Roman ruins of Dougga, TunisiaTravel – Being there (Part 2)


Food and water

Gifts and tips


Way back – returning home

Do it while you’re there and don't put it off



Backpacking trips by nature are informal, so just about anything goes. However, depending on the country you visit, there can be cultural restrictions, which require you to be covered up. This is particular true for religious sites (even the Vatican enforces dress standards).

Some more expensive hotels and restaurants will also require guests or visitors to be smart casual. Even if you're not planning on staying in a high end hotel, some of them are tourist attractions in their own right. Like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore; the Galle Face Hotel and Mount Lavinia Hotel (a former Governor's residence, featured as a hospital in the film 'Bridge Over the River Kwai') in Sri Lanka; the Lake Palace in India (featured in the James Bond film Octopussy); and the Cataract Hotel in Egypt (where Agatha Christie stayed while writing 'Murder on the Nile').

Others, like the Hill Club in Sri Lanka (a remnant of the days of the British Raj) used to require guests to be formally dressed for dinner – at least a shirt and tie for the gents, evening dresses for the ladies.

Women in particular need to be careful as to what they wear and how much flesh they reveal in more conservative countries (especially Islamic ones). While you may believe you have the right to wear (or not) what you like, the reality of life is that if the first thing people notice is your sexual attraction, then you may attract the attention of people you don't want to – this could result in anything from being insulted or assaulted to being sexually assaulted or raped.


Food and water

Learning about new types of cuisine and sampling different types of fruit and vegetables is all part of the travel experience.

Food can vary widely even within the same cuisine. There are five main schools of Chinese cooking, while a 'standard' Indian curry is anything but – different areas widely vary the amount and types of spices used. Areas in North Africa have a distinctive French influence, while Morocco is renown for using tagines (a type of pot, which is oven cooked at very high temperatures).

Food preparation and hygiene standards can vary greatly in some countries.

Generally, the more exotic the destination the less likely you are to have immunity from the various germs that are present in nature.

Top class restaurants and hotels are usually safe to eat and drink in but other establishments, particularly street cafes and markets are far more risky.

Travelling with diarrhoea can leave you weak and dehydrated (apart from being embarrassing).

Depending on where you've gone, the standards of toilets can vary immensely. Some can be little more than squatting pans – a couple of platforms for your feet and a hole over a septic tank. And, as you're probably not used to it, it'll be murder on your leg muscles. Plus, there almost certainly won't be any toilet paper (in these areas, don't eat with your left hand – it's nearly universally the one used to wash / wipe yourself with).

Be very cautious of dairy products as these are often prime sources of infections, particularly if they haven't been prepared or refrigerated properly (or kept free from flies).

There's also the possibility of picking up intestinal parasites (known as worms).

As with most things, it's better to play it safe and err on the side of caution.

Water is essential in hot climates but it is definitely recommended to stick to boiled or bottled water as you can pick up life threatening illnesses like cholera.

Tip: always ensure bottled water is sealed. Some restaurants like to 'recycle' and refill bottles with local tap or river water.

Avoid taking ice with your drinks unless it is at a high end hotel (and even some of them use tap water to make them).

If you're going off the beaten track or trekking then there are a range of water filters available. Or you could use the 'traditional' iodine tablets (some also have separate water soluble Vitamin C tablets to disguise the taste, other ready-mix sachets include both).


Gifts and tips

Tour operators, guide books and trip forums often give you advice on how much to tip tour guides or serving staff (on group tours often the guide will take care of tipping the porters). There's also usually advice on how much to give the guide, driver and any other staff at the end of your trip.

Tip: tv presenter Kate Humble’s website lists items (even inexpensive things like pens and exercise books) that you can take for local charities if you feel like doing some good while you’re enjoying yourself.

It's best to check with local contacts before you start showering cash or gifts about. In some places you could easily find yourself being mobbed by the very people you thought you were trying to help (try imaging yourself in the middle of a rugby scrum – and you're the one with the ball / wallet).

Also it's better to give any gifts towards the end of your trip or visit. Otherwise, you could end up being pestered all the time.

Sometimes, it's best to dole things out from the safety of the vehicle (although if you're in a car they may block your way).

Tip: if you're taking a Nile Cruise avoid giving you real name to kids striking up conversation with you on the bank when passing through areas like lock gates. Once they have this bit of information, the conversation usually gets steered towards the gift of a pen, sweets or cash substitutes. Fail to oblige and they'll try to embarrass you into coughing up by running alongside and (very) loudly denouncing you from the riverbank. Amazing how such small children can have such loud voices.

Tip: some shops in the Nile Valley give you change using some of the dirtiest notes you're likely to ever see – perhaps in the hope that people will decline to take their change. If nothing else, do someone else a favour and take them out of circulation (you'll probably get dirty looks from shopkeepers elsewhere if you try to use them).



Hotels and airports are probably not the best places as they tend to be more expensive (they usually charge the shop owners high rents).

Also, be cautious of those recommended by tour guides – they often get a commission from the store owners.

Tip: if you're travelling to the Middle East then it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Arabic numbering system (but don't let on immediately that you can read the price tags).

Haggling is a common custom in some countries. However, sellers can inflate prices by as much as 10 times the usual value for their starting point (so meeting you half way is a result – probably more for them than you).

As with anywhere – if something seems too good to be true then it usually isn't. And there are a lot of tricks to the trade (like the Saffron they show you is a much higher quality than that sealed in the bags they sell you).

Also, it's a good idea to check the back of anything you're planning to buy. You could get a surprise – like 'Australian' souvenirs with 'Made in China' stickers.

Be careful with animal and antique products, and fruits and plants as there can be restrictions – about taking them out of the country and / or bringing them into Britain. Or with other countries if you're taking them with you on your travels (countries like Australia and the US have extremely strict quarantine regulations – and hefty fines to back them up).


Way back – returning home

On your return leg, make sure you check in early and get onboard and in your seat as soon as possible.

Some airlines overbook expecting a few people not to travel / cancel at the last minute. Also, ground handling systems may not be as good or efficient as in the UK. However, when everyone turns up then it’s musical chairs without any music – and the loser stays behind.

Be particularly careful if the departure lounge looks crowded and during peak periods (school holidays, summer and year ends) when there are a lot of people travelling and a shortage of replacement planes, crews and landing / take off slots.


Do it while you’re there and don't put it off

Hopefully, all these warnings don’t deter you – millions of people go on holiday every year and only experience a very good time (and perhaps mild indigestion). Travel can be a hugely enjoyable, educational and enriching experience.

Do and see as much as you can while you’re out there – it’s a big world and there are plenty of other places to explore, so you may not be back there again (particularly true for exotic / long-haul destinations).

You never know what Fate has in store – what is there today may have lasted thousands of years but it is no guarantee that it’ll be there tomorrow. Stonehenge was fenced off, people are banned from climbing the great pyramids of Giza; earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and other natural disasters and phenomena (like erosion and desertification) regularly take their toll of ancient sites. Wars or simply restrictions due to the number of visitors can prevent or limit access...

Whether it’s the wonders of the Pyramids or hiking into the Grand Canyon there are a million different sights, tastes, sounds and experiences waiting for you – Carpe Diem! (Latin for Seize the day).

Safe and happy journeys.

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