44 Little Travel Rules No One Tells You


I’ve gone a few miles over the years. And here are 44 little things about travel I picked up on the way.

These 44 not enough? Read 44 MORE here.

  1. Wash your hands before you sleep, unless you don’t mind it if cute rats lick your fingers clean.
  2. When kindness comes from strangers, accept it. If you don’t know if they expect a tip, you can offer one — but don’t insist when/if they refuse.
  3. Animals will probably attack you if you try to give a Snickers to them.
  4. It’s wise to remember your passport. And don’t pack it in a checked-in suitcase like Louisianan Trey Williams did going to that study-abroad program to St Petersburg during that ‘first summer of Russia’ (1992).
  5. Try to accept all invitations — you really should have time for that cup of tea the silver-haired couple offer you from the balcony in their summer home in Zakopane, or go camping with that Hungarian film crew at a Russian gulag.
  6. Car passengers see less than bikers, bikers see less than walkers, walkers see less than stoppers — ie those who stop and watch.
  7. It’s OK to have a Coke without ice.
  8. It’s OK to have beer with ice.
  9.  It’s OK to use your hands to eat.
  10. You don’t HAVE to eat the larvae or crickets though.
  11. Don’t use middle finger to beckon locals, or indicate they’re tops.
  12. Ownership of stuff varies where you go. So when the Indian guy on the overnight bus from Udaipur to Delhi borrows your iPod without really asking, don’t get mad, because when you’re shivering later on he’ll instinctively lend you half his blanket.
  13. People without much education abroad often seem to be better educated than a lot of people back home.
  14. Robert Reid hat shopAlways shop for locally made stationary, and buy it when you see it — it’s rarer to find these days.
  15. Pack quick-drying, if ugly, clothes but at least one sorda nice shirt so you can see the Budapest opera like I didn’t.
  16. It’s OK to just want a damn hamburger or watch Pretty Woman on channel 31.
  17. It’s OK to get frustrated or mad sometimes, just try to keep it to yourself as much as you can.
  18. No, you don’t have to take a group tour, or have advance reservations. But it doesn’t automatically make you a bad traveler if you do.
  19. Too much hassle where you are? Look around. If you are in the majority — as foreign traveler — walk two blocks to another part of town, and get out of that tourist ghetto you’re probably in.
  20. It’s OK to have an opinion of a place, but don’t think you ‘know’ a place after spending two/15/306 days there.
  21. Try a couple days without the camera or email.
  22. Museums can be great, but are overrated as day-filler attractions.
  23. Seeing movies and sports in foreign countries are underrated day-filler attractions. Like the time topless Guatemalan guys hugged me at a Mother’s Day b-league soccer game in Xela as they tossed fireworks through the chain fence to police decked up like Storm Troopers.
  24. It’s OK to be uncomfortable, just be honest if something isn’t right for you.
  25. Italy is the Citizen Kane of the travel world. It gets all the accolades, and deserves them.
  26. You can get as much out of a trip to Western Kansas as Laos. If you try.
  27. Always go to visitors centers. Sometimes they give free cookies or popcorn, and the flirty staff sometimes invite you to go out and get drunk (nothing more), as they do in Bogotá.
  28. Socks-with-sandals is underrated.
  29. Buy a hat. Always buy a locally made hat.
  30. Don’t put all your expenses in one place — hotel, hotel restaurant, hotel tours, hotel souvenirs etc — try to spread out your money for maximum positive effect.
  31. Agree on a price before you close the door with any taxi — that is, if they have a door.
  32. Russians look mean, but down deep they’re softies that will shame you with their warmth, feed your with their home-grown tomatoes, then intoxicate you with their suddenly produced frosted bottle of vodka.
  33. Language-learning vacations — with homestays and eating beans for supper, particularly in secondary towns off the tourist radar — is one of the best things you can do abroad.Best Postcard of All-Time
  34. Write a post card. Or am I the only one who feels sorry for post card lobbyists in these digital days?
    [See the best post card of all time, above.]
  35. At small, out-of-the-way museums, ask if the curator will show you around. Sometimes they are and are thrilled to show off the dinosaur bones they personally dug up.
  36. Seek out the passionate. Those who love what they do — making belts, writing poems, pumping gas — can make you appreciate things you didn’t think you were interested in.
  37. Take public transit — a tram (I LOVE trams), subway, ox cart — at least once, even if you don’t need to get where it’s going. So few Americans ever take one, it’s sad.
  38. Try to take pictures of things that might change: street signs, people’s shoes, homemade sandwich ads, key-maker tools, overly bright fashion, heavy metal haircuts, grandmothers selling a single toothbrush outside a Moscow subway station after the USSR fell. Old churches and statues rarely change much, some of that other stuff maybe gone tomorrow.
  39. Tip appropriate to local custom.
  40. Returns trips to a place are OK, but try not to limit yourself to your next three trips to Las Vegas 12, 13 and 14.
  41. Squat toilets are better than sit-down toilets. But it really is still best keeping toilets and showers segregated.
  42. Always give one day to a trip to an ‘up for grabs’ experience — a rented car to get from A to B, with random stops at unplanned places. You will likely remember it longer than the Met.
  43. The tacos might be better back home but please don’t say it for all to hear in Cancún.
  44. Traveling alone is something everyone should do at least once.

