Giants won. I’m glad my city has its priorities straight.
Okay, now for your regularly-scheduled program. I have a buddy who is about to embark on a crazy year-long adventure, starting in Indonesia and ending lord-knows-where. I’m very stoked for him—I hope he keeps some kind of blog or other media page so I can live vicariously through him. I love travel, and can honestly say that little has shaped my worldview more than my extensive experiences abroad. I recommend travel to every single human being on this earth who has the opportunity to do it. It is possible to spend time in another country without gaining any new perspective, but if that happens to you, then you’re doing it wrong.
I was going to write my friend an email with some friendly, semi-solicited travel tips, but then I realized that all of the sage travel advice I’ve accumulated over the years would be best shared with the whole wide world. So now, for your edification, here are J’S AMAZING TRAVEL TIPS! Please note that these are not so much tips for a quick romantic week in Paris where you’ve planned out the hotel, meals, circus show, and all that jazz. These are tips for extended travel, particularly in the third world (er…developing world. Damn you, PC thugs!).
So here’s the thing: I was about to start writing these when I was hit with a wave of déjà vu, and I remembered that I’d actually written a list of travel tips before, when I was in Turkey two years ago (coincidentally, the last time the Giants won the World Series). The problem is that I can’t remember if I sent these to my friends after I wrote them. Thus, if these seem familiar, I apologize…but can you please let me know if I already sent them? This is too weird.
Here are the old ones—somewhat American-specific, because we need more help with this sort of thing:
1. Yes, things are different in other countries. People speak in different languages, eat different foods, and interact in different ways. That is why we travel—to experience something new. You are in their country, so understand that they are right and you are wrong. Once you can grasp this, your travels will be much easier.
2. If somebody does not understand English, speaking louder and slower will not make them understand any better. Try using hand gestures, pointing, or best of all, drawing pictures.
3. Eat the local food. Yes, it might give you diarrhea. It’s worth it. Trust me.
4. Speaking of which, remember that abroad, especially in the Middle East and Asia, diarrhea is bacterial, as opposed to viral (like it is in the states). Antibiotics and hydration salts are much better remedies than immodium and other medicines that simply dry you up.
5. If she doesn’t speak much English, and she’s willing to have sex with you after all of five minutes, follow the advice of Li’l Wayne and “don’t be surprised when she ask where the cash at.”
6. Remember: you are an ambassador to your country. Every person you meet will assume that all Americans are exactly like you. Thus, if you’re gonna be an asshole, say that you’re Canadian.
7. Many cities have some sort of “tallest building” or “high hill” that you can ascend to get an amazing city view. Sometimes you even need to pay a fee to do so. It is always worth it. Whenever you can get a panoramic view of a city or other area of interest from above, you should not pass up that opportunity.
8. Be a “student of life”. By that, I mean hold onto your student ID card well after you’ve graduated, in order to obtain student discounts. You can always tell them that you’re in law school.
9. If you’re traveling for a short time (under two weeks), don’t bother sleeping. If you’re traveling for a long time, take a day every two weeks or so when all you do is sleep.
10. Alcohol is usually the best gift and the best way to make friends. Except in certain Muslim countries.
11. If you’re going to be in a country for a while, learning a tiny bit of the vernacular goes a huge way. People are extremely appreciative if you actually take a few minutes to try to learn the most basic magic words. Try learning “please,” “thank you,” “water,” “how much does it cost,” “where is the toilet,” and how to count to 10. If you’re a man, you may also want to learn “you are very pretty.” If you are a woman, you may also want to learn “don’t touch me.”
11. Yes, they know you’re a tourist and yes, they’re ripping you off. If they are asking 10 euros for something you know is only worth 5 euros, don’t buy it. If they are asking 10 rupees for something you know is only worth 5 rupees, just fucking pay it. Stop perpetuating the stereotype that Jews are cheap.
12. Don’t drink the water—but make sure that you drink a lot of water.
13. Learn how to squat. Toilets are very…uh…different in other countries.
14. On that note, if you happen to come across a clean, western-style toilet, use it. You don’t know when you’re gonna see one again.
15. Always carry a roll of toilet paper. I realize that many of my travel tips relate to the scatological, but understand that these are, by far, the most important nuggets of wisdom I have to offer. I learned all of these the hard way, and it was really unpleasant. Like there was this one time, in Jordan, where…well, we can save that one for another day.
Then here are a few new additions I’m making now (in 2012):
16. Join either hospitalityclub.org or couchsurfer.com or both. These are websites in which you enter any city in the world and you can find people there who will meet up with you, feed you, and potentially let you stay with them for free. I cannot stress enough how wonderful these sites are. When traveling abroad, there is no substitute for getting a tour from a local. Through these websites, I have been to places and seen sights that are definitely not listed in even the most badass Lonely Planet-style guidebook, and I have also made wonderful friends, potentially for life. If you join hospitalityclub.org, let me know and I’ll give you a good recommendation.
