Don't Do That! 10 Rules for International Travel

Welcome to Ron’s Adventures,” the podcast that highlights the lighter side of missions and international travel. With me in the studio are Ron and Charis Pearce.

Joy- Now today we’re going to do something just a little bit different. I’ve compiled a list of international travel that I would love to hear your feedback on, Ron and Charis, and I know your listeners would love to hear your thoughts on international travel, however, we’re going to do it a little bit differently. Instead of what we should do for travel, we are going to talk about all of the don’ts. How does that sound?

Ron-Sounds good!

Joy- Perfect! You guys are experts in travel, at least in comparison to me and probably many of our other listeners. Okay, the first one on our list of don’ts: Don’t expect a five-star stay at a two-star hotel.

Ron- Exactly, that’s right. The rule that I always go through is that you go a little bit higher than the two-star situation but you don’t have to stay in the five-star. So there is some happy point, depending on the country, between three and four which is really safe. The reason for that is food being good, as well as the beds not having bed bugs necessarily, although you can get them in quite a few places. For instance, here I am in India, near Darjeeling up in Northern India. We are going to an area to go up a mountain right by the Himalayas and Mount Everest. I’m walking by this old hotel and it was the strangest thing, I went up to this little front desk and behind it, you know how they have how many stars in the hotel? Well, it was actually a one-star and the guy took a felt pen and put in a four-star. He put three more stars in and I knew there was something wrong. That was my first warning. Walking down this hallway, opposing me in this old hallway, was a rat coming towards me on the other side. A huge rat passed me. I did not make a move, I just kept walking, no eye contact, I thought he was going to another room. It was like a person going by! So I get to my room, I open the door and I look at the bed with this huge thick almost velvet looking bedspread and there was a mouse on there having babies.

Joy- Come on!

Ron-These are the situations you try to stay away from.

Joy- Did you stay in that room?

Ron- I had to! It was the only hotel from there. I got sick on the water because they were taking water and putting it in bottles and selling it at this little 7‑Eleven I went by. It was from a farm, from a hose and they were resealing the bottles and selling it as good water and I was getting sicker and sicker every day. So this is why you’ve got to choose!

Charis- Wasn’t that the bathroom that had the cockroach too?

Ron- Yes, at night time they had cockroaches all over the ceiling so I learned something, a little hint that I’m going to throw in for free, leave the light on in the bathroom at night if there is a sewer pipe in there because the cockroaches come up the sewer in the darkness and will go on the ceiling and the walls and everything else. But I learned to carry mothballs and I put a mothball over every sewer outlet and it keeps the cockroaches down. They don’t like mothballs.

Joy- It honestly sounds like a horror movie, like my worst nightmare, with cockroaches crawling out of the sewers. Can you even buy mothballs anymore? Where would you buy a mothball?

Ron- I don’t know but they sell them around the world. And I would just take them in a Ziploc bag just so you have them if you’re going into some of these countries, in Asia especially.

Charis- Make sure it stays zipped or it will smell very bad in your clothes for the rest of the time! The other thing is, regardless of what star hotel, we always keep our luggage away from the bed because if there are bedbugs in that hotel, they can get into your luggage and you don’t want to be bringing bed bugs home with you. Keep it as far away from the bed as possible. Don’t go in and put your luggage on the bed to unpack.

Ron- Cockroaches too, always zip up your luggage when you aren’t using it.

Joy- I think what we are taking away from this is stay at a five-star hotel!

Ron- No, that’s not what we’re saying but find a cleaner one and that’s not the one in the two-stars necessarily. If you have to you have to, but be prepared.

Joy-Okay, I don’t want to be stuck on point number one, but I just need to ask about the little mommy mouse and the babies, what did you do with them? 

Ron- I changed rooms.

