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Charlene’s Travel Tips

(I met Charlene Luzuk at a small group Bible study in Auckland and have followed her travels via her blog since then. Her travel tips, based on her extensive travel in Southeast Asia are so valuable that I asked and gained permission to post them on my web site. Dan A.)

Lately I have had a lot of people asking me for travel tips to make traveling go more smoothly, and I have also heard a lot of easily avoidable situations. So here is a list of do's and don'ts, travel cheats and other things which will help you travel in Asia General:


Paying for Services

- Do not pay for services until after you have received what you have agreed on. Eg. When I was in Cambodia, some kids said they would guard my motorbike for me if I paid them $1. So I did because I wanted to help them out and they would help me out in return, so I gave them the money and left. An hour later I came back to find them playing in a field near by and only rush back to guard my bike when I was back. Lesson Learnt: If I had said” I will give you 20c now and 80c when I return if you guard the bike”, then they would have stayed by it the whole time, to make sure they would get the full amount. Same with taxi drivers, shop keepers anyone, always try to pay after you have seen/received what you are paying for.

- Because you look like a tourist, most locals will triple the price hoping that you’re new to the country and will pay what they ask. When I have no idea how much to pay, I bring it back to half the price and if they refuse, try another one, and then another… if you come to the third one and they say no, you know your asking an unreasonable price so you bring it up to a price you are both happy to pay. Don’t be afraid to smile and say no thanks and find another taxi or whatever you are looking for. The golden rule though, is finding a price which you and the seller are both happy with and that is all that matters.


Safety

- I find the most joy in my travels from talking to strangers—Not scary dodgy looking ones, but people on the bus next to me, or a young group of youths standing on the street near me, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and suggest things. I have had ice cream with strangers, have gone shopping with girls my age, and many other fun experiences like that, without any danger because I stay in crowded places and avoid people who look like they want your handbag, haha. They always get a thrill out of it too because it’s a rare chance they can hang out with a foreigner and practice their English.


Patience is a Virtue

- Be patient in all situations. Nothing grinds me more than seeing stupid foreigners blasting lovely nice locals/staff because of a mix up of times or bookings or simple mistakes—GET USED TO IT; it was your choice to travel to a country who doesn’t speak the same language as you. These things are bound to happen and are a part of traveling. Having a respect for others is a big thing, because a lot of tourists see themselves as superior to the locals. This sets up a lot of barriers between cultures.


Registering with your National Embassy

- Register with your Movements with your National Embassy. If you are traveling to a possibly dangerous place, search for “Register Travel Embassy” (on the internet) and register what country you will be in, in case of an emergency so they know where you are, to evacuate you. I have done this for going to Burma soon because there is a risk of civil unrest, and natural disasters like floods etc. I only register if there are actual risks. For more information see http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/ (Charlene is Australian)


Communicating

- Communicating: Use fewer words instead of more words when someone doesn’t understand. I am constantly amazed at people’s efforts to communicate when traveling. For example, you say to a person who doesn’t speak much English: “I’m going to the shop to buy some fruit”. When they look at you puzzled, most people would go on to say “I'm going down to the shop down the road there on the left to buy some fruit because I’m hungry and want to eat” to try to explain. But you need to cut your words down and speak slower: “I go shop, buy fruit, hungry” then you will be amazed at how easy it is for them to understand. Body language is vital, use it as much as possible. For example, if you’re asking if someone is hungry, pat your stomach, or if you’re saying it’s too bright, wince your eyes and cover them with your hands…. Easy!


Eating:

- Eating Out: If you are wondering where to eat out, always look for busy restaurants, they are busy for a reason, because they are good. If there is no one in a restaurant, avoid it.

- Water: ALWAYS DRINK BOTTLED WATER WITH A PLASTIC SEAL!

