Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Traveler Tips: Q&A from the H.I. Event

So for those who didn't get to go to the Hosteling International event on Monday, I've pulled some of the questions I got that I don't think I've answered before here, and some that my friend Pam answered that I didn't know, plus at least one good suggestion from an audience member.

Q: Should you ever deal with the black market when changing money?
Not if you can help it. It used to be that you could do this in many countries and get a much better rate than you could through an official money changer. I've heard rumors that this might still be true in places like Venezuela, but for the most part, not only is this no longer true, but the black market has almost exclusively been filled by scam artists, especially the ones that just operate in the street at border crossings and major cities. You will get fake currency, bad exchange rates, and slight of hand to trick you into thinking you got more than you actually did.

If you must use the black market, then it's a situation where someone official can point you to the reliable guy on the black market. I have asked police and border patrol personnel and they have helped me with this. I got a good rate with real currency. You'd think the people I asked would rather arrest the people instead of giving them customers, but in some places (mostly Africa), they know this is the only way to change money, so they'll just kind of give you a "if this doesn't work, it's not my fault" spiel beforehand.

Q: How would you feel about driving a car in the developing world?
Eh... I'd be nervous. I wouldn't do it until I'd spent enough time to become familiar with the driving local driving style, roads, and traffic police habits. In East Africa, the police pull over foreign-looking drivers all the time to try to fleece them for bribes. If you don't pay, they find something to fine you for. In South America, people will take blind corners on steep mountain highway with no shoulder or guard rail, and just drift into the lane of opposing traffic. As driver, I know I wouldn't be able to handle these sorts of things without a good amount of practice and familiarization first.

Q: If you need medical attention and you don't speak the local language, how do you find a good doctor and someone who can translate for you?
Doctors all over the world are expected to learn some English. It's the international language of many disciplines in the hard sciences, so they're expected to know some as part of their studies. Finding an English speaking doctor or pharmacist shouldn't be nearly as hard as you might imagine. As for making sure it's a *good* doctor, use local recommendations. If you have made friends where you are, ask them. If you haven't yet met locals, talk to the staff of the hostel or hotel where you are staying, or the local tourist info center. They all know better then you possibly could. Some travel insurance providers will give you an emergency number you can call that will tell you where a doctor they recommend is located.

Q: What are some things you had a hard time finding on the road that you should get at home?
Most things you can get at home, you can also get abroad, but not necessarily the brands or quality you want. Pam talked about how she was never satisfied with foreign band-aids (I never had a problem with this personally, but I didn't use many). I could never find peanut butter when I wanted it, and very few people outside of the US know what root beer is. Also, if you're like me and have big feet, shoes can be an issue in many countries. I had to get special imported ones from an American mall in Quito once. It was expensive, and a little embarrassing. Finally, I get picky about my clothes being packable, quick-drying and decent looking. Shirts I could usually find. But for some reason, finding pants like this was often a challenge.

Q: What's a good way to help secure your room if you have a private one?
Get a little doorstop. I never had one of these, but it was suggested after the event, and I think it's a good one. This assumes of course that you aren't sharing the room and the your door opens inwards, and that the bottom of the door is close enough to the floor for it to work, but in those situations, a doorstop could be handy to make you more secure.

Hope that's helpful. Thank you very much to all who attended! If any of you had a favorite question I haven't included here, comment or email me, and I'll add it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Come See Me In Seattle!

Next Monday, June 28th, thanks to Hosteling International USA, I'll join fellow traveler Pam Perry to answer your questions about traveling less developed countries.

As it says on the pretty flyer to the left, this event is free and open to the public, at the American Hotel (also known as the new HI Seattle hostel) at 520 S. Kings St. We'll be in the common room at 6:30.

I plan on bringing some of my gear, including my backpack, to show what kinds of stuff I packed for my trip, and what I do and don't recommend that you bring as well. We're not just going to talk at you, this is going to be an open discussion, addressing concerns and questions of whoever is there. The focus will be on helping first-time independent travelers who want to go to less developed areas, but there might be a few stories to share as well.

So, come and bring friends! I'll see you there.

(BTW, for the Facebook inclined, the event is online here.)