8 Cultural Tips You Need to Know Before Traveling to Dubai

Dubai – the City of Gold – has long been included in most people’s lists of places to go before they die. The most liberated city in the Arab region never fails to show the world that there is no such thing as impossible. It is home to many of the world’s top man-made wonders, after all.

If you are one of the many travelers who still have Dubai to check off on your list of places to visit, there is no doubt that you will marvel at this city when you do come. There is an abundance of adventurous activities here. Furthermore, if you want to treat yourself to a luxurious getaway, there is no shortage of luxurious hotels and resorts in Dubai ready to enthral you in every possible way.

Suffice it to say, Dubai is ready for you.

But are you ready for it?

This desert city, while committed to growth and progress, is still very much rooted in its Arab culture. Are you aware of Dubai’s customs? If not, then you better learn so you can avoid getting into trouble with the locals and the law.

There are activities and behaviours you may think to be neutral in other countries that could actually be deemed scandalous – even criminal – in Dubai. Listed below are eight important points for you to learn about the city’s local culture and customs.

Drinking alcohol is no casual activity here

You may find restaurants in Dubai that advertise their happy hour, but you can’t just head on over and freely order a drink.  Residents need to present an alcohol license to be sold any alcoholic beverage.

You can, however, enjoy a beer or glass of wine as a traveler without an alcohol license – but only if you purchase it at a licensed hotel, bar or restaurant, and stay within its premises the whole time. Also, it’s imperative to note that you must not consume excessive amounts of alcohol because exhibiting drunken behavior is not tolerated in Dubai.

Loud and wild parties are no-nos

Dubai may have a flourishing social scene, but local culture dictates great consideration for others despite the frivolity of an event. Loud music and dancing are frowned upon, and may even land you in jail for being a disturbance to others.

Public displays of affection are considered indecent

You may be spending your getaway at a romantic ocean view hotel, but keep the affection for your spouse (yes, it has to be someone you’re married to) in the bedroom.

Kissing, hugging or cuddling, and holding hands in public are all considered lascivious acts. Many have landed in jail simply because they didn’t know Dubai remains that conservative when it comes to physical affection.

Cussing is always an offence

There is no tolerance for vulgar language in Dubai, be it said or in written form (like on a shirt or a post on social media). Observe local culture sensitivities about ‘defamatory language’, because failure to do so can easily land you in jail.

A lot of visitors and expats learned this lesson the hard way, so if you’re coming to the City of Gold for the first time and you’re used to cussing like a sailor, do your best to hold your tongue. Even if it’s just a casual expression for you, and is not directed toward anybody, you still run the risk of spending a night in jail.

Modest dressing is the norm

Desert weather is super-hot, but remember to stay covered to avoid generating unwanted attention and getting fined. That means no to clothing that shows too much leg, arms, and chest, for both men and women.

Dubai is the most tolerant city in all of the Middle East, but it still holds strict rules of propriety. Visitors of the city should avoid breaking these rules.

There exist strict photography laws

The UAE has strict photography laws, which protect its conservative locals, as well as sacred sites and buildings of power.  Keep an eye out for signs indicating that picture-taking is not allowed.

Moreover, if you wish to take snapshots of the locals – especially women – get their consent first (which is a little tricky to do because casually chatting up women can be considered a form of harassment). In Dubai and the rest of the UAE, it is deemed rude and intrusive to just suddenly take pictures of people around you. Failure to uphold these photography laws can lead to an arrest or hefty fines.

Use your right hand for doing most things

The left hand is considered the dirty hand in Muslim cultures. Avoid using it when meeting people for the first time, opening doors, and most importantly, when eating.

Don’t eat in public during Ramadan

Show respect for the Muslims who fast during Ramadan. You do not have to fast along with them, however, avoid eating where you can be seen during this time to demonstrate social sensitivity as the Muslim majority of Dubai’s population.

Article 313 of the Penal Code actually considers it a criminal offense for anyone (irrespective of faith) to consume food or drinks in public at daytime during Ramadan. Violation of this law can lead to a month-long imprisonment or a fine of Dhs 2,000.

Knowing these important points will keep you from committing social mistakes that could ruin your time in Dubai. Keep your trip classy, and observe, respect, and learn from the local culture, especially if the customs are different to what you are used to. With these things in mind, your Dubai experience is sure to be spectacular.

Author Bio

Thomas Grundner is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for JA Resorts & Hotels. He has more than 20 years of expertise in the hospitality and leisure industry – across international markets including Germany, Egypt and Spain. Grundner oversees all sales, marketing and revenue efforts as the company continues to build on its key growth and development strategies and further cultivates its unique blend of ‘Heartfelt Hospitality’ and ‘Casual Luxury’.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

If you’re interested in learning more about social customs in different cultures, be sure to spare a moment for my experience in Egypt’s conservative climate. Open Season: Being a Ginger in Egypt is waiting for you…

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Everything You Need to Know About Booking an Ethical Safari

For most people, going on a safari is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For a lucky few – such as the people who operate safari tours in Africa – it becomes a way of life.

For these people, every day is an opportunity to interact with nature. They are privileged to personally experience some of the most intimate aspects of the wild. From the birth of a lion cub, to the hunt and capture of prey, the natural world is simply fascinating. There are few things in this world that will inspire and fill you with wonder as much as witnessing the majesty of nature undisturbed.

However, it pays to highlight that last word: undisturbed. Is it really possible to attend a safari whilst leaving the environment untouched? How do acts of tourism affect natural wildlife? If a safari is on your bucket list, issues like these might have you questioning whether it’s really such a great idea after all.

Allow us to introduce ethical safaris

Ethical safari companies practice responsible tourism to make it possible for tourists to enjoy the safari experience whilst promoting ethical standards and practices. These standards include protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of safari wildlife. For example, an ethical safari would never promote interaction with the animals that might harm them or disturb their natural environment, such as petting, handling, or hunting. Ethical safaris operate for the purpose of fostering education and appreciation for the natural world, rather than sportsmanship or exploitation of wildlife.

By practicing responsible tourism now, ethical safaris afford us the opportunity to observe nature – undisturbed – long into the future.

Responsible tourism… what’s it all about?

Simply put, responsible tourism is tourism that benefits the environment, animals, and people. It’s about respect for the ethical, racial, and political sensitivities of different cultures. There are a lot of facets to responsible tourism – and plenty of ways to unwittingly cross the line – however for the most part, this respect can be upheld through common sense.

With nature-based tourism such as safaris, we need to be looking at the impact our actions have on the natural environment. In order to thrive, natural ecosystems work towards maintaining a consistent balance. When something upsets this balance – for example, human intrusion – the natural system is disturbed. Food sources might be eliminated, or habitats destroyed. Consistently intruding upon the environment can devastate the natural inhabitants.

