Travel Intution– Get it, trust it
How do you develop travel intuition?
Intuition and instincts are a hard things to talk about, because it’s an abstract concept rather than a definable thought process.
The best way to learn is through experience, so here are some examples of experienced travellers realising something about their travel instinct.
Montpelier – couchsurfing alarm bells
In 2014 I had the brilliant experience of travelling France with my best friend from Australia.
Neither of us were very experienced with CouchSurfing, we had only done it once before, and that had been fine.
This guy had on his profile, that his house wasn’t spotless and wasn’t for picky people. That’s fine, we didn’t expect a 5 star hotel.
First Alarm Bell.
He messaged the day before saying that an emergency had come up with a friend and they needed accommodation, so there would be another person staying.
That was fine, emergencies happen.
Second Alarm Bell.
We couldn’t find it, it was a LOT further from the centre than he said it was. People often feel differently about what is ab “easy quick walk”, we rationalised.
Third Alarm Bell.
It was filthy. Not messy, not untidy, not cluttered.
There were ashtrays overflowing on every surface, rotten food on plates piled high, mouldy food in the sink, and a smell coming from the bathroom that I cannot bring myself to describe in detail.
Fourth, and final, Alarm Bell.
The friend of the host was there, asleep at 1pm, on the pull out couch.
We said hi, introduced ourselves, and asked where we would be sleeping.
He gestured to the pull out couch.
We looked around, it was a two room flat. The hosts bedroom, and the room we were standing in.
We said, sorry – this is the only bed?
He grinned, pointed at the filthy couch and said ‘yes girls, we all sleep here’
We went out on to the balcony, looked at each other, and said almost in unison – I can’t stay here!
So we made our excuses, and got out of there as fast as our feet could carry us.
If it doesn’t feel right, screw being polite and get your butt out of there. I did not feel safe from the moment we stepped into the hall way. Maybe it would have been fine, but the other possibility is that it would not have been fine at all.
Hungary – being so conscious of cons that you become an arsehole
This happened on my first solo trip overseas, I still feel a twinge of shame when I think about it, despite the fact that I made it right.
I was travelling on a budget and was paranoid about the ‘tourist tax’ that people talk about. You know, when people sell things to locals at one price and to tourists at another.
I was travelling in Budapest, I had only been there about twelve hours. I had decided to go for a walk down by the Danube to take some pictures.
The snow was almost falling, there was only a few days left until Christmas so little stalls were everywhere. Coming up to one of the bridges there was a lady selling these really cute scarves with hoods built in.
I found a red one and I absolutely had to have it, it had fake red and black fur around the hood and I thought it was awesome.
While looking at it, another person was bartering in Hungarian. As they walked away they said to their friend in English, “1200, not bad!”
While I had bartered before in China, it had been a few years and I was not accustomed to the process. I noticed that the price tag said 2000, and was impressed.
When it came time for me to pay, she asked for 3000 and said that the tag was wrong. I bartered and haggled and she finally offered me 1500.
So I brought up the couple before who had paid 1200.
I said 1200 or I don’t want it.
The lady sighed, and looked genuinely sad. I said to myself, no this is what you do, you barter, people will con you. It’s 300 forints!
So I paid the 1200 and left, but I couldn’t get the look on her face out of my mind. So I pulled out my phone and checked the exchange rate.
Three Hundred Forints sounds like a lot, but it isn’t. It is about $1.50 AUD
The average monthly income in Hungary is just about $500.
I had just bullied this woman over half a cup of coffee.
I went back, and I paid her the full price, 3000 or about $8. I explained to her that I had been confused about the exchange rate, and that I was sorry.
She smiled, we talked, she even offered me tea from her flask. I learnt about life in Hungary.
Yes I had paid “too much”, but in reality I gained much more. This was fear, plain and simple. I was afraid to be conned, afraid to be the dumb tourist who got tricked.
Yes there are definitely cons out there which are bad, and you do need to be careful of them. But you cannot be so afraid of being conned that you become an asshole.
$8 for a scarf really isn’t that bad.
Experiences like these are how you develop your travel intuition, to help you figure out when you really are being scammed.
Paris – too good to be true
From Theresa Ladner at Adventures-In-Middle-Aged-Travel.com
My husband and I were in Paris for the first time and I’m pretty sure we looked and acted exactly like the tourists we were.
We had left the Musée d’Orsay and were walking towards Notre-Dame Cathedral along the river when we saw a woman near us bend down and pick something up off the ground.
She looked at what she had picked up and then looked around her and saw us. She approached us and held out her hand in which was what looked like a men’s gold wedding band. In retrospect she likely had the ring in her hand the whole time and just pretended to pick it up off the ground.
She asked, “Did you drop this?” You may notice she didn’t even try speaking French to us, we were that obviously not locals. After quickly making sure my husband’s hand still had his ring on it I said, “No.”
I picked the ring out of her hand to see if it had any markings. It did not. I placed it back in her hand. “I will sell it to you.” she says.
My husband said, “How much?” I still can’t believe he asked that.
At this point I just laughed. I hadn’t heard of this scam before, but I wasn’t born yesterday. “You keep it.” I said.
“Maybe forty?” This time we walked away.
Beware things that are too good to be true because they probably are.
Scams DO happen, and knowing about them ahead of time is really important. Your travel intuition does play a huge role in protecting you from people who would like to take advantage. Just that nagging feeling of, hmmm I don’t think this is legit.
Texas – where everything is bigger, right?
