1. Get ready to get LOST.
You are in an unfamiliar territory, grounds you have never trekked. So prepare to get lost. Getting lost is all part of the fun. But if you don’t prepare yourself, getting lost can cause panic and stress as well. And getting lost can start a blame game with family members. “Sabi ko sa ‘yo dapat dun tayo bumaba! Ang tigas kasi ng ulo mo!” Ay, PATAY. My dad LOVES to walk and well, I don’t love it AS much. If it’s strolling leisurely in a park then that’s fine with me. But if we’re trying to get to a specific place at a specific time..I try to cut down the walking by plotting out transportation alternatives. So you can imagine the many petty arguments I’ve had with my dad while on vacay. Hehehe! Equip yourself with all the tools you’ll need to get you back on track (bring a guide book, a map, a translator, a GPS device, a bar of chocolate to bribe some stranger into driving you there, anything that might be helpful in figuring out directions)
2. Bring loose change.
If you don’t plan to get mugged, please do not wave your 100 dollar bills in public. Break your big bills into coins and study their currency before stepping out of the hotel. Familiarize yourself with the different denominations. Research on how much you’re supposed to pay for each ride and set it aside. If you’re traveling with a group, distribute the exact amount to each person and ask them to pay individually. The last thing you wanna be is this group of annoying tourists crowding the bus driver and causing a stall on the line. You’ll piss off a lot of regular commuters who are rushing to work. If you need to ask directions, then let the locals in first then wait for a proper “opening” to pester the driver.
3. Sit close to the windows and the doors.
If you have the luxury to choose a spot, try sitting close to the doors or windows. Often times when I’m traveling alone (lugging around my big suitcase all by myself) I sit right next to the door because you only have a few seconds to get off a train/bus, so you cut down that additional 3-5 seconds of moving hurriedly from a far seat to the aisle to the exit. Also when you sit close to the windows, you’ll be able to see street signs or even the actual monument /building you’re looking for.
4. Know how to pronounce your destination of choice properly.
I spent nearly 30 minutes circling the same block figuring out the location of the Van Gogh museum simply because I didn’t pronouce it properly. I kept saying “Van Go” and the locals kept shrugging me off..finally one local corrected me and told me “Oh you mean Van Gohhhhkkk? Just take a right at the corner”. Question: Kaano-ano ni Van Gogh si Vandolph? So ask your hotel concierge, research on google, or ask a local on how to spell and pronounce certain words and places. Also, try to figure out what the place is called for locals. Like Prague is Praha or Praga. It also helps to see alternate spellings for each destination.
5. Keep your belongings close to you.
Whether you’re commuting here or abroad, practice common sense. I’m not saying you should be praning, but be aware and alert at all times. Keep your gadgets stowed inside your bag when entering crowded trains and buses, only whip them out when you feel secure.
6. Don’t be a victim.
While we were in a crowded metro in Rome, my mom saw a female with a cute baby wrapped around her in a carrier. Since my mom loves babies, she started making faces to make the baby laugh. Next thing she knew, she felt a hand entering her pockets…they were the hands of the female carrying the baby! Apparently, pickpockets use babies to keep their victims distracted. Talagang the “Cute Baby Ninja Attack”! Ok, I’m not telling you to spit on every cute baby you see..but just practice discernment when in public. Wag maging eng-eng, mga kapatid. Kung hindi mo alam kung ano yung eng-eng…ayun, eng-eng ka nga!
7. Never ever stare at anyone. Mind your own business.
Filipinos like to stare. It’s the oddest thing. I’d be in a mall fitting a pair of shoes and the woman next to me would literally stare at me..not at my shoes, but at my actual face. At hindi pa discreet, talagang stare down of death! “Look at me as I look at you, ooohhhhhhhh” stare! Minsan gusto kong sagutin “Maam, umm..hindi po ako yung kagalit niyo sa opisina.. kamukha ko lang po siguro. Peace po, peace be with you.” Hahahaha!!! But then I realized that it’s just something Filipinos do unconsciously without meaning any harm. We’re just natural starers. It’s an idiosyncrasy we all do, like pointing with our nguso or talking while waving our utensils. But please, please do not stare when you’re abroad. For some cultures and societies, this could be considered very disrespectful. Don’t ever stare at someone at a New York subway, if you do…call your mom and tell her you love her, because trust me it will be your last day on earth! Just fix your gaze on something, the door, the map, your hand..anything, wag lang random stranger! Kahit manok pa yung katabi mo…do not STARE! Chickens are very private. Joke time c/o my friend Jay: in English: “Wow, Animal in Arrive” in Tagalog: “Naks, Hayop sa Dating!” Wenk,wenk,wenk.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask. And ask again. And again.
Men are always afraid to ask for directions. But it is crucial to ASK especially when you’re in public. Sadly, the only way to ask is by stereotyping. I’m not one to judge a person by his appearance…he could be heavily tattooed with green hair and be the smartest person in the entire block. But with only a few seconds to spare, you have to think quick and ask people who look like they know their shizz. But if the hot shot lawyer looking guy carrying a briefcase gave you a stupid answer, ask again, and again..until you find their answers slowly merging into one cohesive answer. If you are in a country where English is not widely spoken, whip out your map or a blank piece of paper and ask the person to draw it for you.
My friend of mine was in Thailand looking for Spicy Thai Tamarind. She asked some locals to lead her to a store but they barely spoke English and had no idea what the word “Tamarind” meant. So she took out her notepad and drew a sampaloc. Then they smiled at her and nodded “Yes!Yes!” and drew a map for her. She said thank you to the kind strangers and followed the map. She ended up in the Public Restroom. Looks like they thought she drew POO and not Sampaloc. Tama nga naman. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!
9. Pay attention to your route while on the way to your destination so you will be more familiar with the direction you’ll be heading towards on the way back.
When you travel, it’s nice to just zone out and NOT think. But if you’re commuting, you have to use your mental faculties to get from point A to point B. Kung tamad ka mag-isip, bring a travel buddy to do the thinking for you! Hahaha! But seriously, it’s good to be aware of your surroundings and environment and to plot out the new destination in your mind. Even if you are only staying in a particular place for just a weekend, know your area.
10. Enjoy the ride.
I love exploring new places and the different ways of getting there. I marvel at the little things, like how efficient a metro system works in this country or how bizarre a bus ride can be in another. I love looking a tickets, passes, and stubs. Have fun with the whole experience of figuring out the public transportation system in a specific country and try ALL modes of transport! Get on a camel, get on a tuktuk, ride a stinky bus filled with a million strangers. Be adventurous people!!!