If the brittle chill of winter finds you searching for your next summer adventure here are 5 tips that will help you enjoy that hard earned holiday all the more
Sometimes winter seems to be relentless. Day after day of frigid temperatures and brooding gloom leaves us all dreaming of bone dry trails that puff dust at every turn, like smoke from a happy Hobbit’s pipe.
It’s these day dreams and memories that lead allot of us to start planning our next annual adventure around now.
Travel is a big part of almost every type of cycling now, but in particular Mountain Biking. The urge to ride fresh trails and explore new countries lives strongly within all of us. Increasingly those explorations are leading us further afield and cost more and more of our hard earned cash.
These trips are an investment. They are an investment in our well being and an investment in our future memories. So here at Wideopen we have pulled together 5 less obvious travel tips that will help you make the most of your well deserved break
1. Learn the Lingo….well the basics at least
We aren’t all gifted linguists and with Mountain Bikers increasingly casting their holiday nets wider and wider, learning a local dialect can be pretty much impossible in time for the next trip. To be honest, most of us rely on apps, drawings and universal sign language to make ourselves understood.
Having said all that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t all learn to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ and you will be surprised how far those three words can get you.
I am reminded of my first trip to Italy. I went with Bianchi to be brought up to speed on their latest range and innovations. By day three of being trapped in a hotel and saturated with bike stuff a group of us resolved to share a taxi in to the local town and spend the afternoon enjoying some Italian food and culture.
We found a little bistro that seemed popular with locals, set in a beautiful square. We sat ourselves down and then proceeded to be ignored like a well rotted piece of road kill by the waitresses. After about twenty minutes I decided to find out what was going on. As I walked in to the bistro I caught the back end of a conversation between the patron and a waitress who was describing us as ‘Tipico Inglese’ (Typical English). Somewhat hurt I attempted (in my appalling broken Italian), to explain that we weren’t a bunch of drunken English louts and that we really wanted to enjoy the local town and some of the fantastic food that Italy is famed for.
In an instant the mood changed and we were pretty much mobbed by the waitresses and waiters who couldn’t do enough for us. They laughed and joked with us, teasing us and insisting that we didn’t speak a word of English whilst placing our orders and conversing. Our Italian was awful, it made them laugh until tears rolled down their cheeks. But more than anything they appreciated the fact that we were willing to try, even if it did involve us making fools of ourselves.
By the end of the afternoon we had been invited to join them for a night of clubbing followed by the promise of a party. Unfortunately we were flying back that evening so couldn’t take them up on the generous offer and they seemed genuinely upset that we couldn’t come.
I never forgot how far simply making the effort went. Yes, sure you will probably fall flat on your face, but in my experience if you reach out to someone and are willing to try, then when you do fall, they will pick you up, dust you down and invite you to the party!
2. Know the local laws and customs
Now, none of us want to get in trouble when we are abroad. Dealing with the day to day in a foreign country can be hard enough, dealing with a legal system can be pretty much impossible, not to mention very frightening.
Laws vary massively from country to country and ignorance is simply not an excuse.
For instance, if you are driving in France you are required by law to carry a hi visibility jacket or tabard, a warning triangle and a breathalyzer. Failing to do so can get you a fine, or worse stop you in your tracks until you can find the items your missing.
The further you go afield the more ‘left field’ the local law can be and in countries like the U.S., these laws change from state to state and region to region.
If you are racing your bike abroad then you really need to be aware of the rules of that countries governing body. On a basic level which supplements are legal and which are not.
I once heard of a young rider who received a world wide ban for using creatine monohydrate whilst racing in France. Creatine is perfectly legal in the UK under British Cycling and yet a banned substance in France.
Get pinched for using a banned substance abroad and under the strict anti doping laws that the UCI and WADA now implement, you could end up with a world wide racing ban.
In addition local customs can also trip you up if your not aware of them. Nobody wants to offend a local population, especially when you will be relying on them to help you out and show you ‘the good stuff’.
In most of Asia it is polite to remove your shoes when entering people’s houses or religious sites. In Sri Lanka (for example), if you are a woman, it is really not done to wear a top or dress that reveals your shoulders unless you are on a beach. For men, shorts that come above the knee are frowned upon.
Whilst falling foul of a local custom may not get you in to trouble, being seen to be considerate and making the effort to try to observe these unwritten rules will really endear you to the locals and that will make your trip a whole lot better.
3. Stay clean and dry
Cyclists get sweaty. Fact. Mountain Bikers get sweaty, muddy, wet and dirty. Fact.
