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With a Backpack, on Foot and at Random - Advice to Beginner Tourists from Professionals

Author: 26.11.2015 | travel, turism
If you have planned to put your long-time dream into practice and meet sunrise at a beach of Jamaica, have breakfast in Kyoto, spend lunch to the sounds of bandurria and wash it down with Campari on Montmartre but flights, borders, customs and language barriers set you panicing - specially for you OUTLOOK talked to four experienced globetrotters who will share advice on how to fight fright of unknown and not to get in unpleasant situations when far from motherland.

Ricardo Shelef, 40, Santiago, Chilie

Tourist experience: 60 states

"There is no better feeling in the world than crossing borders on foot"

About myself: I was 25, I worked at an office in Santiago. But somewhere deep inside I felt that it wasn't the way my life was supposed to be passing. One day I quitted, packed my backpack and began travelling. Now, at the age of 40 I have no intention of halting even for a day.

About stuff: First mistake of a tourist is to take a ton of stuff with you. I keep telling my friends that they will never put on their favorite suits, fancy shoes will be if no use. Just forget these things. Imagine that you are only going for a day that will last your whole life. The rest you can find in a country to which you travel. This is world, there is everything in it!

On picking a country: The best way is to take a globe, close your eyes and spin it. I have always followed this principle. My first country was Spain. After that I visited Lebanon, Brazil, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Thailand and also Ukraine. And I spend over a month in each of them. So, second rule is not to be afraid of anything. Dream of Madagascar? Go on, that's your thing then!

On money: I have never denied myself a thing. I ate what I wanted, visited everything that was around. Upon realization that there was no more money left, I find job. I worked as a waiter, a DJ, a security guard at a shop and even as a rescuer.

On accomodations: A tourist has to be sociable and sly (laughs). I had made many friends in social networks before starting to travel. And than wrote casually "Hi, it's Ricardo, remember me? I happen to be in China. Can I stay with you?" (Laughs). There were occasions, of course, when I had no friends or acquaintances. In such cases I made friends on site. Best way to save money is to make friends with foreigners. I have never even consideed hotels or hostels.

On transport: As for me, there is nothing better than crossing borders on foot! I can’t express this feeling when you are wandering for 72 hours straight, your body gets filled with adrenaline and desire of adventures! And this, by the by, is the best way not to fall asleep (laughs). It happened to me once when I was going to Austria but woke up in France!

On must-haves: First of all it’s a map. Preferably a paper map. Because, as hard as it may be to believe in, but in many countries there’s just no Wi-Fi or it is as hard to find it as it was for Columbus to find India.

On luck: I have always been damn lucky. I was arrested several times in certain countries during protests against Earth pollution. I got lost in mountains of Thailand. And one should bear in mind that that's the core of travelling: finding problems and solving them. This of all things helps me discover myself day after day. Today I live in Ukraine, tomorrow I may be in Belarus and then… who knows where life will take me!

Julia Vovk, 23, Kyiv, Ukraine 

Tourist experience: 24 states

“Sri Lanka is a super option for those, who are tired of life and want to be hugged and picked up in arms”

About myself: I got second university education in Russia and then I decided to kepp studying in Austria, spend several months there, studied European law at University of Vienna School. Went for vacation to Sri Lanka and it was probably then when it all began. A couple of months spent in this country are like a couple of years of life in Europe. Super option for those, who are tired of life and want to be hugged and picked up in arms! Currently I live and study again in Prague. I keep a blog on travelling and try to discover something new every month.

On presents: Spend your money on emotions, on what will make your heart beat high, on what brings endorphin into your blood. All these banal magnets, plates to hang on the wall for grannies – they are all just empty things, burned money. Better, when on location, try and figure out a low-cost airline or some kind of super-cheap transport operator and visit a country that borderds to the one you’re in. When we were in Montenegro, we just upped and bought bus tickets and in merely a couple of hours were in Albania.

On scams: There are scams aimed at tourists everywhere and on everything! This is a golden and unspoken rule in every capital of the world. Deception should be expected everywhere from a restaurant or café with overpriced food (and experience has proven that it doesn’t always match quality) to currency exchange unit. Every time prior to going to a country I find some groups in social networks to ask locals as to where to go to eat, where it is better to exchange money, where it is better to stay, how to call a cheaper taxi and so on… Andmanypeopledothesamething.

On touristic routes: Meet locals, make friends with them. You won’t even notice how over half an hour’s talk a route will shape up in your head on its own. Andrememberonething: guidebooksareforweaklings! Anyonecandothat! You go and try to get to know a city, its life, feel its rythms without the help of trivial spots. Nowthat’satruechallenge!

