Andy Smart’s Friendly Little List of Travel Tips Part One: First Time Travellers, Afore Ye Go!

South China Sea 2005, Hainan. My first ever photo of China at the beginning of a three year trip.


Mongolia 2008

Welcome to the first part of Andy’s friendly little list of travelling tips. If you think of any suggestions or additions then by all means comment at the bottom of the post. Most of my travelling has been done in and around East Asia though over the past 10 years though no doubt there’ll be a fair amount that will still be of use even if you’re not heading over to that neck of the woods.

Back in 2005 you could fit my travelling CV onto the back of a postage stamp I was so green, and that was at the age of forty! If you’re thinking about to hitting the road with virtually zero experience, here are a few key areas to think about that you’ll thank yourself for when the time arises.

I love planning for trips. If you are heading off but still feel kinda laid-back by the whole idea, as soon as you can see your kit building up then the excitement starts to grow. It’s one of the best feelings; a deep mixture of satisfaction, anticipation and knowing your life is about to change.

Before you go

(WKTG: Well Known Travel Guide)

Headers - 01 Mongolian Baiti

Ever been around someone who’s going on about a great idea they have or a plan but they never end up doing it?

Actually hand on heart I guess we’ve all done it. We get this amazing project in our heads transporting ourselves in that future moment of possibility visualising the best possible outcome only. Unfortunately it quickly loses momentum and like a brief bright spark of energy, is extinguished before the end of the week.

Make sure that this time it doesn’t happen. Hold your cards close to your chest and keep your idea to yourself. Like quitting smoking, if you tell anyone about it, it’s like bursting a balloon and you can feel the energy of the whole thing quickly going down the toilet. The more people you tell that you are never going to smoke again, the more you can feel that by 8pm you’re gonna be reaching for those ciggies. I can’t explain why this happens, but telling people about some great idea you have about anything is just the worst thing you can ever do.

If you do start telling people about your plans, if they are even slightly adventurous, count how many people cast serious doubt on it or tell you it can’t be done. Family and colleagues seem to be the worst. Don’t let anyone put you off. Of course it can be done. Maybe they just worry that their mate is going to do something really interesting and leave them pushing a trolley around Sainsbury’s or sat behind a computer in the office all day. A few years ago I mentioned to my Chinese boss of my idea to drive to Xinjiang. “Why do you want to do that?” was her surprised response screwing up her face. She then cleverly told everyone in the office knowing full well that they would all ask me the same question in exactly the same doubtful manner therefore deflating me like a knackered old inner tube. Be blinkered about the whole thing and stop telling people about it immediately.

Do thinks in easy steps. Cross them off your list one by one. The key to doing anything successfully is breaking the bigger picture down into bite sized chunks. One of the big reasons why people fail at things is looking at how far the end result is away. From such a great distance no wonder things can seem impossible.

Enjoy that satisfied feeling of the energy of the whole thing building day by day, in your own time, in your own way and without anyone’s judgment. And more importantly enjoy THIS feeling:

“Oh India. Amazing! So when are you going?”
“Next month. I fly out on the twentieth!”
“So you already have your ticket then? How long are you going for?”
“At least a year!”
Yes you bought your ticket. You’re really going. No one can stop you. How are you feeling now? Excitement, fear, your world has now changed forever! It’s a one-time only feeling that only first-time travellers get.

Headers - 02 Mongolian Baiti aIt sounds ridiculous to say but doing the proper prep work is kinda important. Yes plan your route no doubt using the WKTG but check on essentials such as where the police station is and when it’s open, how far the train, bus station and airport are away and how to get there. Is there a bank where you are going? Think about it if you’re heading into a rural area where no one uses bank cards. Banks in these areas may also not have ATMs. Check out how far away you may be from internet or phone line.

Knowing when the holidays and festivals fall are super important. For people who have travelled before it’s easy to get complacent. In China during the Mid-Autumn Festival hotel prices treble and it may be difficult to get a room anywhere. Some friends of mine flew from Kathmandu to Beijing with the intention of catching the train to Mongolia. Unfortunately they didn’t realise that it was the very beginning of the Chinese Spring Festival. The Mongolian embassy was closed so they took a huge gamble taking the train to the border on the advice of someone they met at the guesthouse. With their Chinese visas running out and unable to obtain a Mongolian visa at the crossing, they were forced to catch the train back to Beijing. By the time they got back the police station was also closed and they were forced to fly to Thailand and go diving. Not a bad outcome I guess but the drama and stress overwhelmed them for weeks until the ordeal was over.

