You already know everything you need to be able to travel, and to travel well, but adding a few skills to your repertoire might just make your trip a little better. Of course you could learn a language so you can communicate, or take a barkeeping course if you’re interested in looking for work, but some more general skills could also come in handy.
1. Learn how to swim
If you don’t already know how to swim, invest in a few lessons before you hit the road. You’ll feel more confident on dodgy boats, and you’ll also be able to do things like float down Bern’s river in summer.
2. Learn to drink beer
Beer is an acquired taste, and before I started travelling, I didn’t like it very much at all. But I gradually accustomed myself to it by drinking a few sips of Craig’s beer whenever he had one, and eventually worked my way up to finishing an entire can by myself. Now, I sometimes even order a beer by choice. I’m glad learned to drink beer — if I hadn’t, I’d be missing out on experiences all the time: when in a Salzburg beer garden recently, the only option was beer. (It was delicious.)
3. Learn how to ride a bike
Although it’s a pretty common thing to be able to do, I didn’t grow up riding bikes and had to learn this skill as an adult. I’m still not the most confident cyclist, but I get by okay — and if I couldn’t ride a bike I never would have gotten to the beer garden I mentioned earlier: our host pulled out bikes and said we’d be cycling there.
4. Learn some basic maths
Like me, you’ve probably forgotten a lot of the maths you learned at school, but it’s worth brushing up on the basics before you leave home. Not all vendors are the most honest when it comes to adding up totals or giving change, for example, so knowing exactly how much you’re spending and how much change you should be getting can save you a fair bit.You can probably do this in your own currency, but what if you’re spending dong or pesos? Working in hundreds or thousands can be confusing and dodgy dealers will use this to their advantage.
5. Learn to read a map
You’ll spend a lot of your time being lost when you’re travelling, or of not lost, at least disoriented. A bit of map-reading practice will certainly stand you in good stead. Get a tourist map from your city’s information centre and try getting around with it. Better, go to an unfamiliar part of the city, or a completely different city, to practice.
6. Learn to sew on a button
Your clothes will get a hiding on the road, and it isn’t practical to throw away items because of a small hole or because a button has fallen off. It’ll only take you a couple of minutes to learn this skill, but when you need it, it’ll save you both time and money.
7. Learn some emergency skills
Read up on first-aid basics so that you know what to do in case of emergency. This could include learning the Heimlich manoeuvre and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or it could be as simple as noting down emergency numbers for the countries you’re travelling through and learning how to disinfect cuts and scrapes (oh, and stocking a good first-aid kit).
8. Learn to chill
Sometimes, things won’t go as planned. Buses will be late and hotels will be overbooked. Taking this in your stride is one of the skills you’ll probably pick up while you’re travelling, but it’s never too early to start practicing. Train yourself to see unexpected delays as a good thing — have a book handy, play a game on your phone, or just look around for something interesting to notice.
If you don’t have these skills, don’t let that stop you travelling — just go! But if you have a bit of time to spare before your trip and want to stock your skill toolkit, these are useful things to learn.
What else should we learn before we travel?
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Co-written by Craig Martin of Indie Travel Podcast and ex-UN Safety and Security trainer Craig Bidois, this is road-tested safety advice for all travellers.