I’m not the adventurous type.
I once took a personality test and learned that 96% of people are more adventurous than me. Not surprisingly, I’ve never tried downhill skiing, never owned a motorcycle, never been given a speeding ticket.
So I’m not the best person to coach you on travel adventures such as climbing Mount Everest. But if you’re like me and are a bit timid about travelling, maybe my tips for the non-adventurous traveller can help you venture a bit beyond your comfort zone. My wife and I are just back from visiting China and Hong Kong and the following tips really helped.
Practical advice for when the destination is beyond your comfort zone
- If lost, return to … Ask your hotel desk clerk to write, in the local language: “Please take me to (your hotel’s name, address and phone number).” With that note, even if you get lost, a taxi driver can easily take you home.
- When in Rome, do as the Romans do. At home, I start the day with a nice bowl of bran flakes. In China, congee (rice porridge) with fermented pickles made a nice breakfast. Hey, when you go to a different place, things will be different.
- Know the overseas calling code for Canada. Our friend John had a medical emergency in Shanghai. Though he had his health insurance company’s phone number, he didn’t know the calling code for Canada. And keep important papers handy when you need them and safe when you don’t. Oh, the panicked searching I’ve seen at airports and hotels!
- Eat, drink and stay merry. In countries such as China, tap water is generally safe for locals, but not foreigners. The same goes for uncooked veggies and fruit. Your stomach won’t be happy if you introduce it to new bacteria. Amazingly, in Beijing, the roasted scorpions are a safer choice than the fresh salad.
- If in doubt, ask. Everywhere we go, we find most locals incredibly helpful. When our adventurous friend Hugh gets lost, he looks for a young person or someone in business attire, who’s more likely to speak English. At restaurants, ask your server for help with the menu. He or she will likely know which dishes foreigners find challenging. For instance, at a restaurant in Sichuan province, our server helped us pick dishes and then asked the kitchen to use fewer hot peppers than locals would want.
- Know what things cost in your home currency. Before we left home, I created a simple currency conversion spreadsheet for my tablet computer. It helped with buying and haggling. Smartphone apps can do the same thing, but most need an Internet connection.
- Walk this way. In crowded overseas cities, it sometimes takes a few practice runs (yes, runs!) before you learn how to cross the street safely. Beijing intersections are crazy. We crossed with locals until we got the hang of it.
- Know some key words. Consider the predicament of our friend Ruth. She lives in Shanghai but doesn’t know Mandarin. But she gets by, knowing the words for hello, please, thank you, and washroom — delivered with a big smile!
- Take a tour. A good tour guide can help break down language and cultural barriers and share lots of local knowledge. In China, we had really good local guides in Beijing, Yichang, Shanghai and Xi’an.
- Consider an upgrade. The view from our original hotel room in Hong Kong was of gritty old buildings. At a really modest cost, we upgraded to a room with a fantastic view of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. After zig-zagging through the crowded city all day, the view and personal space of our hotel room were delightful.
- Give things a try. Be open to new experiences!
- Don’t stress out. Yes, some things will go wrong on your trip. Just keep calm and carry on.
What’s worked for you when you’ve travelled outside your comfort zone? Share your tips below.
More tips for the retired traveller:
- Top five retirement travel tips
- Seven smart safety tips for women travellers
- Smart solo travel tips
- Eight great travel tips for retirees
- Slow money: A richer way to travel in retirement
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