Eat where the locals/ cab drivers eat
We think this is some of the most unhelpful travel advice ever despite it’s ubiquity. We mean, seriously? Do you eat where cab drivers and these mysterious “locals” eat in the city where you live? Well, probably yes and no.
No, in terms of cab drivers. If you can afford to take cabs and not have to drive one and you can afford to travel to all over the world, then what makes you think you would be a good culinary match with a cab driver in China? And have you smelled the cab drivers in Abu Dhabi? That will kill your appetite.
Cab drivers eat where they can get food and get out in a hurry. They don’t do a bunch of wine swirling and sipping – they cruise the streets looking for those who did and they get them back to their hotels. They don’t care about honey glazed beet roots dipped in lavender sauce. (With any luck you don’t either but you get the point – maybe.)
Now when it comes to “locals” you probably do eat where they do in your home city. If you live in a groovy section of San Francisco you probably eat in groovy local places with other groovy local people. Makes sense.
If you go to Beijing who is a “local”? Anyone who was born there? Expats who live there? Communist officials whose lifestyles quite possibly differ from the romanticized version of “locals”? Locals eat where they can afford to eat. In many countries this means eating from street vendors.
If you’re in your 20s and backpacking then you will probably eat from street vendors and local dives and have some of the bad digestive reactions that are part of that phase of your life. If you’re an adult who appreciates hygiene, seats and not having people smoke and spit around you as you eat, then eat authentic cuisine of the area but don’t feel guilty about doing that in a nice restaurant!
Learn some of the language before you go
Where are you going? In the last year we have been in Iceland, Bhutan, and the Maldives. In each case it would have been nearly impossible, you would have learned a language spoken by people in only one country on earth and most likely you would have made a fool of yourself anyway. Even in Bhutan, which was intentionally set apart from the rest of the world until 1999, the kids learn English in school (as well as their own language).
Yes, it’s a very nice gesture to learn local phrases such as hello and thank you. And if you’re going somewhere for an extended time – maybe a month or more – then make some effort before you go. We aren’t linguists (we aren’t gymnasts either) but before going to Italy we both spent months trying to learn Italian. Brunette had more success than Blonde but even so when we were somewhere out in the middle of Tuscany and Brunette tried to use her Italian to ask a man a question he said “Lady, it’d be a lot easier if you just spoke in English”! And it was, for everyone!
Most of the developed world has people in tourism who speak English at a level where you can communicate with them. When there isn’t a common language various apps can help and good old charades are the most fun of all. In Sicily a waiter acted out swordfish by mimicking a fish that had a knife sticking out of its forehead. When we guessed “swordfish” he happily replied “yes, yes, fish with knife”. That was a lot more fun than learning the Italian names of all possible fish entrees in Sicily.
Learn a few words for the sake of goodwill and use your sense of humor and patience (if you have it) for the rest. When in doubt most people under 40 speak some English.
Get an unlocked phone and a SIM card for the country where you’re traveling so you won’t get horrendous phone bills when you get home.
Travel writers make this sound so easy. Well they obviously haven’t tried to get into a phone store in Europe where it’s always siesta time, the lines are so long you could conceive and deliver a child while you wait and the employees close the stores when the magical hour comes even if you’re still in line (nursing your newborn).
So maybe you found a place to get the unlocked phone as well as the SIM card. Now no one back home knows your new phone number. If you send it to them they won’t want to call you at international rates just like you don’t want to call them! You will probably have to provide your passport information to get a SIM card (this is an anti-terrorism measure) and think twice about knowing who you’re providing with that information. Generally you need to enter a PIN code every time you use the phone. The PIN will have come with the SIM card so you have to memorize it or hang onto the printout. If you’re going to be in more than one country you need to watch out for roaming charges. You also may need to add time to your phone if you use it more than you thought and that brings you back to the joy of finding an open store.
How often do you actually make phone calls anyway, even at home? Tell people you’ll communicate only via email and only when you have access to free wi-fi.
Do your research before you travel so you will know of places you’d like to eat, play charades with your friends and teach people not to expect to ever speak to you on the telephone. You’ll have a better vacation with less pre-trip stress!