Get the Most Out of Your Traveling Experience
Traveling to places that you’ve never been before, or where you don’t speak the language, can seem very daunting. And this type of traveling does take a certain kind of person who is willing to venture out of their comfort zone. Here are some things that you can do to ensure that you get the most out of your experience:
Try everything. I know it sounds crazy, but the best way to get out of your comfort zone is to jump head first into something you wouldn’t try at home. For example, I have always considered myself to be extremely afraid of heights, but when I was in Paris I forced myself to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower (clinging to my friends’ arms). It was absolutely terrifying for me, but ice skating at the top of that tower was worth any apprehension or fear that I may have had beforehand. Even these little victories will help you develop personally. I’m not saying that I’m going skydiving next week, but if that’s your thing- go for it!
Speak the language. This is a tough one, I know. I’m absolutely TERRIBLE at learning languages, it’s probably one the hardest things for me to get. I’ve been studying French for more than five years, and I’m just now at the point where I can have real conversations. Learning one or two key words or phrases can get you super far, though, when you’re traveling to a place where you don’t speak the language. For instance, in France it is a common courtesy to say “Bon jour” whenever you enter a business establishment. The French take it a bit further than that, though. If you don’t say “Bon jour” (and “Merci, au revoir” when you leave), they may not help you until you do. It’s extremely disrespectful not to, and you’ll avoid many glares and headaches if you remember those couple of words. Other countries and cultures have similar courtesies in their own languages, so it’s best to at least know the basic words and phrases to get you through basic situations.
Don’t be too critical. Remember that you’re visiting someone else’s home, and the people there may have a vastly different culture than your own. Even if the place you’re going is culturally similar to where you’re from, you’ll still see differences fairly clearly. Try not to think that the way locals are doing things is “wrong”, but merely “different”. These things work for them, so maybe you’ll learn a new way to do something! The best example I have for this is driving differences between the UK and the US. I’ve heard many people say that Brits drive “on the wrong side of the road”. Try saying that they drive on the other side of the road instead of the “wrong” side. Appreciating these differences is the first step to accepting the new culture.
Be a traveler, not a tourist. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t do or see anything a tourist would, but try your best to do some of the things that locals do too, even if that means just straying from the main streets of a city to find a small local restaurant. This is the best way for you to find the real food, culture, and sites of the city you’re visiting. Some of the best meals I’ve had have been at tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurants on side streets in Italy. And try something new on the menu! You’re only there once, and it’s on the menu for a reason- might as well give it a shot!
Be safe, not crazy. Many people who travel think that they need to spend hundreds of dollars in pick-pocket proof gear, new backpacks, technology, etc. I, myself, own some of these things (mostly courtesy of my mother), and they’ve worked out great. I’ve also seen people rocking so many gadgets that they can’t function at airport security. Please don’t be one of those people. Pickpocketing can happen anywhere (including your home city), so just take the proper precautions, and you should be okay. Make sure to keep scanned copies of your passport and credit cards somewhere safe, and give a second copy to a family member who is staying at home. Don’t wear backpacks with valuable/important things in the outer pockets, especially in busy places.
Find your own travel style. Some people preach about how traveling alone is the absolute best way to travel, and that you’ll really get the most out of your experience when you’re by yourself. Other people preach about how unsafe this is, especially for women, and that you should ALWAYS travel with a friend. The best way to travel is the way that you’re most comfortable. Some people are vastly uncomfortable traveling alone, especially at first, and that’s okay! Other people really love the adventure of figuring out a new metro system all by themselves and meeting new friends at hostels, and that’s okay too! As long as you’re taking all of the necessary safety precautions, and by that I mostly mean being aware of yourself and your surroundings, and you’re having fun, then THAT is the best way to travel as far as I’m concerned.