Through many years of travelling, Jane and I have learned that asking for things should not be a stress-inducing experience. In fact, it should reduce stress. We shouldn't feel worried about imposing; more often than not people are very happy to help.
Why To Ask
Have you ever checked into a pension, only to find there is no loo roll? Have you ever wanted to cook dinner at your hostel but were missing one key ingredient, and the stores had already closed? Was the pillow provided to thin, or too thick for you?
The only one way to rectify these problems is by asking. No one is going to magically know you need loo roll, salt, or a pillow. And no one is going to magically offer, unless you ask.
In Croatia we were hoping to get some laundry done, as we hadn't done a proper wash since we left home. The town was too small for a laundromat so I asked the owner of our pension if we could do some laundry. She took me to the washing machine in the other apartment she rents (which was empty), showed me where the soap was, and told me to do as much laundry as I needed. There was no hesitation, and no thought that she would charge me for this. She showed me where the clothesline was, said she would get her clothes off it soon, and that was that.
Sometimes asking can save you from a lot of misery. In Lithuania, after putting in hours on a terrible dirt and gravel road, we were unable to find a campground. So we asked a guesthouse owner if we could camp in the yard of her guesthouse. She was happy to have us, charged us a reasonable price, and we even had a hammock to swing in.
Most people love to feel helpful, so in all likelihood, instead of putting them out, asking will make them feel good, and you'll get what you want.
So go for it!
How To Ask
If you really want something, don't be afraid to sound a bit pathetic to get it.
I start out being polite and humble about my requests. Acknowledge that the person you're asking will be doing you a favour. If they refuse, and you are asking for something important, don't be afraid to be a bit more demanding. Even when people are unhappy about helping out, as long as your request isn't outrageous, they usually say yes.
In Italy, way back near the beginning of our trip the weather was unseasonably cold, and after cycling around Lake Trasimeno we were freezing. We asked if we could have the heat turned on. Even though it had been turned off for the summer, and even though the owner didn't want to, we were cycling, our clothes were wet, our shoes were wet, and we were chilled to the bone. Once we explained this to him, and then persistently insisted on having some heat, they made sure the heat came on to dry us out and warm our chilled bones.
See also: Wet and cold in Visegrád, Hungary
In Slovenia, we really wanted to visit Human Fish Brewery, but it was closed the day we'd be there. So I emailed the brewer, and he opened especially for us. It was one of the highlights of our trip so far, and never would have happened if I hadn't asked.
When To Ask
Asking isn't always a good idea. Sometimes asking can lead to getting the wrong answer. This is where you have to make a judgement call.
Do you want to go look at an area of the museum that appears off limits? Do you want to take a photo of the incredible painting in the gallery? Want to plug in your computer on the ferry? Asking for any of these things may lead to a stern refusal. If you don't ask, you can probably get away with it before anyone even realises what's happening.
When it comes to pictures, sometimes not asking works, sometimes it doesn't. You have to weigh the options. If you take a photo without asking, you run the risk of getting yelled at, getting kicked out of the location, or they may make you delete the photo. You have to ask yourself if you care if any of these happens.
My rules for taking photos are:
1) If I am far enough away that my camera is not in their face - go for it
2) If the object I am photographing is inanimate, or an animal - go for it
3) If I need the person to pose, stay still, or if it's obvious I'm taking a photo of them - ask
In the market in Pécs, Hungary I saw an amazing collection of toy figures. They were immaculately arranged and displayed and so I snapped a few shots without asking. The man whose stall it was came over, clearly unhappy I had taken pictures, and told me off in Hungarian. Since I don't speak Hungarian I played dumb, apologised, and walked away with a couple of good shots.
No harm was done, and now others can appreciate the hard work that went into his arrangements.
When Not To Ask
As with picture-taking, sometimes asking permission is simply going to result in no. Learning to navigate this takes time, experience, and the ability to read the situation. My rule for not asking (which is, if I am honest, generally a case of knowingly breaking the rules) is to own it.
Act as if you have permission and it will be assumed you do. This works for me a lot. A LOT.
I knew the Venus In A Half Shell at Pompeii was closed when we were there, but its location was in my guide book, and all the guards were on their lunch break. I also knew that it was only closed because it was low season and they didn't have enough staff to keep everything open. So, we hopped the low wall and walked into the yard that houses it.
With just Jane and I there we were able to enjoy it in peace, exactly as its artist would have wanted (I assume).
In Croatia, we wanted to lie around on some sun loungers at our campsite. We didn't want to pay for them since there were hundreds and they were all empty, but we knew there was probably a charge. So we didn't ask, and nobody seemed to mind.
Learning to ask for help will make your trip more relaxing, more enjoyable, and may even help you meet new and interesting people. For most of us, it's also a skill that takes time to build. We're not all natural askers, so start practicing.
First, figure out what you want, and then go ahead and ask.
We are always asking for things on our trip. See how we do it on our daily trip journal at www.myfiveacres.com
All photos copyright Jane Mountain, 2013