What I’ve learned from traveling, pt. 2

In my last post, I talked about the stuff I’ve learned to do before leaving for a sightseeing trip abroad. This time, I’ll talk about what to do once you actually get to your destination.

Majority of the times I’ve traveled, I was alone, and as a girl, I knew I had to be a little more careful than if I were with a group or if I were a guy. So what I’ll be sharing below will be a little skewed towards safety and making sure that you don’t end up like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken. Of course, some of them will still be applicable if you were a guy (I’m not really sure how many guys read my blog) or if you were traveling with a group.

  • Know your area: I guess you could do some of this before your trip as well (again, Google Maps street views is a god-send for this), but of course nothing beats actually standing on the street you’ll be living on for however long your trip is. Know the area where your hotel/bed and breakfast/apartment/hostel is located. And I don’t mean just the address, you should get to know the surrounding streets; where the closest train/tube stations, bus stops, taxi stands are; etc. This is so that you have several options on how to get back to your temporary home away from home, essential when you’ve missed the last train or bus.
  • Stock up on those hotel address cards: This is especially important if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language and/or they use an entirely different alphabet. Take a couple of them and spread them around, maybe one in your jacket pocket, one in your wallet and one in your handbag. If your accommodations don’t have those cards, then write down the address a couple of times in several pieces of paper and/or maybe on your guidebook as well. If they use a different alphabet, then have the concierge or reception right it down for you. This will help in case you’re asking for directions and are totally butchering the pronunciation of your street because you can’t get the correct Chinese intonation or because you’re drunkenly slurring.
  • Sometimes, it’s safer to be rude: I don’t mean not saying “sorry” when you’ve bumped into someone. What I mean is that if you’re a girl traveling alone and someone approaches you to talk to you for no apparent reason then it’s better to politely smile but walk away. Walking to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, this man came up to me, asked me if I was going to the Trevi. I said yes, and to my surprise, he proceeded to walk with me all the way there. He started asking me questions about where I was from, my name, why was I in Rome, all of which I answered without elaborating. I figured it would be safe if he knew I was in Rome for work. But when he asked me if I was traveling alone, I started to feel uncomfortable and lied and said I was meeting up with my friends there. At that point, I decided to ditch him, if I could. I started to walk faster and stopped answering his questions. He started asking me why I suddenly stopped talking, why I didn’t want to talk to him. In my head, I was picturing scenarios where he had an accomplice waiting for or following us to maybe mug me or worse. My mind was in overdrive, thinking of a way to lose him without having to resort to running away. Then the guy just seemed to lose interest and give up. In all probability, he was probably just an over-friendly man, but it was his question if I was traveling on my own that was a red flag for me. So I followed my gut and attempted to ditch the guy. Again, he could’ve been a nice guy who was just striking up a conversation, but I’d rather be rude and safe than be friendly and mugged. Or worse.
  • If you’re planning to stay out late, know the transport schedule: Metro/tube lines close at certain times, and most major cities have a separate bus route system in the evenings (London, for example). So if you’re going to be out late, take note of these times, routes, and the new bus numbers. I once had a mini panic attack when I missed the last Northern line train from Waterloo because the Federer-Verdasco match at the O2 arena ran long. It was a good thing the organizers of the tournament foresaw this, and they had people ready at Waterloo to help direct the otherwise stranded tennis fans to the right night bus routes that will get them where they needed to go. You can bet that the next night I watched a match, I made sure I knew the time of the last train so I wouldn’t miss it.

The girl in purple had her hand in my bag! I took this picture and showed it to security.

  • Your bag MUST have a zipper. Use it. – Leave the Neverfulls at home, ladies. Totes and other open-top bags have no place whatsoever in a vacation in a touristy city, unless you’re feeling really generous and don’t mind if a pickpocket does away with your wallet. Your handbag must have a zipper (or a flap over the opening, as with a satchel), and of course, you should use it. And the zipper pull should be within your peripheral vision at all times. Learn from my mistake. Sure, my bag had a zipper. Did I close it completely? No. Did I have the zipper pull in front of me? No. So while I was in line to enter Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with the zipper of my wide (east-west) bag slightly open AND behind me, I almost got pickpocketed. I felt my bag get a little heavier, and when I turned, I saw a girl with her hand INSIDE my bag. Luckily, I caught her early, and I didn’t lose anything. But who knows how close she was to my wallet or mobile? Needless to say, from that moment on, I always made sure my bag zipper was closed all the way and was in front of me.
  • Watch TakenIf you haven’t yet, please do. You’ll understand why after.