Our goal is to learn more about and enjoy our world while respecting that we have an obligation to minimize the impact of our actions. Protecting the earth’s natural environments ensures that species of animals and plants don’t risk extinction. It’s a promise to future generations that we will do our part to not only leave the world the way it was found, but hopefully to also make it a better place. Without a commitment to responsible and ethical tourism, much of what we take for granted today might someday only be experienced through history books. We’ve been trusted with the earth; it’s our job to protect it.

What to look for in an ethical safari

It’s nearly impossible to attend a safari and not be in complete awe of the world around you. But to maintain the natural environments of the animals, it is crucial that we take care to impede upon them as little as possible.

Before booking a safari, it’s a good idea to do a little research. Start by looking at each company, their mission statements and commitment to the community. Call and ask questions. If you’re unsure as to how to go about this, a travel agent who has experience in helping people find ethical safaris is a valuable resource. Finally, you can also contact South Africa National Parks to learn more.

Here are 8 things to be mindful of before booking your safari…

  • Safety should always be the number one priority. Your safari provider should have a strict set of rules for behaviors in place to protect both you and the animals.
  • There should be a focus on understanding that the animals aren’t there for entertainment purposes only. Guests should walk away from an ethical safari having been educated.  
  • Expect to view natural animal behaviors. During an ethical safari, you should never observe an animal being coerced into performing tricks or other showman-like behavior.
  • Look for safari providers that are committed to the local community or involved in conservation projects. These providers are more likely to adhere to ethical practices.
  • Ethical safaris should support sustainable practices. There should be little – if any – focus on souvenirs, especially those that are sourced directly from the environment. Avoid sales of items crafted using animal parts, natural artifacts or endangered plant life.
  • Ethical safaris will not permit the handling of wildlife; don’t expect to be able to cuddle the baby animals.
  • Avoid booking nighttime safaris unless they take place in an area where there are nocturnal animals only. Headlights, flashlights and camera flashes are disruptive to the nighttime habitat and sleep patterns of most animals.
  • Ethical safaris will limit the number of vehicles and attendees per safari so as to not overstimulate or intrude upon the animals and environment.

The number one goal of an ethical safari provider is to protect and preserve the health and safety of the animals and their environment – and you! No safari should ever endanger any for the sake of tourism.

If you’re interested in booking an ethical safari, we can guide you in the right direction. We at DK Grand Safaris are committed to responsible tourism, and offer a variety of safari services to fulfil your bucket list. We want to host you on one of our amazing adventures, like a Kenyan Photographic Safari, Masai Mara Migration Safari, Gorilla Trek, or other unique experience throughout Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. Contact us today to learn more.

If you want to learn more about how you can be an ethical traveler and support animal rights, then the Reality of Elephant Riding in Thailand might be of great interest to you 🐘

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5 Things You Need to Do When Sick on the Road

When I arrived in Cairo for three weeks in September, my view for the first five days was the toilet bowel. A particularly evil bout of flu had descended upon my immune system, and the very first thing I ate in the country – vegetarian pizza, if you’re interested – invoked an unpleasant case of food poisoning that manifested from both ends. For five days, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and a whole lot of snot were my introduction to Egypt. Charming, I know.

When you travel, sickness is an inevitability. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling to Iceland or India; exposure to foreign viruses and bacteria that you body may not have developed resistance to are enough to bring even the healthiest to their knees. Furthermore, it is all but impossible to travel without navigating dreaded public transport systems, and those environments are an orgy for bugs.

The prospect of falling ill can be especially frightening if you are embarking on a holiday with a very time-dependent itinerary. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case in Egypt. However, I have been in that situation before (shout out to bronchitis in Cambodia), and understand that it is very stressful and calls for some quick decision-making with financial consequences. That stress is only amplified if it is your first time solo traveling without ‘adult’ authority. Trust me, we’ve all been there.

Although I like to think I am a reasonably healthy person, I fail to remember a single trip where I have not suffered from illness at some point or another. So – for all you panicking sick folk out there – here is my advice for what you should do if you fall sick on the road…

Should I say it a little louder for those in the back? Buy. Travel. Insurance.

Okay, so this tidbit is more preventative that reactive. But nevertheless – invest in a decent travel insurance plan! When I left New Zealand, I spent over NZ$800 on a one year comprehensive travel insurance plan. This covered medical expenses, baggage, personal liability – you name it. At the time, I was kicking myself. Why on earth did I pay nearly one thousand dollars for something that I wasn’t guaranteed to need?! But lo and behold, I had claimed for more than what I originally paid in those first three months.

As long as what you are suffering from is not a pre-existing condition, you will be able to be compensated. That means that you should never be in a position where you are unwilling to see a doctor or buy medication overseas because you hadn’t factored the extra expense into your budget. Furthermore, the worse case scenario is no longer fraught by such financial consequences. To conclude, travel insurance is never a bad idea.

When I was in Cambodia, I woke up one morning to find that my throat had fallen victim to acute bronchitis. It was during the last two days of a month-long tour of Southeast Asia, on the home run returning to New Zealand. I couldn’t eat for the pain, and every few minutes, I would stumble towards the bathroom and hack up snotballs. Unlike my Egyptian anecdote, I had a whole two days of full itineraries ahead of me, and the prospect of soldiering on in such misery made me want to curl up in bed and cry.

As it happens, that’s just what I did.

Well, I didn’t cry, but I curled up in bed and didn’t leave the hotel room for 48 hours. Whilst it certainly wasn’t easy having to ring up our tour guides and cancel everything last minute, my body thanked me for the sacrifice when I managed to make the flight home under slightly more bearable circumstances.

Sleep is one of your leading weapons when facing illness, as it helps rebuild your immune system and fight infections. It is really important that you listen to your body during times like these, and catch the sleep you need when you need it. Even if it means having to cancel day trips and outings like I did in Cambodia, you will enjoy the rest of your trip to a much greater degree.

Another reason you should stay in bed is that it reduces the likelihood of other people getting sick. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people who are clearly ill insist on going about their day like nothing is at stake. I get it – there are situations where you simply cannot afford to miss something. But there are also plenty of others where you are doing yourself and everyone else a favour by staying in bed. Rampart bugs relating to travel can be particularly contagious, and if one person in the group falls ill, there’s a good chance others will too.

This doesn’t really apply to countries like England or the United States, but if your travels take you to slightly less developed places (for lack of a better term), then listen up.

