44 Little Travel Rules No One Tells You


I’ve gone a few miles over the years. And here are 44 little things about travel I picked up on the way.

These 44 not enough? Read 44 MORE here.

  1. Wash your hands before you sleep, unless you don’t mind it if cute rats lick your fingers clean.
  2. When kindness comes from strangers, accept it. If you don’t know if they expect a tip, you can offer one — but don’t insist when/if they refuse.
  3. Animals will probably attack you if you try to give a Snickers to them.
  4. It’s wise to remember your passport. And don’t pack it in a checked-in suitcase like Louisianan Trey Williams did going to that study-abroad program to St Petersburg during that ‘first summer of Russia’ (1992).
  5. Try to accept all invitations — you really should have time for that cup of tea the silver-haired couple offer you from the balcony in their summer home in Zakopane, or go camping with that Hungarian film crew at a Russian gulag.
  6. Car passengers see less than bikers, bikers see less than walkers, walkers see less than stoppers — ie those who stop and watch.
  7. It’s OK to have a Coke without ice.
  8. It’s OK to have beer with ice.
  9.  It’s OK to use your hands to eat.
  10. You don’t HAVE to eat the larvae or crickets though.
  11. Don’t use middle finger to beckon locals, or indicate they’re tops.
  12. Ownership of stuff varies where you go. So when the Indian guy on the overnight bus from Udaipur to Delhi borrows your iPod without really asking, don’t get mad, because when you’re shivering later on he’ll instinctively lend you half his blanket.
  13. People without much education abroad often seem to be better educated than a lot of people back home.
  14. Robert Reid hat shopAlways shop for locally made stationary, and buy it when you see it — it’s rarer to find these days.
  15. Pack quick-drying, if ugly, clothes but at least one sorda nice shirt so you can see the Budapest opera like I didn’t.
  16. It’s OK to just want a damn hamburger or watch Pretty Woman on channel 31.
  17. It’s OK to get frustrated or mad sometimes, just try to keep it to yourself as much as you can.
  18. No, you don’t have to take a group tour, or have advance reservations. But it doesn’t automatically make you a bad traveler if you do.
  19. Too much hassle where you are? Look around. If you are in the majority — as foreign traveler — walk two blocks to another part of town, and get out of that tourist ghetto you’re probably in.
  20. It’s OK to have an opinion of a place, but don’t think you ‘know’ a place after spending two/15/306 days there.
  21. Try a couple days without the camera or email.
  22. Museums can be great, but are overrated as day-filler attractions.
  23. Seeing movies and sports in foreign countries are underrated day-filler attractions. Like the time topless Guatemalan guys hugged me at a Mother’s Day b-league soccer game in Xela as they tossed fireworks through the chain fence to police decked up like Storm Troopers.
  24. It’s OK to be uncomfortable, just be honest if something isn’t right for you.
  25. Italy is the Citizen Kane of the travel world. It gets all the accolades, and deserves them.
  26. You can get as much out of a trip to Western Kansas as Laos. If you try.
  27. Always go to visitors centers. Sometimes they give free cookies or popcorn, and the flirty staff sometimes invite you to go out and get drunk (nothing more), as they do in Bogotá.
  28. Socks-with-sandals is underrated.
  29. Buy a hat. Always buy a locally made hat.
  30. Don’t put all your expenses in one place — hotel, hotel restaurant, hotel tours, hotel souvenirs etc — try to spread out your money for maximum positive effect.
  31. Agree on a price before you close the door with any taxi — that is, if they have a door.
  32. Russians look mean, but down deep they’re softies that will shame you with their warmth, feed your with their home-grown tomatoes, then intoxicate you with their suddenly produced frosted bottle of vodka.
  33. Language-learning vacations — with homestays and eating beans for supper, particularly in secondary towns off the tourist radar — is one of the best things you can do abroad.Best Postcard of All-Time
  34. Write a post card. Or am I the only one who feels sorry for post card lobbyists in these digital days?
    [See the best post card of all time, above.]
  35. At small, out-of-the-way museums, ask if the curator will show you around. Sometimes they are and are thrilled to show off the dinosaur bones they personally dug up.
  36. Seek out the passionate. Those who love what they do — making belts, writing poems, pumping gas — can make you appreciate things you didn’t think you were interested in.
  37. Take public transit — a tram (I LOVE trams), subway, ox cart — at least once, even if you don’t need to get where it’s going. So few Americans ever take one, it’s sad.
  38. Try to take pictures of things that might change: street signs, people’s shoes, homemade sandwich ads, key-maker tools, overly bright fashion, heavy metal haircuts, grandmothers selling a single toothbrush outside a Moscow subway station after the USSR fell. Old churches and statues rarely change much, some of that other stuff maybe gone tomorrow.
  39. Tip appropriate to local custom.
  40. Returns trips to a place are OK, but try not to limit yourself to your next three trips to Las Vegas 12, 13 and 14.
  41. Squat toilets are better than sit-down toilets. But it really is still best keeping toilets and showers segregated.
  42. Always give one day to a trip to an ‘up for grabs’ experience — a rented car to get from A to B, with random stops at unplanned places. You will likely remember it longer than the Met.
  43. The tacos might be better back home but please don’t say it for all to hear in Cancún.
  44. Traveling alone is something everyone should do at least once.