Remember to wash! In particular your arse and genitals. I know this sounds stupid but hanging around in sweaty, wet and dirty gear is not only unattractive, but can easily lead to bacterial and fungal infections that can really, really spoil a trip.
Now, I know its tempting to come straight off the trails and in to ‘that’ bar right by the gondola, but it is a recipe for disaster.
Fungal infections are common among cyclists, particularly ones in the nether regions (this isn’t a country). These are usually caused by getting hot and sweaty and not getting washed and dry as soon as possible after a ride. Indeed sometimes no matter how keen you are with your personal hygiene these infections can rear their ugly head anyway.
My top tip is to carry an anti fungal cream. The type usually used to clear up Thrush. Trying to find these creams abroad can both be embarrassing and linguistically challenging and athlete’s foot creams are generally too aggressive for using on your most sensitive area’s, so fore warned is fore armed.
It goes without saying that you should consult a doctor before using any medicine.
In addition it is also good sense to pack sterilizing tablets.
Camelbak’s, hydration systems and bottles can get contaminated if not cleaned AND dried regularly. Picking up a bottle that you used yesterday and the day before and the day before that is an easy way to give yourself a nasty stomach upset that can lay you low for days if not weeks.
Drain your hydration systems bladder as soon as you have washed yourself and then dry it. A coat hanger is a great way to keep the sides of it apart, ensuring it dries properly. Once in a while fill with water and drop a sterilizing tablet in. Leave to soak for the directed amount of time then drain through the bite tube. This can leave a bit of a funny tang so flush through with water, again draining through the bite tube, to get rid of this.
4. Carry a Condom and use it!
Now I am not about to get all finger waggey and parental here. Holiday romances can be great! Hell, some can even turn in to a relationship that lasts a lifetime. However, for goodness sake stay safe.
The individual you end up with may well be the most honest and truthful person in the world. They may have only slept with one other person before. But if you don’t use a condom then you are not just sleeping with them, but everyone they have ever slept with and everyone who has ever slept with them as well and on and on and on. In the end having unprotected sex with just one person can end up (in STD terms), being the equivalent of sleeping with literally thousands of people!
If you have unprotected sex you are rolling a dice that is heavily loaded against you.
Catching an STD can go from the down right irritating and embarrassing to deal with, to the life changing and even life ending.
Allot of STD’s are pretty undetectable as well. Chlamydia, female genital warts (they are usually on the cervix) and HIV/ Aids are pretty much invisible without a detailed medical examination and who wants to do that in the heat of the moment!
So, male or female, gay or straight, take a condom with you (at least one) and don’t sleep with someone new without using it.
Keep it somewhere like a wallet or purse. Somewhere it will be close at hand at all times.
As well as all the usual use for condoms they are also bloody useful for other things too. They can easily be made in to a make shift face shield if the worst comes to the worst and you need to administer mouth to mouth. They can also be made in to a glove for dealing with open wounds and blood injuries. You can carry water in them, you can make them in to cushions and pillows that help make injured people comfortable or keep them in the recovery position, you can carry ‘stuff’ in them and you can keep things dry with them. Their uses really are endless given enough imagination.
So carry one. It might well save your life or someone else’s!
5. Hotels are ‘safe zones’ for tourists
Now this is a real gem and one of THE best pieces of travelling advice I have ever been given.
Sometimes, no matter how careful and respectful you are, you can end up in a bad situation. This is just as true at home as abroad.
If you find yourself in a situation that is not good at all then find a Hotel. It doesn’t even have to be yours, just any Hotel (well pretty much any).
I have heard horror stories of folk who have ended up making a bad situation worse by panicking and walking deeper and deeper in to trouble whilst searching for their hotel or a Policeman or woman. Sometimes there just aren’t any law enforcement officers around and sometimes, in some countries, they can be pretty much useless anyway.
If you are a tourist then Hotels are like safe houses. Hotels rely on tourists, they make their living from them. Most members of reception staff speak good English. They can call you a reputable taxi.They can give you maps and directions. They can hide you if need be. Hotels generally have security staff that will do their best to stop tourists from coming to harm. They can photocopy things, get you train or bus tickets, they will have the number of the nearest Embassy, they can call a doctor, help with translation and obviously they can call the local police.
Essentially if you are in a tight spot and you want to make it stop right now, walk in to a hotel, up to the reception staff and ask them for help.
Now go and have an amazing time!
Travel is one of the most wonderful things. It allows you to meet new people, experience new cultures and ride great trails.
It really does broaden the mind and enrich you as a human being. There is very little in the world I love to do more than visit a new Country.
We live in a truly beautiful, inspiring and amazing world. Full of truly beautiful, inspiring and amazing people. All you have to do is step out of your front door!