Drinking tap water is a big no no in less developed corners of the world as microorganisms in the water can make you very sick. It may do no harm to the locals, but that is because their systems are familiar with the bacteria, and you should not follow suit. Bottled water isn’t a huge expense, and you’ll find crates of the stuff at corner shops on every street. Bear in mind that this rule also applies to things such as brushing your teeth and rinsed foods; this blog post is a really neat resource for everything you need to know about safe and unsafe drinking water when traveling.

On the health front, drinking plenty of water when you’re feeling under the weather is a must. Symptoms – such as vomiting and diarrhoea – dehydrate the body, and make you feel much, much worse. It’s also important to drink lots of water to ward off high temperatures.

The last thing you will want to eat after an intense pukefest is some extravagant, spicy, cultural dish. To be honest, you probably won’t want to eat anything; but alas, your body needs nutrients and energy to do it’s thing.

The key here is to try and find a balance of bland, ‘easy’ foods that you can stomach, whilst still being relatively healthy. My personal go to’s are apples and dry toast, but I have also heard that papaya, yoghurt and chicken soup are also good alternatives (but hey, as a vegetarian, I’m not exactly preaching the latter).

Last but not least, do not shy away from contacting a doctor. Sometimes when you’re on the road, and away from the comfort and familiarity of home routine, paying a visit to a doctor can seem downright out of place.  But the good news is that wherever you venture, there will always be a medical professional there to help you. Sure, there might be an extra cost – but you’ve got travel insurance, right? 😉

If you are staying in a hotel, most will have a service where a doctor will pay a house call. If you are worried or in a lot of pain, don’t be afraid to use this service. Even if you’re in a foreign country, there are almost always medical services catering to English-speaking tourists; and if you’re reading this blog, the chances are, you speak English.

The major advantage to consulting a doctor abroad is that you can find out exactly what is wrong with you, and how to deal with it. You will likely receive a prescription for medicine that you cannot access over the counter, and your recovery time will be shortened. When I fell ill in Cambodia, a doctor visited my hotel room, quickly conducted a series of blood tests, and then returned an hour later with a full sheet of results and recommended treatments. It was convenient, to say the least.

Travel is challenging enough when you’re feeling fit. Becoming sick when you’re outside of your comfort zone can push you to the limit, but it doesn’t have to be such a nuisance to sort out. The main thing you need to remember is to buy travel insurance before you depart; that way, regardless of what happens, there should be no barriers to treatment and recovery. Once that’s taken care of, the rest is downhill, no matter what the world throws at you.

For more travel advice, check out the following blog posts on the Ginger Passports…

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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The Ginger’s Guide to New Zealand Coffee (WTF is a Long Black?!)

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how you feel… there’s always peace in a strong cup of coffee.”
Gabriel Bá

Consistent with my tendency as a Kiwi to regard my country with vague deprecation, I never considered New Zealand to have a noteworthy coffee culture. But from the moment I walked into a Spanish café and tried to order a mochaccino, I realised I had well undermined our efforts.

If you’re not from down under and have ever found yourself in a New Zealand cafe, you’ve probably found yourself wondering: what on earth is a long black? Is that the opposite of a flat white? Is a fluffy even a thing?

If so, you’re not alone. Overseas, drinks such as Americanos, viennas and ristrettos dominate the cafés. Much like Australia, New Zealand does it’s own thing when it comes to coffee. So without further ado, here is a crash course on how to order a coffee in the land of the long white cloud…

Long Black

A long black is the most basic kind of coffee you can order in a Kiwi’s eyes. It’s basically two shots of espresso in hot water – very similar to the Americano (which you are unlikely to find advertised here). Long blacks are very strong, and not for the faint of heart.

Flat White

A Kiwi/Aussie creation – and my personal favourite – the flat white has creamy, steamed milk poured over a single shot of espresso. If you ask me, it’s a bit kinder than the long black first thing in the morning.

Latte

Although I have deep affection for coffee, I would by no means consider myself a connoisseur. And that is why I can say that I don’t really see the difference between a latte and a flat white. Apparently the only difference is that a latte has a little blanket of foam on the top, but essentially, it’s the same drink.

Cappuccino

Although the cappuccino is traditionally Italian, it is also very popular in New Zealand. The easiest way to conceptualise a cappuccino is as comprising of three different layers; the bottom layer is a shot of espresso, the middle layer is a shot of steamed milk, and the final layer is frothed milk. It is also common to sprinkle chocolate or cinnamon shavings over the top 😋

Mochaccino

Here, we return to the rule of thirds as with the cappuccino. This time, we have a third of espresso, a third of steamed milk, and a third of cocoa. A mochaccino is a convenient way to develop an appreciation for coffee without jumping in the deep end and scaring your tastebuds. I mean, let’s be realistic; it’s just a bitter hot chocolate.

Macchiato

Yeah… I still don’t really understand the difference between a macchiato and a long black (except for the fact that a macchiato sounds pretty damn fancy). From what I’ve gathered, a macchiato is ‘stained’ with frothed milk.

Fluffy

We can’t forget the fluffy! A fluffy is essentially a minuscule cup of foamed milk. I loved them when I was a little girl. They’re what small children get from cafés to feel adult-y and sophisticated when their caregiver stops off for a caffeine hit. If you’re lucky, they might come with a marshmallow or chocolate fish on the side.

If you’re a long-time reader of the Ginger Passports, you might remember that I published a post way back in March called You Can’t Buy Happiness… But You Can Buy Vietnamese Coffee. To this day, this remains one of my favourite all-time posts, and I highly recommend that you check it out to learn just what makes Vietnamese coffee special, and to discover a life-changing iced coffee recipe.

Alternatively, you might like to read some reviews I wrote about two of my favourite coffee haunts in my home town of Dunedin. The first is for Starfish Café and Bar, a seaside joint that I used to hit up on a near-daily basis when I was back in the motherland. The second is Nectar Espresso Bar and Café, which is slightly more urban and located closer to the middle of town.

P.S. I apologise on behalf of all Kiwis for the price of our coffee 🙈

All photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

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6 Ways to Learn a New Language Without Picking Up a Book

When I was thirteen, I studied a mandatory year of French.

hated it.

My reason was simple and would have done my father proud: it just wasn’t practical enough. As a homegrown Kiwi who hadn’t yet developed an appreciation for travel and culture, I couldn’t fathom why students were forced to learn French of all languages. Logic suggested that Mandarin or Spanish – two of the most widely spoken languages in the world – might actually be worthwhile. Or even Maori, the native tongue of New Zealand. It was fair to say that I didn’t take to my lessons.

Seven years later, and my only regret from school was not properly studying a language. I both admire the cognitive capacity of multilingual people and yearn for the opportunities they earn from such an skill. I dabbled in languages here and there, but I always lacked the motivation to put in the hours. It wasn’t until I decided to travel to Spain in 2017 that I found a reason to commit.