Headers - 03a Mongolian Baiti

Do you really need all of those injections before you go? Ask someone who has already been there or do your own research online as well as listening travel companies or doctors. Remember drug companies make huge amounts of money out of people who haven’t got a clue. Often your jabs will only cover you for a small number of bugs and germs nature has in its arsenal anyway.
Save money and save the pain for example, one in a million travellers will ever catch Japanese Encephalitis but it costs £90 for a course of two shots of pain. Tell me about it!

world-health-organizationHere is a list of vaccination prices via Nomad: (Nomad Travel Vaccination Prices)
Click on each risk to find out more information. At least double check on the NHS website here: (NHS Travel Vaccinations)
For an amazing free PDF ‘International Travel and Health’ go to The World Health Organization’s site here: (World Health Organization Free Booklet)

Also the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ is a great website: (CDC: Traveller’s Health)
Check which ones you really need!

Headers - 04 Mongolian Baiti

Learn some of the language yes, but make it useful stuff that you will be able to use immediately when you arrive. Numbers, days of the week, tomorrow, yesterday, “How much is that?” “Could you take me to the train station please?” etc.

2005: Next, leading to full on panic stations, of course was my virtual total lack of Chinese speaking ability. I had really tried to learn some basic Chinese (kinda), going to lessons after work every Monday. I do remember coming out of those lessons with my brain absolutely fried, leaning against the car, sparking a ciggie and thinking

“Shit, that’s difficult!”

Things didn’t go well at all really, and in the end the teacher stormed that she
“could teach a child easier!”

Not only was it difficult but she was teaching grammar to me. Of course grammar is integral to any language, but being able to say to a taxi driver “the red pen is on the table” or “the big blue plane is bigger than the white car” isn’t particularly helpful in any situation. As D-Day got ever closer my concern in this vital area understandably turned into panic; “Excuse me Sir! Did you know that pencil is very long?” That was what I was armed with when I went to China.
(Exerpt from my book Just Turn Left at the Mountain)

Headers - 5 Mongolian BaitiLeave copies of all important things with someone you trust back home like your passport, certificates, national security number, bank details etc. Ask them if they will be able to help you out if you have any problems at home. Maybe it’s the bank or some unpaid bills. You never know what pain in the arse is going to come knocking on your door while you’re away. Stress from thousands of miles away is the last thing you need.

Headers - 6 Mongolian Baiti



Passport: If you have the money get one with the maximum number of pages. You never know when you’ll be crossing borders and sometimes whoever stamps you in or out will waste one of your pages, highly irritating! If your on the road for any length of time you’ll be surprised how quickly you get thought it.

The UK does a ‘jumbo’ 48 page passport. You can’t beat that ‘sorted’ feeling when it arrives through the post.

Headers Stamp - 07 Mongolian Baiti

First Major Trip: Butlin's Holiday Camp, Minehead

First Major Trip: Butlin’s Holiday Camp, Minehead

Lots of em!

If you need to extend your passport or so a border crossing then there’s nothing worse than hunting for a photo shop or booth at the last minute!

It’s surprising how many passport photos one can get though on the road. Often you may have to use two or three at a time. You can also scan one to a memory stick and try and print off a batch that way.

Headers Stamp - 08 Mongolian Baiti

Take it or leave them? I didn’t realise how useful they would be but I took my most important educational certificates with me. In China this turned out to be invaluable when I decided to hang out and do some English teaching. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to take these most treasured of items with you. All I can say is how glad I am they came with me. Keep copies of them back in your home country.

Headers Stamp - 09 Mongolian Baiti

Maps hmmm. You can never have enough! Take really good maps of where you are going. Maps are amazing as they are flat and so easy to pack. You’ll be surprised how few people you meet actually don’t have a map, just a WKTG.

See Part 2.07 ‘On the Road’ and you’ll thank yourself for it when the time comes.

Headers Stamp - 11 Mongolian Baiti

Useful items: Slowly build up your kit A: So you don’t notice the cost and B: The feeling of seeing your stuff coming together over the months is unbeatable. I AM GOING! HELL YEH!

