They say travelling a lot makes you wiser. They are right. But I wish they had also added that it sometimes comes at a high price. If they had, some of us would not have had to learn things the hard way.
In my wisdom, I figured I could save future generations who might be infected with the travel bug the heartache and embarrassment I went through with these 8 travel wisdom I acquired along the way.
1. Negotiating Price Before Boarding a Cab
After a season of hopping into cabs and halfway through my journey asking how much it would cost to reach my destination, I have now learnt the skill of negotiating and agreeing on the price before boarding. I have also, as a bonus, come to the realisation that I live in a predominantly free-market economy where price as a factor of marketing is as fluid as my skill of persuasion. In other words, few prices in this world are cast in stone.
2. Keeping an Eye on the Bus Driver
Several times I have opted to travel by public means – especially on long distances – either to save on cost or the raw richness of experience a road trip offers. Plus, of course, the avoidance of too many hustles like having to carry a driving licence or making sure the vehicle insurance is up to date.
But this almost always came at a price higher than I had anticipated. The culprit is the risk of being left behind. I have lost count of the many times I nearly got left by the bus I was travelling in. Normally these long-haul buses have established designated rest points along the way where passengers can disembark and freshen up, do a bit of shopping or grab a snack before proceeding with the journey.
Under such circumstances, it is very easy to get carried away and lose track of time and by the time it dawns on you, your ride is long gone!
This forces you to pay extra to arrive at your destination. That is when I discovered that by always making sure I knew where the driver was, I increased my chances of making it to the end of my journey in the bus I started off in.
3. Mastering the Fine Art of Camouflage
I have, on many occasions, been mugged in my many travels. On one such incident the lazy bones, who do not want to earn a decent livelihood like the rest of us, took my precious wallet. It was precious because in it were all my essential particulars including the one and only nearly-irreplaceable Kenya National ID.
How I survived the next few months after the loss while waiting for ‘serikali’ to issue me with a replacement and the woes I went through moving around Nairobi at night without it in the backdrop of the German shepherd totting ‘utumishi kwa wote’ guys in blue, is a story for another blogging day. For now, let’s stick to the wisdom.
From that experience, I learnt the art of carrying a laminated colour photocopy of my ID. It serves the identification purpose and when you lose it, it does not hurt as much. You’ll just make another copy!
4. Carrying Cipro
Have you ever had an infection in a land far away from any semblance of life? The situation can quickly get really frustrating if not life-threatening. After one such incidence in the Chalbi desert, where temperatures can be so high you feel like you will melt as you walk, I encountered such a situation.
That is when I discovered the wonder drug called ciprofloxacin (aka Cipro). This is a miracle antibiotic that is used to treat all manner of things, from a bad stomach bug to a bladder infection. Having this with you can mean the difference between life and death.
5. Keeping Promises You Have Made
I have travelled in some of the most remote places in Africa, met some of the most fabulous people, came across amazing places and went through surreal experiences that presented golden photo opportunities. It was in such circumstances that I promised things I knew I would have difficulty keeping.
It could be the promise to send back a photo moment I shared with the locals or a crucial marketing contact in the big city that would help them with their handicrafts marketing. But once back to the busyness of the metropolis, I would forget all about this and only remember years later when I would find myself in the very same village, among the very same people!
Can you imagine the embarrassment? I wish I had known about the ‘promise book’ then. The book is nothing special than your usual travel notebook where you can quickly jot down a ‘things to remember’ list.
In such a book, I could note down commitments I had made in suburbia and make sure I lived up to my promises. Get yourself a promise book. As I said, It could just be your usual notebook where you can keep a track of the promises you make – it’s a small world and all that goes around comes around!
6. Old is Gold
Keeping the company of your peers is a good thing but then you lack the advantage of timeless wisdom from the older generation. A mixture of the 2 worlds affords you the luxury of contemporary trends and old wisdom that few have.
I wish I had interacted more with the older folks. They carry with them a level of wisdom about the nation’s history, its people, culture and traditions that is a goldmine for any writer.
7. Never Using The Word ‘Work’ At Border Crossings
Never say your purpose for entering a country is work-related unless you know what it means (and therefore you are well-prepared for the requirements). Otherwise like me, you may risk spending a few precious hours of time you do not have at a border town trying to plead with immigration people to sympathise with you because you do not have the work permit required to qualify to ‘work’ in a foreign land.
The name has a way of evoking special requirements, key among them being a special kind of visa which by the way is quite pricey. Nowadays, I have learnt that ticking option 5 in that entry card makes life a lot easier.
8. Getting Your Facts Right in Advance
Sounds quite obvious but the truth is that majority of travellers still do not rely on prior research before embarking on a trip. Blind travel can be fun and for those seeking out the thrill of adventure, this might be the real deal but for the majority who do not like surprises, planning beforehand is a must.
To this end, there are a number of travel resources you can rely on to make informed travel decisions such as TripAdvisor and our very own Kenya Geographic.
Had I known even half of these pearls of wisdom back then, I probably would not have landed in the kind of trouble I found myself in.
I certainly would not have ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere without fuel and the wrong map! But then again, such is the journey that makes experiences all the more precious. Have a safe safari!