My only previous exposure to Spanish had been from the sassy Hispanic women on Orange is the New Black (I’m cultured, I know). I also hadn’t really heard of anyone who successfully taught themselves a second (or third… or fourth…) language without enrolling in an expensive course. But I was determined that I wouldn’t fail this time around, and that when I arrived in Madrid, I would be able to order a damn paella.

Whilst I’m far from fluent, two months later I can confidently read and write basic Español. My listening and speaking skills still need some brushing up, but I no longer helplessly flail when I try to read a menu or ask someone for directions. The following six activities played significant roles in my self-tuition, and none involve picking up a language book. Most importantly, they are fun. To me, learning Spanish is a game rather than a chore, and as someone who maintains a love-hate relationship with linguistics, that is one of the most important things I could get out of such an exercise.

1. Download a Language App

When I first embarked on my journey to learn Spanish, I opted for Duolingo. I spent a couple of intensive weeks on this platform, but whilst I made considerable progress through the chapters, I struggled to retain words longer term. Around this time, a friend recommended I give Memrise a go… and I’ve never looked back.

Memrise is fantastic because it takes management over making you practice the old content till you nail it before moving on to the new. It also exposes you to new material in a logical and easy way so that even as a beginner, you still have the important areas covered. By introducing personal stats to the mix, you are able to compete against and challenge yourself 💪

2. Change Your Phone Language

Admittedly, this is a bit of a risky one. But, if you can stick it out, you will reap the rewards.

By going into your settings and swapping your native language for your new one, words that you have come to be familiarised with through social media or apps will be replaced with others. This helps you to make connections between the known and the unknown in a habitual context. For example, most everyone is used to seeing that ‘Like’ button when they log into Facebook. When I changed my phone language to Spanish, I soon grasped that the equivalent was ‘Me Gusta’.

Tip: Make sure you know exactly where to change the language back to English (or whatever be your mother tongue) so that in emergencies, you can still operate your device. It’s all fun and games until warnings start flashing on your screen and you have no idea what your phone is trying to tell you.

3. Find a Language Buddy

The thing about learning a foreign language is that simply being able to read and write is a whole different ball game to actually listening, speaking and interacting in general. If you are teaching yourself, then the chances are that there are not many people in your social circles who also speak that language.

Well, it’s time to make friends! My Spanish exponentially improved once I began conversing with native speakers. I made these connections by using Couchsurfing, the social travel website I mentioned in this and this blog post. I stayed with hosts in Madrid who were more than happy to invest time in going through exercises with me and helping me understand and correct my errors. It was a win-win situation; these people were also bushing up on their English, so we were both getting something out of the interaction.

4. Immerse Yourself in the Place

Granted, this is easier said than done. Depending on where you are based, access to a country where your chosen language is widely spoken may require large financial sacrifices. For me, it was no painless manoeuvre to get to Spain all the way from the antipodes of New Zealand, but this only motivated me all the more to commit to my Spanish once I did arrive.

By physically being somewhere where the locals speak what you are trying to learn, the level of absorption compared to that from a book is incomparable. You soak in so much raw linguistic information; it feels like all the synapses in your brain are dancing frenetically. From the road signs to the shop windows to the supermarkets – everything just makes so much more sense. Context is key to this process, and language apps inevitably fall short in this area. Put it this way: are you more likely to remember that watermelon is sandia in Spanish through looking at a picture of the fruit on your screen, or by ordering watermelon soup in a Spanish café? (Yes, that is a thing. And yes, it is the best thing I have ever eaten).

5. Embrace Subtitles

Most – if not every – paid streaming service provides access to subtitles. I like to think of subtitles as the lazy person’s approach to learning a language; although it’s not an altogether passive activity, you can still afford to kick back, relax and enjoy the show.

Subtitles are especially effective if you are watching something you are already familiar with. I enjoy searching for clips of my favourite stand up comedy acts on YouTube and locating the Spanish versions. I know the jokes off by heart, so instead of trying to both process the original content and then link it to the words scribbled below, I can focus my energy on simply the latter. It’s fun. Try it.

6. Collect Children’s Picture Books

Okay, I lied. The title of this blog post promised that I would offer six ways to learn a language without picking up a book, and yet my final method includes just that. But bear with me.

When I was staying in Madrid, I went to the most amazing bookstore in the world: La Centrale. There, I purchased a beautifully illustrated children’s picture book depicting the life of Frida Kahlo. The catch? It was written in Español.

I find resources like this are really indispensable tools to practicing a new language, especially if you are already familiar with the content in the book. The visuals make it a really attractive way to study, and they’re always entertaining to read to someone who is well versed in that language so you can laugh and try again when you f*ck up. Similarly, if you are at more of an advanced level, you can find translations of your favourite novels online. I myself downloaded Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal – you can find a link to the PDF here.

Photos taken at Plaza de España in Seville, Spain.

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for learning a new language without chasing a traditional path. Moreover, if you’re like me and fascinated by language and culture, you might find yourself poring over these blog posts from the archives: the Pocket Guide to Kiwi Slang and 8 Untranslatable Words to Bring You Joy.

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5 Practical Gifts for Female Backpackers on Their Bon Voyage

I’m writing this from the Hong Kong International Airport and marvelling at the timing of this post. What better occasion to discuss such a subject than the day I fly overseas for my O.E.? ✈

When someone is leaving on their big adventure, it can be tempting to want to get them a farewell gift as a gesture of kindness and well wishes. However, this can easily be made difficult if that said someone is backpacking. I think I speak for most everyone when I say that I struggle to fit my belongings into a suitcase let alone backpack. Right this very moment, some poor chap is lugging my oversized luggage from one plane and onto another. So the challenge therefore becomes thinking of a gift that the traveler can take wherever they go with nothing but a backpack to live out of.

Oi Cup

“The Oi Cup is the perfect companion for the female traveler. There are three ‘criteria’ that people often try to meet when traveling: pack light, spend less, and explore the off-the-beaten track. Periods are simply incompatible with these. For one, the last thing you want to be sacrificing your precious luggage space for is cumbersome boxes of sanitary products. But at the same time, you don’t want to be budgeting to spend extra money on pads and tampons (a single pad can cost up to NZD$5.60 in some countries!). Furthermore, the last thing you want is to be caught empty-handed in the middle of nowhere with no resources to deal with your period. Trust me, I’ve been there… your underwear won’t thank you 🙈”

If you’re a long-term reader of the Ginger Passports, then you might remember the blog post I wrote on Organic Initiative’s menstrual cups.

These little beauties are a game changer when it comes to our periods. The ‘Oi Cup’ is a reusable and recyclable menstrual cup that can be used instead of tampons or pads. It’s environmentally friendly and can last up to 12 hours before needing to be changed. Let’s just say I don’t dread those long haul flights any more, and neither should your backpacker.