Travel Bag

  • Bathroom bag (so useful), mozzy net, decent flip flops (great if you’re using public showers) and walking shoes, a sleeping bag liner to kip in if you have to sleep in an iffy bed.
  • Decent bag locks. This can also be metal cables that you can attach to something solid in the hotel room. Keep your valuables locked away at the bottom of your main bag in your hotel room.
  • Don’t spend all of your money in the travel shop. Check out the local hardware shop for small but mega-useful but cheaper things like large metal crocodile clips, clothes pegs, insulation tape (so frigging handy), universal electrical adapters, an electric element for boiling water, decent string/cord to hang up your washing with. I bought one with suckers on it that was total rubbish and couldn’t take any weight whatsoever.
  • Waterproof bags and silicone anti-moisture sachets, labels for your all of your bags, more insulation tape, spare sunglasses and box.

Ear PlugsEarplugs: Every traveller’s salvation, especially in China. Also useful in noisy guesthouses. Bring shed loads of them. These are the best as they last for ages and you can wash them. Don’t forget to bring tweezers to pull them out if you’ve pushed them                                                                                       too far in.

Headers Stamp - 11 Mongolian Baiti

IMG_3154 Medical pack:
Again as above with points A & B. I’ve got a huge pack together for my next trip (see Nomad or Equip Me). I started building it up last year. However if you do carry the mother-load with you then also keep a smaller one to use in public. If you’re hanging out where there are lots of other travellers then watch how many people come to you when they have a medical problem.

Some good basics to keep in a manageable sized pack are:

  • Ibuprofen 400mg (Awesome things, also great for destroying the adrenaline produced by anxiety)
  • Standard antiseptic, wipes, spare latex gloves and other basics like plasters/Band-Aids etc. Medical tape is really useful.
  • Anti-diarrhea medication of sorts
  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamines for insect bites especially the big ones like hornets (really useful so take a couple of boxes)
  • Athlete’s foot powder also used for crotch rot (for hot, damp and humid conditions, works amazingly well)

Headers Stamp - 12 Mongolian Baiti

Like all of this you can take it or leave it. I took insurance when I first hit the road and never needed it. Most people don’t.

However, I read a story recently about a teacher who died in China but didn’t have the insurance to pay for his body to be flown home. His family therefore had to deal with their tragic loss and raising enough money for him to come home at the same time. It can cost up to £10,000 depending on the distance. Go here to read the full story and the huge list of comments > Family of dead Hangzhou ESL teacher desperate for help getting their son’s body home
Go here for an article that will make you think seriously about this if your planning to go away for any length of time > The Guardian: Dying Abroad

Pacific PimeI also had the misfortune of having an operation in a ‘mid-range’ Chinese hospital a couple of years back and it was grim. I took some mid-range insurance out which costs me just over £100 a month with Allianz, the broker being Pacific Prime who will give you a pile of affordable policies. I shopped around for months before finding this one. I now carry a card in my wallet giving me access to a large number of ‘Direct Doing’ ‘luxury’ hospitals if things go pear shaped > Pacific Prime

If you haven’t been on the road before, how to handle money is unfortunately one of those ‘into the unknown’ elements that we end up working out as we go along.

Definitely change some cash into the local currency before you go and not at the airport for the obvious reasoning that it’s more expensive to do it that way.

The back of a Mongolian 20 Tugrik note purely because I like it!

For me, I took a wedge of traveller’s cheques with me that turned out to be one of the biggest headaches not just for me but for nearly ever bank teller I gave them to. Just when you’d rather be out and about doing something interesting, there you are for hours in the bank while a group of baffled looking cashiers tried to sort it out. Well, that’s how it was most of the time in China anyway. Use traveller’s cheques for what they are meant for and that’s in case of emergencies.

To my amazement I dared to put my UK bank card into a Chinese cash machine. Admittedly everything was in Chinese but I knew when to put in my PIN and guessed from there. Hey presto out came the cash! Actually, these days most ATMs around China will offer you a choice of languages and accept anything connected to ‘Visa’.

Aside from that, just like anyone else around the globe we take a chance of carrying our most treasured of belongings with us. Admittedly it’s not the same chance, for as travellers we stick out like a sore thumb. Leave what you don’t need back at the hotel. If you can’t leave your most important things in the hotel’s safe then lock them up in your travel case. Dodgy hotel staff are far less likely to tear open a bag and bring immediate attention to themselves. More likely they are only going to rifle around drawers and open bags.

Lastly and I quote “Stash the Cash!” Definitely put some spare money away in case disaster does strike. You never know! (Cheers Julie)

Click to enlarge

Well, that’s about all I can think of for now.

Watch out for ‘Part 2: On the Road’ which should be out any time.

Safe Journeys!

