Monday, March 23, 2009

The what NOT to do travel guide

When it comes to travelling everyone has a list of 'must dos' such as learning a new language, experiencing the culture or perhaps even going bungy jumping. But there's another travel list you should pay heed to – the 'what NOT to do' list. I recently compiled my top 10 list of travel dont's for a new article for MSN NZ and thought I'd share them here:

1. Use or carry drugs
Unless you fancy spending your holiday taking in the view from a jail cell, whatever you do, don't use or carry drugs. In some countries drug possession carries severe penalties. Indonesia in particular has some of the toughest laws and currently has around 20 foreigners including three Australians sitting on death row for drug offences. It's simply not worth the risk.

2. Carry someone's bag
Never ever offer to carry someone else's bags or belongings in or out of a country for them. Just ask French national Michael Loic Blanc; he's now serving life in prison for smuggling 3.8 kilos of hashish through Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, found in a bag of diving gear he claims he was carrying for an acquaintance he met in Bali. Unfortunately for Michael, his 'friend' disappeared once the discovery was made.

3. Take photographs of official buildings
In many countries it's against the law to take pictures of anything that might be considered of strategic importance such as military installations, airports, bridges and government buildings. Be aware of what's acceptable and what's not at your destination. If unsure, it’s best to err on the side of caution rather than risk being arrested.

4. Outstay your welcome
Never stay longer in your destination than your visa permits. The penalty for doing so can range from a hefty fine to actually being detained. Bear in mind your embassy will not be able to help you in this kind of situation, so leave when you're supposed to.

5. Bribe officials
Admittedly this is a phenomenon that does exist in some form or another in every country. The problem however is that bribing the wrong person – even if they make the first move – could land you in serious trouble. Don't risk it.

6. Assume immunity
When you're in another country you're a guest and you must abide by their laws. Don't assume you'll receive special treatment because you're a foreigner and remember consular assistance cannot override local laws. Take Michael Fay, the 18-year-old American who ran afoul of the law in Singapore for graffiti; he was jailed, fined, and given four lashes of the cane for his crime.

7. Leave your bags unattended
Never leave your luggage unattended. All it takes is a few seconds for a thief to swipe your bag or rid you of your valuables. It’s also not unheard of for drugs or other contraband to magically appear in your bags, so make sure they’re locked and secured against tampering.

8. Flaunt your wealth
While you might be scraping by on a shoestring budget, as a western traveller you're still richer than more than two-thirds of the world's population. Conceal your wallet, hold on to your purse, and don't flaunt your wealth by flashing your money and jewellery. Also be discreet when using hi-tech gadgets like digital cameras, laptops and iPods.

9. Dress inappropriately
Some cultures find it an offensive or even enticement, for women to wear short skirts, shorts and bathing suits and many even frown upon men wearing shorts. So ensure you pack appropriate clothing for the places you are visiting.

10. Assume everyone can speak English
Guess what? Not everyone in the world speaks English. In fact, English comes in a distant third to Mandarin which is the world's most common native language. So, no matter how loudly or how slowly you speak, you'll always be better off learning the local language.

Picture: View looking out over The Wild Coast, South Africa

Bookmark and Share

Friday, March 6, 2009

Guidebook vs Tour guide

This morning I received a press release which criticised guidebook giant Lonely Planet claiming that they'd "lost touch with the zeitgeist" and were being forced out of the market by e-travel websites like OurExplorer. (Interestingly the press release was written and supplied by OurExplorer, so there's no bias there of course!)

The basis for their claim was an article written by British-born travel writer Tristan Rutherford, Battle of the Orient-Guidebook vs Tour Guide, in which he compares the enjoyment of using a Lonely Planet guidebook versus a local tour guide booked through OurExplorer. The city in question was Istanbul in Turkey and when summarising his experience of having a tour guide, Tristan argued that "A thousand guidebook words couldn't convey her emotion." Because of this one report, the writer of the press release (again, an employee from OurExplorer) proudly announced that Lonely Planet had been "slain" and that the death of the guidebook was nigh.

Really, what a load of rubbish! In my opinion comparing a guidebook with a local tour guide is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no comparison! A local tour who lives in and grew up in a city will naturally convey more emotion about a place than a guidebook. As a guidebook author I've used local tour guides on numerous occasions while researching and updating the books I have worked on. Not only do they help with collecting the most up-to-date and accurate information, but they also give you a more personal experience of a place – something a guidebook can never do. As I've said before on this forum, a guidebook is not a bible. It is merely a tool used to enhance your travel experience. To use it alone and base your whole trip on it is very foolish indeed.

So, do I believe e-travel websites will "push guidebook companies like Lonely Planet into the history books"? Well, there is certainly scope for e-travel websites to give guidebooks a run for their money. The problem however is that you can't trust the information that is posted on these websites – you have no idea who wrote it, when it was written, and where the information came from. At least if you buy a guidebook written by a respected author, you can feel safe knowing that they have some authority on the subject. If you're in any doubt read Lara Dunston's recent postings on Cool Travel Guide where she critiques the information suppied on Dubai by the new travel website Offbeat Guides - her findings are truly scary!

Just for fun I thought I'd quickly test out the Ourexplorer website. I put in the city of my birth, Brisbane in Australia, and said I was interested in "shopping". Would you believe that the first local "expert" who popped up was a 53 year-old male who hails from the US and uses a photograph taken in Sydney to highlight his expertise in Brisbane! I can't say that I'm confident he'd make a very good shopping partner.. And I'm cerrtainly not willing to hand over 200euro a day to find out!!

Bookmark and Share