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Anyone can make their way through airport security or customs and learn how to say “hello” in a foreign language. Expert travelers pick up a specific skill set to make traveling easier every time. Here are the 10 essential skills to help you with domestic and foreign travel—and you can practice them all at home beforehand.
Most new cars in the U.S. have automatic transmissions, especially rental cars. Renting a car in Europe is typically easier and more affordable if you can drive a stick shift, though. In fact, that rings true for renting overseas in general. If you’re able to drive a manual car, you won’t have to worry about the company having a specific make in stock.
Don’t rely on an online tutorial or video to learn how to drive stick. Ask a friend or family member to teach you or sign up for lessons at a local driving school.
Don’t limit your dining options, especially in a foreign country where you’re looking to experience the local cuisine and culture. In certain places when you order fish at a restaurant, it is served whole. While you can simply cut into it and work around the bones, properly fileting the fish makes it easier, less messy and more enjoyable to eat. Practice at home a few times before testing your new skill at a restaurant.
GPS has made the art of reading a map nearly obsolete. However, if you’re traveling in an area without cell service or your phone dies, this is an invaluable skill to have. Whether you’re hiking, on a road trip or walking around a city, you should always carry a map. Plus, it’s always smart to save cellphone data in case of emergency. Learn how to use a compass and read a map of your destination before departing. As a bonus, studying a foreign city’s map will help you familiarize with it beforehand.
Who wants to pay full price for anything? Learning to haggle can save you a lot of money, especially because vendors often hike up prices for gullible tourists. The general rule of thumb is to start low and walk away if the vendor doesn’t budge.
Haggling is handy for more than just street markets, though. Use this skill when booking lodging. Book accommodations over the phone, as you’ll generally feel more confident bargaining than you would in person. Plus, since you aren’t physically in the hotel, there’s a higher chance that they could lose you as a client if you don’t get a decent deal. Even if the rate is non negotiable, you may end up with bonus perks like free breakfast or parking.
Forget what your parents told you. When traveling, strangers can help you locate the best local shops, restaurants and off-the-beaten-path attractions. Plus, if you’re lost, a stranger might be able to give you directions. If you’re nervous to approach someone you don’t know, talk to shop owners or hotel staff–even if you’re not a guest. People in the service industry typically know multiple languages. Going out to a local bar is another great way to strike up a conversation with other people.
Try this at home, in your own language first. After some practice, you’ll feel more confident approaching strangers and be able to tell who won’t mind taking the time to have a conversation.
Being able to change a flat tire, especially on a long road-trip, can help you avoid major annoyance, and get you back on the road faster. It’s always a good idea to enroll in a service such as AAA in case of larger issues, though.
Learn where to put the car jack, how to boost up the car and how to loosen the lug nuts. If your wheels have wheel locks, know where your key is, or you won’t be able to do anything. It’s useful to know how to jumpstart a car, and parallel park as well.
Most of the world measures in kilometers, liters and Celsius, not miles, gallons and Fahrenheit. Learn a general understanding of these units in order to understand speed limits and the weather and be able to order drinks. Learning the local currency exchange rate is very useful to know how much places are charging as well as how much you’re truly spending.
When you arrive in a new destination, it’s smart to set your phone’s clock to 24-hour time. Reading train times, plane times and making restaurant reservations will be much easier.
Better to be prepared, than not, in this situation because a lot of places, especially in the East, have squat toilets. Determine ahead of time if you’ll keep your pants if–for the comfortable squatter–or take them off–for those less confident. Place your feet on either side of the porcelain slab, squat down and, if you need extra support, hug your knees. Use the put water to “flush” the toilet, and if there is no toilet paper, to clean yourself. You can bring your own toilet paper, too, of course, but throw it in the wastebasket, not down the toilet.
If you know more than one language, that’ great. Even if you don’t, though, be sure to learn enough key phrases to get by wherever you are. Don’t simply rely on “do you speak English?”. Putting effort into learning the local language shows that you’re tryin, will give you more confidence to navigate foreign territory and locals will appreciate it.
Apps such as Duolingo can help to start with the basics: greetings, yes and no, numbers one to 10, and ordering in a restaurant. Tools like Google Translate are helpful in-country and for translating phrases you need in the moment.
Whether traveling solo or with a group, you should know how to use a first-aid kit as well as CPR and the Heimlich, both on yourself and others. Enroll in a CPR class to be sure that you fully understand the procedure. Other useful skills are swimming, how to stop bleeding, self-defense and treating shock.
Many REI stores across the country offer a comprehensive Wilderness First Aid class to be prepared in backcountry emergencies, such as cold and heat injuries, wound management and altitude sickness. These are useful skills no matter where you are though, even in a major city.
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Kate Sitarz, SmarterTravel.com | February 16, 2016