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Beware of predators in fancy footwear Add to ...

Dear Zoe,

It's your Dad here, the big traveller, with 78 countries so far...

You've heard all the stories and even accompanied me to some of those exotic locales - remember us, both sick with food poisoning but still taking that Nazca Lines overflight in Peru because the tickets were pricey and bought in advance?

Now, it's different. You are setting off for Ireland, Scotland, England and France this summer to travel without me. I'll worry, but it's time.

But first some "learned-it-the-hard-way" traveller's advice. Yeah, it's Dad advice, I know, but pay attention: It will come in handy.

Personality types

You will be travelling with good friends. Great. But you've never been around each other 24/7 for weeks at a time. At times, you'll be tired, confused and maybe anxious. There will be friction and disagreements. So sit down and talk things out before you go. Lay-a-beds (that's you) will exasperate up-and-at-'em types. Is one of you thrifty, the others spendthrifts? What will be the focus: museums or bars? Chic shops or street markets? Haute cuisine or chien chaud? (They sell great ones in the park on the Champs-Élysées near Place de la Concorde.)

Individual preferences may get overlooked or vetoed and engender petty grievances, which can fester and turn toxic. Decide how you'll proceed in advance. Compromise and promise each other that you will again - out loud. You start friends. Agree to finish that way.

Expenses

Don't travel too cheaply. I know you don't have a bundle, but remind yourself that you are there to see, experience and enjoy - not to see how little you can spend. I was too tight to pay to ascend the Eiffel Tower on my first visit to Paris when I was your age. I regretted it for the next 15 years.

Wear a moneybelt under your pants at all times. You've seen mine; ratty, duct-taped, possibly smelly. Uncool? If you say so. Secure? Always. Lose your passport, plane ticket and cash and it's "Trip Over."

Take some small bills in that moneybelt. You want to arrive with cab fare, first night's room and meal money.

Before you go

Planning

Don't get too zealous about booking every hotel, hostel, train or attraction in advance just because you can. Word-of-mouth recommendations, chance encounters, new friends and sheer serendipity all play a part in travel. Sometimes you take a trip, sometimes the trip takes you. Leave room for spontaneity.

Guidebooks

Get ones with lots of city street maps (Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are best). When you step off a ferry at midnight, a guide full of glossy photos and graphics will be cold comfort: You will want a map.

Record it

Write a diary. Sappy? Not really. Write daily. So much happens so quickly, you'll forget it if you don't write it down. And when friends back home ask the name of the great hotel you stayed at in Bath, you can look it up.

Digital photos are fabulous, but you won't want to pack a laptop or download to Internet café computers. I do photo albums of my travels. You'll do discs. Feel free to Skype your old man if no one is looking and you can stand the embarrassment.

Lodgings

See the room first

Always ask to "see the room, please." It's not rude. If they expect you to pay sight unseen, they have something to hide. The first time I encountered a chicken eating cockroaches in my room in Indonesia, I got over being shy about asking to see in advance.

Checking out

When you set out from your lodgings in the morning, take a card or write down its name and address on a bit of paper. You'll be in a lot of accommodations and they'll blur in your memory. With name and address written down, you'll never be lost. Show the slip to a cabbie and you are on your way "home."

Staying in touch

Take your cellphone. It is surgically implanted, anyway, isn't it? You'll use it as an alarm clock and emergency contact and for texting travel companions if you separate.

What to take

A bandana

Honestly, it will prove useful. Wrap it around your neck when it's getting sunburned. Wrap a lunch. Lay a picnic. Staunch bleeding (knock on wood).

Photographs

You'll have wonderful encounters with people who won't speak a word of English. Grins and pantomime only go so far.

Canadian souvenirs

You will meet strangers who will leave you overwhelmed with kindness. "Thanks" won't be nearly enough.

A Swiss Army knife

I'll spoil the surprise. I'll be giving you one at the airport. (Don't bring it on the plane!) It's the traveller's totem for which you will find myriad uses. Put it on a cord or loop of shoelace and attach it to your belt so it's handy and un-losable.

Spare batteries

Camera batteries especially. Little villages won't have a selection.

Prescriptions

If you wear glasses or take medication, bring prescriptions.

A folding umbrella

Ponchos and raincoats are hot and when you pack them away wet, they come out stinking.

Plastic bags

Use bags to separate dirty from clean clothes, wrap wet bathing suits and towels (bring you own towel if you plan to stay in a hostel) and keep order in your backpack.

The art of the bribe

It's more of a South American/Southeast Asian experience, but in the event you fall afoul of some regulation or technicality, real or manufactured, someone might be looking for a bribe. Don't say "bribe," however. Look innocent and ask, "Can I pay the fine now?" When I entered Honduras semi-legally by canoe, customs officials were going to detain me until the big boss arrived. But I offered to "pay the fine" to subordinates, a figure was invented, paid, and I was on my way.

Staying safe

You're smart and you won't be alone, but be careful. In the United Kingdom, stop at every curb before crossing and count to three. Recite "Look right - step" in your head before you do so. Don't be roadkill.

If you are in a cab or a private conveyance, don't like where you are being taken and they aren't stopping, feign vomiting. Loudly. They'll stop. Pronto.

There are hustlers, con men, werewolves in London and predators in nice footwear in Europe. If someone is laying on the charm and you feel even vaguely uncomfortable, stop him. Don't give him another word, glance or opening. He'll move on to weaker prey.

Well, that's it, Zoe. Be safe. Have fun. Bring stories and yourself back. And go easy on the absinthe.

I'm jealous.

Love,

Dad

 

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