Read 44 MORE little travel rules no one tells you here.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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70 Responses to 44 Little Travel Rules No One Tells You

  1. James says:

    That’s an excellent list – great job!

  2. ThatsHim says:

    Wow…this is really inspiring as much as it is informing. Nice List.

  3. Alisa says:

    Very interesting and informative!!!

  4. Lynne says:

    I love this list and I have another to add (for the ladies).

    When in toilets in Turkey, if there is one cubicle with no queue outside there is a very good reason for it. I thought I was being smart and ended up facing a hole in the ground. An experience Yes, one I would repeat? No.

  5. Anne says:

    I also love this list! It’s very much how I travel.

  6. I was going to say 12 (ownership) and 13 (education) are my favorites, then I read 26 (Kansas). Then I actually completed the post and saw 44 (traveling solo). 44 hands-down HAS to be my favorite, otherwise I’d be shooting myself in the foot. Bottom line — travel with a sense of humor!! You nailed that.

  7. The State Dept should make people memorize your list before they are issued a passport. Soooo good.

  8. Royce says:

    o man makes me want to go traveling right now.

  9. Robert Reid says:

    Wow, thanks for all the comments!

  10. Mike Barish says:

    Well done, sir. And I agree wholeheartedly with #37. Public transit provides so many glorious slice-of-life experiences and memories. When you see people sharing that confined time and space, you get a window into a culture.

  11. Amy says:

    Great stuff! I prefer tips like these over books like Frommer’s, but number 39 can be tricky without one. Do you have anything on tipping customs?

  12. Great list of tips. I strongly agree with #44. Traveling alone teaches you to think independently and to rely on yourself.

    It also gives you the freedom to go where you want when you want without having to compromise with a travel partner. Although it is nice to have someone to share those experiences with.

  13. Andrew says:

    You forgot my favorite tip – when in trouble in the third world, the key question is: “Isn’t there a tax or fee that would help with this?”

  14. desktraveler says:

    My favorites:
    #2 – people all around the world just want to be kind and friendly to visitors and it would be a shame to not pay that back with kindness in return.
    #18 – independent backpacking is only 1 way to travel and isn’t necessarily the most authentic and it bothers me when people think it is. Some hostels I’ve been to are run by backpackers and organize activities for other backpackers so it has no substance of the local place, just great opportunities to meet travelers from around the globe. Family-run establishments are more authentic experiences of a place and can be much more comfortable and just as economical.
    #30 – doing everything at your hotel isn’t only putting all your money in one person’s pocket, you’re also keeping to a contained environment full of tourists.

  15. Carolina says:

    I keep going back to that postcard to try to figure out what’s going on in that pic. I like #38, never thought about that.

  16. Sherry Ott says:

    Brilliant! You listed so many of the thoughts that cross my mind and i never write down!

  17. phampants says:

    GREAT tips! I just came back from backpacking Europe alone w/ a dinky duffelbag for 18 days last week. I was the best time of my life. and yes, your tips are great and VERY VERY true.

    I don’t mean to link myself to you, but I do have to share one tip I learned when I lost my debit card on the 2nd day on my trip and I had limited cash.

    http://phampants.wordpress.com/2009/06/06/travel-tips-911-losing-your-debit-card/

  18. mina says:

    Awesome list, great site!

  19. Kim says:

    Great post, and fab tips.

  20. Nomadic Matt says:

    great list rob! spot on! i love it!

  21. Fun and informative! Looking forward to applying many of these tips.

  22. Sandrina says:

    wELL THAT WAS SOME LIST AND CAN ONLY AGREE WITH IT ALL, i AM A 63 YOUNG WOMEN AN AVID LIFELONG BACKPACKER AND HAVE ALWAYS TRAVELED ALONE AND HAVE DONE , MET AND SEEN SO MUCH MORE. a LITTLE HINT TO MAKE THInGS GO FASTER WHEN YOU LOSE THOSE IMPORTANT PAPERS
    i SCAN EVERYTHING BEFORE LEAVING HOME, TICKET, CREDIT CARDS, TRAVELERS CHECKS PASSPORT , ID , DRIVER LICENCE ETC AND PUT THEM UP ON A SAFE WALLET ON THE NET. YAHOO, GMAIL ,ETC.with a password IT MAKES THINGS GO FASTER when YOU CAN REPRODUCE A COPY THERE ON THE NET IN OFFICIAL OFFICES, PLUS THAT WAY YOU DONT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR PASSPORT WHEN YOU RENT A BIKE MOTERBIKE, Best TRANSPORT ever ,,ontop of a huge 6 wheeler maize truck in MALAWI , in Africa. best view ever :-)
    keep on inspiring …