Joy- Okay perfect, number two, don’t get taken into custody at customs. Now the reason I put this down was a little story on my end. My son was traveling for the first time, he was 17 years old and he was going to El Salvador with the church. And my husband had given him a backpack but it was his old camping backpack so if my son wasn’t already terrified enough, when he went through customs, they pulled him aside, and I don’t know if you have ever been pulled over, but they don’t do it very nicely, and it turns out he had a camping knife in his backpack. Not a huge deal, but he was absolutely terrified much to my husband and the rest of the church team’s humor, they thought it was hilarious. But you don’t really want to get pulled over at customs.

Ron- No, and in some countries this is a very big deal, and they’re not nice at all and they want money and, therefore, you can buy yourself out of trouble in most of those situations in the third world.

Charis- So you have to be careful what you pack in your carry-on. Batteries are dangerous, aerosols. Also, you have to be aware of some things you can’t bring back. Like some people will get jewelry in certain countries that is made out of coral. It’s really pretty but it’s actually illegal to bring certain things back that we think are pretty. You have to be conscious of what you’re bringing.

Ron- Ivory from Africa, that is illegal. There are also some jades and things like that. And also you’re not supposed to be bringing back precious jewels that aren’t in jewelry, not set in gold or something.

Joy- Well, what about my kids who were in Cuba recently and some guy came out of the water holding a giant starfish and gave it to them. Could they have brought that back?

Charis- I don’t know, you need to check with your airlines and your customs because you don’t want to be caught with something you shouldn’t have.

Ron- I was going into some country and I had some of the wood things they make in Vietnam and I forget where I was, it was a long time ago, and the guy looked at it and he says, Are there bugs in here?” I said,” I don’t know if there’s bugs in the wood.” Well,” he says, you can’t bring in bugs.” So I said, Well, how do I know? It’s lacquer and it’s all finished.” So he looked at it, and then he held his hand out. He wanted money! So he’s holding up the box and his hand is out wiggling his fingers so I knew what it was so I had some local currency and I gave it to him and he says, Oh, no bugs,” and he put it down and all was fine. It was just a bribe.

Joy- I will say that they did not bring the starfish home as it really rapidly stunk up their hotel room. Okay, number three, don’t be late! Now a few years back my husband and I were traveling and we were a little paranoid about this don’t be late rule and we decided to get to the airport several hours ahead of time and we ended up sleeping in the worst possible place because we couldn’t even get past the gate at this point, we were so early and there was construction all around. Honestly, the worst night’s sleep of my life. What time are we talking about? You don’t want to be late for the plane but you don’t want to be seven hours early like we were. That was a bad choice!

Ron- Oh no, they usually open the gate for check-in somewhere around two to three hours in advance. Therefore, two is a bare minimum. I was just in Cairo and they are talking about three hour check-in ahead of time.

Charis- You really need to check with your airline to make sure but the other thing is, give yourself enough time if you have children because going through security takes a lot longer with kids than it does just yourself.

Joy- Yeah, maybe don’t travel with kids if that’s in the realm of possibility!


Okay, number four, don’t get attached to your luggage. I was on a missions trip with a bunch of people waiting happily, innocently, naively for my luggage. Everyone else had their luggage. All of a sudden, there comes mine, wide open! I don’t know if it was broken open but everything spilled out and needless to say, everyone on my team got to know me a little bit better than I had wanted in that moment. So, luggage, it can come, it can go…

Charis- Whatever you pack in your luggage, assume that you may not get that back. So never put your prescription medications in your luggage, your laptop, jewelry…

Ron-Money, I’ve seen people put money in their luggage.

Joy- I would think that would be a safe place to put money. This is why I don’t travel!

Charis- Luggage gets lost, luggage gets broken into. If you’ve got luggage, you’re going to hope it gets to the other end but there is a good chance it might not.

Ron- When I get on a plane, anywhere, I wave goodbye to my luggage to say goodbye to it. I’m a pessimist at heart because I don’t think it’s going to get there because I’ve had so many situations where it’s been lost so I just think, it’s gone.