18 replies

  1. Interesting ideas about not to spill the beams of your traveler plan until everything is booked. I have read somewhere that people who tell someone their dreams will have never make it. The same holds true.

    About tips, I would only like to add that stash extra cash just in case your valuables are lost (usually this wont happen but you never know). I learned this the hard way.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It took a while but I finally learned not to blog or tell anyone about what I was planning in advance. Several times, like you said, I changed my mind and didn’t want to follow through. But I didn’t want to lose face so I went ahead and did what I no longer wanted to do.

    Great post and very thorough. I cannot tell you how brave I think you are to take off backpacking in a country where it would be so hard to communicate or even read directions to know where to go.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hiya Ev (Is it ok t call you Ev?) I was wondering what people what people would say about my first very non standard point on this list and rewrote it several times. Actually there are lots of ‘safe’ places to visit in China. I don’t mean ‘not dangerous’ I mean that they have plenty of English speaking hotels etc.. There are a few ant trails that visitors usually follow so you have a choice…’Ant trail’ it or go into the places where most people don’t venture. So glad about your RV and most importantly Steve has finished work now right????

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry I didn’t respond before. I just discovered the “notifications” icon on WordPress and have missed several of your comments until now. I am embarrassed. Yes of course you can call me Ev! I never ever refer to myself as Ev but luv it when others do.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Although each day is cram packed with thingd to do everything is going well. The main hurdle was overcome today when we learned how to operate the Bose sound system in Alice. Six more days and we will move into her. Steve has birthday today so we’re headed home after having a little celebration.
        BTW, I am seriously enjoying your book! I could just visualize the poor mole and her constant frowning.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh that’s so great. Honestly I get quite emotional when I think of how exciting it must be for you guys in Alice. I am also jealous! Yes I said it ok!!!! ha ha. Whats a Bose sound system though. Is Steve enjoying not working? Ask a silly question. How are you going to keep blogging of you’re on the road btw? Really glad you are enjoying the book. Yes I will never forget that bunched up frown. It will haunt me till the end ha ha. BTW if you ever get the time I’d really appreciate it if you could write a couple of lines on Amazon as a review. The best boost any write can get. Wishing you all the best Ev and please try to keep in touch when you’re on the road 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are such a sweetie to be getting emotional on our behalf. I don’t blame you a bit for being jealous because we felt the same of others who were free of jobs and the responsibility and expense of owning a house.
        A Bose surround system is probably the top of the line as far as quality sound for TV, movies, radio, music etc. The previous owner had this system put into the motorhome, an expense we would never incur on our own but now we will enjoy it. Can you believe 15 speakers in a motorhome! Anyway, I was being cheeky (is that the right British word) to say learning it was priority when we actually have a move to complete, a house to clean for the new owners next week, and much much more.
        Steve is thrilled out of his mind to not be working. Ditto for me because he is in a better mood now.
        Blogging on the road is just a bit more challenging but not much. For one, we have a smart phone with a data plan where I can create a hotspot and then have wifi on the laptop. That method uses a lot of data so I can’t do every blog post that way. Most campgrounds have internet as well as being able to pick up a signal from McDonalds and many other businesses.
        And I will definitely write you an Amazon review once I finish your book. I thought I would get it completed by now but there just aren’t many spare minutes. I guarantee that week after next when we go to Kansas to visit my in-laws I will escape into your book and a few more once yours is finished!
        You may not have seen the question I asked you on Facebook but I wondered what idea I had given you that you might put into your next book? I am very curious so tell me!!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hiya Ev > Your sound system must be amazing. I think you have definitely bought the dream camper there! To answer your question: It was when Steve was working every day. It reminded me a lot about when I was in the UK and doing 12 hour shifts. Not so much an idea but a way of existence that many of us have to endure. I need a reason to write a travelogue. Just Turn Left had one and so does the next book. Going to England was the main reason for me hitting the road. There’s more to life than slogging every day for a meager wage to pay the bills. May you find many internet hotspots along your way 🙂 Safe journeys Ev

        Liked by 2 people

  3. How right you are about talking about something stopping you getting on with it….thanks for pointing that one out. I think it’s OK to talk to yourself though … long as no one else is listening !!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha ha ha > Yes I totally agree with you Gill. Actually the most productive times are when I can talk to myself. It helps me focus (already sounding like a madman). I did wonder what people would think about the first one on the list. Thanks for stopping by my space Gill and have a wonderful week:)

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s