1/ Explore more
Carry a guidebook, by all means, but don’t treat it like a bible. Keep an eye out for those cities or regions that didn’t make it into The Book, as sometimes they can be the real gems. If you’ve been out in the bush going solo and roughing it for some time then it can be fun to head to the guidebook writer’s favourite hostel and have a few beers with travellers. You’ll rarely get the most out of any destination though if you just follow the herd around the official list of ‘must-see sights.’
[I often use a guidebook ‘negatively’ by deliberately setting out to explore the places that aren’t featured.]
2/ Don’t compare places against each other
Try to block those thoughts that go along the lines of “oooh, this reminds me of Venezuela / Masai Mara / Ulan Batur…”. Those thoughts block you from accepting the place as it is. Every new destination will have its own unique magic if you look hard enough and keep an open-mind.
[I was once sent to Vasco da Gama in Goa to do a city report on what was supposedly a grungy, dirty, uninteresting urban mess… But I stayed there so long that I fell in love with Vasco da Gama and had to write a completely different story].
3/ Consider your clothing
Try to maintain an appearance that will not alienate local people. Rural communities are often staunchly conservative in their own way: they will often see excessive tattoos and facial piercings and outlandish clothes as something very alien. It may be a very laudable statement of your individuality but it will not help local people to accept you into their homes and daily life.
4/ Look like you know where you’re going
If you are in a dodgy part of a potentially risky city don’t carry a guidebook and don’t stop to consult a map at every corner. Better to find a quiet spot, learn where you need to go and then walk with confidence. Also, carry your daypack under your arm rather than on your back.
5/ Remember your manners
Observe local etiquette – take your shoes off when you go into someone’s house if it’s expected and don’t walk around town without a shirt on (guys and girls) unless you see the locals doing so.
[Slip-on bush-boots – known in Australia as Blundies – can be a good tip for jungle trekking in Asia where you frequently have to take your boots off to enter homes.]
6/ Break away from WiFi
Don’t be a slave to bars and hotels with WiFi access – if you have an iPhone buy a local data sim and create a hotspot so that you have your own internet connection wherever you go.
[I try to avoid being accessible from time to time but last year I had a frantic deadline to beat while I was in a bush camp in a remote section of Kenya’s biggest national park – luckily we had a phone signal so we had permanent WIFI access even in the wilderness].
7/ Travel solo
Although it’s not necessary to be a ‘lone wolf’ don’t be afraid to travel alone. Even if you are travelling as a couple don’t be reluctant to take some time for yourself to slip away and interact with local people. This applies more than ever if you are travelling in a group.
8/ Walk away from ritzy hotels
If you’re staying at a ritzy hotel (but would still prefer not to be ripped off for taxis) walk a block or two away from the lobby before you hail a taxi and when you come back tell the driver you are going to somewhere close to the Ritz/Mandarin/Sheraton.
9/ Consult with the headman
If you want to hire a guide for a remote and extended trip the very best resource can often be a village headman. Somebody who has the reputation of his village on his shoulders is unlikely to let you down.
10/ Stash some cash
If you hire a guide and intend to travel fast across a given area then agree a price for the whole trip (but you might be surprised at how fast your guide can move). If you want to take time to snap shots and soak up the atmosphere then pay by the day (the same trip could turn out to be markedly slower). Either way, hold some of your budget back and make it known that there will be a tip at the end if the trip goes well.
KITBAGGERS TIP: Think about the sort of bag you need to travel with. Expedition-style backpacks are absolutely the best if you’re going to be trekking long distances and need to carry everything with you. The vast majority of backpackers use their packs for little more than the short journey between hostel/bus-station/airport/beach, so a kitbag will make life easy and an average size daypack is sufficient to carry everything you need for a few days in the jungle.