Couchsurfing Verification

If you don’t know what Couchsurfing is, then you’re missing out.

Couchsurfing is a website where travellers can sign up and either host, or be hosted by, people around the globe. There is no exchange of money, only of experience. As it so happens, my first Couchsurfing experience as a guest is to be tonight (updates to come!) but I have hosted before in the city of Dunedin. Two lovely German traveler stayed with me for a couple of days, and we did a variety of things together such as sharing stories, drinking wine and visiting the Butterfly Forest at the Otago Museum. It was honestly one of the highlights of the past few months, and I cannot wait to throw myself back into that environment again.

“We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”

It’s a fantastic idea to create a verified Couchsurfing account. Verification essentially means that you go through a process (including things such as confirming your home address and paying an annual fee) which both lets other Couchsurfers know that you are a substantiated person, and also provides revenue to help keep the Couchsurfing community running.

Like anything, Couchsurfing can carry an element of risk, so here are my top tips for ensuring a safe experience:

  • Never stay with anyone who doesn’t have (positive) references
  • Go with your gut instinct; if you are messaging someone and something feels a bit dodgy, listen to that. A lot of people use Couchsurfing as they would Tinder, so take everything with a grain of salt
  • Prioritise opting for verified hosts for better piece of mind

Kindle

When you’re traveling, there will inevitably come periods of fatal boredom where you would do anything for a decent book. Whether these be those god-awful long-haul flights or just awkward transit delays, it’s never a bad thing to have Harry Potter on hand. (By the way, if you are in need of a book recommendation, I recommend you check out this publication.)

I started off with a Kindle eReader, and then eased into accessing the Kindle Cloud Reader from my smart phone. This might be the most desirable option for your backpacker if she is seriously tight for space.

Although I won’t deny the pleasure of turning the pages of a physical book, the Kindle eReader sure did grow on me. A minimalist at heart, I like the idea of being able to buy my own virtual library without having to waste paper for books that I would probably never ever read again. Plus, books are a sight lot cheaper when you’re not buying paperback. Food for thought 💸

Photograph courtesy of Unsplash

Audible

Whilst we’re on the subject of literature, allow me to introduce you to Audible.

Audible – also an Amazon company – allows you to listen to books instead of reading them. Yep, I’m talking good old audiobooks.

I first tried to develop an appreciation for audiobooks when I was around ten years old, and it just wasn’t happening for me. I found that I couldn’t concentrate or properly envisage what was actually happening without having it on a page right in front of me. Roughly a decade later, I tried again. This time, with considerably more success.

I like to think of audiobooks as a passive way of reading. I plug in my earphones if I’m tired or feeling nauseous and not up to reading off the page. They’re also fantastic to fall asleep to – although be careful what you listen to during those times, because you might be in for some very confusing dreams. All your backpacker will require is some sort of cellular device to download the app, and a pair of headphones. You might like to gift them with an annual subscription where they can download one free audiobook per month (my favourite day of each month, if I’m being honest).

Photograph courtesy of Unsplash

Handwritten Letters

Last but not least, I recommend you write your female backpacker a handwritten letter on her bon voyage.

A sheet of paper takes up no room at all. She could slip it into her wallet, or even beneath her phone case. Handwritten letters are special because, well, they can’t be bought. They’re meaningful and timeless and are one of the only things that can reliably cheer someone up when she is halfway around the world and feeling completely and utterly alone.

In this day and age, handwritten letters are unexpected. That’s what packs their real punch. Before I left, I received a number of cards that had some really beautiful thoughts jotted down inside of them. Some I received from people I didn’t think had even acknowledged that I was leaving, which just made them all the more significant for me.

So, there you have it: the most special gift I could think to receive is something that costs nothing and lasts forever. And at the sound of clichés, I’m signing off.

Photograph courtesy of Unsplash

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The No-Bullsh*t Guide to Saving Money to Travel for Young Adults

Gather round kids, and welcome to the post that you’ll find on every travel blog!

But no, seriously. You know what I hate about these kinds of posts? They are directed at adults who have their own income and are living a lifestyle that is so far removed from the typical ‘student life’ that most advice is untransferable. These posts preach guidance such as finding a flat-mate and sacrificing the weekly nail appointment, when in reality, what young adult has enough money to fund living in a private flat in the first place, and what young adult has an extra $50 up their sleeve a week to splurge on their mani-pedi?

What’s missing from every online guide I have read is an orientation towards people my own age and walk of life.

I recently discussed on my post – Why I Hate the Word Wanderlust – how I believe that although saving to finance a trip can be “soul-crushing and demands sacrifice”, it is not impossible. I am not blind to the reality that factors such as privilege, opportunity and circumstance play a vast role in the success of this, but for the average university student who has a certain degree of flexibility and control over their time, is in a position where they are fortunate enough to put some money aside – and additionally, can prioritise this – I think that with a little self-discipline, travel isn’t as far out of reach as previously assumed.

So, sit back, relax and pull up your budget spreadsheets; you’re in for a wild ride 😎

Sharing is Caring

So I probably shouldn’t be encouraging this… and I apologise sincerely to network providers worldwide… but there’s a cheaper way to still access all your favourite tv shows.

I love Netflix. I love that I can watch my favourite shows (*ahem* Rick and Morty), and I love that I can watch them whenever the hell I want to. But you know what else I love? Leeching off my boyfriend’s account.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m that person.

Netflix can cost up to $15.99USD a month, which – while it doesn’t seem like a huge expense – can add up to nearly $200.00USD per year. If you can’t imagine curling into bed at night without seeing that iconic red logo materialise upon your laptop screen, search for a friend who is also paying for an account and inquire whether they would be happy to consider a cheaper alternative. Depending on your plan, you can access the same account on more than one device – and create individual personas – which is perfect for going halves and sharing.

Better still, stream straight from the web. Now, I’m not telling you to stream illegally… but I’m not not telling you to stream illegally. Wink wink nudge nudge.

Work, Work, Work, Work, Work…

Okay, so I can’t stand that song. But the most obvious way to make some extra dollar bills is to – yep, you guessed it – work.

When I was saving up to travel to Southeast Asia, I worked five part-time jobs on top of full-time university. As I wrote in a previous blog post, it was “social suicide – and admittedly not the best for my mental health – but it got me those plane tickets.” I know that working five part-time jobs is a little (okay, a lot) excessive, but I managed to earn $5000NZD in less than six-months without missing a single lecture.

If you’re studying in New Zealand, I highly recommend you sign up Student Job Search. This website was a life-saver for me when it came to finding part-time or casual work in the short term. Most of the listings started immediately and were updated daily, so I would log in every morning to find another selection of jobs up for grabs.

