Wishing you all the best in your future travelings, I’d like to share some travel tips with you. As a word of caution, this post is fairly long. This is primarily due to the fact that I wrote this as a paper for grad school. Before you judge my lack of professionalism in my writings for academia, please note that this assignment just called for a few pages of writing about any topic we want to get us thinking about the processes we ourselves use when we sit down to write. Also, please forgive the double numbering. I feel it would be a headache to attempt to fix it. And, because I care, I will throw in some pictures for you.
As a child, I loved to spin the globe, put out my finger, and pretend I would be vacationing in the destination where my finger stopped. Little did I know, my future self would have a love for traveling and exploring new places and cultures. During my adventures abroad, I have learned some valuable lessons. Lessons that I’m sure could be beneficial to you as well. Here are my top ten tips for travel:
- 1. Know your time zone. Actually listening to those end-of-flight announcements about the local weather and local time can be quite handy. It can save you a lot of stress in the Mexico City airport, as you won’t have to wonder if you have five minutes to navigate the airport, get through customs and make your next flight, or if you have an hour and five minutes to do those important tasks.
- 2. Pack strategically. Specifically in regards to your carry-on. When you pack your carry-on luggage, be mindful that if all doesn’t go according to plan, you could end up living off only what is in your carry-on suitcase. This could be particularly devastating if you are in Guatemala for a week and your luggage does not come for the first three days. This will become even more devastating if during those three days you have scheduled a hike up a volcano and you have no appropriate clothing for the trek. While experiencing extreme feelings of jealousy of your roommate’s wise packing methods, you will be forced to visit the local market and buy and a “stylish” shirt with a moose and calligraphied Abercrombie on the front, and a Sesame Street tag inside the collar.
- 3. Learn the Local Language. Learning local languages will be helpful for a variety of reasons. Exhibit A: Communicating with people. Exhibit B: Despite your blonde hair, you may frequently be mistaken for a local in Argentina. Tourists may seek you out to ask questions. If you have taken some time to learn the language (or at least a few key phrases), you can reply, “No se”, which maintains your Spanish-speaking façade, while pointing them in a new direction for help.
- 4. Use public transportation. Rental cars are expensive. Other countries can be tricky to drive in. For example, in England, you have to drive on the opposite side of the street and worry about round-a-bouts. In Okinawa, Japan, locals drive on sidewalks. Who wants to navigate that? If you don’t take advantage of public transportation, you could miss out on snazzy busses with wifi in Uruguay; pirate ships, swan paddleboats, trams, and ropeway gondolas outside of Tokyo; and trolleys, shuttles, and trains in Canada. Also, bus drivers wouldn’t be able to make fun of your incorrect German verb usage in Switzerland. That is a valuable learning opportunity.
- 5. Meet locals. For our first day in Tokyo, my sister and I were given a tour by a sweet Japanese woman named Masami. Not only did she give us a gift of fans, she also gave us the gift of knowledge of the Japanese train and subway system. It was relatively simple to purchase tickets and read the maps, but I am fairly certain that we would never have figured it out without Masami’s guidance. As an added bonus, we got Christmas cards from her that year. In Canada, if we hadn’t befriended “Shuttle Man”, we would never have gotten a personalized driving tour of Vancouver, including stopping at the end of Drug Addict Alley where Shuttle Man encouraged us to look closely to see people shooting up. Where does one meet these local gems? We met Masami through Lonely Planet’s free guides (and no, Mom, Lonely Planet is not a singles group). Shuttle Man was our hotel’s complimentary shuttle driver-turned-new-best-friend.
- 6. Be open to love. You never know when a pre-teen on a ski chair lift going the opposite direction might propose to you as he passes by. If you are not prepared, you might not be able to shout, “yes” before your sister, thus missing a great opportunity for true love.
