Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: International Travel

You should get a passport. In fact, if you type "where do I get a" into Google, the first thing it auto-completes is passport. So, you won't be alone. However, since you're already at my page, and a google search seems so far away right now, I'll help. Go here. The Department of State will be happy to tell you what you need, and where you have to go. Basically you have to go down to your county government offices, fill out a form, pay some money, and give them a couple of passport photos. You should get those at Wallmart before you go, it'll be much cheaper than using the local passport photo ripoff shop across the street from the county office.

Why do you need a passport? I will grant you, international travel is pretty expensive. But as a nerd, one of your key responsibilities is to be better than everyone else. You know more stuff, you're not afraid to do more stuff, and when you tell stories of the places you've been, other people will wish they too had gone. So, get a passport. It's not difficult, it's not terribly expensive and it opens a lot of doors.

I've had my passport for a long time and I'm writing this article because this is the year I need to renew it. It'll be a little sad, as it only has 2 stamps in 10 years, but that's still better than most Americans. My stamps are United Kingdom and Japan. I've also been to Scotland (during the UK trip) and Mexico (on a cruise) but neither of those gave stamps. I'll write more about the trips later, but for right now I'm going to talk about how to plan your trip.

There are a few key methods for travel planning. Each time I've gotten a stamp, I've used the same method, and I highly recommend that you try it as well.


For my UK trip in 2002, I bought the plane ticket the Friday before Thanksgiving, and flew out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Keeping in mind this was when people still weren't flying for terrorism hysteria. The people I worked with all thought I was crazy, and to some extent I was. But I had a friend living in London, and over the course of 3 days we had several wacky adventures (including a day trip to Scotland) with zero pre-planning.

In 2006, I went to Japan for 2 weeks. This time, I booked the trip on Thanksgiving day. I went the the travel agent at Mitsu-wa in Fort Lee, NJ. They were open on Thanksgiving, and the agent was super helpful. I told him I'd like to spend about a week in Tokyo, I would like to go to a hot spring, and then I'd like to spend the rest of the time in Kyoto, and I gave him a price limit for what I was willing to pay for a night in a hotel at each location. He booked it all, including a train (not shinkansen, unfortunately) from Tokyo to the hot spring, and then on to Kyoto, and then a train/flight back from Kyoto to Tokyo for the flight home. So, all I really knew was where I was staying. For what I would do, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Japan, and their pocket japanese language guide. Booked the trip on Thanksgiving, flew out two weeks later. Also, I speak nearly zero Japanese. I have some food-related vocabulary, but that's mostly it. (More to come on how to survive as a gaijin in Japan later.)

So, winging it has worked out pretty well for me. I highly recommend you try it. Just be smart. Don't go to a country where winging it can lead to an extended incarceration while the State Department negotiates for your freedom.

Another important thing to do on vacation, whether you go alone or with a friend is this: get people to take your picture. Don't settle for shooting a landmark yourself. Get someone else to take a picture of you in front of the landmark. This is something that I haven't been especially good at doing, but next time I go on a trip, I'm going to work on it. The reverse is something I'm good at, and something you should do as well. Offer to take pictures of other people with landmarks. Any time you see someone taking a picture that they should be in, walk up and offer to take the picture for them. I know, nerds are shy, and I am as well. But you're on vacation. Take a vacation from being shy while you're at it. Plus, photography transcends nearly any language barrier. Pointing at their camera and at the landmark will pretty much do the trick.

@nerdsherpa, international man of mystery.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you used "Go Here" as a hyperlink. That is terrible web design and you should be ashamed!

    Otherwise, you're totally spot on with the travel photography. Traveling alone sucks enough as it is. Not having your picture taken sucks even worse. I've gotten pretty good at setting the timer on my camera, but not so good at asking someone else to take my picture

    I do have a passport, btw.