Rachel’s Country Cheat Sheet

Every time we change countries, I find myself scouring multiple resources to cover all the basics.  I’ve summarized them here in case it helps anyone else:

Bali

Speak English? Yes, communication was easy
Vegetarian-friendly? Extremely, especially in Ubud
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? No, but ice is fine since the supply is quality-controlled by the government
Do I need cash? Yes. Visa & Mastercard are accepted in some places, but will add 2-3% surcharge for using them.  Cash is handy for taxis, markets, and many cafes are cash only.
Tipping 25-30,000 in spas, 10% in restaurants if no service charge has been added, round up for taxis. Hotels typically have a service charge built in but you could tip anyone who has provided exceptional service.
Uber Highly controversial and nearly impossible to use due to the local taxi mafia. Best to pre-arrannge transport from the airport, then either rent a scoot or get your hotel to help negotiate rides.
Favourite Drink Coconut Frappe from The Elephant

Barcelona

Speak English? Mostly – though Spanish is very helpful
Vegetarian-friendly? Not really
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes – many places don’t take cards
Tipping 10% in addition to the service charge (only if service was good), 10% for taxis
Uber No
Favourite Drink Cava

Cape Town

Speak English? Yes 
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Not really
Tipping Wages are low so 10-15% in restaurants (if no service charge added), 10% for everyone else
Uber Readily available and much cheaper than taxis; public transit isn’t generally safe for tourists
Favourite Drink South African wine – delicious and cheap!

Copenhagen

Speak English? Pretty much everyone speaks English, and Google Translate works well for signage/grocery stores
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping No
Uber Yes, at least in Copenhagen but public transit is good and the locals all mainly use bikes.
Favourite Drink Wine

Dubai

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – hummus and falafel galore!
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Only for taxis
Tipping 10-15% in restaurants; round to the nearest 5 or 10 for taxis
Uber Yes, but it is actually more expensive than taxis, which are government-subsidized.  The metro is the cheapest transit, and very easy to use… best to take the metro as much as possible then supplement with a taxi
Favourite Drink Whatever you brought in from duty-free. As a tourist, you cannot buy alchohol outside of hotels and drinks prices are steep.

Helsinki

Speak English? Most people do and Helsinki is fairly easy to get around, but you will struggle in grocery stores. Google Translate is not very useful.
Vegetarian-friendly? Surprisingly, yes.
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping Round up in restaurants with good service and for taxi drivers
Uber Locals say there are lots of issues with the police, so best to stick with taxis/public transit
Favourite Drink Long Drink: a fizzy gin & grapefruit drink that comes in a can

France

Speak English? Only in Paris. Even high school French will be helpful in other cities, as is Google Translate
Vegetarian-friendly? Not really, but the cheese is exceptional
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping 10% in restaurants for great service, 10% for taxis
Uber Yes for Pairs, No for smaller cities
Favourite Drink Champagne, of course!

Germany

Speak English? Most people do, so even if menus are in German, waitstaff can help translate. Getting around is easy.
Vegetarian-friendly? Shockingly, yes (but you might need to ask for something to be made special for you in restaurants)
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes – a lot of places don’t take international cards, especially in Berlin
Tipping 10% in restaurants (at most), round up for taxis
Uber Yes (in Berlin, anyways), but public transit is good and easy to use.
Favourite Drink Gluvine at a Christmas Market – tasty, and it helps keep you warm

Japan

Speak English? Not really but moreso in Tokyo. Japanese are often better at written than spoken English, so when in doubt, write it out.
Vegetarian-friendly? No.  It will be tough to avoid fish broth or bonito flakes
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Yes – it’s not uncommon for smaller restaurants to be cash-only, many subway ticket machines don’t take cards, and food stalls are all cash.
Tipping No, and it is generally considered insulting to do so.
Uber In Tokyo, but it’s the same price as the taxis (expensive) and you are better off with public transit.
Favourite Drink Sake!

London

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – Indian food is particularly good
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No – Apple Pay works well (even on The Tube), and cards are accepted everywhere (though make sure to ask the cabbie before driving away)
Tipping Up to 10% in restaurants if no service charge is added; round up for taxis
Uber Yes, but taxis know the city better and are always available, The Tube is usually the fastest and cheapest option for getting anywhere.
Favourite Drink Sparkling wine by the bottle in pubs, or the occassional pint of cider

Malaysia

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, though it’s helpful to know which local dishes are possible without meat. Make sure to specify “no fish or meat” or try to find a vegetarian hawker centre.
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes (in large cities)
Do I need cash? Yes – many places don’t take cards, and hawker centres all require cash
Tipping No
Uber Yes, and are much better than taxis, who are known for scamming tourists
Favourite Drink Gin & tonics – they make terrible drinks there so pick something that’s hard to mess up.