- 7. Food. Eat it. Or don’t. You know those warnings about eating local fare made in potentially dodgy restaurants? They give them for a reason. Cotton candy from a street vendor in Guatemala probably tastes like incense. Not worth it. The restaurant that your small hotel is behind? It probably serves food that will make you so sick you think you will pass out in the middle of the airport and be detained in a third world country. On the other hand, ethnic food and local fare can be delicious, and I would highly recommend trying new foods when you travel. You and your stomach will regret it if you miss out on Japanese udon noodle soup, Argentine empanadas, Guatemalan horchata, and British digestives. (I promise digestives are biscuits with chocolate, not some sort of tasty dietary aid).
- 8. Trust your gut. Or don’t. You may think this reflects back to point number seven, but I promise we have moved on to a new topic. This is more in reference to navigational situations. If your sister is convinced the hotel is to the right, but you really feel like the map is telling you to take a left, speak up. Don’t wait until you have dragged your suitcase two blocks down the hill to the right. Because now you will have to drag them back uphill two blocks just to get back to the starting point. Or perhaps you exited the train station and are looking for a nearby castle. One person traveling in your party might suggest that you follow the wordless arrow signs. This might seem like a good idea at first, but after wandering aimlessly for an indefinite period of time, perhaps check your gut. And the map.
- 9. Be a risk taker. Some experiences may be outside your comfort zone, but they will probably end up being some of the best experiences of your life. During my summer in Okinawa, Japan, I went snorkeling for the first time. As an avid swimmer, I assumed snorkeling would be no problem. However, my first experience was dreadful. It was a windy day. We set out from shore, and I could barely get deep enough to start swimming due to the waves and my paranoia of stepping on the sea urchins and sea cucumbers carpeting the ocean floor. By the time we were deep enough to suit up with fins and masks, I was a nervous wreck and fought off hyperventilating when trying to master breathing with a snorkeling mask on. The waves were churning up sand to the extent that I couldn’t even see anything underwater. Perhaps I shouldn’t have read up on sea snakes before the outing. I hated every minute and never wanted to go again. However, when the school groundskeeper Max invited us out on his boat to go snorkeling at the reef out by the caves, I put on a brave face and vowed to try it again.
I am so glad I did. The water was turquoise, the sun was out, and it was a perfect day for snorkeling. I could not believe the beauty of this whole other world that exists under the tranquil water’s surface. If I hadn’t been a risk taker, I wouldn’t have ever pet a puffer fish in the ocean, fed wild bat fish, or seen a scuba diver leaving with a freshly speared octopus. On my list of great life experiences, snorkeling is right up there with climbing a volcano to watch the sunset over the flowing lava. This venture didn’t seem like as big of a risk until I noticed lava flowing under the rocks I was standing on. Then there was the hike down the volcano in the pitch black darkness of night. Another related tip is that sometimes you may need to lie, or rather, be vague in the details, for your travel companions. Otherwise they may miss out on incredible experiences like ziplining in the rainforest. You are really doing them a favor.
10. Bring your camera. Document everything and don’t be afraid to re-enact key moments. Didn’t capture that moment of delight when you tasted dolce de leche ice cream the first time? Don’t sweat it. Just fake it for the camera on your next bite. Perhaps you realize the ridiculousness of wandering around an estancia looking for the horses, which are supposedly tied to a tree in an obvious location. Be sure and stop to snap a photo of your searching gaze. Did you just find an elephant in the courtyard of a castle in Japan? Go stand in front of it and show off your perplexity. You may want to practice these facial expressions in front of a mirror so your photos look as authentic as possible. Now you won’t have to worry about forgetting the details of your journeys. The stories are in the details. That is what makes a trip memorable.
Keep these tips in mind as you prepare for future flights, and I have no doubt in the success of your upcoming journeys. Or don’t abide by these rules and you will probably run into some great adventures of your own. A good friend of mine likes to say, “When in doubt, do it for the story.” This is a great motto to travel by. Just be sure and keep a journal along the way so you can remember to share your stories with others. What good is a story if you keep it to yourself?