From Kathryn at Www.kathroundabout.com
When I touched down in Houston, these were my exact thoughts. All I wanted to do was get my mouth around some amazingly exorbitant ribs! The problem was, that I was hangry.
Han•gry: noun; to be so hungry that you get angry
Now I like to think I have a pretty good travel intuition, most of the time. Except when I’m hangry. It seems to be that during these episodes I can only think of my one mission-to find food. Everything else just goes straight out the window.
So I toddled into my hotel and hooked myself into the wifi, determined to go to the best ribs joint in town. I made myself a list from 3 top rib places and ordered myself an Uber to come and pick me up.
You can imagine my utter disappointment when the first place on my list was all out of ribs. I got back into the Uber and asked him to take me to the next place on my list- but to make matters worse, he told me that both places had been shut down!
He then turned to me and said he knows a really good place just out of town that I could go to, it was open and cheap and freshly smoked their ribs on site.
I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so I agreed to get him to take me to the place with the ribs- that’s what I had my heart set on! When I got there, and tried the ribs- MY GOSH! One of the most moist, smokey, sweet, sticky ribs I’ve ever had in my life!
After I ate my ribs, I started to check out my surroundings, I was in a dark, dodgy looking part of town where I was looking very out of place in my colourful dress and high heeled boots- not to mention everyone was looking at me very strangely.
At this point my travel intuition kicked in and screamed at me, “get yourself out of there!”
I ordered myself another Uber and went back to my hotel to fully enjoy my food coma.
This ended well, but a split decision made in the heat of hunger (who hasn’t been there, honestly) could have gone a lot differently!
India – When trusting what people say backfired
I have a reasonably iron stomach. I’ve eaten mystery meat on a stick from street carts, I had drinks with ice in when visiting Vietnam, and drank coffee with milk in when I probably shouldn’t have.
I’m not reckless, however – I only choose street food stands that are so busy you barely have time to shout your order, I ask a local guide if the ice is ok (not the people at the store, because, rude, and they will always say yes), and if it doesn’t smell great I don’t eat it. My food intuition is pretty damn good, maybe I inherited it from my mum who can smell a bottle of sour milk from 50 feet.
India was amazing for food – I think I ate my body weight in curry. I learned that a lot of westernised Indian food confuses spice for heat, paneer isn’t some weird tofu spin off, and I actually do like spinach.
I was told by everyone, ‘eat in your hotel or restaurants’. Boy did that not pan out!
It had been a long day, we had been to the Taj Mahal and all the associated activities. That level of crowds, heat, and prolonged sightseeing tends to wear me out. I was also starving as we hadn’t had time for lunch that day.
Of course that was the night that everyone in the group wanted to go out for a big expensive dinner and beers – money and social energy I just didn’t have. So I jumped in a tuk tuk and headed back to the hotel for a basic meal and an early night.
The hotel was lovely – clean, amazing staff, and a nice looking restaurant. Heading into the dining room I was given a cloth napkin and complimentary bottled water – all these things pointing to a high quality place.
I ordered my chicken curry, and chips because chips are life.
As I sat there I pulled out my notebook and started noting down all the things we had done and what I had seen, I noticed that 45 minutes had passed and I hadn’t seen a waiter. I waited another 15 minutes and called a server over and asked if maybe they’d forgotten my order as it had been an hour.
Immediately it was brought over, full of apologies and explanations.
As I took that first bite I realised, this smells a bit weird… not bad, just not…great?
The second bite was cold. This had definitely been microwaved. But I told myself, even if it has been microwaved, it’s the hotel restaurant, it’s fine.
I ate about half and went to bed, grumpy and still hungry.
I experienced then for the first time, that thing where your body wakes you up because something just ain’t right.
I sat bolt upright in bed and thought, I’m going to be sick.
Luckily for me my mother worries and had insisted I take a full first aid kit with me, tummy medicaton and re-hydration powder later I felt like I was safe to get on the bus for our next destination.
And you know what – I didn’t have a single problem for the rest of the trip.
That voice in your head that goes, ‘nope doesn’t smell right!!!’ knows better than hearsay. Just because people say something doesn’t make it true. Take into account peoples experiences but if your gut is telling you not to eat a thing – don’t eat it.
But how do you tell the difference between fear and instinct?
Not a particularly helpful answer but it is the biggest factor. As you gain experiences you begin to know when something could be dodgy and when you’re just letting your fear get the better of you.
Fear, in my experience, is just ignorance disguised.
You fear going somewhere new because you don’t know what will happen, you are outside your comfort zone.
Instinct on the other hand is that voice in your head that says, “nah don’t go down there, not sure why just go the long way around.” This thought is based on facts, just facts that you can’t identify – the alleyway is unlit, it is narrow, and it wouldn’t look out of place covered in police tape.
Until you have the expereince, ask yourself these questions:
Why do I think I shouldn’t do this?
If the answer is, ‘this curry smells weird and is cold’, then it’s probably instinct. If the answer is ‘I’ve never eaten anything like this before and it might be really spicy or taste gross” then it’s fear of leaving your comfort zone.
What are the consequences if I take the risk?
If the answer is, ‘I could get mugged, assaulted, kidnapped or killed’ – then maybe reassess. However, if the answer is ‘I could spend too much by local standards’ then it’s probably fear.
The bottom line is, educate yourself about the place you’re going, and remember that hundreds of thousands of people have done this before you and they didn’t die – you probably won’t either.
Just be smart about your decisions.
What are your experiences with travel instinct? Let me know in the comments!
Products from Amazon.com
There may be affiliate links in this post – learn what that means here