This past summer has been one of the most rewarding (and weary-ing) of my life. Between a European vacation to celebrate our 5 year anniversary and two separate service trips to Asia, I spent a total of 38 days out of the country. Let me first say that, contrary to what is shown on cable tv, international travel often is not luxurious. It does have its challenges. At the same time, let me also say that knowing how to navigate the rigors of travel abroad absolutely has its rewards. This little list is an introduction to help you start to think strategically about how to best navigate the travel experience. I will dive into more detail in the coming posts.
Travel Tip #1 Keep Organized Plans
Much of this happens before you go. Making travel and stay preparations are a huge part of any trip. Even if your desire is to keep spontaneity as a core part of your experience, a little bit of planning will be necessary. It is advisable, therefore, to keep copies of all reservations and travel documents, emergency phone numbers, as well as your atm or credit cards. These should be in a secure location (preferably carried with you). Let's face it, sometimes reservations don't make it into the computer. It sure is nice to be able to show proof of your arrangement. Also, know your plans and review them before you go. Planning on the front side of the trip means you don't have to think about it much once you are there.
Travel Tip #2 Pack Smart
Basic premise: If you pack it, you better be able to carry it. Don't fall into the temptation of thinking that you need a separate outfit for every day of your trip. You can have a much more enjoyable trip if you will pack the right kind of clothes/gear, especially things that are light, synthetic, and can be sink-washed and hung dry overnight. Even if you are going to be traveling in "nicer" attire, you can still find ways to limit how much you bring. Packing smart not only means less you carry, but it also means you pack expecting to have hiccups along the way. Five days in Cambodia without luggage makes you rethink your carry-on strategy. Simply put, if you can get away without checking any luggage, do that. If you must check baggage, for size or restriction reasons, then make sure your carry on has everything you need to survive for a few days.
Travel Tip #3 Adjust to the Culture
Things are done differently around the world. Get over it. It may not be as efficient; it may not be as you are accustomed. Gaining a better understanding of the cultures of the world is a part of the travel experience. Rather than try to make things fit into your framework, why don't you try to understand the people you are visiting? Remember, you are a guest visiting in someone else's neighborhood. At the end of the day you will probably still prefer your cultural attitude to many situations, but you will at least have been exposed to different practices and ways of thinking, which will make you more thoughtful as you view your world.
Travel Tip #4 Taste the Culture
While this is similar to the tip above, I think it merits specific mention. Get out and eat some of the local cuisine. Don't travel across an ocean and spend all your time at McDonalds and KFC (yes, they are in Southeast Asia). Go eat at some reputable local places. As you sample what the locals enjoy, you'll gain a better sense of connection with them and their community. Many times you'll also be eating only the foods that are produced nearby, an experience that is unknown by most Americans who are used to finding whatever they want at their Supermarket. One word of caution on this: be sure to take some Acidophilous pills to protect your digestive system from the new and unusual elements found in food in different parts of the world.
Travel Tip #5 Get Out of the City
I have been to London, Edinburgh, Rome, Phnom Penh, and Bangalore in the last three months. You know what's remarkable? That despite their obvious differences, they are amazingly similar. Cities are cities. I am not advising you to miss the remarkable aspects and attractions that are offered in cities such as these. Things like the British Museum and the Roman Colosseum shouldn't be missed! But, I would urge everyone to experience life outside these cities, in the towns and villages that are often overlooked by travellers. These are the places where you really get a taste of the uniqueness of a culture, and where you see life through a different pair of lenses. Only off the beaten path will you really find "the best fish and chips in the UK," or will you get to see farmers planting rice fields or harvesting sugar cane. Only out there will you come across the best iced coffee you've ever had, or get to see border collies "work the sheep."