Monday, 18 March 2013

Ten travel risks worth taking

Ten travel risks worth taking

Travelling can be daunting, fun, exhilarating, life affirming and bizarre. It can put you in situations you never expected and can throw many problems your way.
It can also make you resourceful, wise, and canny and enlightens your sense of humour.
If you travel and things like roughing, not knowing where you are going to be next or what will happen tomorrow then here are ten travel risks worth taking.

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable" - Clifton Fadiman

Pick a destination on a whim      
Don’t just go somewhere because someone told you too or it is the fashionable place to go. Go somewhere that you may have never thought about before. A place that maybe obscure and make people wonder why you went.

It doesn’t have to be far flung; it could be local or only a short flight away.
One of the silliest mini adventures I had was with a group of friends when we went to Latvia. We flew out to Riga before it was a stag doo location and the locals were not annoyed by the influx of Brits.

Travel with strangers

Everything is accelerated when you travel. You may have just met someone a couple of hours ago and before you know it you are travel buddies and planning the next stage of an adventure.
Relationships become accelerated and travel romances blossom for the short periods of time that people are together.
All bar to of these people were strangers before we all met in the Mosquito hotel in Krakow, Poland

Most importantly of all you make new lifelong friends. No matter where they are from, how rich or poor they are or what religion, race, age or creed travel puts you all in the same boat.

Strangers travelling are like strangers meeting at a fancy dress party. You both don’t know each other but you have something in common to talk about.

I.e. at the party you would chat about each other’s costumes. Travelling gives you the conversation starter or; ‘where have you been and where are you going’.

Remember strangers won’t stay strangers for long and you should have the guts to talk to as many people as possible when you travel. No matter how scary or odd they are.

Eat street food and drink the local brew

What are the locals eating? Does it look nice and appetising? Does it make your mouth water? But are you too scared to sample it for yourself.

Pigs snout in Seoul anyone?
Don’t be, tuck in and get involved.

Also drink the local brews, they may be coarse and harsh on the palate but they will do the trick and will also make you fit in better with the locals.

Drink tea under a bridge in the Middle East. Sample street food on the streets of Siam Reap, succulent chicken on skewers.

Or be brave and eat the street BBQ mystery meat! While I was in Ghana, street meat became a staple of my diet. I never really knew what was in it or whether it had any nutritional value. All I did know however was that it tasted lovely with some pepper sauce.

Also in Ghana I drank a copious amount of apethishi the local spirit. This stuff was so strong that one lad I knew who did seven shots of it went temporarily blind for an hour. It was flavoured with roots and earth and left to settle. It was an acquired taste but the more they fed it to you the more it grew on you.

In 2008 I travelled with my brother through the Middle East. I told him eat and drink as the locals do. Under my guidance and tutelage he ended up in hospital with dysentery. Although I blame this on his stomach rather than all the food we were eating as I ate and drank the same.

Remember always wash your hands and if you can sanitise knives and forks to avoid ended up in a Wadi Rum hospital with liquid flowing from your arse.

Teeth and tap water

Always wash your teeth with bottled water, avoid the taps. This is the health advice which I have always been bombarded with and always ignore.
It is definitely a risk worth taking. It has not done me any harm….yet!

Travel the lowest class
When you embark on a journey don’t always pay the full whack for a ticket. Travel on a cheaper ticket.
Travelling on the back of a lorry in Ghana 2005
In the past I have travelled on overnight trains in Asia where the beds pull out from the walls. I have also slept on the roof of an African ferry which travelled up Lake Volta and then ended up ramming another ferry.

When you travel in a class where locals and backpackers alike do you meet the best people.
This also goes with accommodation.

Stay in the cheapest accommodation

If you have a hotel room you are separated from other guests. Sometimes you need the peace and quiet and the privacy if you are with someone. Other times it is brilliant to stay in cheap dorm rooms.

You end up meeting some great likeminded people who become friends, drinking partners and travel buddies. They are also the best sources of book swapping and information gathering.

You can learn so much from other travellers that books will never tell you. Where is good, secret places and the actual prices of tickets and food stuffs?

Everyone who has backpacked will have good and bad stories about dorm rooms. Coming back to the dorm to find strangers shagging in the bunk above you or even worse in your bunk. But putting the smelly people you encounter aside for each bad egg there are ten good ones.

My dorm room tip. If someone is snoring use a little water pistol to shoot them. They soon shut up! Cruel but funny and affective.

Go to a place that people tend to avoid
The sacred pools and crocodiles at Paga, Ghana/Burkina Faso border
I was once told to not go to Chiang Mai because it was boring. I loved it. I loved the serenity and quietness of the ancient city.

Wandering in Sirigu Mountain village

Similarly I have been told that I was silly for going to the Middle East or spending time in Africa. I ignore all these naysayers and go and prove them wrong and discover what brilliant places they are.

Take a gamble and so somewhere that others tend to avoid. Be one of only the few people to go there.
In 2005 I went with a German girl I was travelling with at the time to the Sirigu Mountain village in the Volta region in Ghana. No travel book gave it a mention but we had heard rumours about it.

We caught a ramshackle taxi down a long pot holed road getting two punctures en route. Finally we climbed further and further up the mountain into dense jungle.

We followed a well beaten path that eventually lead to a clearing. A clearing that was dotted with corrugated iron roofed huts and an open area in the middle.

There were no shops and no coca cola signs that you seem to see everywhere.
Our arrival caused a stir and children ran up to us, grabbed us and shouted at us.
No guidebooks will tell you about the 'Big tree' in Oda, Ghana
Being new to the village we were summoned to meet the elders who sat on a long old log.

 Many had long white beards and some wore flowing robes of fantastic colours.
They demanded why we were here and I tried to explain that I wanted to see this beautiful village.
Luckily we had some apetishi the local spirit and after handing it over we were free to explore.
If we had kept to the guide book we would have never seen this gem hidden in the hills.

Talk to everyone

 You never know who they may turn out to be and brighten your life. Travel is like a party where everyone has something in common. Everyone can talk while travelling because they can say the old travellers questions such as ‘where have you been and where you going’. Talk to the locals, don’t just set yourself up in a little backpackers bubble.

One massive mistake people tend to do is go overseas and hardly converse with anyone from where they have gone too. They lock themselves in hotels and chat to other holiday makers.
Chat to everyone, even if they seem unhinged and a little mad. Sometimes these are the best conversations!

Keep a journal
Take as many photos as you can, but remember when you look back on them place names and people’s names will disappear into the far recesses of your mind. Write little notes or keep a travel journal and jog those memories back into life.
It has been scientifically proven that looking back on old photos brightens your mind and alleviates stress. Therefore ward off stress by jotting done who people are and where you were in a rudimentary travel journal.
Or go the whole hog and write everything that happens and keep it for a rainy day.
It may be time consuming and sometimes boring but write stuff down and you will feel better for it.

Haggle, haggle and haggle
Haggle all the time. Do not settle for the ‘tourist’ price. Keep haggling and eventually you will get the item you are haggling low enough to consider purchase.
Places such as Souqs and bazaars in the Middle East, African markets and Asian night markets are all worth haggling. 

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