On applications: There are many advice to give to beginner travelers but main thing, I guess, is to share a secret list of gadget applications that will bring you back home, help save money, advice on where to spend time, where to live in beauty and what districts never to end up in. Here you go! what a trip, uber, app in the air, roadtrippers, triposo,maps with me, arrivel guides, pinpin ATM finders, my train companion, park me parking, hopstop, PinDrop, sit or squat, foodspotting, LoungeBuddy, Packing Pro, Airclaim, TravelSafe, Couchsurfing, booking.com, airbnb.

Yelena Gorkova, 30, Kyiv, Ukraine

Tour experience: 12 countries; lived in Syria for 3 years, in France – for 10 years.

“A tourist’s greatest delusion is taking stuff “just in case”. What if I’m suddenly invited to visit Oscar ceremony? Why not take an evening dress then?”

About myself: Normally people know where they want to go. In my case it all happened involuntarily. My tourist experience began at the age of two because my parents’ work implied constant business trips. When I was 16 I decided that my life is impossible without migration. I used to wake up and ask myself: what would I like to see right now? And as soon as June comes, I already sit on my luggage at an airport.

On seasons: If we talk about sea resorts, summer is an awful season. My advice to everyone – go to Europe only in summer. Local citizens are all away then. You loose pleasure of spending hours in traffic jams, queues and can easily take pictures even of Mona Lisa.

On planning: I may seem too serious a tourist but I have never been able to pick countries at random. I have always thought rationally: if you are not a devote Catholic and Pope is far from being a purpose of your trip – then you shouldn’t go to Rome in the period of religious holidays. For the same reason one shouldn’t go to a city in a period of mass sports or culture events, unless attending such events is the goal of a trip. It is also important to figure out climate pattern of a country you are going to. It will be a shame not to be able to sunbath or walk along a beach of Thailand due to coming there in rain season.

On transport: As a rule I take planes. Years of tourist experience have proven that one should know certain rules of airlines to save some money. First thing, amazingly, but on Tuesday night tickets are 30% cheaper than on any other working day. Also, don’t just look at direct flights alone, there are various routes. Discontinuous flights are sometimes much cheaper than direct ones. On holidays and weekends tickets are normally more expensive and fall in price sharply right after holidays. For instance, if you fly on January,1, you can save a significant amount of money.

On stuff: Take comfortable footwear, waterproof overcoats, large scarf that can be both used as a coverlet and as a headwear. Try to take multi-functional things: for instance, classic black pants can be worn for a walk in daytime and to a restaurant in evenings. Don’t forget about documents! Take a copy of your national and foreign passport with you and carry them separately. Should something happen to your documents, you’ll at least have copies to present, say, at your country’s consulate. And a tourist’s greatest delusion is taking stuff “just in case”. What if I’m suddenly invited to visit Oscar ceremony? Why not take an evening dress then? It was my first mistake as a traveler (laughs).

On dress-code: It exists! There was this awful situation when I was going on my first trip to Paris. I took all my best things with me. I was going to the fashion’s capital, you know! But soon as I went out to the streets I realized that people were looking at me with some sort of terrible incomprehension. I looked like an odd bird circling the streets. French women are dressed very simply, even poky. They have nothing to do with ladies in sophisticated outfits I had pictured. Therefore it isn’t insignificant for your own safety to consider cultural traditions. You shouldn’t take too explicit skirts when going to a Muslim state. You can be treated aggressively or even get arrested. A shirt dress in Scandinavian countries will lead to expenses on curing colds.

On cash: Definitely only cash and in every pocket. When you see money, psychological barrier arises: “Wait a minute! Thereisn’tmuchleft! Stop!” But when it is on a card – it’s like “Go ahead, anything you like!” Only there is a risk of being left with nothing at all. I would also advise to exchange money for the currency of a country you are going to in Ukraine. Thus, many take either dollars or euro and set on a journey. Big mistake, because on discrepancies in global and local exchange rates you’ll lose 100-500 hryvnya. It is more convenient, too. You come to Sweden, have krona and take a bus without running around an airport looking for a “currency exchange for tourists”.

