When I was a kid, I was a Boy Scout. I made it pretty far too, but then I became a teenager, decided it was “lame,” and quit. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to tie knots, camp outdoors, be a good citizen, play with knives, and got to have cool sleepovers. One of the most important things you learn as a Boy Scout is their motto to always “be prepared,” and as I’ve grown up and traveled the world, I’ve found this to also be a travel truism.
You never know what might happen on the road. Stepping out your door into the unknown is what makes travel so exciting. Each day brings endless possibility, but that possibility is for both good and bad. You may end up enjoying a day sightseeing in Paris — or getting robbed in Berlin. You may spend an amazing day on the beaches of Thailand — or suffer food poisoning in Costa Rica.
But if you’re prepared, you’ll be able to face whatever happens to you on the road:
Take Multipurpose Gear. Packing multiuse gear ensures you can easily adjust to changing conditions and helps reduce the amount of clothing you need to take. I like pants that zip off into shorts, walking shoes that look nice enough for an evening out, and using my swim trunks as a pair of shorts. It saves room, and I’m prepared for any dress situation.
Carry a Small First Aid Kit. While we live in 2012, not 1912, and you can find modern medicine anywhere in the world, I always carry a small first aid kit with me with a few essential items to be safe. I take Tylenol, stomach illness medicine, eyedrops, Band-Aids, scissors, hydrocortisone cream, antibacterial ointment, and a small supply of doctor-approved antibiotics. I’m usually able to find a pharmacy when I need one, but in case of an emergency, it’s good to have these items handy.
Pack a Small Flashlight. You’d be surprised how many travelers don’t carry one, but a flashlight will prove to be invaluable when you suddenly decide to go caving in Panama, when your hike lasts longer than expected and nightfall sets in, or when the electricity goes out unexpectedly, which is not uncommon in a lot of places. I carry a small, waterproof pen flashlight when I travel.
Bring an Umbrella. Many travelers don’t pack an umbrella because it adds weight to their bag, and they figure they can just buy one if they ever need it. However, while it does add a small amount of weight, I’ve found myself thankful for taking it more times than I can count. You never know when you might be exiting an airport or walking down the street and find yourself in a sudden storm. While others run for cover, I simply take out my umbrella and continue to my destination.
Learn Basic Phrases. Locals don’t expect you to be an expert in their language, but knowing how to say “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” go a long way in endearing yourself to locals. After all, wouldn’t you be annoyed if someone came to your home and expected you to know their language? Knowing a few key phrases will not only make interactions easier, it will also help you when you bargain for goods, order food, get lost, or need help. I download the latest language app for my iPhone when I travel, but for those not using a smartphone, Lonely Planet guidebooks makes excellent pocket language guides for just about every language spoken, and Benny Lewis wrote this excellent guide on learning languages. To find about how I go about learning a language, check out this interview I did with Michele from The Intrepid Guide!
Study Nonverbal Communication. Most people interact using both verbal and nonverbal communication, so paying attention to facial expressions can help you appropriately read a situation, even if you don’t understand the verbal part. When you don’t know the language or might take words out of context, keep calm and take a moment to read the feelings of the person. This has helped me defuse tense situations with taxi drivers, vendors, and hotel owners. Understanding nonverbal communication doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice, but these websites offer good guides on how to understand nonverbal cues.
One thing you might forget, bring a match anywhere because you might need it in an emergency. Many people have ignored this trifle on their vacation trips. bring flameless lighter because it’s very safe and practical to carry anywhere.
You never know when you might face the unexpected, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of traveling, it’s that even the best-laid plans can go awry. You may not use these items all the time, and hopefully you won’t ever need some of them, but the point is to be ready when you do. After all, a scout is always prepared.