Flat tire
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Ten Travel Skills Every Traveler Should Have?

hen I see a “listicle” purporting to impart valuable advice, it usually falls short and I wind up skewering it; but this article pertaining to the ten travel skills every traveler should have as written by Kate Sitarz of Smarter Travel is actually quite useful — even if they are reminders of tips and advice about which you might already know.

Ten Travel Skills Every Traveler Should Have?

While I agree with much of what was written in the original aforementioned article, there are some words of advice which I personally dispute; while I augment other tips with my own words of advice and the relating of personal experiences.

Without further ado, here are the ten travel skills every traveler should have — or, at least, consider having…

1. Drive a Stick Shift

Although there are exceptions, manual transmissions are more common and often the least expensive rental option overseas. Being able to drive a car equipped with this type of transmissionis certainly necessary if you want to drive in countries outside of the United States.

The first time I learned out to drive a car in a manual transmission was in an empty parking lot late at night in Jericho, New York. My cousin taught me with his car.

The second time was in the same car. On the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Near the Brooklyn Bridge. In rush hour traffic. With my cousin in the passenger seat. In his car.

Talk about stress and being under pressure.

Ever since then, I have only purchased vehicles equipped with a stick shift, as that is the type of car I prefer to drive; and that has helped towards a seamless transition to virtually any car I have rented around the world — including 20 or so countries where it is compulsory to drive on the left side of the road, where the pedals are in the same positions on the right side of the vehicle but the shifting must be performed with the left hand.

2. De-bone a Fish

Perhaps the ability to filet a fish would be helpful if you are ever served a whole fish; but it is really not necessary. Fish bones tend to be attached to a “spine” which goes down the center of the fish. Cut the fish in half lengthwise to get to that bony “spine” and pull it. That usually results in many — if not all — of the bones to be removed all at once.

A second — yet less civilized — way is to dig the tines of your fork between the bones and pull the meat of the fish off. There is more of a chance that you might encounter a bone or two in your fish — but that is a bone you can pick with your server.

Speaking of your server, it does not hurt to ask if someone can filet your whole fish. The worst that will happen is that your request will be denied.

A fourth — but not foolproof — way is to not intentionally order a whole fish in the first place. I have traveled all over the world and have rarely encountered whole fish — especially while traveling alone.

De-boning a fish might be helpful; but it is really not necessary to know while traveling. You will survive if you do encounter a whole fish.

I did once have to remove a bone from a shrimp while dining in Côte d’Ivoire. Don’t ask me how that happened. The people sitting around me could not figure that one out either…

3. Read a Map

I have always had a good sense of direction and usually do not need a map — but I enjoy reading maps anyway nonetheless.

Google maps is usually a good way to find your way around prior to embarking on a trip; and you can print step-by-step directions to help to guide you to your final destination. Be forewarned that it is not foolproof; but even having a map printed on paper along with the directions from Google Maps to point to a local resident can go a long way towards helping you get to where your going — especially if the person helping you does not speak your language and has a pen to mark your map with what you need to know.

4. Haggle

In many countries, haggling is a way of life where you can usually get an item or service for less than the price as marked. The practice can be uncomfortable at times; and you have to know when to say no and walk away…

…and many times, that counteroffer closer to your offer will occur when the person with whom you are negotiating sees you walk away.

One example is when I was in Mozambique, where the practice in Maputo is to go to the local flea market to have currency exchanged. I did not like the rates I was being offered; and at times, the pressure was quite high. I turned and walked away — only to find a more civilized exchange office which actually offered a significantly better exchange rate.

I once procured two fresh pineapples in Côte d’Ivoire for the equivalent of 17 cents. They were amongst the most delicious pineapples I have ever eaten.

Negotiate virtually any chance you can possible. If you cannot get the price down, you might be able to barter some extras to be included with the product or service which you want to purchase.

5. Approach Strangers

If you are visiting a country thousands of miles from home, chances are you will eventually need to speak to a stranger — especially if you are traveling alone.

“On the road, strangers can help you locate the best restaurants, local shops, and under-the-radar attractions”, wrote Sitarz. “And if you’re lost, you may be able to find someone who can point you in the right direction. Approaching someone you don’t know is sometimes intimidating, but you can start by talking with shop owners or hotel staff (even if you’re not staying at a particular spot). No matter where you are, folks in service industries often know multiple languages.”

6. Change A Flat Tire

I have always known how to change a flat tire; but that knowledge really came in handy when the rental car I was driving hit a pothole in the middle of nowhere in South Africa on my way to Lesotho.

The toughest part of changing a tire might be loosening the tight lug nuts to remove the wheel with the flat tire. Using your foot and putting your body weight on the handle for the jack will usually work.

If you are a member of an automobile club, you might be able to use the services of a similar automobile club in a different country — but there is no guarantee of that. Plus, if you are in the middle of nowhere and there is no way to contact someone for help, you could be stranded for hours; and even if you were to get through to somebody, there is no guarantee that help will arrive soon.

