While we were busy group chatting and sending messages to each other about theme nights and swimsuits just before our trip to Dominican Republic for my Bachelorette, we were also asking and texting each other practical questions like, “Are you bringing your engagement ring?” “Will we be able to use our credit cards?” “Will I still be able to take my online class over there?” The five of us did our best to answer and reassure one another based on our past experiences and personal adventures, but still, we learned the most about traveling to the DR on sight, while we were there.
We managed to learn lessons and figure out solutions to various travel conundrums. Some things we figured out, and some things we just had to let go with the flow. Here’s a few insider tips on travel from my most recent excursion. Needless to say, on our next tropical adventure, I think we will be even more prepared.
1. Bring a ringer for your ring. Honestly, I like sporting my engagement ring; it reminds me of my love back home. Perhaps it’s also superstitious protection, or in reality, it effectively deters people from hitting on me (though a few still do!). However, bringing the real ring seemed like too much of a personal liability. A friend revealed to me that she and her husband have special “travel wedding rings” that don’t cost much. This gave me the idea to bring a “ringer” for my ring. Instead of the actual engagement ring, I wore a metal ring with glass gems on the trip. I think it looked just enough like a real ring to get the job done, and I didn’t have to worry about losing it or getting robbed.
2. Pack your own mini pharmacy. You can share the burden of this with your travel mates (especially if you’re not checking any bags). Of course, all the products have to be less than 4 ounces. One person brought Pepto Bismal chewables, another brought advil, baby powder, body wash. I packed make-up remover wipes (which everyone seemed so grateful to have, especially when we came home late), several mini bottles of sunscreen, bandages. Another bridesmaid brought vitamins, antibacterial ointment, roll-on perfume etc. Why so many little things? you may be wondering. It def seems like a pain in the a$$. Trust me, once you’re in your international locale, all these seemingly unimportant items can cost up to triple the amount you would have paid back home. Inevitably, each little pile of medicines and ointments we packed was an asset to our physical states over there (you have no idea how amazing the Pepto Bismal chewables were).
3. Bring more cash than you think you will need. ATMs abroad are a pricey bunch. On top of that, you can always count on one of your travel mates to not have enough. So, plan to throw down some for others. It saves time for everyone, and you feel like a super-prepared-useful-super hero.
4. Take a mental chill pill everyday. Chances are simple paperwork might take longer than it does back home. checking in and checking out of hotels felt like Mission Impossible. How many people in Hawaiian shirts does it take to check me in to my room? Apparently, a lot. But, if you fuss and fret, it’ll speed nothing up, and you’ll just get sucked into feelings of disappointment and stress. So, while we waited in line, surrounded by other tired travelers, we made jokes with them and drank the crazy-sweet-warm-pink-fruit-punchy drink the nice lady with a trey was handing out. Expect the pace to be different than you’re used to. Even though technically one full minute is the same globally, what gets accomplished throughout the one minute varies greatly.
5. Don’t judge or compare, especially not to the standards of back home. The point is, you’re not back home. Therefore, I don’t recommend comparing bureaucratic processes and social temperaments to fulfill your expectations from home. If the water isn’t as cold as you think it should be, to put it bluntly, get over it.
6. Know that you will get ripped off more than once. If you know this, when you do get ripped off, you’ll be as calm as the bay, rather than freaked out and upset. Basically, the best thing you can do in regards to services like wifi and phone calls home, is to know that, yes, you will undoubtedly spend an arm and a leg, and weird things will happen like your calling card will say it has 22 min left on it, but when you go to make your second call, it magically will only have 9 min left on it. Additionally, research the wifi access and complications in detail and ahead of time. Although, don’t count on anything you read to be one hundred percent accurate.
7. Be generous. Yes, we need our money, but most likely the people serving you need it more. It was shocking how happy locals were to receive a one or two dollar tip. It wasn’t much from my cash stash, but it was a welcomed amount for the horseback riding tour guide father of three kids. Plus, tipping is one of the best travel investments out there (research ahead of time that it’s a culturally invited habit where ever you’re headed first, otherwise it can backfire); you might need some legit feedback on a club you guys are thinking of going to later, or the fastest and safest route to a well-hidden surf spot. The person you tipped will be more likely to help you out, just like you helped them out (also you can get an extra friendly shot out of it too).
8. Be your self, and be kind. If you speak the language fluently or don’t, the most important element of communication is a both individual and cultural mutual respect, pleasant humor and authenticity. Don’t be afraid to laugh at your own awkwardness. Be open about your background and history. A good story and a friendly person is globally appreciated. It amazes me how rude and condescending some travelers can be to the people actually trying to help them. If you’re a total close-minded douche to someone trying to explain to you where the bus stop is, that attendant is much less likely to let you know that its peak hour for robbing tourists during the time of day you’re heading over. In the simplest and clearest of terms: be cool, yo.
9. Above all, always remember you are a guest in someone else’s house.