My friend calls it ‘travel literacy’.
I often get asked about how I plan my trips, about packing, and what I do on the road, so I thought I would put into a post.
As a solo female traveler, I view things through the lens of safety.
It’s not different from home – no walking around dark deserted streets, no rides wth strangers. Then adding in setting boundaries about what I share about my itinerary, where I’m staying. Limiting alcohol when it may impair your ‘spidy senses’ and awareness.
Once I have an idea of where I want to go, I check Canada’s government website at travel.gc.ca for advisories.
For example, I’m planning on Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan for April, May and June. Georgia and Armenia are ‘green’ but Azerbaijan is ‘yellow’ because of border conflicts.
I like their specific comments for Safety and Security, particularly on crime.
They say in Tbilisi, Georgia, a common scam is for ‘locals to invite tourists to bars for food and drinks, and then force them to pay a steep bill’. Nothing new, but it’s good to be reminded.
They were also accurate in their warning about pickpockets in Quito, Ecuador. I lost my phone in 5 seconds while getting off a bus when they crowded around me. My instinct was to push back, and took my hand off my leather pouch.
As soon as I was off, the doors closed and I knew. What a sinking feeling. It was a bit of an adventure getting a police report and a new phone, but fortunately it was still December 21 and the shops were open.
Just to note, pickpockets are in every country and like crowds of tourists. The wider the financial disparity, the more the risk.
The nice Tourist Police in Quito, Ecuador.
Travel.go.ca also has good information on a packing a first aid kit. If I’m sick I don’t have anyone to go find a pharmacy for me. Be your own backup!
For trips to South East Asia, India and South America I also made appointments at the Travel Clinic to check on what vaccinations I should have, and get prescriptions for medication I may need to carry for malaria and food poisoning etc.
Just a tip if you thinking of area that requires a Yellow Fever vaccination. They don’t like to give it to people over 60, so plan ahead.
I’m a fan of Lonely Planet guides for information on transportation. There can be an advantage knowing the train station is 6 km out of town vs a central bus station. And different choices to get from the airport to town.
I also like to search for itineraries from travel companies and bloggers. It’s interesting to see where they go. Though one tour was going to take you through the three countries in 12 days, when I have 12 weeks!
Rick Steves is also practical. I remember one time in Ljubljana, Slovenia he said to come out of the train station, head towards the McDonalds, and follow that street to get the historic centre!
Skyscanner is my first place to look for flight options but then I book directly with the airline. I’ve found it works best for changes and refunds.
Rome2Rio is a great app for checking out how to get from Town A to Town B. But I always check things further as the bus they list as a good choice may only run overnight. And I avoid those because I never feel secure to sleep, though it varies by country.
Train information is great on Seat.61. I found it useful when trying to learn about the different classes when booking on Indian or Italian railways (which are excellent to use).
Bus company information varies by country. I have apps for Omio, Turbus, Busbud, Flix and more, but I’m always searching. Sometimes you just have to go to the local bus station, if there is one. Tourist Information has been helpful too, like recommending a mini-bus company that was direct and faster.
In a town I’ve found Moovit a good app for using the local transit. I like how it gives good directions for finding the bus stop. And if you start a route, it will buzz when your stop is next, without pulling out your phone.
The locals may all be on their phones, but it’s good to keep yours out of sight. It’s common for someone to just grab from your hand while you are checking out Google Maps or taking a photo, and they are going by on a motorcycle.
You can use Google Maps offline, or use Maps.me. But I prefer using Google Maps live.
Knowing where you are and being able to navigate is a huge safety feature.
It is such a sense of freedom to explore, and get lost, but still find my way back to the hotel. And much easier than trying to ask directions in another language!
DATA IS GOOD
So I need data to do that. Roaming with my Canadian phone number is just too expensive for a long trip. Now I’ve discovered E-SIMS and it is wonderful. I can buy it before I leave and it activates when I arrive.
Major airports often had kiosks to sell local SIM cards but if I arrived by train or bus I spent hours tracking down a shop. And the language barrier left me not knowing what I bought and how to top it up.
For this next trip I can buy 3 GB data that is good for 30 days in Azerbaijan for US$14 from Airalo. They also have Regional and Global plans.
3 GB goes a long way when you have free wifi at your hotel.
FREE WIFI ISN’T SECURE
I subscribe to a VPN – virtual private network. It creates a secure connection between my phone/iPad /computer and the internet so no one can see when I’m doing banking or using my credit card to book a hotel or ticket. I use NORDVPN but I’ve read good things about EXPRESSVPN too.
This is a case of risk x exposure. Most people going on a two week vacation aren’t doing much banking. My exposure is much higher so I aim for more security.
My E-SIM doesn’t give me phone minutes so I use WhatsApp. It is a very popular and you can keep in touch with hotels and family without charge by text, voice or video. I’ve found it essential to coordinate meeting someone at an apartment I had rented. If my bus or train was early or late, I could give them an update.
