Or, how to get the most out of our travel section and your very own trip...
There's so much advice out there these days, that it's hard to know who to listen to. But fear not, we've got the best low down for you!
You're going to a new place, that much you know, maybe you've bought your tickets and are starting to think about what you're going to do, maybe you've done a little research already. But there's so much information, a lot of it contradictory, this person liked that landmark, that one didn't. This one loved his hotel, she hated it. This website says you have to do this, and this other one says to avoid it. What a headache!
So what is important?
1) Do your own research.
We at commonsensible.org have gone on these trips ourselves, we tell you things that we liked (we ignore or only briefly mention what we didn't), we try to give prices (just for an idea as these change regularly), we mention some places to eat, to stay at, to see or experience and some night life venues (having trawled through the lists and hit the tarmac or dirt track ourselves already).
Overall, we try to give you the best of what to do, so you could just follow what we write about and have a good time. In fact, that would be our real recommendation, though you'd need to add in a tiny bit of your own investigations and adventuring to get it really right. Indeed, to get you to go on your own adventure is our real agenda; you just know from us where is a good place to start!
However, everyone's budget is different, everyone's standards are different, everyone's needs are different and so on. You also can't see or do it all. We always travel on a limited budget, looking for the best accommodation for the least price, the best food and drink experiences for the best value and the best things to see if you could only see a few things. So, when we recommend a hotel, you know it's excellent to at least ok, when we don't we suggest you have a look for yourselves on booking.com.
We always use booking.com or other similar websites like tripadvisor first to get a feel for a place, using its excellent rating system to narrow the field. Then we use that site to book, generally, as they search all the other sites for the best price anyway. Through personal recommendations, a little googling (we are a local guide coming up to level 7! Woohoo!) or tripadvisor I normally go first to booking.com (we review for them too on their website when we stay at places), Expedia and very rarely Agoda, Airbnb or some other website like Hostel World. Sometimes, when we want an easy life, we just book the whole stay using this system.
However, to get it (possibly) cheaper, or to find a better place, we also sometimes just book one night, so we know we have something and then find a better and/or cheaper place once we are there. This often works well, but make sure there is availability as you'd hate to get somewhere and find out you can't stay there as everything is booked. It's cheaper because sometimes direct local prices don't include a markup that the web prices need to have (to pay for the listings and fees). It's better because you can see better than any website where is a good place to stay once you are there on the ground.
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For food, we suggest some names and do some reviews but, as we mostly just fall into places we like the look of, we encourage you to do the same! We also google stuff, as should you, you'll find reviews we do as a Google Guide there too. For nightlife, it's the same, we give you some ideas but asking locals is better than any website. For places to visit and things to do, again, we give you a distilled list and we recommend following us the most on these ideas, but you might hate museums, or only have one day not two. So, again, an hour spent in a cafe with a phone or computer and a piece of paper, is better than anything we could give you. Therefore, get excited about travelling, use our work to get you started, but tailor your own trip to your own needs and desires, that's the best travel advice anyone could give you!
2) Travel light but prepared.
You're either going to take exactly the right number of underwear (plus a spare for accidents) or you're going to take one pair and some swimming apparel and wash it all in the sink, or maybe somewhere in between. There are good arguments for travelling light though, the number one being not waiting for that bloody baggage carousel and swimming lightly through and out of the airport, towards that awating adventure! There are some things you do need to take, the absolute minimal, with some excess suggestions:
A) Smart phone, preferably with a large screen, perhaps insured but definitely with location software and photo backup software activated. I had my phone stolen in Cambodia but got it back thanks to "find my i-phone" though I'll save that story for the Cambodia article. As soon as you land you absolutely must get a local sim card with a bunch of data on it. You can use google translate or hand gesture to get the right package for you, with the best signal in obscure places, but you must do it. Just being free enough to google translate a negotiation with a rip off "taxi" at 4am in "the middle of no where bus station" or to google the destination to know it is in fact only 2 miles and not 15 as the "taxi" is arguing it is, and to include this information in your haggling, is an absolute godsend. There's so many benefits, and its so cheap and readily available in every country on the planet, that you'd be silly not to get a sim card; a smartphone with data is as good as the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as far as I'm concerned, plus you have your own (hot spottable) internet connection for the excess suggestion of a tablet or small laptop.