“Learn where to place the car jack, how to boost up the car, and how to loosen the lug nuts”, wrote Sitarz. “If your car has wheel locks, make sure you know where your key is, otherwise even kind strangers that want to help you change a flat won’t be able help. Other useful skills to practice are jumpstarting a car (knowing where the black and red cables get clamped) and parallel parking (then you won’t have to pass up the best on-street parking spots).” That is good advice from the aforementioned article which I am considering imparting in detail in future articles.

7. Estimate Conversions

The metric system is used worldwide but not in the United States and few other countries; so people who live in these countries will have a more difficult time acclimating to measurements elsewhere in the world.

While knowing metric measurements — such as kilometers instead of miles — when visiting other countries can be significantly helpful, remembering a benchmark may be all you need as a starting point. For example, did you know that 55 miles is roughly equivalent to 88 kilometers? That means that if the speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour, you know you are traveling at least 60 miles per hour. You will also know that someplace which is 80 kilometers away is approximately 45 miles away.

Familiarizing yourself with the local currency and exchange rates is imperative: it will not only help you find places offering the most value — as with my aforementioned example of haggling for a good currency exchange rate in Maputo — but can also prevent you from overspending. Be sure to also take into consideration commissions when applicable, as they can tend to erode whatever savings on the currency exchange rate you might have thought you had. As with the aforementioned miles versus kilometers example, set up a benchmark exchange rate for yourself from which to start so that calculating the best exchange rate becomes easier for you.

If setting benchmarks or other examples of helping you remember conversions and exchanges is too difficult for you for some reason, you can usually rely on your trusty portable electronic device with either a calculator or software designed specifically for those purposes.

While it may also be a good idea to set your portable electronic device to 24-hour time, I usually do not do so, as I usually do not have a problem reading that kind of time. Simply subtract the number by 12 to get the correct time — for example, 22:41 minus 12 equals 10:41 in the evening.

8. Use a Squat Toilet

“Depending where your travels take you, you may encounter the squat toilet, particularly in the East”, advised Sitarz. “The first thing to do when you see a slab of porcelain on the floor is decide if you’re keeping your pants on (if you’re comfortable with squatting) or taking them off (if you aren’t sure about the whole process). Placing your feet on either side, squat down, hugging your knees if you need extra support. Once you’re done, use the pot of water to ‘flush’ the toilet. You may or may not encounter toilet paper (that’s also what the water is for—and why people generally greet others with a right-handed shake), though bringing your own paper is okay—just don’t throw it in the toilet since it can easily clog.”

Unfortunately, females need to know this technique more than males while traveling due to certain biological reasons — for urinating in Africa, women usually trudge deep into the bush with their rolls of toilet paper; while men can just find a tree when no toilet is available — but portions of this technique might be useful if you need to use a toilet but do not want to actually sit on it.

If you believe that you are headed to a country where squat toilets are the norm — or where you might not encounter a toilet at all for hours — at least consider the clothing which you intend to wear is as easy to use as possible towards using a squat toilet.

9. Learn the Local Language

While you can use tools such as Duolingo to get you started with the basics of learning a language and Google Translate — about which I wrote this article — for translating specific phrases you find yourself wanting to use while traveling in a country, I have found that learning at least one term — thank you, usually — goes a long way towards impressing local people in the country which you are visiting that you are indeed taking the time and effort to learn their native language…

…but instead of using technology, why not use the aforementioned Approach Strangers tip? I have never encountered anyone in my years of travel who refused to teach me words and phrases in their native language when I asked; and you are showing them first-hand your interest in their language. The agent behind the front desk at a hotel or resort property is an excellent person to ask if he or she is not busy tending to other guests.

Not only will the person you ask usually be happy to teach you what you need to know — and give you pointers on pronouncing the words, phrases and especially idioms correctly; but they will typically do it with a smile…

…and they will also usually give you useful words, phrases and idioms to use which will be helpful to you and have you sounding a little less like a foreigner.

10. Acquire Basic Survival Skills

“Whether traveling alone or with others, it’s good to know how to use a first aid kit, if needed, in addition to other life-saving skills like the CPR and the Heimlich (on yourself and others)”, wrote Sitarz. “It’s best to take a CPR class to feel more confident and ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date procedures. Additional seemingly basic skills like knowing how to swim, learning how to stop yourself or someone else from bleeding, self-defense moves, or treating shock are invaluable, too.”

That is good advice; but one of the best ways you can learn these skills is to attend training derived from that used for flight attendants — such as the programs offered by Delta Air Lines, about which I wrote in this article with photographs.


I first found out about the original article from this article posted at Michael W Travels… which contained some good advice; and I am hoping that the additional advice and experiences which I imparted in this article was helpful to you.

Safe travels to you!

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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