Charis- It also can get broken into in some airports, their security is not that great. Also, we’ve seen it where we were on one trip and black roll-on luggage is very common around the world and so the guy thought he had his suitcase, pulled it off, opened it up, was rifling through it to realize it wasn’t his suitcase, so he just zipped it back up and put it back on. So he went through everything that was in that suitcase.

Ron- I know I’m not supposed to give too many details but I always stand where the luggage is coming out, not at the other side of the carousel so that everybody can pick it out ahead of time. I was in Winnipeg and a little old lady from Pasadena took my luggage and walked out with it before I even noticed and brought it back the next day. I was just standing in the wrong place so I always watch it come off so I can see it drop down and I’m right there for it.

Charis- Also, it’s always good to put some type of identification thing on it other than just the little name tag that you have to put on for the airline because those get ripped off all the time. So either some type of a ribbon or get a very weird colored suitcase. You do see some bright pink suitcases out there and those are hard to miss.

Joy- Okay, really quickly, the luggage that was spilled out, we had to buy duct tape and we taped that suitcase just so we could leave the airport. Number five, don’t show up to the airport expecting the best seating. Recently, my family and I went on a trip, it was my 13-year-old daughter’s first airplane ride ever and we decided to save a little bit of money and not pay for seating, hoping and thinking we could easily get seats next to each other. It turned out to be a huge ordeal. We did not get seats sitting next to each other and my daughter was rather devastated, and it was a lot of convincing on the plane to get people to move. And you know what, people are not as nice as you think or you hope they will be. I always expect the best of people, I’m the optimist.

Ron- Well, usually a lot of people say well I’m not going to pay the extra $28 or $32 dollars to get my seat chosen. Well, don’t then but expect there is going to be hassles at the other end. And many times, if you do not have a seat assigned in advance, you can get to the gate, they are oversold and, therefore, you might not get on that plane. They will go to the people who do not have assigned seats and they will bump them. It’s personal choice but we always assign seats, I know exactly where I’m sitting, and I’ve got my boarding pass with the number on it.

Charis- And really, there is nothing worse than going on a 15-hour flight stuck in a middle seat at the back of the plane. It’s so uncomfortable so that extra $20 makes a huge difference.

Joy- Write that down everybody! Middle seat, back of the plane. That’s a big no-no. I wouldn’t have known that, I would have happily sat at the back.

Charis- After doing that, you will never do it again.

Joy- Okay, how about this one, and you eluded to this a little bit but don’t drink the water!

Ron- Rule number one on all the trips when I take people overseas, I get on the plane and say this is the last ice cube you will have for two weeks. This is the last salad you will have. Now, if you want to have an ice cube and you want to have a salad, go ahead, but will I be sick? Well, you probably could be and likely will be.

Joy- I didn’t even think of ice cubes!

Ron- And it’s sort of funny because they hear me but they don’t want to hear me. So we get to a restaurant and they’re serving salad and the people say to me, Do you think it’s okay here to have salad?” I don’t know but the rule still goes. If you want to chance it you’ll probably be okay but if you’re sick, you’re really going to be sick. Because water is what they wash the lettuce in, the fruit, the ice cubes store the bad stuff and, therefore, we just have it out of cans or out of bottles directly, no ice. You take fruit that is peeled or cooked or boiled, that’s okay.

Charis- That includes brushing your teeth also. Everybody forgets and you just automatically brush your teeth then rinse your toothbrush with the tap water.

Ron-Okay, story?


Ron- Russia, 1989 – 91, in that period. We were over there and in those days you couldn’t find bottled water if you wanted to. It was all out of the tap. But it was so dangerous to drink the water out of the tap. So they said you better brush your teeth with something else, so we brushed our teeth with 7UP. It’s amazing how much foam you get in your mouth when you use toothpaste and 7UP together. I thought I had hoof and mouth disease. It was absolutely everywhere, but you rinsed it with 7UP.

Joy- All the dentists out there are shuddering!