On souvenirs: I have always bought traditional things as souvenirs. Find out what a country or a region you are in is famous for. I try not to rush into buying things I like but to think what I really need, what really is interesting, what I can take across borders without problems and I also compare prices. Souvenirs are sold everywhere on central streets and squares of large cities but if you walk a little further, you are likely to buy same fridge magnets – only cheaper. Another sound advice: when travelling, remain cautious and careful. A Chanel bag cannot cost 50 dollars nor can a true golden chain cost 5 dollars – even if a smiling vendor at a local market assures you those are real deals. Don’t believe him! Just don’t!

Taras Kovalchuk, 24, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Tourist experience: 26 countries and entire Ukraine

“I always have 100 bucks for a rainy day, 50 euro for all kinds of nice things – the rest of money should stay on a card”

About myself: I began travelling when a child, my grandmother and grandfather lived in Vinnytsia administrative region so I used to cover 700 kilometers every summer from Kharkiv to Vinnytsia, and same amount back. During one of the trips I decided I wanted to visit every administrative region center in Ukraine before I go abroad. My first trips took place in Ukraine and by the age of 18 I saw all administrative region centers. After that I charged in to “conquer the world”.

On picking a country: A lot depends on what you want in a certain moment. If it’s mountains and fresh air – go to Georgia, Armenia. If you want some clubbing – to Berlin. Lured by incredible beauty of the picturesque midnight sun and riding a dogsled – its transpolar part of Norway then. One of the main criteria of my own is “Have I ever been to a country?” If I haven’t, then I pack my backpack and go, I like new stuff.

On sausage: My dear, sweet tourists, first and most important rule – never take sausage with you! All the problems during trips are because of sausage, especially baloney. Also, never take cheese, don’t even think of bringing it from France – unless of course you like a smell of dirty socks. Whytaketwofurhats? One is just enough. And how about glass cups to use in trains? I’ve seen so many things about tourists, I could write a book. I knew this girl once – she took half of the abovementioned stuff and a glass can of pickles in addition; it ultimately broke during flight so all her things smelled like pickle-water till the end of the trip.

On packing stuff: I personally use iPhone application that helps me remember what to take. I analyze a trip, what I need, make a list and soon as an item is in a backpack, I tick it off. Most important is not to prolong the process and not to make large breaks. Make a list, prepare all the things and pack everything in 20-30 minutes. Last-minute packing is not an option – to high a risk to forget something.

On accomodations: I mostly stay at hostels or use couchserfing. If you go in a company of 3-4 people, you can safely visit airbnb, you can come across nice offers of apartments, in terms of cost it is about a price of a hostel only you live in an apartment which is much more pleasant.

On what to see: I am kind of geek in this respect, I download offline maps on maps.me and that’s enough for a trip. I always come up with a list of 10 places I have to visit; more often than not they don’t coincide with common and popular ones. Many’s the time that I happened to go to a city I didn’t even plan to visit and in such cases, yeah, I explore it at random.

On fear: Various things happen during trips. Romania, Bucharest. At Gara-Nordi railway station it seemed to me that I got into a wild art-house movie. There was everything there: police, drug addicts, fights, a gipsy with huge floor-long chains, drug dealers and a platform filled with people sleeping on their large-size luggage. An hour and a half later I was in Brașov, most beautiful city of Romania with bears walking in the streets eating water melons, with cool mountains and a very Medieval-Europe spirit. During trips I was beaten three times, all three of them in Kyiv, that is in the very beginning or ending of a journey. Two out of three beatings happened within 3 hours. In other countries everything went more or less smoothly. Sure enough, in revolutionary Egypt there were several unpleasant moments when I was woken up with a barrel of a gun; once I was detained on the border of Kaliningrad and very long and seriously questioned if I was going to orchestrate second Maidan there. In Austria someone stole my wallet, but a year later they sent it to me via mail. I was very much surprised. So, for inexperienced tourists it is important not to be affraid of anything.

Onsouvenirs: I buy a magnet and a sticker that I put on my laptop. It depends a lot on means of transport I travel in, but I try not to purchase glass or perishable goods. I often buy T-shits to remember, especially from Hard Rock Cafe if there is one in a city. Each person has own fetish, a friend of mine used to collect pieces of stone block pavements from diffrent cities. He simply used to pull stone blocks out of pavements to bring them home as souvenirs. In terms of national color, it is better not to purchase souvenirs in capitals. And never trust: "Available nowhere else! You won't find cheaper!" In Egypt you'd better forget souvenirs at all. I remember situation when they tuck a tiny pyramid into your hands saying "1$" and then they don't want to take it back and deman 20$. In Egypt you'd rather hide you hands and not touch anything. They can easily say that you broke or spoiled an object on a shelf. And then you save money to pay for it!

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