Well Weathered

Travel Survival Notes & Other Curious Observations

Monthly Travel Column by Paul W. Gioffi
Edition 1

Disclaimer: While travel can be exciting and rewarding there are unforeseen dangers that may arise. The Information presented in Paul’s articles is the author’s personal opinion and what may have worked for him yesterday may not work for someone else today or tomorrow. Therefore, you agree to use any and all information provided by the author at your own risk and agree that you will hold the author and ISR harmless in regard to any and all instances that may arise or result from use of this material.


There are travels of the imagination, travels of the spirit and travels of the corporeal. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your travels combine all three into quite a rewarding experience. Some would venture only a few kilometers beyond what they consider familiar and call it adventure. Others might find that their headings have brought them into the strangest lands imaginable, or unimaginable, thousands of miles away, and still feel right at home. While others will never know it at all.
   Journeys of self-discovery are beautiful things. Hopefully, these journeys can help us and those we encounter to grow, share a little harmony, and become bettercitizens of the same planet. Whatever the case may be, and for whatever reasons you take that first step, you must always be prepared lest you come into harm’s way. It’s been warned that even stepping outside your own front door is a dangerous business. American servicemen have also predicted that the bullet you don’t hear is the one that gets you. It’s usually when your guard is down and you’re not paying attention that misfortune comes to call. If this be true, then it’s to your advantage to heighten your awareness and arm yourself with as much intelligence as possible when you finally do embark upon your journey. Hence, the travel survival notes.
  After many years of traveling and exploring within my own country, and overseas, and observing and taking part in various experiences from the mundane to the extraordinary, I decided to scribble a few things down. It’s not only for my own reflection but, perhaps, these writings will help other travelers in some way, at some time in their own lives. It’s not a comprehensive, chronological diary of my days on the road but more a collection of notes that I’ve compiled over time that has helped me to be a better traveler and a better human being. Like life, it is an ongoing process. 

  The ‘Well-weathered’ writings will be a monthly, on-line coulmn found on the International Schools Review website. These short essays are not full-proof, nor are they guaranteed to keep you safe and happy during all of your walkabouts. They are not presented here as a ‘bible for travelers,’ or ‘the one, true way’ that will get you out of all sticky situations. They’re just my own personal opinions based on my own observations and experiences. Maybe some of it will help. Most of the items contained here have a connecting story, or stories, resting behind them. If included, the text might stretch on for miles, so I’ve limited specific, personal experiences to just a few and sprinkled them throughout as quick examples. Other possible titles for this collection of observations were Rough and Read-y, Not-so-tall-tales, A Traveler’s Notepad, I Was Never a Boy scout, The Black Sheep Journal, Home and Away, Bed, Backpack and Beyond, Travel-wise and Some for the Road. I settled for Well-weathered, as this is what life seems to be doing to me ‘whether’ I like it or not. Read on for this month’s entry and continue to check back each month for a new essay.

Entry 1: Know Your Neighbors

Traveling solo can be fun. Traveling with others can also be fun. Be certain (or as certain as possible) of the people you’re traveling with, whether you consider them long-time friends from your home town, or the peculiar-looking fellow you just met on the train who happens to be going in the same direction as you. In the former case, sometimes people who you have previously deemed level-headed and trustworthy emerge as something different after being on the road for several weeks (or days), or when they’re suddenly confronted with an unfamiliar situation. In the latter, only reveal what needs to be revealed, without exposing any of your weaknesses; mental, physical or financial. In companionship, try to avoid the complainers as they attract the wrong kind of attention and tend to hurt one’s ears. In all cases, take note of the peculiarities in people’s characters and personalities. Assess peoples’ roles and motives as accurately as possible and determine a danger level. Be aware of the many variables in your environment, how they can unexpectedly change, and how to contend with each when the time comes in a polite, yet explicit, fashion.

Entry 2: Bare Essentials

If you’re the rough and ready type, heading for the outdoors, then you’re probably only taking the minimum to begin with, or just what can fit into your expedition pack. Perhaps your destination is another city with all the amenities of home. Whatever the case, prepare a small backpack (some call it a daypack) that is separate from your main, larger backpack, or suitcase, and don’t check it in at customs. Consider this the ‘never leave my person’ pack that stays with you at all times, under all circumstances. I use two small metal carabineers to hook the zippers together on my daypack, which act as an excellent thief deterrent. Inside, keep that which you cannot do without, in case your main pack or suitcase is lost at the airport or lifted from your hostel or hotel. These include your passport, driver’s license, credit cards (and customer service numbers to cancel cards in case they’re stolen), cash, phrasebook, map, keys, paper and pen, and whatever else will help you out of a jam. If in the wilderness, the essentials may extend to other vitals such as potable water, rehydration powder and a first aid kit. In some situations, even my small backpack was not small enough to pass by the security guards in some museums and grocery stores (or they just thought me very suspicious looking). I’ve resorted to a smaller, two-zipper belt-pack that I can wear around the waist or sling diagonally over my shoulder. Slide it over to your front side when sauntering through crowded markets.

Entry 3. Plan A

A little research beforehand can save you much time and headaches later. There’s something to be said for pocket guidebooks, street maps and internet travel advisories. Confirm as much information as possible before you set out, and have contingency plans, as things change without warning. As much as possible, keep in mind the local holidays and festivals, know when the last ferry departs, what days the city museum closes early, and which temples and mosques require trousers and covered shoulders. You’re probably spending quite a bit of money and valuable time doing what you’re doing, so make the most of it and plan ahead. Some details of the trip you will certainly have to nail down in advance while other aspects can be addressed as you go along. A mixture of both a well-thought out agenda and room for spontaneity works best. Try to loosely visualize the entire journey from start to finish. An overall plan, or grand design, helps give purpose and direction. 

Entry 4. Plan B

Having a plan A is usually on everybody’s agenda while a plan B is usually not. A secondary (and even a tertiary) plan, although you may never use it, is always a good thing to have and can make or break a holiday. Sometimes, a quickly engaged plan B turns out better than your plan A and will save you hours, dollars and frustration. Don’t let a delayed or cancelled flight spoil your holiday. Know, in advance, a competitor’s flight prices and departure times. Can you quickly get the telephone number (before the other fifty angry passengers) of the airport hotel in case you need to sleep over? Do you know the airline’s responsibilities towards its passengers? Do you know the location of alternate lodging at your destination in case you arrive to find that your reservation has mysteriously vanished. Ask questions along the way from people of various levels. The fellow who changes the trash bags outside the train station may have knowledge equal to, or better than, the frustrated guy at the tourist information counter. Similar to your plan A, try to map out your trip in your mind and, without being too cynical, make some predictions about where things could possibly go wrong during your travels, and what would you do if that were to occur.