Ron‑I know but we couldn’t drink the water, it was just too dangerous. It was untreated. People were getting sick all over the place. And they had lead pipes and everything under the sun.

Joy- My first trip to El Salvador with my church, it was my first trip anywhere and I was the first in the bathroom and brushing my teeth and I turned around and all my roommates are staring at me horrified cause here I am rinsing the toothbrush and brushing my teeth like normal people would do.

Okay, number seven: Don’t forget the cash! Now why is cash more important?

Charis- It’s quite dangerous in other countries to use your credit card unless it’s at a major hotel or somewhere you know you can trust. So little cafes on the street when you go shopping, credit card numbers get taken quite frequently and the problem is once you are overseas and your credit card gets hacked, then you’re stuck. So it’s always best to bring your cash. US cash is the easiest and best to travel with. Then when you’re out on the street buying your souvenirs, you use your cash for that, not your credit cards.

Joy- That’s good advice! I remember talking to you once before, Charis, and you told me something that blew my mind! You said that the safes at the hotel aren’t even that safe, which shocked me.

Ron- I learned this by trial and error. So one time I forgot my combination and I had all my stuff in there. This was years ago. So I phoned down to the front desk and I said I’m really sorry about this but do you have a way of getting into my safe and they said, Oh yeah, no problem.” So they send up the bellboy and he walks into my room and he uses his own private code and opens the safe right away. I’m thinking, that was safe! 

Joy- So everyone out there has these codes!

Ron- Not just that but all the employees that ever worked for that hotel who might now be heading up crime syndicates, so I don’t trust it. I take everything with me of value, which is your passport, your money, your ID. You carry it with you all the time.

Joy- So number eight, I think definitely applies more to me than to you guys and I have here don’t be naïve. Don’t go to different countries thinking the best in people which I think I might do.

Ron- Well, there is more crime in certain areas of Canada and the United States than other areas of the world, there are just parts of North America where it’s dangerous. Bu overseas in a lot of areas in Southeast Asia especially, or parts of Africa, you can be walking down the streets and they are just waiting to pickpocket you. You’ve just got to be very very careful. One time in Vietnam, we were there and I knew the rules so I was very careful, and I carry on my belt, under my shirt so it can’t be seen, a certain type of holder for passport, credit card, money and everything like that so I carry everything in there. But I have a fake wallet that I carry in my back pocket and that is the one that thieves will go for and, therefore, in it I have a little spending cash, like $3 or $5-$6 dollars, in their local currency. So one time Nancy and I were walking along the street in Vietnam, I can show you the corner in Saigon, and all of the sudden Nancy went down because a motorcycle had come up and hit her in the back of the leg and basically ran over and knocked her down and so I dropped down to get her but this guy who was in a black helmet, couldn’t see his face, had a girl that was on the sidewalk beside us. When I bent down to take care of Nancy, she pickpocketed me, hopped on the back of the motorcycle, and was gone. I felt it but when your wife has just been knocked down by a motorcycle you don’t really recognize it fully, but I knew that it had happened, I looked up, here she was smiling at me and they buzzed off.

Joy- It was your fake wallet?

Ron- It was my fake wallet.

Joy- That’s some high-end info right there! Take a fake wallet!

Ron- Yes, because that is what is really going to save you! It only cost us a few dollars but that is what they went for. They didn’t go for the other stuff. They go for the easy take. As well as the fact that if you are walking around these countries with a backpack, do not walk near the curb. Motorcycle guys will come up, the passenger behind will grab the backpack off your shoulder as they are driving by, and hold on tight, you’ll fall as it’s ripped off your shoulder and if that is all your goods in there, you’re lost.

Charis- And I’ve heard women say, Well I can hold on to my purse, nobody can take it,” but same thing, if somebody drives by and grabs it, you’re holding onto it while you’re being dragged so you have to look out for yourself.

Joy- The only time I have seen that is in the Mission Impossible movies or something like that. You don’t expect motorcycles to grab your purse.