Read 44 MORE little travel rules no one tells you here.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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70 Responses to 44 Little Travel Rules No One Tells You

  1. wow, right off the bat, the “rats” item at the top of list freaked me out. good list though, thanks.

  2. pembe maske says:

    I was going to say 12 (ownership) and 13 (education) are my favorites, then I read 26 (Kansas). Then I actually completed the post and saw 44 (traveling solo). 44 hands-down HAS to be my favorite, otherwise I’d be shooting myself in the foot. Bottom line — travel with a sense of humor!! You nailed that.

  3. I really enjoyed this. It made me smile!

  4. UganaxGypsy says:

    Excellent list! My favorite is #38-take pictures of things that might change. I collect postcards of the places that don’t change much, like natural wonders, churches, bridges, & monuments. Postcards are photographed better than I can shoot and usually have detailed descriptions for future reference.

  5. CL says:

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Todd says:

    Highly suggest traveling solo at least once in your life. Did it the first time I ever went abroad. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.

  7. Kuzey Güney says:

    Fun and informative!

  8. GREAT tips! I just came back from backpacking Europe alone w/ a dinky duffelbag for 18 days last week. I was the best time of my life. and yes, your tips are great and VERY VERY true.

  9. CF says:

    I was going to say 12 (ownership) and 13 (education) are my favorites, then I read 26 (Kansas). Then I actually completed the post and saw 44 (traveling solo). 44 hands-down HAS to be my favorite, otherwise I’d be shooting myself in the foot.

  10. Buyten plante says:

    This one is my favourite: It’s OK to have beer with ice ;)

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  13. Wow! that’s a handy for all occasions list! Love your sense of humor :)

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  15. Joerg says:

    Wash your hands before you go to sleep !! And also clean your fingernails !!

    In 1974 I was on a 1 year back packing/camping trip in the Caribbean Islands traveling from island to island on small trading schooners. Camping in a palm grove in St. Lucia I woke up every morning with small punctures on the tips of my fingers.

    I finally asked one of the local lads who worked in the palm grove about it – he laughed and said mouse bites. Wash your hands carefully before you go to sleep and, more importantly he told me to also clean all the dirt from under my fingernails !!

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  17. Deirdre says:

    I agree about public transport. I have had such great conversations with people in buses and trains. And I find it much easier to know where I am. Now if I have to srive a car somewhere I feel as if it’s not a proper holidy.

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  19. This laugh-list was all I needed to brighten up the day, thanks! It all made complete sense to a fellow traveller, though #36 resonated most with me.

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