I’ve always loved to travel and I used to travel in the US all the time when I lived there. But now that I’ve moved to the middle of Europe, it’s more of a compulsion than an option to travel. I mean, how can you live so close and not try to see everything?! So, when an ambitious and courageous friend of mine told me he is quitting his job and traveling the world for a year, he asked my advice about traveling and growing and learning. I figured I would share my advice with everybody out there looking to take a big, life-changing trip. Note: There are a million travel guides out there and this isn’t meant to be a “how to roll your clothes to pack more in your suitcase” blog. These tips are more for how to recognize and handle your feelings as you travel through strange places and feel completely awkward and lost.
My Traveling Advice:
- Assume Nothing In Your Life Has Prepared You For This: Because you’ve been on vacations before, or you know people who are from Greece and heard their stories, or you read a book about a place, it does NOT mean you know what you are getting yourself into. Ask any first-time parents how much they prepared before the baby and then how prepared they felt after the baby came. Recognize that you are NOT perfectly prepared and that you can’t be. Which leads us to…
- You Won’t Be In Control, Learn To Be OK With That: You will not always get the bus ticket you wanted, the food you custom ordered, or the hotel room that’s not next to the noisy street below. The customer is not always right abroad, and the most frustrated you get when you think you should have control over a situation, the less enjoyable your trip will be. Noisy street below? Go join the party! Missed your train for the day? Go enjoy another dinner! You have to keep a flexible attitude or you’ll be miserable your whole trip. In foreign countries, the culture does not always adapt to your needs, sorry!
- Be Ready To Feel Stupider Than You Ever Have In Your Entire Life: You think you’re clever because you’ve learned to say hello, thank you, and I don’t speak [language] in the local language. What you haven’t learned is how to read the signs at the train station, how to ask for directions when you’re lost in a shady part of town, what to say/do if someone picks your pocket, or what funny line to say if everyone in a restaurant stares at you (the obvious stranger). You’re going to mess up a lot of stuff traveling abroad and you can’t get mad at yourself for not knowing how to do everything correctly. Some countries don’t think it’s important to wait in line – you may be the chump standing there while everyone pushes past you and takes the last seat on the bus. You’re probably thinking right now that of course you are flexible and of course you know these bad things will happen. I promise, when these things actually happen, it’s much different than how you envision (from your comfortable chair in your house) how the heroic you will handle it. Just accept that you will feel helpless and dumb. Everyone does. Oh, just don’t lose your passport, that’s annoying to get a new one.
- Don’t Go In With Expectations: Expectations kill your true understanding of culture. If you get mad that you’re stuck in traffic in India because you’re supposed to be at X place by Y time, you’ll just be frustrated the whole time. Indians to stress time like you Westerners do, so just sit back and enjoy the culture difference. As soon as you set your expectations, you’re doomed to be disappointed.
- Don’t Think You’re On Vacation: Vacation usually means relaxing, enjoying, de-stressing, and maybe drinking a little too much alcohol. Traveling to have a life-changing experience is a lot of work. You will constantly struggle to understand where to go, how to get there, what locals eat, and just as you start to feel comfortable in a place, you leave it. It’s harder work than anything you’ve ever done in a job or back in your home life, so be ready to work. It’s the rewarding kind of work, and you’ll have some fun too, but don’t think of it as an easy vacation or you’ll be disappointed at how much more difficult everything is than you thought.
- You’re Not Always Going To Be Welcomed in a Foreign Land: Don’t expect that every country has just been sitting around and waiting for your arrival. Yes, the Italians will welcome you with big hugs from a grandmother-like women whom you instantly love, but many other cultures find tourists annoying and a disruption to their real lives. People may be rude to you or ignore you, but don’t take it personally. If it is cultural, just note the culture and learn from it. Don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. This seems easily forgivable, until you’re in a land where you feel dumb because you missed the train and got lost and the people are rude to you – it starts to strain your self-esteem.
- You’re Going To Be Lonely – That’s OK and Part of Your Growth: As some point, you will break down and wish to be around something (anything!) familiar. You want someone to understand your that’s what she said joke or who will ridicule the horrible taxi driver with you. You want people who speak native English and understand customer service. That’s normal, and understandable, but also a good sign that you’ve been doing your travelling right by really seeing the different things the world has to offer. Stay in touch with friends and family through emails, blogs, and the occassional Skype session. Also, ask friends if they have friends in the cities you’re visiting. It’s not the perfect solution because they’re still strangers, but they’re much more likely to relate to you and be welcoming and friendly. Remember, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so know that you’ll be back in comfort soon and in the mean time get back out there and experience!
- That One Aha Moment Will Occur And Your Life Will Be Forever Changed: In the movies there is always one clear moment that convinces the main character to change and forever be a better person. In real life, the story line isn’t quite that neat. You may not even notice how much you are changing or growing until you’ve come back home and started comparing the life you knew to the life when traveling. Don’t get disappointed if you don’t feel different after a certain amount of time on the road. There is no way these travels won’t change your mindset in some way, just give it some time to work its magic in your brain.