Our list of essential travel skills will prove invaluable to anyone heading off on a holiday.
It’s always exciting to prepare for a long-awaited holiday, but there’s more to what’s in your suitcase that you should consider taking with you on your journey, such as these must-have travel skills.
1. Drive a manual car
Most hire cars these days are automatic, but often, cars with a manual transmission are more available and may even come cheaper. And if your preferred car isn’t in the lot when you arrive, you may be only be left with a choice of a car with a manual transmission.
If you can drive a manual, you may even find that you can upgrade your pre-booked automatic vehicle with a much nicer manual model at very little, or no, extra cost, because hire depots would prefer to keep their automatic options. It’s also worth noting that European hire car companies often have more manual vehicles than automatics, so it pays to have the option of driving both.
And you don’t have to pay for driving lessons either – you can find video tutorials online and you can practice with a friend in an empty parking lot.
2. Read a map
Back in the day, reading a map was an essential travel skill. With GPS so readily available on smartphones or as part of a hire-car package, it’s easy to get around foreign lands with little map-reading experience. But what happens when you have no mobile phone signal?
Map reading is still a highly useful skill to have in such situations, but it can also help you when getting around town, as many hotels and airports will have paper maps directing you to popular tourist destinations. It’s also fun to study maps prior to travelling, and a paper map can also be a great souvenir to reflect upon when you arrive back home – especially if you use it to jot down little notes of your experiences.
3. You’ve got to haggle
If you want to save money by avoiding the usual treatment by overseas vendors, then haggling is a must-have skill when travelling.
The trick to haggling is to start low, then walk away if the seller won’t budge on price. Now, it goes without saying that you should be relatively reasonable when naming the price that you’re prepared to pay for an item or service. No one likes a tyre kicker. But if the vendor really wants the business, they’ll come to the party.
You should remember, though, that this is a street or market vendor's living, so please be fair when haggling.
And it’s not just goods and services that are subject to the almighty negotiation – you can also haggle your hotel costs by calling first and asking what is the best rate they’ll offer you. If they don’t come down in price, try asking for extras, such as parking or free breakfast. What have you got to lose?
4. Approach the locals
Okay, so you were raised never to talk to strangers, but gabbing with the locals will often lead you to the best restaurants, shops and attractions. This skill will also help you if you ever get lost.
If you’re not too confident about talking to strangers, why not try doing it in your local area? Talk to shop owners or marketeers, or even have a quick chat with your local café barista. And here’s a free tip: your waiter or bartender are often the best people to point you in the right direction for a true ‘local’ experience.
5. Basic car maintenance
One thing people often take for granted when they’re driving around their hometown is the fact that they can just call for roadside assistance should something go wrong with their car. Not so when you’re on the road overseas. Sure, your hire car company may offer you a roadside assistance service at a modest (translation: exorbitant) fee, but being able to at least change a flat tyre, top up your radiator or jumpstart a car could save you a lot of money and get you back on the road far quicker than waiting in the middle of nowhere for an old tow-truck. Jump online and search for a how-to page that covers basic car maintenance. You won’t be sorry. Even if you don’t use it overseas, its still a very handy skill to have back home.
6. Learn the language
This one will not only help you on your travels, but also give your brain a boost. Learning the language of your chosen destination a little further than “where’s the loo” or “do you speak English” will put you in good stead with the locals. In turn, they’ll be more likely to want to help you, and they’ll look after you a little more than they would if you act all ‘touristy’.
And learning a new language, whilst not an easy task, is not impossible by any means. Start with the basics, such as yes and no, hello and goodbye, how are you doing, and, yes, where is the toilet. Once you get the hang of those simple terms and phrases, you’ll find it’s fun, and you’ll want to know more.
There are plenty of apps available to help you on your way, and if you really get stuck for a word whilst you’re overseas, there’s always Google Translate.
7. Do the maths
If you’re heading to a country that deals in miles, Fahrenheit and gallons, you’re going to need some basic maths skills to help you work out how far you’ll be walking, how hot it’s going to be and how much water you’ll need to drink.
It will also be handy to estimate currency conversion rates, so you won’t overspend overseas.
If you have trouble with arithmetic, there are a heap of handy apps that may see you through, such as MultiConverter and xe.com.
8. Basic survival skills
We are lucky to have one of the best health systems in the world. If we cut ourselves, or sprain an ankle, we can go to the docs and get it plastered or bandaged at little or no cost. Not so in many other countries. A visit to the hospital in the US for basic treatment can cost you a fortune and really spoil your holiday.
It will do you no end of good to know basic first aid, perform CPR or know the Heimlich manoeuvre. It may save you money but, more importantly, it may save a life.
Keep in mind too, that there are many other basic survival skills that could be handy to acquire, such as swimming, self-defence and orienteering. You never know when you’ll need them, either over there or here at home.
9. Learn to fly under the radar
It’s a worry for many who venture overseas that they’ll be mugged or heckled, but, more often than not, if you keep to yourself and attract as little attention as possible, you should be a little safer from harm. Now, this is by no means a guarantee, but speaking from personal experience, I’ve had some of my most memorable travel experiences in some of the ‘rougher’ parts of cities I’ve visited. I’m not saying rush in all gung ho and you’ll be safe, but a commonsense rule of thumb to follow is: don’t act like a tourist, be polite to everyone (no matter who they are), be assertive when it’s necessary and don’t flash around money, mobile phones or cameras. Stay under the radar, and you’ll be more likely to stay safe.
Can you recommend any other travel skills for our readers?
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