Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When I Travel, I Take...

A lot of times, what you will bring with you to a new place will depend on the circumstances: the time of year, the climate of the place, how long you will stay. Below I've listed a few things I always have with me when I travel.

1. Camera: I like to have my camera with me at all times, even if I'm just making a quick run out to buy something, or taking a short stroll around the neighborhood. You never know what you may find in the unlikeliest of circumstances - a stunning sunset, bizarre street performance, or a group of old ladies performing tai chi may be right around the corner. Cameras are also useful if you are in a new place and want to take a quick shot of a map in a subway station, for instance. The ubiquitous camera phone can also work in a pinch.

2. Wet wipes and tissues: When you are going through Asia, you'll quickly discover that many restroom stalls are not equipped with toilet paper. In a similar vein, some restaurants do not provide napkins, or at least not without a price! Paper products run scarce in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable, but tough if you aren't used to it. Basically, you the customer are expected to bring your own supplies, and you'll often see little packets of tissues sold by older people in busy shopping centers and food hawkers. There's no better feeling than knowing you are well-prepared with a stash of tissues when you have sauce from delicious Singaporean chili crab dripping down your chin.

3. Cash: Many businesses, especially the smaller mom-and-pop places, do not take credit or debit cards. You don't want to be caught in a situation where you can't buy something because you are running low on cash. The ATM situation will depend on where you are, and what bank you use, but generally you want to watch out for ATM fees when getting cash withdrawn. The ATM machine may charge a fee of a few dollars, and your bank may also charge you for a foreign transaction, so be sure to check the receipt and your bank statement. If you are changing currencies, do some online research to find the money changers in your area that give you the best rate. Sometimes the counter at the airport and other tourist centers give a great rate, but other times it's better to go to a local money changer.

4. Umbrella/Hat: There will almost always be a reason to wear a hat or use an umbrella on a day out. Here in Taipei, it seems that every day is either blazing hot or pouring down torrential rain. Many people in Asia, especially women, use umbrellas as shade whenever the sun is out. Some people do it for vanity reasons, as paler skin is prized according to Asian beauty standards, but it is also a good way to protect against burns and sun damage. Plus it keeps you cool!

5. Sense of Curiosity: I try to maintain a curious and open mind whenever I go someplace new. I keep an eye out for the simple things, whether it be something I'm seeing for the first time, or simply looking at an everyday object with a new perspective. The world has so many wonderful things to offer, and it's up to each of us to discover to beauty in the coincidences, patterns, and details that exist out there. You will approach something in a way unique to your experiences, perceptions, and memories that you bring to it. Use this knowledge wisely. And one simple rule of thumb I like to use: look up! We often forgot that there are interesting things above our heads: fluffy white clouds drifting by, interesting shopfronts, a flock of birds. Most people don't see these pleasures - be one of the few that do.

Other things that may be useful:
  • Copy of your passport. Sometimes when you do certain transactions people will ask to see your passport, like renting an apartment or buying a SIM card for a phone. Have a copy of it on your phone, and perhaps a hard copy if you want to be extra cautious.
  • Small notebook. A lot of writers take a small notebook with them to jot down notes and inspirations in the brief snatches of free time. Even if you don't plan on writing about your travels, you can keep these little tidbits as memories of what you've seen and experienced.
  • Snacks. I like to keep a granola bar or some crackers with me. Usually, there are food stalls everywhere, especially in more touristy locations, but it always seems to be the case that when hunger hits I can't find anything.  
  • Maps. I know, I know, nothing makes you stand out more than holding a huge map out on the street, but it is always good to know where you are and how to get to the next destination. You might want to step off into a corner or into a cafe if you feel unsafe or self-conscious. Google maps on your phone can also be very helpful, but be warned, sometimes the maps can be inaccurate. Of course, asking a local is a great way to get efficient directions.
  • Reusable water bottle. I'm always thirsty when I'm out and about. Sometimes it's unclear if the tap water is drinkable, and I don't like to continuously buy plastic water bottles from stores. I keep hydrated by taking my water bottle everywhere and filling it up whenever I get the chance. I now use a flexible plastic carrier called Platypus. It rolls up when it's empty, so you don't have to carry around a bulky hard plastic or metal bottle around.
  • Language apps. There are a ton of mobile apps that help you figure out a foreign language. In Taiwan, I like to use Pleco. I can draw the Chinese character with my finger on the phone screen, and the app will tell me the word and definition. It's really handy when I need to decode street signs and menu items. 
That's about it for me. I usually carry a Longchamp tote bag with me (yes, the one that literally everyone owns). The bag is lightweight and water-resistant, from what I can tell. With all these things, I can usually spend all day out and not have to go back or buy something. What types of things do you like to bring while traveling? 

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