Do's and Dont's for Best Breaks

Three months abroad and I've met some wonderful people.   In fact of all the people I've met on my various trips (over 100) there's not been a single I couldn't get on with.   Naturally, at first sight I've had my misgivings: judging people by clothes, age, appearance.   Soon, though (and usually within an hour or so of introduction), these prejudices are set aside and enough of a relationship has been established to see us all through the week or two we've to spend together.

Who are we?   Well, I'm a priest - Vicar of Hawley and Vicar of Minley in the Diocese of Guildford.   I've just returned from travelling as part of my sabbatical or 'extended study leave' as it's officially called.   I've been investigating package pilgrimages and package holidays to see the differences and similarities, the people they attract, the good points and the bad ones, the value for money and the prospects for future trips I might organise for the parish and others.   Heady stuff, eh?  They are an assorted collection of unsuspection travellers who had the (mis)fortune to book the same trips as I did, some straightforward holidays with Voyages Jules Verne, the others Christian pilgrimages through Pax Travel.  Together we made the best of things; and very good most of it was, too.

You'll hear more of my adventures as I record them.   First, though, some light-hearted but quite serious points I think all we Brits should note to avoid the pitfalls of foreign travel.   Time and again I've winced as my fellow travellers have confirmed what I always feared: some of us do not travel very well.

1  In non-English-speaking countries, learn a few simple words and phrases.  Yes, No, Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank you at the very least.  This will smooth so many proceedings and display a bit of courtesy.  If you have to speak English (and unless you are already fluent in the home language, you certainly will) do so clearly, simply and not too quickly but don't resort to raising your voice whatever happens.  And SMILE!  Don't wave your arms about and pull a face when you're offered something you don't like or don't want.  Say 'no thank you' (even in English if you must) and gently shake your head or raise a hand gently.  You'll be understood well enough.

2  Realise that 'abroad' tea is unlikely to be to your taste.  'Foreigners' just don't make tea the way we do.  They use hot water rather than boiling and often offer warm milk rather than cold.  Try it once, if you must; but don't complain day after day.  Learn by experience.  If it was no good on day one, it will be no better by day ten.  Get over it and try the coffee instead - except, of course, it's likely to be too strong, too bitter, or too something else!

3  Note that what appears to be 'marmelade' on the packet is likely to be jam.  Only 'orange marmalade' will bear any resemblance and then it is likely to be too sweet, too runny and so on.

4  In restaurants, don't treat the menu as a negotiating document.  Try to have an ingredient added, or even worse, left out and you're asking for trouble - especially if you're asking in English.  You run a grave risk of being misunderstood completely.  Fellow diners have had 'extra cheese' instead of 'no cheese' and so on.  If you don't like an advertised dish, order a different one.  Vegetarians especially take note.  There's no point complaining you've not had enough to eat if you've asked for the main (meat) ingredient to be left out.  Nor can you expect the chef to pile on extra portions of advertised or non-advertised vegetables just to fill you up.  Make life easy for yourself and for the cook and the waiter.

5  Avoid the 'specials' in restaurants unless you're absolutely certain what you're getting and what you're paying.  Time and again my new-found friends have coughed up twice my bill or even more for a dish just one ingredient different from mine.  It's just not worth it for a bit of cream, a piece of parsley or an exotic vegetable.

6  Remember what you ordered, preferably in the language used in the menu.  Make a mental note of the prices, or ask to see the menu again at the end of the meal, so you can check the bill.  This will avoid embarrassment all round and reduce the risk of 'accidental' errors of addition.  Learn the local custom where tips are concerned and observe it.

7  Carry plenty of change.  You can guarantee that no-one else has any, least of all shopkeepers, restaurant cashiers or hoteliers.  You don't want to tip a porter with a large note, do you?