The beauty with finding employment is that it adds experience to your CV. That way, if you are looking for paid work overseas, you have the number one thing employees look for up your sleeve.

Cut the Coffee

Oh God, not the coffee!

If you’re anything like me, then you rely on your daily cup of joe to, y’know, function. Coffee is something of a necessity for university students, and don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey. Rather, I’m suggesting you make your own coffee at home and then take it on your whereabouts in a reusable cup for a fraction of the price rather than buy it at a café.

I am totally guilty of this. When my motivation is running low, sometime it is the promise of a delicious, steaming flat white from my favourite café that gets me out of bed in the morning. But the price difference from buying it compared to making it is ridiculous. Here’s the ridiculousness in numbers: if you are spending $3.5USD on a cup of coffee (as is the average cost in New Zealand) 5 days a week, then in 6 months, that would be saving of $455USD. $455US?! You could buy 20 nights in a standard hostel with that!

Embrace Your Inner Jaime Oliver

Whilst we’re on the topic, let’s address the elephant in the room: food.

When we make the transition from our parent’s home to a flat or other independent living situation, the freedom to make our own lifestyle choices can be almost too good to be true. If we have a few extra dollars on the side, it is tremendously tempting to forgo making a good, hearty meal from scratch and just ordering take out. This might especially be the case if we arrive home late after a long day of study, work or other commitments, and are too exhausted to attack the kitchen.

I’m not going to bore you with the maths here, but I dare say it is rather self-explanatory. As is the case with the coffee, dining out is decidedly expensive, and there is no reason why you can’t make food that tastes as good – if not better – at home.

Student Recipes is a fantastic online resource for finding delicious, budget-friendly dishes to whip up in a flash. I also recommend doing some good old fashioned food prep so that if you do find yourself getting in the door at some ungodly hour, the pizza delivery service won’t be as tempting. As long as you stick to your guns and keep takeout for special occasions (if at all), you’ll find your bank account looking more and more attractive in no time.

Happy Birthday!

If your family is keen on gift-giving at those special times of the year, don’t be afraid to ask for cold hard cash instead of a present. It may sound greedy – and even I am reluctant to employ this – but people will be delighted to know that their contribution is going to a worthy cause.

Whenever I receive money on my birthday, I always make it a priority to write to the giver and not only thank them for their kindness, but also tell them specifically what I will be putting it towards. That way, you are not only giving them a sense of purpose with their charity, but also holding yourself accountable for what you spend it on. The last thing you want to do is admit to your grandparents that you spent the money they gave you for that once-in-a-lifetime trip on three weeks worth of McDonalds.

Pop Some Tags

#throwback to 2012 and familiarise yourself with Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. It was my jam back then, I can still proudly rap along to all the words now.

The point I’m trying to make here is that shopping secondhand can be a game-changer when it comes to budgeting. This doesn’t just stop at clothing, either; it extends to textbooks (do you know how much that shit costs?!), electronics, furniture… you name it. Why would you spend retail price when you can score the same product for half of that?

Shopping secondhand doesn’t mean you have to lurk in those grotty charity shops that smell of mothballs and wet basements (you know what I’m talking about). Companies such as Amazon give you the option to buy discounted products that are still in great quality.

Once Upon a Time…

If you’re a total book worm (like me), then you should invest in a Kindle.

Did you know that the average hard-copy book (in New Zealand, at least) costs around $20USd?! An eBook costs half of that. Plus, you won’t have to lug around thick slabs of paper which sit in the corner and gather dust once you’ve finished it.

Granted, buying a Kindle device costs a wee bit, but the savings you will make from not buying hard-copy books in the long-run are exponentially worthwhile. Besides, there are certainly ways to score a discounted Kindle… what was that last point I discussed, again? 🤔

Lace Up Your Runners

Relax; I’m not about to suggest you start running. I’m not that evil. But what I am suggesting is that – if you own a car – you might want to consider alternative options.

Petrol is insanely pricey – not to mention the maintenance and service cars require on a regular basis. Then you have to pay for parking – and believe me, you haven’t experienced stress until you’re late to a lecture and can’t find a car park.

There are several methods of transport available to most city-slickers. Think walking, biking, car-pooling or catching public transport… at the extreme end of the scale, you might even consider selling your car. Imagine the budget-boost that would give you!

For example, instead of catching a taxi to town one Saturday night, consult the local bus timetable. To get to and from the centre of town, it costs me $30USD to employ the services of a private taxi but only $2USD to enjoy the company of strangers on a bus. It’s a no-brainer, really.

I understand that the ability to trade in the luxury of your car is heavily situation-dependent. If you live somewhere that has you rugging up in about five layers of clothing before you leave the house, you might want to think twice about walking. Likewise, sacrificing hours of your precious time to travel on foot might not be the best use of your time. But – as is the case with everything – it’s the little things that count.

Put Down That Wine Glass

Yeah… I’m really not going to be popular after this blog post.

I didn’t say saving is soul-crushing for nothing. For us young ‘uns, drinking is more often than not synonymous with getting wasted. I say this because in New Zealand, we have a really dangerous culture of binge-drinking, and in order to achieve this level of intoxication, it takes more than a can or two of beer.

The consequence of heavy drinking – aside from the detrimental health issues – is the effect on our wallets. Alcohol ain’t cheap, people!

The good news (depending on your perspective) is that there is an easy way to regulate your spending without going cold turkey. I don’t want to endorse unhealthy habits here, but if you insist on those big nights out, invest in pre-drinking rather than hitting up the pub. A glass of wine from the bar will cost nearly two thirds the price of a bottle purchased from the supermarket and enjoyed with your friends before venturing out into town. And don’t even get me started on the price of cocktails!

Surf Couches

If you haven’t already, open another tab, type in www.courchsurfing.com and sign up for an account now.

One of the most hideous expenses of travel – perhaps aside from those dang plane tickets – is accommodation. For many people, hotels are simply not an option, and even the going rates of some hostels make me cringe.

Couchsurfing is revolutionising budget travel for people of all walks of life. The online community connects hosts from every country on earth with adventurous and open-minded travellers. As written on their website: “travel like a local, stay in someone’s home and experience the world in a way money can’t buy”.

The key word here is money; the beauty of Couchsurfing is that you are not charged a single cent to stay in someone’s house. It’s always polite to thank your hosts in some way, but all we’re talking here is a cooked meal or shouting them a drink. Some token of gratitude. Furthermore, it’s a brilliant means to meet like-minded people and expose yourself to a different culture in a way that the four walls of a hotel suite cannot.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like: the No-Bullsh*t Guide to Surviving a 12-Hour Flight ✈

All photos sourced form Unsplash

 

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How To Overcome A Bad Travel Experience

Let’s get real for a second.

