On the ground: General tips & tricks
First off, forget your brewery obsession. Sure, some breweries qualify as definite “must-sees,” such as Cantillon in Brussels, but if it is the beer culture of a city you’re after, bars are much more the way to go. Scout the good ones, talk to the bartenders and servers therein, connect with the locals, and even if it conflicts with what your research has shown, at least consider following the advice they offer. This philosophy has led me to some of the most remarkable places I’ve visited on my travels, and provided far more after-the-fact stories than have my carefully considered intentions.
Of equal importance is to lower your voice and, when in a non-English speaking country, carry a phrase book or learn a few language basics in advance. The world loves a traveler, but not when that traveler presumes that everyone speaks English, or will if it is spoken more loudly. “Hello,” “please,” and “thank you,” spoken in the local language, go a long way toward building harmonious relationships.
Related post: Touring Toronto’s Brewery Renaissance
In the “odds and ends” department, I always travel with bubble-pack bags for bottles, zip-lock bags for smelly cheeses, and of course a bottle opener and a corkscrew. Buying local SIM cards for my phone eases roaming expenses, too, although Skype and the prevalence of Wi-Fi these days are rapidly making that a lot less necessary. And if you find that you’ve left behind your charger, remember that every hotel in the world has a big box of the things kept behind the front desk counter.
Finally, and in direct contradiction to some of the advice above, always leave room in your carefully researched itinerary for improvisation. The best travel is a journey, and as much as you might plan and scope and detail that journey, many of its best points will come from an unexpected twist: a fellow beer fan suggesting a visit to a new bar, an unexpected beer fest discovery, a chance brewery discovery, or a session spent in a pub not particularly known for its beer cred.
Those have all happened to me, and in many instances have provided me with my most memorable experiences and oft-repeated stories. I’m willing to bet that, if you allow it, one or two will happen to you, too, and you’ll be delighted that they did.
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