Traveling can be scary as hell; who will you meet, will you get lost, how do you get around? But it doesn’t have to daunting if you’re prepared. Make 2017 the year you become a better traveller. How? By picking up new travel skills that will make your adventures safer, easier, and more enjoyable.
I’m not talking about leveling up your haggling skills by sparring with the pasar malam auntie (though that might not be a bad idea). I’m talking about practical skills that will make you more confident and prepared on the road. Here are 5 travel skills that will make you a better traveller:
1. Ride a motorbike
Public transportation have limited routes, taxi drivers are unscrupulous, and car rentals will burn a hole in your pocket. What are your other options? Try renting a motorbike. Bikes are cheap and convenient, especially in South East Asia where buses can be unreliable and bike rentals are plentiful. You’ll also be grateful to have the freedom and ease of your own vehicle. Bikes may look daunting, but once you’ve picked it up and learn how to balance on two wheels, you’ll see that it isn’t so scary after all. You don’t even have to learn how to ride a Harley, a scooter or e-bike will suffice. If you are deadly afraid of riding a motorbike, make sure you can handle a bicycle at least.
How to start: You must know at least one feller with a bike who is kind enough to give you a lesson? Buy him/her dinner.
2. Read a map
Local maps can be found everywhere – airports, visitor centers, tourist pamphlets – but the art of reading maps has become a rare skill thanks to our growing dependency on Waze. This may sound outdated, but there is value in knowing how to navigate your way using a paper map. You’ll appreciate it when you’re lost in the middle of nowhere with no 3G signal. This skill is doubly important if, like me, you like to go on a tech detox when you travel. One tip is to have a compass handy. Knowing how to spot where North is will also help you orientate yourself quickly and accurately.
How to start: Stop Wazing everywhere and start looking at a map. Better to get lost in your area now than getting lost in a foreign land.
3. Keep to a budget
Budgeting is one thing we should all be practicing in our daily lives, but something many of us are not disciplined with. I’ve been guilty of overspending and then desperately waiting for my next pay cheque to arrive; it wasn’t fun. Unless you are Bill Gates, spending without a care isn’t a luxury you can afford when you’re travelling. Running out of money in the middle of a trip is not the kind of memorable travel experience anyone wants to remember. Sure you could charge everything to your credit card, but flying home to an oversized bill and inflated bank conversion rates sound like a pain in the arse.
How to start: Withdraw a lump sum amount of cash that you’ve budgeted for the month and then lock your bank cards somewhere inaccessible. Use only the cash for your daily spending. Stop buying shit you don’t need.
4. Time management
You are in an exciting new country for a short period of time and you want to cross off everything on your to-do list. But remember – you can’t come and go to different places of interest as you please. You are at the mercy of opening hours, of sundowns, and of bus schedules. This is where a little bit of planning and good time management can help you make the most of your time. This involves waking up early, estimating how long to spend at each location, factoring in traffic, leaving and arriving on time… Even for the spontaneous traveller, good time management is important to make sure you don’t miss reservations, check-in times, and worst of all, flights.
How to start: Practice by arriving at Malaysian wedding dinners on time. And by on time, I mean the start time printed on the wedding invitation, not the time you estimate the food will be served.
5. Basic first aid skills
Last but not least, the most important skill everyone should learn is first aid basics. Health and safety are often taken for granted and I can’t stress how crucial it is to learn first aid. I used to think accidents won’t happen to me, but in the years on the road I’ve been in two bike accidents, almost rag-dolled down a cliff, had allergic reactions, cut, bruised and almost broke my bones. So, yes, accidents, illnesses, and injuries are very, very possible. If you already have a first aid kit in your backpack, good job. Take that one step further by learning how to use the tools in it. At the very least, know what medication to take for when you feel sick, notably food poisoning, dehydration, fever, allergic reaction, and such.
How to start: Convince a doctor friend to be your travel buddy for life. If none of them likes you enough, get enrolled in a first aid course with St John Ambulance or the Red Cresent. Divers can also look into PADI’s Emergency First Response (EFR) course. Download the First Aid by American Red Cross app available on both iTunes and Play Store.
Try picking up one of these new travel skills before you go jet setting across the ocean. What’s there to lose? Even if you have a passport full of visas, they can only serve you for the better.
A version of this article was first published on Zafigo.