You’ve done it! You’ve planned your exciting European/South American/North African backpacking trip and the world is your oyster. I’m sure you’ve thought of everything: hostel reservations, train tickets, anti-diarrhea medication. However, before you board the plane with your ridiculously overstuffed backpack, here are some things that might have not have made your checklist. These are five essential skills that no traveler (novice or pro) should be without.
Learn to Haggle with Cab Drivers
While traveling through the near east and in places in South America, it’s customary to negotiate a price with your cab driver. Make sure you set the price before you get into the taxi, otherwise you might have a very awkward conversation at the end of your trip. If you feel uncomfortable bartering just ask the driver to use their meter, they may be disappointed but they are required to do it and it will put your mind at ease.
Learn how to dodge unwanted attention
This is mostly directed at women but men should also take note. While traveling in Morocco I learned the importance of blending in and tuning out. Wearing your headphones can politely inform hecklers that you are not listening, while wearing a fake wedding ring will also deter some men from getting a little too fresh.
Know how to read a map
If you’re traveling with out this skill, shame on you. While I appreciate the romantic side of getting lost, I also recognize the terror of realizing you are twenty miles away from your hostel, you’ve lost your friends, and you don’t speak Italian. Before you set out, grab a map of your own city and try to navigate to a previously unknown location. Using GPS on your phone can come in handy but unless you have an international data plan, it’s also absurdly expensive.
For those travelers venturing “across the pond” adapting to driving on the left side of the road can be a real asset. Stay on your toes and on the correct side of the road before someone calls the bobbies!
Know how to drive a stick
Imagine driving through the hills of Tuscany—the sun is setting, casting a warm glow on your dash board, and your two best friends are riding shot gun after a long day working in a vineyard. Now imagine that car has a standard transmission and your stick-shift driving experience begins and ends with arcade games. Soon your trek from your hillside villa has turned from romantic to death defying as angry Italians honk and curse while you stall at the busiest intersection in town. Long story short, learn how to drive a car with a standard transmission. The U.S. is one of the only countries where automatics are the norm and once you learn, you’ll never want to drive anything else.