Melbourne

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – pretty much every restaurant has adequate vegetarian options
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? You can mostly get by on Apple Pay, which will save you the hassle of signing every time you use your card. Cash is handy for farmer’s markets, which is where you should buy your groceries if possible.
Tipping Not expected, especially if there’s a service charge added but 5-10% for great service or throw a coin in the tip cup; round up to the nearest dollar in taxis if they are deserving.
Uber Yes, though trams & trains will be faster if that’s convenient 
Favourite Drink Australian Wine or a Flat White

Mexico

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – though beware of refried beans, which often have meat in them
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No – brush your teeth with bottled water, avoid ice unless you know it was from bottled water
Do I need cash? Many places take cards, but you’ll want small bills (either pesos or dollars) for tipping, especially at resorts. You can get by with dollars but it will be pricier than using pesos.
Tipping Restaurants 10-15%, spas 15-20%, give a few coins if someone bags your groceries for you (that is often their only income), no tipping for taxis, private transfer drivers should get about 100 pesos for good service on a longer drive
Uber Not in Playa del Carmen or Cancun
Favourite Drink Margarita, naturally

San Francisco

Speak English? Yes
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – just about any restaurant can accommodate any crazy dietary restrictions
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping 15-20% in restaurants, 10% for taxis
Uber Readily available and cheaper than taxis, though BART/MUNI might be faster
Favourite Drink Artisan cocktails in a speakeasy bar, or margaritas at Tacolicious

Shanghai

Speak English? Depends. Taxi drivers don’t – get your accommodation address written in Chinese so you can always get home.
Vegetarian-friendly? Not really. Din Tai Fung is always a safe bet and there are a few vegetarian Chinese restaurants, but otherwise expect surprise meat in vegetable dishes.
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No
Do I need cash? Only for taxis
Tipping No
Uber No. Car services require a China phone number or credit card
Favourite Drink Tea

Singapore

Speak English? Yes – it’s the national language
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes – Indian food is particularly good
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? Not really… only for hawker centres, or taxi fares are cheaper if you pay cash.
Tipping No, unless you had exceptional service in a restaurant, then leave up to 10%.
Uber Readily available and cheaper than taxis, though the metro is fast, cheap, perfectly punctual and so clean.
Favourite Drink TWG Tea

Stockholm

Speak English? Most people do.  Google Translate works well for grocery stores, menus, etc.
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes, but best to check the menu before you pick a place to eat.
Drive on the… Right (but people walk on the left)
Water Drinkable? Yes
Do I need cash? No
Tipping 5-10% in restaurants if there’s no service charge added
Uber Yes, but there’s plenty of good public transit
Favourite Drink Aperol Spritz – why hasn’t this caught on in the US? It’s so refreshing!

Thailand

Speak English? Hotel staff and restaurants that cater to foreigners do, street food might require some gesturing. You can get by, though.
Vegetarian-friendly? It’s doable but takes some effort to avoid fish sauce, especially with street food.
Drive on the… Left
Water Drinkable? No
Do I need cash? Yes – food stalls all require cash and many stores don’t accept cards.
Tipping Up to 10% in restaurants if no service charge is added, 50-100 baht for a massage, a little extra for taxis driver (provided they don’t try and scam you)
Uber Works in Bangkok but we had many problems with drivers getting lost and taking ages to pick us up – factor in extra time.  The BTS Skytrain is easy and cheap.
Favourite Drink Coconut Shake: ice, coconut water and coconut meat blended together – yum!

Vietnam

Speak English? You can get by, especially in places that cater to tourists.  English & Russian are common.
Vegetarian-friendly? Yes
Drive on the… Right
Water Drinkable? No
Do I need cash? Yes – hotels take cards but don’t expect many other places to, even in big cities.
Tipping 5-10% in restaurants if a service charge isn’t added, round up for taxis
Uber Works great in Ho Chi Min City, but be careful not to accidentally request a motorbike.  Outside HCMC, you’ll need to use taxis. (Insist they use the meter.)
Favourite Drink Vietnamese Iced Coffee

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