As much as we — and our bank accounts — would like to believe, travel is not always roses and sunshine. Sometimes shit happens that is out of our control, and we are forced to learn very quickly how to best deal with it.

Late last year, my friend and I spent a month traveling Southeast Asia. One of the most anticipated components of the trip was an excursion to Ha Long Bay, a much acclaimed highlight of northern Vietnam. The plan was to get picked up from our hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter in the early morning, shuttle to Ha Long and then spend the next 24 hours enjoying the resplendent views the bay had to offer onboard a luxury junk boat.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of room for things to go sideways, right?

Wrong.

The first foreshadowing of the misery to follow began at the ungodly hour of 7.15am when we received a phone call from reception informing us that our shuttle bus was waiting for us. As our travel agent, previous tour guides and itinerary had notified, the earliest we would be picked up was around 8am. At 7.15am, we had neither packed nor eaten and were barely unconscious. Panicked, we sprang to action throwing clothes on and stuffing belongings into suitcases. Reception rang us multiple times during this rush to warn us that the shuttle would leave without us if we didn’t get our act together.

“Hurry up.” the lady snapped in an ill-mannered tone. Well, excuse you.

We checked out and made it to the shuttle in a record five minutes (how’s that for two teenage girls?). The driver flung our luggage into the back and then pushed us towards the back seat. We buckled ourselves down and issued sincere apologies to the six other passengers, all whom returned cold looks that suggested the feeling was not mutual.

It was only once the shuttle had left Hanoi that I realised I had left all of my toiletries in the hotel room. It was fair to say that we were not off to a good start.

Our luck only worsened when the lady sitting in front of me spilt her takeaway coffee. It trickled down through her seat and into the bag at my feet. I may be a fan of Vietnamese coffee, but that enthusiasm extends to when it’s in my stomach and not all over my possessions. Frustratingly, the woman seemed more concerned with the fact that her morning coffee had met a bitter end (pun intended) than the fact that she had effectively ruined the contents of my luggage.

The drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay was an ordeal in and of itself. I suffer from debilitating motion sickness and had been reassured that the drive would take a couple of hours max, only to arrive at our destination four nauseating hours later. I had never experienced a more stomach-churning journey in my life. The driver didn’t seem to understand the concept of the brake, and last night’s dinner threatened to make a reappearance. As I had also contracted an aggressive throat infection, I took codeine which mercifully knocked me out for the majority of the ride. My poor friend however was subjected to rude and unnecessary comments from the fellow tourists that left her feeling victimised and hurt. No one — not even the driver — felt the need to stick up for her or put the other tourists in their place.

When we arrived in Ha Long Bay, the driver climbed into the back of the shuttle and yelled at me in Vietnamese to wake up. Disorientated from the drugs, I stumbled with my queasy friend out of the shuttle and towards the port. I promptly received a phone call from the junk boat company where I was informed that the boat we had booked wasn’t available and that we had been switched to another. Whilst we weren’t bothered over the change of boat, we were annoyed that our original itinerary was no longer to go ahead. Activities we had looked forward to for months were cancelled and replaced with ones we would not have opted for on our own accord.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to worry about the change in itinerary. In the throes of pain, I downed a couple more codeine and passed out in our cabin for fourteen hours straight. My friend — still traumatised from the journey and interacting with the driver and fellow tourists — was relieved to have an excuse to hide in the cabin for the remainder of the voyage. We managed to sneak onto the isolated top deck before the boat docked the next day to enjoy the view and take some gorgeous photos, but for the most part, our experience was not one I recall fondly.

Reflecting on the experience, it’s easy to let the fact that we were mistreated by the driver and fellow tourists, fell very ill, had our plans cancelled without compensation and didn’t actually get to participate fully in the cruise monopolise my memory of Ha Long Bay. But the more I think about it, the more I have come to realise that I have two options: either I can remain sour and complain that the reality didn’t live up to my expectations, or I can accept that it happened and learn from the experience (ugh, I sound like my mother).

So… what good came out of the trip?

  • I experienced the unforgettable grandeur of Ha Long Bay (even if it was for half an hour when I was doped up on drugs)
  • The confidence that I can take ownership of a sticky situation when I have no one else (*cough parents cough*) to rely on
  • The knowledge that you should always pack the night before (again, my mother would be proud)
  • The ability to put a dreadful experience behind me and see it, not as a waste of money, but as a learning curve

I’ve made the decision not to name and shame the company we traveled with, partly because I also feel the other tourists were also responsible for our anxiety and partly because I can’t remember what they were called (🙈). The point that I want you to take away from this blog post is that shit can hit the fan. Ha Long Bay was supposed to be the pinnacle of our Southeast Asia trip, when in reality it was something that I could quite easily afford to forget. But what can I do?

In saying all of this, don’t let my experience taint your impression of Ha Long Bay. The destination was the redeeming feature of all of this, and I would quite happily return someday in the future (albeit privately and not through a company).

Be sure to check out my blog post — Postcards from Ha Long Bay — on the beauty of the UNESCO world heritage site!

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Everything You Need To Know About Tailoring in Hoi An

Tailoring in Southeast Asia is vast and world-renowned, although perhaps nowhere as much as Hoi An. Hoi An – a small town in central Vietnam – is known for many beautiful things, among which include a thriving tailor industry. Over 700 tailors reside here, with the trade often existing generations upon generations back within a single family.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts from Southeast Asia, you’ll know that I am unapologetically suspicious of anything that doesn’t quite stack up. So when I discovered how little it cost to get six items of clothing made at various tailors across town, I was skeptical about the quality of the garments I would be receiving. Yet after doing some research, I was quickly reassured that I would not be sacrificing quality for price. The low prices are attributed to the low cost of living (and consequently wages) in Southeast Asia.

In saying that, you should always be vigilant of tailors that are prepared to rip you off. Despite the cost of tailoring in Southeast Asia being low, there are still those that will try and sell you inferior fabric or overcharge for substandard service. Although I didn’t encounter any tailors that I was unsatisfied with, I have heard from a handful of travellers that there is an outrageous number of tailors who actually do not produce garments in their own shops.

