Let down your guard once in awhile. On a recent trip to Lebanon, a Tripbase member found herself lost in Tripoli, an area that had recently been rocked by internal strife. Frightened, she searched for a hotel. She stopped in front of a storefront, and puzzled over a map in her guide book. The proprietor came out and offered his help. “Usually, I don’t talk to men who approach me,” this pro of third world travel told Tripbase, “but I’m glad I did. He knew exactly where the hotel I was looking for was.” What your mom told you about not talking to strangers is not always applicable. Yes, there are a lot of bad guys out there—but there are a lot of good people, too.
Landmarks! Use them! You might find that some taxi drivers don’t know street names. It could be that they don’t understand your pronunciation. Or maybe they know the street by some older moniker that is still familiar to locals, but that no longer appears on tourist maps. No matter, if you give a taxi driver a prominent landmark they should be able to get you there. (Learning the local name and correct pronunciation of the landmark will prove to be helpful, as well. In Damascus, for example, what is labeled as Martyr’s Square on tourist maps is known as Al-Merjeh to locals).
Plan on getting lost. Have your hotel or hostel write down the name and street of your lodgings—in the local language, of course—on a business card. One Tripbase traveler found this indispensable in Shanghai. On several occasions, when he couldn’t find his way back to his hotel, he hailed a taxi and handed the card to the driver who had no problem ferrying him safely to his destination.