- Street food: this depends on the country you travel to. Most decisions should be based on common sense and observation. From trial and error I have found that in Bangkok, a lot of the street food is ok, like smoothies, fruit (which is on ice or looks like its just been cut), or things which are prepared before you. Obviously you wouldn’t buy a bag of chopped pineapple if it was the last one they were selling, who knows how long they’ve had for.

- Fruit: if you’re not sure, the safest options are skinned fruits, especially thick skinned fruits. Oranges and mangoes are always ok, apples and other thin-skinned fruits should always be peeled first.

- Boiled beverages are ok to drink. I have been to some pretty hairy places and the tea was the only thing I knew I could drink.

Sickness: If you are sick and have vomiting and diarrhea from something you ate these are some things you must remember:

- You must drink water, whether you feel like it or not: drink drink drink. Otherwise you will feel even worse the next day when you can’t get out of bed because you’re massively suffering dehydration.

- Do not eat watermelon! Everyone in Thailand will tell you this, so just listen to them because they are right. It upsets your stomach more.

- Understand why your body is doing what its doing; let it get the bugs out by vomiting and diarrhea, well, to a certain extent.

- Charcoal Tablets: buy a bottle of activated charcoal tablets before you leave. Charcoal absorbs the toxins and bad things inside you and carries them out quickly. I usually take 4 or 5 tablets every 4 hours. Sounds like a lot, but I think they recommend taking 10!! 4 or 5 seem to work ok. Activated charcoal differs from normal charcoal as it is made in a way which does not cause cancer. So it’s safe and good for you. Don’t be shocked when it comes out the same color.

- Oral Re-hydration Salts (ORS) sachets are a must, and you can buy them from any chemist (pharmacist) in Asia (they seem to be everywhere) for about 15c each or way less than that. These help re-hydrate you, and any time you start losing fluids you should start with these. They have been a life saver for me! I like the orange flavor.

- Malaria: Malaria risks are found throughout Asia, some regions more dangerous than others. Unless the area is tagged as high risk from the bad strand of Malaria, you are best off taking precautions instead of malaria medications. Malaria medications are known to have bad side affects, and actually don’t really protect you at all, it just masks the symptoms until you stop taking it, or will just come out a month or two later. If you do get a bad fever, shivering etc while traveling, go and see a doctor straight away and have a malaria test. Its better to go in the country you are in because doctors there will be able to diagnose you faster than in our own countries because it is rare back home. Mot of the time you get given medication and in a week you are better again, even though you feel like you will die during the week of recovery, and no, I have not had malaria but have met a lot of people who have.

- Precautions against Malaria and other mosquito carried viruses/diseases like dengue fever: These mosquitoes usually come out at dusk and dawn, so make sure your exposed skin is covered and you have mosquito repellent on. Mosquito nets are usually available, if your buying one make sure its been treated if possible.


Traveling:

- You will find yourself faced with many forms of transport in Asia, from buses and trains, boats, planes, motorbikes, tuk-tuks (motorbikes towing a carriage-like thing on the back which you sit in) and even horses. As much as I love them, motorbikes carry the most risk and should be avoided. Personally I use motorbike taxis (motos) in places which are not main roads, like going through the back streets of BKK, and try to choose ones which have a passenger helmet. I have seen so many motorbikes being crashed into and it’s not nice.

- In poorer countries like Cambodia, there is only one road rule: if it is bigger than you, it has right of way. Because there are no traffic rules—well no one follows them. It is all about the flow of traffic. If you have to ride a motorbike yourself, try to never stop at roundabouts etc, just flow and merge all together. Stopping causes more problems in a flowing situation:)

- Buses are cheap, taxis are safe, more expensive and slower than motorbikes, trains are often crowded, but just judge what will be best for your situation.

- Walking is the best way to see the sights in city areas; you miss a lot of detail and interaction when you drive by in a taxi. I once walked one and a half hours back to my hotel from church in BKK and it was great!


