By Tim Notier
There are many things we have learned along the way and I would like to share what are my top ten travel tips.
1) Learn the Language
So, even though I am the one suggesting it, I have yet to accomplish this task. But I see my own handicap for my lack of communication. From directions, police checkpoints, to just friendly conversations with strangers, I am left in the dark while Marisa chats away and laughs. I have Duolingo on my phone (a language learning app), and have taken a whopping one week class of Spanish in Guatemala, but if you do not practice, you will not learn (I write “you" but really mean “I"). So much more can be absorbed and learned of the culture and the place if you know how to read and speak the language.
Marisa is on the other side of the coin. Every day she practices French and Turkish, and is already fluent in Arabic and Spanish. I will just wander behind her like an ignorant tourist as she gets to know the people and culture in a finer detail because I lack the drive or effort to comprehend what is being said. But I understand that learning the language, at least a bit, is a real asset to traveling, and even the little Spanish I have learned has given me greater insight into the Latin American culture.
By knowing the local language, we have been able to stay with families and really get to know what life is like in the country we are visiting. It has also helped us avoid some visa and permit problems that may have turned out disastrously if we could not have conversed, and it has allowed us to have a greater appreciation for the people and culture of the place we are guests in.
You are not the only ones out there on the road on an amazing adventure. Others are immediately around you, just hours or days ahead of you. With Facebook being such an easy tool with multiple pages on any specific place or interest, it is easy to find like-minded people on the same path as you.
Communication with others has multiple benefits, conversations about each party’s experience so far, to “must see" hidden treasures, as well as where to avoid. We have met countless people who have shared advice, friendship, and knowledge. We are currently semi-traveling with a couple, Phil and Sapna, who do a little more research than Marisa and me, and we bleed them for information constantly. Another couple, James and Imogen, are about two months ahead of us, and make perfect recon missions into what is to be our future. And yet another couple, Brendon and Kira, who are currently one country behind us, have provided us with info on how they travel on a budget: wild camping and proper networking online to let communities know when and where they will be in the area. They also strongly suggested using iOverlander, an app I had downloaded on my phone, but had never used properly. And they were right, it is very useful.
Building a network can give you immediate access to what is currently happening at different places from the advice of fellow travelers, and you might just find a group that will feel like your family on the road.
Everyone reading this is part of our network, and we thank each and every one of you for your support!
3) Stay with locals / families on AirBnb
We love camping, but sometimes the weather or “vibe" of the area will not allow us to do so. Since we plan as little as possible, we usually just pull into a city with a small list of accommodation options we marked on Google Maps. But, whenever we plan on staying somewhere for three days or more, we try to use AirBnb to scout out houses occupied by local families who are simply renting rooms. This feels more like a home stay, and is a great way to meet wonderful people and learn about their lives. They also have great tips on where to visit, and the non-touristic spots and the backroads to get there.
We have met so many wonderful people along the way, and love to see the family's daily functions while immersed in their lives (even if sometimes Marisa and I have to share a single bed). This is also where learning their language is a great benefit. Marisa gets to know people on a very personal level, and I do a lot of nodding my head and smiling.
4) Be prepared to be delayed
Borders, traffic, finding accommodations (and even just staying upright on the bike) do not always work out as expected. When frustration is added to the scenario, it usually just goes from bad to worse. So plan on being delayed. The timing of the routes we type into Google Maps are almost always incorrect, because sight-seeing, gas stops, bathroom breaks, lunch, detours, and just time to stretch your muscles, all add up to unpredicted hours on the road. So we keep our daily plans short, because they could end up being much longer than anticipated.
5) Don't plan every mile
Marisa and I sometimes have no idea where we will be the following day, and we never plan for anything more than a week in advance (unless there are scheduled maintenances or key appointments). We sometimes add multiple stopping locations spread down the main roads, giving us options depending on how the weather conditions or waypoints are.
