Traveling smart means making decisions about your journey and your stay away which will save you time, money, effort and reduce the chances of you being scammed, held up and worse. A lot of how you go about it will depend on where you are going, how long you plan to stay there and what you want to do there. Preparing to sleep in a beach shack in Thailand for a month is going to be different from preparing for a three-day business conference in Tallahassee.
One thing you want to avoid, pretty much wherever you go, is standing out as a tourist. There are exceptions to the rule, but in general, being spotted as a tourist can make things difficult for you. Your main worry is being a victim of crime – pickpockets, scam artists and muggers will all be interested in you. For example, in Moscow the police might spot you and decide to fine you for some made up charge. They know you will pay because they’re not asking for that much and you don’t want to be holed up in a Russian police cell overnight waiting for a translator to come and help you dispute the charge (which you will lose anyway). In Shanghai, a group of ‘students’ or a pretty young girl will ask you to go with them to an art gallery or to a coffee shop so they can practice speaking English. Shortly after you’ll find that one coffee in that shop costs the average Chinese monthly salary.
The best way to avoid standing out is to wear regular clothes which match the locals. Don’t walk around Bangkok in flip flops and shorts, don’t walk around St. Petersburg in new Nikes. Look what others are wearing and copy that. If you’re in a relatively homogenous country and you physically stand out from the vast majority of people, plan ahead where you are going and walk with confidence. Learn as much of the basics of the local language as you can. There are embassy staff, UN workers, trade delegates and countless others who don’t fit in, but who are working and living where you are. Try to look like one of them.
Don’t bother packing liquids in your bag at all if you’re traveling by air. At most airports you will just end up having to surrender them. You can buy mini-sized toothpaste, shampoo, cologne etc. when you arrive at your destination airport. In many countries, especially China and Japan, it’s common for hotels to provide everything you need in the bathroom, although the toothbrushes are usually flimsy and small and the razors are cheap and single-bladed. You might want to get yourself a good travel razor and an electric toothbrush (much better for your teeth, as Toothbrush Best explains in detail) to take with you.
An essential part of traveling is to be allowed in where you want to go. This may sound silly, but it can be very serious. If you have an American passport and you book yourself on a flight to a trade show in Chongqing, China, you’re not going to be able to get on the flight without a valid Chinese visa. Always make sure that you check the visa regulations before you travel and ensure that you have permission to enter. You’ll need a passport with at least six months left until it expires, otherwise you’ll have to get a new passport first.
Another thing you need to prepare in advance is if you need any vaccinations. If you are traveling to places such as South America, Africa or South East Asia, you could well come into contact with diseases such as hepatitis, malaria and dengue fever. Get vaccinated whenever you can, even if you don’t plan to travel until next year. The vaccinations for Hepatitis B take need to be administered over six months. If you travel before your final injection, you will not be immune to the virus.
Last of all, be enthusiastic to meet local people. Try to learn as much as you can from them – about where they live, how things are done their, their food, music, culture. See what you have in common and discover the joy of traveling.