Half the fun of life is in the lessons it teaches us. And traveling takes this one step ahead. Basically, traveling ups the speed at which we learn new lessons, so we travelers are often like the dolphins in The Hitchhiker's Guide. We know that we are wiser than the people around us, but we don't let it show.
The year 2015 was especially generous with the lessons that it carried with it, and we tried our best to stay receptive to its offerings. Some of these lessons were learnt the hard way and so we thought we will save you the trouble of learning these lessons yourself.
Don't shop too much at tourist places
Whenever we go out, we tend to buy things that are considered "specialities" of the place. In Goa, we buy fenny, Kokam syrup, and cashes, in Kerala, we buy tea and spices. And then we go one step ahead and buy them for our families and friends. We often come back with one or two extra bags. We tow extra weight and also at times pay extra charges. And the real bad news is that to begin with, we probably bought the goods, which were not really great quality, at highly inflated prices.
Believe me, we have done this more than once. But now thankfully, we have learnt our lesson. We only buy limited things at tourist places. One bottle of fenny, some rare spices that we can't easily find around us (like pathimugam from Kerala), and probably a fridge magnet, if we can find one. (We have built a healthy collection of magnets now, and will soon be sharing more on it) We don't attempt to buy things that we do not know how to check the quality of. And most importantly, no hoarding gifts for everyone. The reality is that most of the things are now available online. You will find a much wider variety and good quality at much cheaper rates. We feel that unless you see some real value in carrying something home from a faraway place, don't do it.
But if you absolutely must do it, stay very clear of the shops present near tourist hotspots. For example, Baga beach in Goa. You will find hundreds of shops there, all selling similar stuff. You will be tempted to buy things from there, not because they catch your eye, but because you feel the pressure all Indian tourists do. It is better to talk to the locals in details and find authentic local shops where you can buy stuff that is unique and value for money. In fact, it is best to talk to someone you know in the city for pointers, so that you do not end up paying more than the good is worth.
Look around before you hire taxi from your hotel
We agree that it is probably safer to hire taxi with the advice of your hotel. But be a little more informed. Try walking around the hotel. Explore other options. Find out the rates. Negotiate to see how low they are ready to go. And then talk to your hotel. The hotel will probably offer you a more expensive service. But you will be in a much better position to negotiate for a better rate. If nothing works, you can always go for online services such as Ola and Uber.
Do not opt for all meals inclusive plan at your hotel
We definitely do recommend opting for a plan that includes breakfast because it is often too impractical to head out so early in the morning and search for food. But if you opt for a plan that includes all the meals, not only do you pay more for your food, you also deny yourself the option of trying other restaurants. Moreover, you cannot head out too far from your hotel because you will feel compelled to return to your hotel for your lunch. Breakfast-inclusive plan is definitely more adventurous than all-meals-inclusive plan and we are all for adventure.
Ensure that your vehicle can reach your hotel safely
This may seem like a no-brainer, but this almost ruined our trip to Binsar. We were traveling in a tempo traveller, and our guest house was inside a wildlife sanctuary. When we made the booking, we confirmed with the hotel that a tempo traveller can reach the place. However, by the time it was time for our trip to begin, the Uttarakhand Forest Authority had started construction work on the road and the place had also got some rain. So when we reached there, our traveller got stuck on one of the trickiest turns. You will probably wonder how one can avoid this. I think it is probably a good idea to talk to the hotel one day before your trip and find out the situation on ground, especially if you are traveling to a remote location in the hills.
If traveling to a tropical jungle, wear clothes that cover your arms and legs
Not because you should try to be respectful to the locals, but because you do not want horrible leeches to feast on your precious blood. Recently, my sister ventured into the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in a capri, and two leeches attached themselves to her calves. She still carries the scars on her legs.
When in the hills or on the beach, apply sunscreen generously if going out in sun
Else you will start shedding your skin. Sun is especially harsh on the hills and on beaches and it can give you particularly nasty sunburns. They can not only make you look like old, uncared-for oil paintings, but can be very painful as well. They have the potential of ruining a perfectly good vacation and almost all your selfie opportunities.
Don't be lazy when visiting a place with beautiful sunrise, sunset, or starry nights
Really why would anyone do that? But yet there are people who prefer to miss everything for an extra hour of sleep in the morning. If you are one of them, ask yourself why did you choose to travel to this beautiful place if you do not care for the experiences it offers. If you are just taking a vacation from your hectic schedule and to catch up on your sleep, we suggest that you check into a hotel close to your city rather than traveling to a beautiful place and wasting a room that could otherwise have been reserved by someone much more passionate about the offerings of Mother Nature.
Carry power banks, candles and battery operated lights if traveling to remote locations
Many government guest houses inside wildlife sanctuaries do not have 24hrs electricity. They do provide candles and turn on power for a few hours, but technical glitches in equipment are too rare. So at times such properties may go days without electric power. So it is best to be prepared as much as you can. Pack in fully charged power banks and turn off mobile data to save power. Carry extra candles and don't forget to pack match boxes. You can also carry solar powered lamps and torches so that you are never without light if there's a need.
Make sure you call up and speak to the owner/ manager of a place before you make the booking
This is most important, and this is one issue we came across when we booked a room through OYO Rooms. Click here to read our experience. Talking to the manager will give you an idea of the kind of person who runs the place, and most often this decides how the rest of the staff functions. People who manage the property you select play an important role in how well your vacation goes.
Research a place thoroughly before you travel
This is really the most important point and if you do this many of the points above will be taken care of. Research will help you prepare your plans, itinerary, things to buy, things to avoid, what to expect at the property you have rented. Research can be the key in deciding the quality of your vacation. So be proactive on this and make sure that you do enough research before you make your bookings.
These are just some of the lessons we learnt. Do you agree with them? What are some of the lessons that you have learnt? Do share with us in the comments and it will help your fellow travelers as well.