Although I love to visit monuments and museums, historic sites and other tourist attractions, some of the most fun travel experiences I have are just running small errands. I often plan these little adventures to get me out in local areas to interact with real people, off the tourist track. These little errands can involve tourist things, like finding the Peru Tourism office in Cusco to buy my Machu Picchu tickets in advance, but usually they involve shopping for basic items or services like taking my clothes to a dry cleaner in Vietnam.
A haircut in Cannes, France
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Cannes Film Festival numerous times and just love the South of France. One year, I intentionally allowed my hair to get a bit long, with the idea of getting a haircut in Cannes. Not some fancy salon, just finding a basic barber shop. My French is quite poor, so this was another opportunity to learn some new words and phrases and I remember rehearsing the words for hair, haircut and short, so I could make sure they knew what I wanted. I found a stylish little barber shop only a few doors down from my hotel and was able to get a nice haircut.
Buying a phone in Cannes
Another story from the Cannes Film Festival (and one of the secrets to not spending a fortune on phone calls when traveling internationally) is about buying a local, pre-paid mobile phone. Like in the US, you can buy a basic phone in France (good for calling and texting only), with an initial airtime package, for about $75. For business travel, this allows locals to easily communicate with you, without having to make an international call or text. The process of researching the different plans, then going to the little Bouygues phone shop in Cannes, signing up for the service and using the phone, was a lot of fun. I did have to have help setting up the voicemail, as all the prompts and instructions are in French. As with my other adventures, it’s all a learning experience and helps me speak better French.
Buying a hair trimmer in Hong Kong
In December, I went on an Asian adventure, centered around an amazing river cruise down the Mekong with AmaWaterways. Before the cruise, I spent some time in Hong Kong and again, needed a haircut. I’m someone who now shaves my head, so instead of a haircut, I ventured out to find a hair trimmer. I have several, and had forgotten to pack one. It was fun to walk around the crazy shopping areas of Stanley Road and ask to see hair trimmers in the different shops. A lot of hard bargaining went down until I found one for the same $20 price it would have cost me in downtown Los Angeles. Funny enough, when I returned home, I found I could not use the charger, as it was for Asian outlets, which are 220 volts. I also could not use it with the various adapters I had, forcing me to go out and buy an adapter, which cost as much as the charger itself.
Buying a belt in Cusco, Peru
On my first trip to Peru a few years ago, I had forgotten to bring a belt. It wasn’t an issue until I realized how convenient it would be to attach my camera pack to it when exploring. While trying to buy a belt, I ended up in a small department store a few blocks from the Plaza De Armas. I found a pretty large department store, asked for belts and was directed to the men’s section. I found a belt and when I went to pay, the manager of the store was at the cash register arguing with a man in uniform over some paperwork. My basic Spanish skills told me the official was trying to collect a fee for some kind of local parade or celebration and the manager didn’t want to pay. They argued in front of me and the manager finally turned to me, apologized, and asked if I was buying anything else, when I told her I wasn’t, she said, just take the belt for free. The belt was only about $4, but it was a funny experience.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. In the past six months, he has visited Turkey, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Canada and Peru. You can follow him on Twitter @luxuryfred .
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