SCOUTING REPORT 2010

Expert Advice: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

We asked the globe-trotters who contributed to our feature "Best Places You've Never Heard Of" to share their time-tested strategies for packing, coping with emergencies, and approaching the locals.

On my hiking and walking tours of the Alps, if someone is hurting or slowing down, I dispense ibuprofen and chocolate—both are miracle drugs. They deliver the pain relief and energy to get some people up a tough hill when nothing else will. —Greg Witt

HOW DO YOU APPROACH STREET FOOD?

I try it all, and you should, too. Nothing is worse or more dangerous for you than the American buffet at the Moroccan hotel. Why eat a burger in Beijing? It's nuts. I eat anywhere the employees or vendor is happy and there's a line waiting for the grub. —Andrew Zimmern

I feel that more dangerous than street food is the cutlery and crockery it's served with. Food gets cooked, but it's the dirty water that the dishes are cleaned with that will make you ill. Wipe down the cutlery and crockery with a napkin; you'll be even happier if you have wet wipes with you. —Christian Pucher

I don't eat a lot of street food, but if it's the only food available, I go for what looks really hot and well-cooked. No salads or anything that needs to be served by hand. —Rupert Barrington

WHAT TRIP-PLANNING RESOURCES DO YOU FIND INDISPENSABLE?

Get insider tips from friends and friends of friends. Watch movies about the place and read books by the main local authors. —Marcella Echavarría

I look at English-language newspapers in countries I visit, message boards of American studies departments at foreign universities, online classifieds like Craigslist, and Chowhound message boards for food suggestions. —Andrew Zimmern

I start with general Web searches to see what's been written about a place. Then I look at guidebooks and the blogs and websites of locals and expats. I'll also often ask for advice on Twitter. —Alex Robertson Textor

I create a Google custom search for all my favorite resources, so I can type in a destination, and it searches from a list of 50-plus sites I've chosen and eliminates the lame Wikipedias, Infopleases and about.coms out there. —Adam H. Graham

I love maps. Using detailed maps and Google Earth, I can study an area and really get a good feel for the lay of the land before ever arriving on the scene. —Greg Witt

WHICH TRAVEL APPS DO YOU USE?

Zagat, Delta, CNN, foursquare, Foodspotting, FlighTrak, NYTimes, Seafood Watch. —Andrew Zimmern

Facebook. But I had a $1,000 phone bill for data and e-mail charges after a recent Sri Lanka trip because BlackBerry/T-Mobile neglected to turn on my international service even after I requested it be activated, so I don't use apps when I travel anymore, just e-mail. —Adam H. Graham

Google Maps. —Beth Whitman

HOW DO YOU FIND NON-TOURISTY SPOTS?

I ask the locals, whether it's a shopkeeper or the clerk behind the hotel desk. I make it clear that I'm looking for a place where the locals go. —Beth Whitman

The growth of travel-oriented social networks has made it easier to find non-touristy spots. That said, I like the old-fashioned way of talking with other travelers you meet on the road. It results in the best experiences, and you get a sense of the "reviewer" and whether you two have something in common. —Amie O'Shaughnessy

I love trains and buses. It's so nice to see the faces of people and the overlooked, unique buildings in small towns and villages. Even if you're speeding by, you can make a mental note and go back someday. —Adam H. Graham

WHAT ETIQUETTE TIPS HAVE YOU PICKED UP FOR APPROACHING LOCALS?

Show the locals respect. As a tourist, you are under their rules and customs. —Leon Logothetis

Be friendly, but firm. Smiling will always break the ice. Don't lose your cool—even when you're getting ripped off. You're on vacation, and there's no reason to ruin your day. —Christian Pucher

Always try the food. Always. Even if you don't like it and refuse a second bite, trying it is a key to making friends. Always be gracious in someone else's home or store, and always observe local customs. —Andrew Zimmern

Escape from your everyday rules, but know your limits. I know too many crude, aloof, guarded, and entitled travelers who spend too much time discussing hotel amenities and shopping at "magazine-approved boutiques" or sampling superlative cuisine (the best burgers and cupcakes) and not enough time engaging with the real culture, whatever or whoever it might be. Go find your own travel story. There are millions out there. —Adam H. Graham

Try an unconventional approach. In Vietnam, I hired a local with a motorcycle for a week. I hopped on the back of his bike, and we rode through the mountains and jungle, staying in tiny villages along the way. In Nicaragua, I hitchhiked in the back of a pickup truck for a four-hour drive to the ocean. Experiences like these make you feel like you're truly traveling, as opposed to being shuffled to the typical tourist sites. —Michael Guerriero

EXPERTS' FAVORITES

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