Accommodation:

- A good night sleep means a good days work. I think its fun to find cheap hotels/rooms, but when you get a bad one, it’s bad. Don’t be afraid to ask for your room to be cleaned if its not. In Beijing I randomly booked a $6 room and when the lady walked me in, the bed was half made and things were dirty so I asked for another room. They took me there knowing it wasn’t clean but because I asked, they gave me a better one.

- If check out is at 10am and your plane is at 6pm at night, all hotels allow you to leave your luggage at the reception until you leave. You can usually request to book out 2 hours later also, just ring and ask.


Culture issues:

- Every country has its do’s and don’ts which you can learn from either your own mistakes or from other peoples mistakes. Here is a list of my own which I have discovered

- In most Asian countries, it is disrespectful to touch people on the head, as it is the most sacred part of the body. The feet are the least sacred so you should never step over anyone or point/gesture with your feet as this is an insult.

- Outside of city areas where things are less modernized, your clothing choices must be very conservative: no singlet tops or short pants. Everything at or below the knee and have your shoulders and mid areas covered. You might think, well, they can just get over it, but it might be the same as someone walking through the mall with no pants on, I know I would be offended, so we must respect other cultural practices.

- If you are in a situation where you are offered something to eat or drink which you are not able to consume (eg. I don’t drink alcohol and often get offered things culturally like in Mongolia), in those situations you can try to refuse with a big smile, but if they insist or look offended, just pretending to sip is enough to respect them, as there may be no way to communicate why you cant.

- If you take photos of people especially if you have interrupted them in what they are doing, giving a little something to thank them for taking their photo is appreciated. I always carry food around for this—only in ultra poor areas, for if you gave something to someone in BKK they would probably laugh at you.

- Remember that gestures are different across the world, so before you get offended, think about this first. When I arrived in Japan, one of the church ladies was gesturing me to go away and I was like, what! But she was actually gesturing for me to come to her. Be opne to learning from your mistakes!

- Beggars: Beggars are a common place encounter, and often make you feel uncomfortable and not know what to do. The truth is that many beggars in tourist areas are actually run like a business. It’s sad because they collect money all day only to have to hand it to their boss, and they only receive a teeny amount if anything, usually just a bit of food and a place to sleep. I’m not going to get into the horrible things which get done to kids to make them better beggars, like burn them with acid and give them someone’s half dying baby to sling around their necks to get money from pitiful tourists. So what I do is carry around food with me, and when if I give something, its food for them to eat there and then, and they are grateful. If I'm in a market place and there are beggars everywhere, you really just have to ignore them. If you give to them, all the others see and swamp you, but if you don’t give to them, you feel bad. It’s a no win situation that you just have to deal with. When I eat out I always over order in Cambodia and get the extra food wrapped up. On my way home I look for people lying in the street, or look like they are starving and I stop and give the food to them.

- It’s a common mistake to think that just because people are poor that they are totally ignorant. I am constantly amazed at new ways that people figure out to make money, for example kids who learn English to sell post cards etc. Giving money away makes the receivers dependent. That’s why organizations like ADRA work on helping people help themselves instead of just giving things to people like welfare. But I believe there is a time and place for welfare, so whatever you do, just think it through and I believe that it is our duty to share with those less fortunate than us. Just be aware of scams.


Vital items in your travel kit

- ORS sachets

- Passport

- Pain killers

- List of important phone number (embassy etc)

- A copy of your passport photo page (mine is laminated)

- Diarrhea tablets

- Insect repellent

- Ear plugs

- Eye mask

- Alcohol wipes


Well, this is only the first draft of my travel tips, I will keep it updated. Any questions about anything are welcome, most of all, enjoy your travels!

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I first met Charlene (Luzuk) at a small group Bible study at Kim’s house in Auckland, NZ. She serves as the local projects coordinator for ADRA New Zealand in Southeast Asia. I know Charlene would be pleased if you supported the work of ADRA New Zealand. You can find her blog at http://www.charleneluzuk.blogspot.com

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