Surprisingly enough, traveling does not come naturally to most people. In fact, a large majority of Americans don’t even have a passport. I love home as much as the next guy (and still have much to see in my own, beautiful country), but I strongly believe in the strength, power, and beauty of foreign travel, with the key word being “foreign”. For something to be foreign, it has to jolt you in some way, to surprise and excite you. However, with different experiences comes certain obstacles and difficulties. Here is how to overcome those difficulties and be an awesome traveler:
Learn the language – or at least try
I’ll let you you in on a little secret. The majority of your travel frustration is going to come from two things: the first is cultural differences and ignorance of social norms. The second is dealing with language barriers. The first one you can’t really affect other than to learn cultural differences and learn to adapt and accept them. But the second one is in your control. Learning even a little bit of a language before going on a trip, or taking a small phrasebook with you, will make your travels more enjoyable and rewarding. Even ordering food or asking where the bathroom is in a foreign language is incredibly rewarding. I try to keep some key phrases on or near me at all times, so when I need to say “I want a beer, please” I can do it. Then a delicious, sweet reward.
Understand the consequences of your actions
While traveling is all about experiencing the new and empathizing with how other people live within the context of their cultures, you will be faced with lifestyle and standards of living that will undoubtedly shock you. However, you have to understand just how you, your tourism dollars, and your actions are affecting a local community. In certain areas of the world, and Asia in particular, there has been an effort to make money off tourist sympathy by parading young, homeless children to sell trinkets, beg for money, or some other ghastly enterprise. Buying these things or giving these children money is not always a good thing. Granted, it’s hard to ignore impoverished people, but always use common sense. A tour that takes you to an orphanage? Probably not a legitimate enterprise.
Leave No Trace
In wilderness camping, there is a golden rule that simply states “Leave No Trace”. It means that when someone (or some thing) follows your path, they should never know you were there. Travel is like that in a lot of ways, with the most glaring being that you are a traveler. You are not an imposer, influencer, or persuader. You are there to see, learn, and experience and not to teach, judge, or ridicule. When you leave a town or a country to go back home or move onto the next location, the town will live on. But remember that you represent your home country and travelers in general, so leave the town as you left it, just as you would want a visitor of yours to leave your house.
Eat anything… anything
If you’re traveling to Europe or a major metropolis, you might not be faced with a cuisine that makes you think twice about picking up your fork. However, as you go deeper into the culture, try local restaurants, and ditch the guidebook, you’ll surely be faced with food and cuisine that isn’t exactly like your mom made it back home. In China, I’ve eaten both cockroaches and cicadas (both grilled to a nice, tasteless, creepy crunch), as well as dog (albeit unknowingly). I know that for the entire year I spent in that country, I ate plenty of things I didn’t recognize and probably don’t want to know the origin of. But along with the foods that didn’t quite blend with my American meat-and-potatoes palette, I discovered an amazing array of food that I now love and actively search for whenever I get the chance. Eat anything, grin through the roasted bugs, and you’re bound to find some amazing new dishes that will become personal favorites.
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Kerrin is a traveler, adventurer, and photographer who has an incredible love for travel. He is currently the Content Manager at Wanderfly.com, a travel inspiration site that helps travelers discover new and interesting places to visit. He is endlessly researching and traveling to help recommend some of the greatest places in the world, all tied to a traveler’s budgets and interests. Visit the beginning of your travels at Wanderfly.com.