Hopefully, I didn’t turn anyone into a paranoid, neurotic tourist with my tips above. But a lady traveling on her lonesome needs to be a little more careful than the average traveler. Nothing can ruin a trip like getting sold into sex slavery (again, watch Taken). But seriously speaking, getting lost or stolen from will take precious time away from you exploring a new city, so better minimize the chances of that happening to you from the get go.

Feel free to share your own tips in the comments! I’d love to learn from your (hopefully not entirely unfortunate) experiences.

11 thoughts on “What I’ve learned from traveling, pt. 2

  1. Great tips. I like the one about the hotel cards. I never even thought of that. Females should take your advice. There are so many weirdos out there. I used to travel everywhere frequently for work. I used to be followed or chased (yes, parang artista…talagang habulan) by strange people. One even went into the restaurant I wanted to eat at.

    In addition to your tip about knowing the local transit schedule, researching the type of fare accepted is also a must. I normally carry only a bit of cash (i.e., $50), so I mostly charge on credit cards. One time I was being chased by 3 men kasi feeling explorer ako kaya napadpad kung saan-saan.

    There was no way I could’ve outrun them so I hopped on the first bus I saw. Luckily they took cash, so I was able to get away.

    Public transit in some cities only accept tickets, tokens or exact fare, if paying in cash. So knowing this beforehand will be helpful to get around efficiently as well as potentially life-saving in my case.

    • It’s good to know that I’m not the only who gets followed/approached while traveling abroad! I’ve had Frenchmen asking me to sit for free portraits or a guy asking me if I were Thai. Mabenta ata tayo! Hehe… But grabe! Chased by THREE men! Thank goodness you’re a quick thinker and thought to jump into a bus!

      Yeah! Thanks for the tip! I actually forgot about writing about that on my “planning” post. It pays to research fares and public transport tickets, not just for convenience but to save some money as well. The Oyster card in London is really convenient, and the Carte Navigo in Paris. It sure beats having to line up and rummage for coins at every metro/tube station and very useful when you need to make a quick getaway. 🙂

      • OK – I got home late from work so here’s one.

        I mentioned about being followed into a restaurant. So it was after work in another city. I was wearing office clothes and everything, so I think I blended in with the crowd.

        I walked around for a bit, going into stores, etc. I was standing at an intersection when a guy came up to me. Seemed nice, not creepy. Smiled, said hello. O sige di hello naman ako. I’m such a sucker.

        When the light changed, I crossed as I had reservations at a restaurant a block away. I walked briskly and could tell the guy was trying to catch up. He must’ve been 5 steps behind me pero daldal parin ng daldal. I walked in the restaurant and was seated. Yung guy pumasok pa! Fine dining restaurant, so he’s making paawa to the maitre d’ na “i must see her”, kung possible to be seated near me, blah, blah. Weird!!! Buti na lang reservations only so ha!

        so lesson learned: be a snob! lol i think he wouldn’t have bothered me if i didn’t pay attention to him.

        • Baka naman he fell in love with you at first sight? Haha. But seriously, I learned that lesson, too, with Mr. Trevi Fountain. I just answered a simple yes-or-no question, which he seemed to interpret as an invitation to walk with me all the way there. Crazy, crazy, crazy.

          Thanks for still dropping by after your long day at work. 🙂

  2. i think i’ll always be too chicken to travel alone (hehe). and even more so now that you’ve brought up taken!! i can only offer my two cents about travelling with kids, though… it’s better to splurge a little on a taxi then take the cheaper but longer and more stressful mtr or bus routes with them. the sanity you save will be worth it! =)

    • Oh no! I hope I didn’t scare you out of it! I do think it’s something everyone should experience at least once, even for just a couple of days. It just takes a little more planning, and a little more care. But I’ve had as much fun exploring a city alone as when I do it with a group. 🙂

      Well, when it’s with kids, especially little ones, it’s a whole different ball game, huh? I remember traveling with my parents as an 11-year old, with three younger siblings, two of them under the age of three. Must have been a nightmare for my parents, more so my mom. So yeah, by all means, take the taxi if it means it’ll save you from pulling all your hair out! 🙂

  3. Four tips…
    One, it helps to bring a photocopy of your passport with you at all times. I usually carry a copy of the ‘ID’ page as well as the page that was stamped at immigration upon your arrival. My passport is almost always kept at my hotel room’s safe. I go through all this trouble just to ensure that I still have some form of identification with me in case my wallet gets lost or I end up in some sort of mishap.
    Two, when traveling alone it is best to leave a copy of your flight details and itinerary with a parent, family member or friend. At least there will be someone else who will know where you are at any given time or day.
    Third, write down the contact details of the nearest Philippine Consulate in your city or country of destination and have the said details with you at all times. This may be of help in case of an emergency. Remember that once inside the consulate, you are automatically safe because you are on Philippine soil.
    And lastly, jot down the contact details of your airline. Bad weather, among other things, may cause delays and its always better to talk to the airline people directly than to argue with the people at the airport counter.