Charis- It’s a business.

Joy-Okay, number nine is an actual personal pet peeve of mine and says don’t be that guy. Now recently traveling, you have those carry-on restrictions where you measure your carry-on to make sure it’s going to fit, so I faithfully measured my carry-on, I was a little worried about it. It fit, I squeezed it in there and it fit. Then I get to where I’m supposed to be flying out of and there’s this guy who has a backpack honestly three feet above his head. I keep waiting for someone to escort him away and give him a talking to at least for having this carry-on, make him leave the plane. Everybody around us is staring at him, elbowing each other, look at that guy carrying this thing. You know, your carry-on restrictions are there for a reason, am I right?

Charis- They are, the plane can only hold so much luggage but the problem is that now they are charging for checked suitcases and everybody tries to squeeze everything into their carry-on, get as big of a carry-on as possible to try and save the money for doing checked luggage.

Ron- So, what happens is if it doesn’t fit at the end of the ride they put it underneath, they’ll tag it, and send it through. Okay, that’s possible, but at the same time, people should not be doing that and if you want a nice quiet life, take a smaller roll-on or bag to fit up there and that’s it.

Joy-It’s common courtesy really.

Ron- And you might have to pay for a suitcase. So that $30 or whatever it is might make your life a lot better and your holiday a lot nicer if you do it that way.

Charis- And if it’s a larger carry-on, a lot of times if it doesn’t fit overhead they will make you put it under your seat, and if you have a long flight that legroom is precious.

Joy- Okay, and finally number ten, don’t neglect your carry-on. You have told me before that if you are going to travel you should pack clothes in a carry-on?

Ron- A couple of days of clothes just in case your luggage is lost or delayed. You’ve got some undies, you’ve got a couple of shirts, all the necessities that you have. Pack some deodorant, non-aerosol, and some other things you might need, soap, etcetera. Take that with you as an emergency supply and you might never need to use it but it’s there in case of delay and if you need it because your suitcase is lost, you’ll be thanking us forever because that is the worst-case scenario. In many of the countries around the world you cannot get clothes in your size and, therefore, you will be in the same clothes for three or four days. That’s not a nice thing.

Joy- I had a friend who went to Cuba for a nice relaxing vacation. Her luggage never showed up just like we’re talking about. She did not know this advice and had nothing in her carry-on except a book and I think her bathing suit. Every day her luggage didn’t come they gave her a little bit of money to go and get a few things but it completely ruined her vacation. She had nothing, none of the comforts of home and it deeply impacted her and when she got home and finally found her suitcase, the terrifying thing was that half of the stuff in her suitcase was hers and half of it wasn’t. To this day she has no idea what happened. Someone else got her suitcase and decided to use her stuff obviously.

Ron- Last quick story to sum up the whole ten points is this: A long time ago I had a gentleman with me on a trip for ten days. He did everything on this list wrong. Everything. We were always late, packing too much, it was just wrong on all these ten points and he was a terrible traveler. But he got frustrated all the time. Everything was going wrong for him. He came to me after about two or three days and he says, Ron, why do you slip through and do these things so smoothly,” and I said, It’s because I keep to the rules of travel that make my life easy. He says, Okay, I’ll watch you.” So he watched me and this was, I don’t know about 20 years ago. I met him recently and he said, Thank you so much. I travel a lot now for my job as a salesman. I learned my lessons, that trip changed my life!” Therefore, I would recommend to people, do it the easy way and think about what you’re doing.

Charis- These rules aren’t going to make your trip or travel perfect but they may relieve some stress.

Joy- Well, I have to tell you guys, this is changing my life because what I’m taking home from this is, if I enter a hotel and I see a rat, walking down the opposite side, I am out of there! I am not staying! Thanks for listening, this has been another Ron’s Adventures” and I am Joy Kita.

Instead of what we should do for travel, we are going to talk about all of the don’ts.

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