If you are being accompanied by a tour guide, be wary that they may take you to certain tailors regardless of their quality of service simply because they receive a commission. This happened to me thanks to one shady tour guide, but luckily the tailor we ended up at was absolutely superb 👌

So how can you tell which tailor to invest in? Unfortunately, simply consulting TripAdvisor won’t always suffice. Tailors often pay companies to remove negative reviews and replace them with fake positive ones for the sake of improving business. Instead, I recommend engaging in some good old fashioned research. If you have the luxury of time, go exploring and investigate the different tailors on offer in Hoi An. If you have a particular design in mind, keep an eye out for tailors with fabrics to cater to your needs. Not all tailors have an abundance of materials on hand, so if you are looking for something special such as leather or chiffon, it pays to do your homework in advance. Furthermore, inquire about the experience of the tailors. Generally speaking, there is a reliable correlation between years in the industry and service satisfaction.

The Tailoring Process

  1. You walk into the tailor shop (without a reservation)
  2. You decide on the design(s) you would like madeA question I often receive is whether you need a preconceived idea in mind of what you would like made. There is no right or wrong answer to this; you can either bring a picture of a garment you would like made or you can collaborate with the tailor to create a design using their ideas. I myself have experimented with each option and have been ecstatic with the results of both (if not more so with the collaborated design).
  3. Your measurements are recorded with photographs taken if need be
  4. You will be required to make a deposit on your orderIn my experience, this is typically 50% of the total price. In return, you will receive an itemised receipt as proof of order.
  5. You will return for your first fitting where you will try on unfinished garments
  6. The tailor will make chalk marks and/or insert pins where changes need to be made to ensure the clothing is the right sizeThis step may be repeated a number of times depending on how long it takes to get the perfect fit. This generally depends on the difficulty of the design and the fabric used.
  7. Once the garment(s) are all finished, you will return for the final fittingReaching this final part of the process can take from between a few hours to a few days. When you are satisfied, you will pay what the deposit did not cover and the tailor will package your purchase in plastic sleeves.

Bonus Tips and Tricks

☞ Capitalise on the fact that they are tailors!

So you want an A-line skirt. Fantastic! But why are you traveling halfway across the world to buy one? The whole idea of tailoring is to order something original, so make the most of the opportunity.

☞ Be flexible!

As I mentioned above, not all tailors have the materials you may specifically request. To ensure you will be happy with the final product, endeavour to entertain all ideas and avoid a fixed mindset.

☞ “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”

Cheesy proverb aside, if you are utilising the service of a tailor, it is only fair that you reciprocate. A little positive feedback on Tripadvisor goes a long way for small businesses (if you are satisfied with the experience, of course). This is especially the case as tourists rely on such means to finalise their itinerary. Tailors will also give you their business cards so that you don’t forget their name, and won’t be subtle in their hints for you to leave a good word or two on their social networks.

I visited a variety of different tailors in Hoi An, but perhaps my favourite was Two Ladies. There, I had the most stunning forest-green coat with a satin lining made that makes me feel somewhat like a Tolkien elf. I brought a similar style back home in New Zealand about a year previously on sale, where the original retail price was NZD$900 (approximately USD$630). In Hoi An, I paid around NZD$50 for the new coat (approximately USD$35) and — although I’m no couture expert — I am convinced that the quality of the latter is far superior.

The ‘Deats

Name: Two Ladies

Location: 71 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An, Vietnam

Contact: +84 510 3928 123

TripAdvisor: Two Ladies Tailor Shop

Facebook: Two Ladies Tailor

Have you ever visited Hoi An for some unique retail therapy? What tailor(s) would you recommend to future travellers?

All photos sourced from unsplash.com

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6 Things to Look for in a Tour Guide

Should I hire a tour guide?

It’s not a straightforward yes or no answer. There are countless reasons people decide to fork out for this service, whether that be to gain historical or cultural insight, to translate information from a foreign language, to ask for recommendations or purely out of safety. I personally have been motivated by the latter, as there are certain places in the world where being an accompanied young woman is not in the interests of my wellbeing.

Having a tour guide can be fantastic, but it can also make or break a trip.

I’ve had tour guides who have followed me into an ATM room and have physically taken cash out of my wallet in an effort to ‘help’. I’ve had tour guides who have refused to take me places I specifically asked to go because they received commission at other businesses. And I’ve had tour guides who have outright shouted at me for not understanding their instructions.

The problem for me is that I am not naturally upfront; I’m the first person to admit that I am something of a pushover. In these situations — although the idea of standing up for myself crossed my mind — I was not confident enough to put my foot down. So if you want to avoid getting stuck with a tour guide like this, then the following six things are what you need to be mindful of…

Flexibility

Your tour guide needs the flexibility to be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and roll with the punches. Their priority should be to cater to your interests and to be sensitive to your needs. If you want to skip an activity, then they should accept that. If you want to stop and grab a bite to eat, then they should recommend a nearby café. If you are tired and need to slow down, then they should match your pace. An itinerary that is meticulously planned with no room to improvise is doomed to end in failure.

Knowledge

This is kind of a given. Perhaps one of the main reasons people enlist the help of a tour guide is so that they can gain a further dimension of understanding for the location. If your tour guide is not up to date with historical, political and cultural information, then you’re not getting bang for your buck.

Language Barriers

You may be surprised by the number of languages tour companies cater to if you make the effort to seek them out. You need not settle for a tour in a second language that you have to continuously translate in your head just to make sense of what they are saying. Your tour guide should also be able to speak the national language so that you have the opportunity to interact with locals and read written texts. A further thing to keep in mind is that — even if your guide speaks your language — their accent needs to be understandable. From experience, constantly asking them to repeat themselves can be very embarrassing.

Sense of Humour

While tour guides don’t need to be stand up comedians, it’s important that they have the ability to deal with their client’s… well, stupidity. In short, they need to be able to laugh when you make mistakes and not take anything personally. A red flag is when they are offended by questions you may ask. As a naive kid from New Zealand, I remember unintentionally insulting a Vietnamese tour guide once by asking them a question related to communism. Tour guides need to be equipped to deal with enquiries like this. Tourists want to learn, and they can’t do that if they don’t feel comfortable asking for clarification.

Professionality

And yes, I did just invent that word. Nevertheless, many aspects fall under this. You should expect your tour guide to be punctual, well-dressed and ethical whilst still being friendly and welcoming. You want to feel comfortable enjoying their company whilst at the same time knowing that you can approach them regarding serious matters.

Passion

This may sound clichéd, but it’s true. The more passionate your tour guide is, the more you will get out of the experience. Enthusiasm is contagious; I have found myself getting really excited about activities I was tempted to skip purely after seeing the smile on my tour guide’s faces.

If your tour guide is making you feel uncomfortable, then it is important that you communicate this. At the end of the day, you are the one paying them, and it is your holiday that is being sacrificed if you keep your thoughts to yourself. A lot of tour guides will also appreciate your feedback, as it is in their best interests to provide a satisfactory and memorable service. Think of yourself and your tour guide as a team; both sides have to participate for the experience to be a success.

All photographs taken during a walking tour in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.

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