17. Plan as little in advance in possible. In developing countries, you can almost always find a hostel or hotel on the fly, and train or bus tickets need to be reserved a day or two in advance at most. Ideally, I say that if you’re going to be spending an extended amount of time in one country, you shouldn’t even plan more than a couple of destinations. Meet other travelers and ask them where’s hot. Find the guy in your hotel who speaks English and have him help you book your hotel in the next city—he’s probably friends with somebody there and might be able to get you a discount. There’s so much to see, and if you have a fixed itinerary (i.e. if you’ve already paid for hotels in advance), you might miss out on a fun opportunity to do something else. I still regret booking that flight from Santorem to Recife too far in advance and missing out on a chance to do ayahuasca with a local shaman.
18. Make friends! Even without partaking in option 16, it’s easy to meet people when you’re an obvious tourist, because people will be staring at you. Find young people who speak English—they’re all over the place, looking for you—and chat with them. One day in Jaisalmer, India a guy in his early 20s asked if I wanted to buy a bed cover. I said no, but offered to buy him a beer, so we went to a local restaurant and shot the shit. That evening, he randomly came by my hotel and offered to take me to a party in a farm 20 miles down the road. The “party” was a bunch of dudes sitting around, eating curry and drinking beer. They taught me a whole bunch of dirty words in their local Rajasthan dialect. The only one I remember is “chut pachut”, which means “pussy ghost.” It’s a very high compliment for a guy who gets laid a lot. There’s also “chut pakora” which means “pussy cutlet,” but I don’t remember the correct context for using that term.
19. Pack super light. Whatever you need, you can get it wherever you’re going, for dirt cheap. They sell shoes, pants, and even towels in other countries! You can actually get towels for free if you stay in a hotel. Actually, don’t do that. When I was in India in the winter, after one extremely chilly overnight train ride, I decided to steal a heavy blanket from my hotel for the next trip. A week later, my wallet got nicked. I should have known not to do that sort of thing in the country that invented the concept of karma.
20. Just because a country seems sexually liberated does not mean that nudity is allowed on all of the beaches.
21. Don’t buy drugs from the locals—they might be working for the government and you’ll find yourself forced to pay a very hefty bribe. Instead, look for the Israelis. They’re the ones with the dreadlocks who are staying away from the pork dishes.
22. Bring a deck of cards and a set of dominos everywhere you go. This will help with making friends, initiating/facilitating drinking games, killing time, and impressing locals (that is, if you can use the cards for magic tricks, or make really cool domino lines with the dominos).
23. Carry around a first-aid kit with bandages, pain killers, antibiotics, and band-aids. You’ll need all of that stuff. If you don’t need all of that stuff, try being a little more adventurous.
24. You should probably get some shots before you embark on a trip into the third world. For SE Asia and India, I think you want to get inoculated for typhoid and hepatitis (A and B). Get a tetanus booster too, no matter where you’re going. Other than that, I’m not sure you need anything. Before I went to India, I went to a vaccine doctor (who was Indian), and he prescribed me a regimen that would have cost around $1800. I then went to a doctor friend who told me I didn’t need most of that shit and got the cost down to about $200. You don’t need to get vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis (or however the heck you spell it). No, really. Also, I’ve never taken malaria pills. I’m really scared—I’ve heard way too many bad stories about people going insane.
25. Write hand-written postcards and letters to friends and family back home. It’s such a beautiful thing to do.
26. Buy a present for your mom.
27. As cliché as it sounds, stay off the beaten path. Hop on a sketchy bus that leads to some place you’ve never heard of. When you’re in a foreign country, just walking around random villages that aren’t particularly famous for anything can be incredibly exciting. People will stare at you–enjoy your celebrity status.
28. Don’t spend so much time in the Internet café. I know it’s tempting and you feel like you need to be connected. You don’t. You’ll have plenty of time to waste on the Internet when you get home. Trust me. Although I do have some fond memories of Internet cafes…like this one time, in Tokyo, I…am not going to finish this story.
29. Try walking around without a map—that’s how you actually find your way around. Worst case scenario, you can take a taxi back to your hotel. Or maybe a rickshaw, or a tractor. You did remember to write down your hotel’s address, right?
30. If you get the option to do something, just fucking do it—you’ll very likely get a story to tell your grandkids. When you do tell the story, you’re totally allowed to embellish and stretch the truth—nobody else was there. Worst case scenario—you’ll do something that you never want anybody to know about. That’s okay—again, nobody else was there. And of course, those end up being the best stories in the end…
Oh, and please, above all else, be safe! No really, I mean it.