  23. Man,

    i dnt knw u…but u just put in words whatever i wish i had read like 5 years ago :D

    Thanks anyways… I hope kids take u seriously, u r good

    bjs,
    Deb

  24. Great list Robert. Fuck you for making me wish I was traveling right now though. I was just starting to feel comfortable.

  25. Tante Wa says:

    Love your list and your travel philosphy! But I’m having a panic attack thinking about a coke without ice.

  26. Ren says:

    Fantastic list. And I agree, everyone must travel alone at least once. It was such a wonderful experience for me!

  27. Liz says:

    Fabulous list! I agree with #44, even/especially for women. There’s a special sense of freedom and independence that comes from being a woman traveling solo.

    Also, people in almost every country of the world are friendlier than they’re given credit for.

  28. Sophie says:

    Special “right on”s for numbers 26, 35 and 36. Thanks!

  29. billp says:

    I’d take all such tips with a grain of salt. They may apply in some places and most definitely not in others.

    For instance # 2 (“When kindness comes from strangers, accept it.”)
    in Thailand would most likely put you at the mercy of a scammer. Thais do NOT offer helpful advice or favours to strangers on the street. Those who do are part of a well-organized scamming ring which annually takes hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists to the cleaners.

    #31 (“Agree on a price before you close the door with any taxi — that is, if they have a door.”) would not apply in Bangkok where the best taxi advice is: “Do not even discuss a fixed fare. If he won’t use the meter, bail out and get another taxi.” But you do need to lean into the taxi and tell him where you’re headed. If he nods “yes,” 99% of the time, you get in, he turns on the meter and off you go.

  30. Very interesting and informative!!!

  31. I also love this list! It’s very much how I travel.

  32. Kemas says:

    Hey Reid, if you don’t mind, i would like to write summary about this lists :D since 44 seem to be to many for some peoples. you could check it within this week for the summary :)

    Looking forward for any critic, in case if i miss any important point.

  33. Camilo Olea says:

    Thanks for a GREAT list! Very informative PLUS with a sense of humour!

    Loved this one:

    “43. The tacos might be better back home but please don’t say it for all to hear in Cancún.”

    LOL! I was born in Cancun and have been living here my entire life, and I must say, I dare you to show better tacos “back home” than the ones you’ll find not only in Cancun, but in Mexico!

    Maybe they did not take you to the RIGHT spots! ;)

    Cheers from Cancun!

    Camilo Olea
    Founder
    http://www.cancunisafe.com

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  35. Anonymous says:

    sorda?

  36. Interesting list, however I refuse to wear or even buy ugly clothes…

  37. Flights says:

    Interesting list. It makes me to travel right now.(ha!). Thanks for the list.

  38. taryn says:

    I’m ready to pack my bags again! Your list inspired me to travel again despite life. Love it, love it, love it.

  39. Donna Hull says:

    Terrific post. #26 resonates with me. You can always find something interesting about a place if you look hard enough.

  40. Anonymous says:

    hi

  41. Patrick says:

    Simply brilliant!Can i steal part of the list :)

  42. M says:

    Hi there, you have a wonderful blog… got your blog link from Lonely planet…I have just begun to write my own travel blog… i loved the travel belief on your page and have posted similar content on my blog. http://around-n-about.blogspot.com/
    I hope you dont mind but if you do, please let me know. Will do the needful. Have given your blog due credit.

  43. Love it! 20 is my favourite even after 10 years in India I still say when ever I think I know it India teaches me that I don’t!

  44. Fie-Nuts says:

    I love this list! But I need my coke with ice!

  45. Carlitos says:

    Great list !
    Traveling alone is a must do – have done it, if only, for me, to realize how much better is to NOT travel alone :-)

  46. When in toilets in Turkey, if there is one cubicle with no queue outside there is a very good reason for it.

  47. Nicole says:

    I totally almost took an ox cart once! I still have another chance this summer and your right about getting out of the tourist getto as you called it…nice name by the way. I did that once and found local markets a few streets down that almost none of the tourists knew were there when I went to southeast asia!

  48. Your all tips are quite good and funny too, I mean you wrote it in funny way but the tips are really good and base of experience, I will bookmark this site and read again while traveling.

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