  4. Hey Kat! I’m leaving for Argentina tomorrow (so excited!!!!) and after reading your 2 blog posts I am a little glad that I won’t be traveling alone. I took your advice from your 1st post and looked up “Buenos Aires tourist scams” and got a little bit of a scare because someone in the comments section of an article talked about he was drugged and then robbed! OMG!

    Wow, you’ve been all over the world! I’ve only been out of the US 3 times (not counting Argentina –yet!!!) and two of those occasions were family trips. And I’ve never traveled alone to a foreign country before.

    What happened after you caught the girl trying to steal from you? Did the security catch her? How did she react when you caught her? The scary thing is she looks so normal. She doesn’t look like a criminal at all! (My perception of a pickpocket is shady looking man with dark glasses and a trenchcoat, not a young woman in a skirt!)

    • Hey Maddi! Have fun on your trip! I’m leaving for mine tomorrow, too! 🙂 I hope that going through the list of scams doesn’t scare you out of enjoying your trip. I really didn’t mean to scare anyone.

      After I caught the girl I double and triple checked everything in my bag, if I lost anything. When I was sure I didn’t, I started to calm down and question if I actually did see her with her hand in my bag. As we were in a church and all, I didn’t want to cause a scene so I just let it slip. But while I was touring the cathedral, I noticed the girls (the girls in my picture were working together) again, and they seemed to be following people closely, especially women who would open their bags and leave them open, or people who were carrying their satchels or backpacks behind them. I figured, it’ll be on my conscience if they end up stealing from someone because I didn’t report them, so I took the picture and showed it to security. I didn’t hang around to see if they were caught, but I did see the guards sort of fan out after the guy I talked to radioed them, so I think they were probably caught. As it turns out a lady had her credit cards stolen earlier in the day already and she said that it was girl who stole from her, too. Crazy, huh?

  5. These tips are great, Kat! Here are some of my thoughts/stories:

    The best travel bag for me is one that can be worn cross-body, so you can have your hands free for holding on when the metro/bus stops suddenly or to carry shopping bags ;D It is nice because you can position it to be in front of you and not by your side, avoiding stealthy pickpockets.

    I was approached twice in Paris, both by older gentlemen! Eeek! One asked to walk around Jardin des Tuileries with me. I pretended I couldn’t understand him and quickly got out of there. I am so paranoid about getting scammed or “Taken” (haha) that I do not even smile at my co-passengers on the train nor do I make conversation with my seat mates!

    Most cities have websites with their metro/bus schedules and route planners and they are very helpful – most of the time. My last day in Paris was Bastille Day and almost all the buses were not in service. The ratp.fr website didn’t have this info, so I had to drag my huge maleta with me on the metro which was super full. And of course, some metro lines were stopped as well, including the one I had to take to transfer to my hotel which was near the train station where I would take my international train the following morning. Gah!!!

    Planning your routes is key and saves so much time. And it is handy to have a phone with GPS or Google maps. I know the Nokia E5 has GPS and you don’t use your data plan for it, it connects to cell towers or something. For somebody who is prone to getting lost (yes, me!) it is a lifesaver! How I wish I had one during my trip. I got so disoriented when I stepped out of the metro station with the hordes of tourists in that particular area and promptly wasted an afternoon of sightseeing and shopping, so I was unable to buy my special pasalubong for the bf as stores were closed the next day 😦

    + 1 for buying tickets online and printing them out beforehand. Saves time and money! There are sometimes internet discounts for tickets (hey, 5 euros is 5 euros!) and it beats waiting in line. tgv-europe.com is a wonderful site for buying international train tickets for Europe. They often have promos for cheaper fares, too. The Van Gogh museum has a special line for those with preprinted tickets and I imagine I saved at least 45 minutes since I didn’t have to line up 🙂

  6. Pingback: What I’ve learned from traveling, pt. 3 « Don't ask me to smile…

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