Travel

I was reading Dark Arts for the Good Guys, as linked to by Ms. Tamara K..

Pretty good advice. Thought I’d toss in my own 2 cents on world travel.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, stick to tourist areas. Not “edgy” tourist areas you can brag about. Normal, boring, pretty tourist areas. Don’t go visiting areas outside said tourist areas. Most second or third world countries have tourism police and have a very vested interest in protecting foreign tourist trade from petty criminals. Not you personally. The tourist trade. Most likely, prices will be more than double in tourist areas and you won’t get an authentic experience. So what? If you’re on vacation, you’re burning cash anyways. Authentic experiences suck. Go with the Disney version. Less poverty, less bad food and food poisoning, less lack of hygiene, and the drinks taste better.

Hire a guide. Preferably a reputable guide connected to whomever booked your trip. Said guide will fleece you quite nicely. You’ll go to places where the guide gets a kickback or has a “friend” running the place. So what? If you hired the guide from someone reputable, they don’t care about the guide personally, they just want reliable service. Honest service is not required, so long as it’s not too bad for business. If you pick carefully, having a guide will make your trip significantly more enjoyable. When I was in Bulgaria, I hired an assistant history professor from a local university to give myself and my associates a tour of various historic places. Worth very penny, as I happen to like old castles and whatnot.

While I was in Sofia, I hired a guide/transport/fixer to take me to clubs, mafia casinos, black markets, etc. Not smart if you’re by yourself. Acceptable if you are with three other soldiers and you’re not all complete muppets. Just make sure one of you remains sober at all times and doesn’t drink or eat anything with the rest. Yes, the movie clique of doped drinks does happen. Or you could be ordering bad food or drink, requiring one person to not be projectile vomiting to make arrangements for a medevac. I made up for the costs of my guide by having someone who could haggle in the local lingo when I bought the mandatory useless crap to send back to friends and family in the States.

If your guide is giving you the creeps or bad vibes, ditch them immediately and get another. Your hotel should be able to swing you one in a pitch. Don’t ignore your instincts. On the other hand, be nice to your guide and don’t treat them like a serf. Gifts aren’t a bad idea, but use good judgment.

Don’t bring anything that cannot be replaced overseas. Your wedding ring? Leave it and swap it out for a cheap fake. Same for your watch, wallet, favorite briefcase, everything. Take everything you need out of your regular wallet and transfer it to another thinner wallet. Should just be ID, cash, two credit cards max (unless required for some specific purpose), limited number of checks (NOT the whole friggin book), etc. If your wallet gets stolen or misplaced, best to minimize the damage. Have cash. Keep some in reserve, but not an excessive amount. Don’t wear any jewelry made of gold, silver or precious stones. Not even fakes. Empty your luggage before packing. I mean, completely empty and quadruple check it to make sure it’s really empty. Put everything in your luggage in plastic baggies, smallest ones you can effectively manage. Try not to be clever and hide anything in your packed socks while travelling. After you land? Sure. Going through airport security? Not so smart. Write down all of the important information and phone numbers onto a cheatsheet. Photocopy it. Put one in your wallet, one in each piece of luggage, and put another spare in your carry-on. Include flight numbers, hotel, emergency contacts, embassy info, phone numbers for everything important, health information including blood type and allergies, insurance info, etc.

Carry some trade goods. Cigarettes are the best. Marlboros or Camels are prefered. Don’t go with anything fancy either. Batteries, semicheap watches, LED lights, etc are all good. Don’t carry too many on your person at any one time. Leave the majority of it in your luggage. Two or three packs of smokes on your person will likely get you by. Don’t use booze as a trade good. Don’t even think about touching drugs. It’s either really cheap crap or laced with something you don’t want.

If you are travelling on business, refuse to go unless the company coughs up for travel insurance, kidnap/ransom/extortion insurance and the services of a security/medical company. I have comprehensive membership through International SOS. Corporate membership is dirt cheap (relatively speaking), and can get the company a nice break on their insurance premiums. If you’re going to a country that has even the remotest possibility of going south, do not go without all of the above. Your company may already have it in place. If you’re going on vacation, strongly consider shelling out for it. If you’re going domestic, Western Europe or Australia, it’s not really needed. Anywhere else? You really should spring for it. It’s dirt cheap compared to your life.

Lastly, but not least, do some research on your destination. Learn as much of the local lingo as you can, even if it’s just a handful of memorized phrases. Look up the country on the State Department’s website, google around, etc. While it may be considered overkill, some companies do provide more detailed information. International SOS includes this in their membership, but companies like StratFor or Jane’s Consulting also have very useful information.