Financial security is very important to me as my nightmare would be to not have access to money when I’m away.
I carry four credit cards in different spots, but my first choice is a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. On top of the exchange rate, most cards charge 2.5%. I’m using Home Trust Visa with no fee. I see ScotiaBank now has an American Express but many places I’ve been only take MasterCard and Visa.
It can be nice to have some local cash for when you first arrive, so I may buy some at the Currency Exchange here if they carry it. Otherwise ATMS are everywhere.
I did have an ATM at the airport in SriLanka eat my client card, so I called my bank in Canada and they allowed me to use my credit card without being charged for a cash advance.
BEING SECURE ON THE STREET
I like to have my phone for photos and some cash readily available.
For years I used a thick leather pouch on a leather belt. But since having my phone stolen I want something that is more comfortable to have my hand on all the time. And even put inside my T-shirt when I’m pushing past the crowd.
I’ve just bought a small bag I can wear crossbody on my front and have my hand on. It also has wire in the strap to prevent slashing, and locking zippers.
If I’m out for the day, I carry a copy of my passport, more money and a credit card in a money belt tucked under my clothes.
I also have a small 15 L daypack for carrying water, sunglasses or groceries I may pick up.
I like to travel light with a backpack that I can carry onboard. My 40L Osprey has worked very well. I use packing cubes to keep it organized.
Laying everything out and asking if it’s necessary!
This restriction is probably the hardest part for most people. But I’ve learned that I don’t need more.
I may wear the same combination of black, white and occasional blue all the time, but I never see the same people!
Depending on where you are, you may need clothes that cover your legs, shoulders, and head. In temples in India or Southeast Asia the pants also had to be baggy, and women with leggings had to rent a long skirt.
One major temple in Bangkok was doing a booming business selling T-shirts as a shawl over a tank top wasn’t acceptable, as well as ‘elephant pants’ to the young people wearing shorts.
And they don’t call them elephant pants just because they often have elephants on them!
I wear comfortable runners with a pair of squishable Mary-Jane’s for a backup. There have been a few days I would have liked something waterproof, but not when I would have carried them for three months.
Since liquids are restricted with carry on, I found a few favourites.
I like the shampoo bars from Aveda and Lush. The hotel shampoo can be harsh on the hair but is great for hand washing clothes.
I carry my favourite facial sunscreen but can buy body moisturizer like Nivea or Lubiderm anywhere.
I have my phone and a mini IPad for reading. I can download e-books free from my library so gone are the days of trying to find books in English!
Then chargers, cables and plug adapters. And a power bank for long days of photos and Google Maps.
Hotels always have hairdryers available.
WHERE TO STAY
I’ve stayed in hotels but like apartments for longer visits if it is worthwhile cooking. Sometimes eating out is so reasonable that it isn’t worth stocking up on the groceries you need. I’ve been lucky if they provided salt!
I like to book central so I can walk most places. It’s nice to go back to my room for a little rest or bathroom break. Public washrooms can be dire. I have stopped at a MacDonalds (they are everywhere) just because I knew they would have a Western bathroom with a toilet.
I usually use Booking.com as I like to know exactly where the hotel or apartment is. It’s just a booking platform like Airbnb, and many places list on both for the same price. And I appreciate the clear cancellation policy.
A word about reviews. I look for foreign guests. You can’t post a review until after your visit, but a hotel owner explained that he could have a friend book and reimburse him for a 10 rating.
If I’m arriving late into a city I book a hotel that can arrange a shuttle service from the airport. They track your flight and know if it is delayed. It’s nice to be greeted at the arrival door and know what it is going to cost.
Taxis in each city vary on whether they are metered or you have to negotiate in a foreign language. I can always move to another location the next day.
So just a list of what I’m doing now in February 2023!
6 thoughts on “Travel Tips & Tech”
Thanks Leslie ❤️
As I have been your companion I know how well you are planning, it’s amazing!!
Hopefully I will take Hilda with me in April and go north. 🇳🇴 Norwegian and Sweden.
If everything works well I have decided to leave Vittsjö and live in Hilda again.
It’s nice planning! And your choice of countries to see is amazing 🤩
Good luck 🤞 bee well
Hope to see you in the future ❤️🦹♂️🎉🎈
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Thank you Viveka! I’m looking forward to this next trip. I’m planning a route but no schedule.
And I’m sure Hilda will be thrilled to be traveling again! She likes to be on the road😁❤️
Dear Leslie. I guess I will never be a world traveler, I always thought you were organized and you are. Safe travels and we see you in a bit Dale
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Thanks Dale! And looking forward to seeing you too. I’ll send you a message about coffee!
Thanks for such a great article – have shared it to my FB group. Love the tern “travel literacy” and hope you don’t mind if I “borrow” it. Also did not know about Yellow Fever vaccination if you’re over 60.
Thank you! I’m happy to share!