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.

By , Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010, 1:52 PM

Top row, from left: Adam H. Graham, Alex Robertson Textor, Marcella Echavarría, Rupert Barrington. Middle row, from left: Amie O'Shaughnessy and son, Beth Whitman, Michael Guerriero. Bottom row, from left: Greg Witt, Andrew Zimmern, Leon Logothetis, Christian Pucher.

WHAT MEDICAL PRODUCTS AND GEAR ARE ESSENTIAL?

Before going to a third-world country, where there may be unsanitary water, I fill a prescription for Cipro. It's a broad-range antibiotic that zaps many dangerous forms of stomach bacteria. —Michael Guerriero

Rehydration salts. I find that you sweat a lot within the first few days of arriving in a very hot place—before your body gets used to it. The salts help! —Rupert Barrington

Baking soda—it increases the body's alkalinity, which neutralizes the acidity of many local foods.You just put a pinch of it on your tongue when you're not feeling so great. —Marcella Echavarría

A SteriPen water purifier. I drink the tap water in India after purifying it with the SteriPen. I did this for two monthlong trips and never got sick. —Beth Whitman

I have cheap Irish skin, so I always pack the highest SPF lotion I can find. I also bring a little mister of water for the plane. Cabin air quality is insanely dry, not to mention downright filthy. I hear it's recycled over a dozen times on short hops. —Adam H. Graham

WHAT ARE YOUR PACKING STRATEGIES?

Cotton, denim, and wrinkle-free microfiber clothing is the way to go. If a wrinkle-prone item must be packed, then, when you arrive at your destination, hang it in the hotel bathroom, turn on hot water, and close the door. —Michael Guerriero

The bigger your luggage, the more you'll bring. So choose a smaller piece of luggage—remember, laundry can be done all over the world. —Christian Pucher

I never check a bag on the way to my destination; I pack my clothes in a carry-on using a compression sack. When traveling to India, I usually only take one change of clothes and purchase locally made shirts and pants when I arrive. This cuts back on the amount of things that I have to pack and helps me blend in a little. I buy a duffel bag for souvenirs once I'm in-country and then check a bag for the flight home. —Beth Whitman

I always take packets of Werther's Originals. When you are tired, the sugar hit is good. —Rupert Barrington

Before your trip, as you're packing, put all of your clothes and all of your money on your bed. Take half the clothes and twice the money, and you'll be fine. —Greg Witt

WHAT DO YOU WEAR AND BRING ON THE PLANE?

I wear comfortable nylon warm-up pants, silk boxers, flip-flops, and a longsleeved T-shirt. You cruise right through the security lines and are as comfortable as possible on the airplane. —Michael Guerriero

Wear flight socks to help prevent swelling of your feet on long-haul flights—they might even save you from blood clots. But sweatpants are a no-no: Let's bring some civility back to air travel! —Christian Pucher

Any flight longer than four hours means super-baggy comfy clothes. I load my iPod with movies and TV shows, bring snacks because airline food is awful for the most part, and fully charge my laptop. —Andrew Zimmern

Levi's, a T-shirt, a dark oxford shirt to disguise any accidental spills, and a gray blazer I had custom made for cheap in Hong Kong. It has seven pockets, including a secret one for valuables. I've come to really love the lack of Internet on planes, and my creativity and wanderlust peak then—so I always carry a thin paperback atlas to dream about traveling, even while I'm on the road. —Adam H. Graham

HOW DO YOU COPE WITH JET LAG?

If I've flown into a place in the early morning, I permit myself an hour nap. If I arrive after mid-morning, I push myself to remain awake with coffee and plenty of physical activity so that I'm completely exhausted by nightfall. —Alex Robertson Textor

Swimming helps reset your equilibrium and body pressure. I swim any chance I get after flying. I tend to not drink or eat a lot on planes, and never take sleeping pills. —Adam H. Graham

For every week I'm away, it usually takes me a week to get over jet lag. During the recovery, I try not to schedule anything too important or something that I might have a hard time staying awake for, like the symphony. —Beth Whitman

HOW HAVE YOU DEALT WITH SICKNESS OR EMERGENCIES ON THE ROAD?

I've had the misfortune of being sick in Europe, Asia, and, most recently, Australia. It is essential that your medical insurance covers you where you're traveling. After a particularly trying misadventure in Thailand in which I considered being evacuated by helicopter, I now get MedjetAssist for remote travel, which is relatively inexpensive compared with the costs involved should you need to use that kind of service without coverage. —Amie O'Shaughnessy

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