Not Google, Not Guidebooks—Here’s The Secret To Successful Adventure Travel
When you travel to a new city, ask friends and perpetual travelers for help. Someone you know has already been to where you are going.
Even more important than asking, take their advice.
Paul and I have been traveling in Southwest China, an area that has only recently begun to welcome more Western tourists. First stop was the world’s largest municipality with an urban population of at least 30 million, Chongqing, China. Daunting. So we asked friends where to stay. Having a place to settle for our first few nights makes travel easier.
When we started adventure traveling 35 years ago, we knew many tourists but very few travelers. We counted on guidebooks to orient us on where to stay and what to see. Once on the road, we asked other travelers what they recommended. These days we rely less on guidebooks, more on other travelers.
Remember that other travelers will have different criteria than you. A few years ago in India, I had chosen a hotel for us in Mumbai, one highly recommended by a single woman traveler. Later Paul told me he had a recommendation for a cheaper place, in the same neighborhood, from a guy he met on the train. We first went to the cheap hotel and saw a windowless room with squat-toilet bathrooms down the hall. Ugh.
Luckily the place recommended by my friend, just around the corner, had a comfortable room available at a reasonable price. We stayed for a week.
When Paul and I decided to spend more time in Kuala Lumpur we wanted to locate outside Chinatown, where we’d stayed before. I read about Brickfields, an ethnically diverse, up-and-coming, edgy neighborhood that sounded perfect. The problem was that Wikitravel and Lonely Planet reported the neighborhood as dangerous. Rather than rely on Wikitravel, I asked a friend, who had recently lived in Kuala Lumpur, what she thought of Bricksfield. Not only did she recommend the neighborhood, she gave me the name of her favorite budget hotel and an introduction to a friend. We stayed two months.
Even more than asking for advice, and taking it, it helps to remember it. We just received a thank-you e-mail from a Canadian expat in Spain who read Paul’s book years ago. She wrote:
“Two friends and I were in Tunisia, traveling by hired car with driver to another city (from Tunis) to see Roman ruins early on a Sunday morning. Suddenly the driver began driving extremely badly and acting very strangely, with us screaming ‘Stop! Watch out! Slow down!’ We got him to stop, but it was in the middle of nowhere and no traffic was going by. We don’t speak Arabic or French, and none of our expensive smart phone cell phones picked up a signal. It was Try Not To Panic time.
“And then I remembered Paul’s advice. When you can’t find a hotel room anywhere in a city, go to a cafe or cantina and talk to the owner. He’ll know someone. So we got the driver to take us to a cafe, mainly by telling him repeatedly that we needed a cafe and toilette. At the cafe I found the owner who, thank goodness, spoke good Italian, a language I can handle. The owner got us a taxi, negotiated an acceptable price (frankly, any price was acceptable at that moment), and was a total prince of a man to the three of us. I am very impressed by the North African Arab/Berber gallantry and hospitality.
“The taxi driver showed up within 20 minutes and took us to the ruins and back to Tunis. But had it not been for your and Paul’s wonderful advice, I would still be standing by the side of the road searching vainly for taxis that never appeared!”
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