Half of the gems we have “discovered" were suggestions from local people, or travelers riding ahead of us. We try to (and often fail) to avoid the “must see" attractions that 90% of tourists go to, and instead we search out local treasures that are more secluded.
Without having a concrete plan, we are more flexible and can detour without regret of missing out on what each individual country has to offer. Of course, we cannot see it all, but we try!
6) Accept hospitality / kindness of others
This was hard for us at first. We thought we were self-sufficient travelers who did not want to inconvenience anyone for the likes of two dirty travelers. At first, when people offered to buy us lunch, a beer, and even pay for a hotel room, we would refuse. To me it felt wrong because we had quit our jobs and decided to be vagabonds living on a tight budget. So I did not feel comfortable having other people pay for us because there was nothing for us to give in return, except a smile, conversation, and maybe a sticker or two.
What I did not realize is that the people we have met are excited and happy to offer meals and hospitalities. The same feeling that we get when staying with locals is mutual with our new friends. Hospitality and free meals should never be expected, nor should they be asked for, but when offered, it comes from their heart, not out of pity. Many of the people we have met are excited to hear of our tales, and want to be part of the story.
We hosted a German world traveler when he made his way through Chicago. I think I was more excited to have him at our house than he was for being able to stay for free. So much information was learned, and a friendship for life was created.
After some time on the road, we realized that this was one of the great pleasures of traveling. It is amazing the feeling you get (we try to do it often) when you are able to assist someone with a small gesture, and it is wonderful to meet people when our paths cross. A small token of kindness doesn’t cost much, but it will forever be burned into our memory, always proving to us how wonderful people truly are.
7) Invest in the right gear
I am not suggesting that you have to spend 5 thousand dollars on clothes, cooking gear, or camping equipment. But, this is also an area not to skim on either. We learned really quick on our 3-week test run around the western states that a miserable day's ride followed by a miserable night’s sleep snowballed into a torturous journey. We spent the time and money needed to be sure we would be comfortable on the road. You can check out our full list of gear on the “Our Gear" section.
We are still adjusting our gear, and we may one day perfect it, but for now we have comfortable, budget-friendly (sorta), warm and durable gear. There is not a single correct answer, and there are a lot of variables about weather that are hard to cover in a single coat, shirt, or pants. You may have to adapt along the way, but good gear from the beginning is a real benefit.
8) Start the day early
I stole this from a presentation that Sam Manicom gave at an Overland Expo. He is well traveled, so I listened closely. If you have a 5-hour day ride ahead of you, and something were to go wrong (a tire puncture, dead battery, or the countless other things that could go wrong), you could potentially run out of sunlight depending on what hour you left.
We like to be sure we have time to stop, take pictures, have breaks, and eat without feeling the pressure of the sun's light disappearing. Sometimes we roam around looking for the cheapest place to stay (or any place to stay!) and we like to be fully unloaded and settled down long before the sun has set.
9) Know everything will turn out just fine
You most likely will get a flat tire, pay a bribe, or have a reservation cancel on you. Many things have not gone exactly as planned, but that does not mean it didn't go right. Some of our “misfortunes" have led us to experience other attractions, people, or sights that would not have happened if everything went as planned.
I get frustrated in the moment, and I have to stop and tell myself everything will turn out just fine. Minor inconveniences seem like huge barriers in the present, but through teamwork, your network of friends, knowing a little bit of the language, being prepared to be delayed, along with the other tips presented here, I guarantee that you will pull through. Some of the toughest times create the best memories, and I wouldn't change any misleading signs or forks in the road that has led Marisa and I to the very spot we are now.
Life is good!
10) Have fun
This seems like an obvious “tip", but you have to be sure you are able to take the time to stop everything and reflect on the positives. We are all very lucky we have the opportunity to travel and to see all of the wonders this world has to offer.
Be sure to smile, and to make others smile while you travel along the journey and throughout life.
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