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B) Mosquito repellant and things to avoid them. You can buy that all in most destinations but it's good to have your own high strength formula with you and, maybe, you won't find a mosquito net. Either way they are your enemy and they must be avoided so you can reduce your evil illness probabilities. We definitely recommend at least one pair of long top and bottoms, cool enough to wear in the day, so you can limit your exposure. On top of this you should take, or buy when you are there, the following: paracetamol, Ibuprofen, probiotics or tummy upset medication, some plasters and big cut capability, antiseptic hand gel, wipes and possibly cream (and if you are going into the wilderness, some antibiotics) and whatever medication you personally need, like allergy tablets. This is the minimum because, people cut themselves, travelling is dirty, paracetamol and/or Ibuprofen (and taken together) can cure a lot of ills, stomachs get sick and we are all occassional morons. Yes, pharmacies/drug stores or chemists can often be found and yes, they act more like your local doctor, and yes they have everything you might need, often without a prescription, and yes local medical help is often quite cheap, and yes, hopefully you have insurance so its fine (if they will pay you, that is...) but, it's best to be prepared. Also good are vitamins and rehydration salts. Oh, and maybe getting vaccinated is a good idea too!
C) Some clothes, the less the better, but think for sunny and hot places: swimming clothes plus a sarong (which will triple as your towel, beach towel and blanket), something for the day time and something else if you are doing something sweaty or adventurous, something for a casual night time in, something for a smart night time out, and a random cold weather item (e.g. a pashmina), as it may be randomly cold at some point. Ear plugs, night mask and a neck pillow is also a must if you want to sleep in difficult places. Sunglasses, maybe a hat, and sun screen are also good. Cool shoes (i.e. flip flops), tough shoes (boots, trainers, walking shoes) are all you need for footwear, though I also take something I can wear if I wanted to look a bit smart. Toiletries are up to you but you only really need a tooth brush, tooth paste, something to make you smell nice and maybe some conditioner as soap and shampoo is normally available (and stealable) from hotels; though perhaps some girls might disagree with me. Possibly excessive, but I think vital, is a small travel speaker (as music is the joy of life), a torch, a spork, a cable lock (good for securing bags on trains) and TSA padlocks, a large capacity battery pack, headphones, lots of spare cables and chargers, and an amazing adapter plug with lots of USB ports and capability; if you're driving, this is useful! A pen and notebook is also good to plan trips or days and to take quick notes.
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D) I sort of messed up my lettering there but, well, the rest is up to you, and if you're like me that means a whole other list of stuff, but I think the above is the absolute minimum for the modern traveller, with a few extras too. That and your passport and a spare ID like a drivers licence for when the hotel or bike rental has used your passport as a deposit. And some spare credit cards in case you lose your main one. And...ok, I've never been a good packer (as I like to be prepared for all sorts of eventualities) but learn from me and travel light, the list above should definitely help you do that!
3) Be open and cautiously adventurous!
You are away, perhaps living your dream, it doesn't happen all the time, so you have to go for it, it really is now or never. You also have to follow some rules, so don't act like you are not on planet Earth either. The best tips are the commonsensible ones; don't flash your money around, keep a backup money location (either another card, some hard currency, whatever) in a place that is separate (e.g. a money belt, in your bag, back at the guesthouse) so that if you lose everything or get robbed, you don't lose everything. Check ATMs for skimming devices, look after your passport and don't get into arguments. Don't get too drunk, don't drink and drive, and avoid drugs unless it's safe. Be careful when climbing, be careful on balconies, be careful, be careful and be careful. The usual rules that we all follow on a day to day basis, the ones you have to follow more of when travelling. Having said that, to have an adventure you have to take a little risk, so, also be open to new experiences, be cautious and think, but go for it when it feels right (and even sometimes when it doesn't).
This all also applies to "how to travel": go into that wierd food place, order that thing you don't know, go on that walk to the waterfalls, take that bus trip, say hi to that person; you never know what is around the corner, but, if you've got the basics right (as we try to help you do at commonsensible.org), you know it will be good!
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