1. Stop speaking English
English is not a universal language. Yelling a phrase louder and slower doesn’t make your vocal chords magically turn it into Spanish or Chinese or German or any other language besides English. If you’re traveling to a foreign country, don’t expect, or hope, that the people you interact with can speak English. According to National Geographic, “In the mid-20th century, nearly 9 percent of the world’s population grew up speaking English as their first language. In 2050, the number is expected to be 5 percent.” It’s good to be bi-lingual.
2. Bargain like a local
Don’t be an idiot like me and bargain in USD just because your brain is fried from the sweltering 102 degree weather in Honduras. While my friend and I were trying to grab a cab from San Pedro Sula to Lago de Yajoa, we could not calculate how much 600 lempiras equaled to in USD dollars. We asked the driver to quote us in US and he offered $40 USD. We agreed to it and realized later on when we were on the highway that 600 lempiras was only about $33 USD. Because of our laziness and stupidity, we ended up paying 120 lempiras, or about $7 USD, more than we would have if we just did the math.
3. Learn the culture & customs
Ladies, we all like to dress nice and feel pretty but it’s obnoxious to walk into a mosque in a tank top, a skirt and no head covering. What’s even more obnoxious is if you decide to take off the scarf you are given once you step inside. Many mosques are open to the public and your nonchalance to their religion and custom is offense to worshipers who not only open their homes but also their hearts to you. Be respectful. Put some clothes on.
4. Don’t be a princess
No wi-fi in your room? No hot water in the winter time? No seat cushion on the bus? I know it’s hard but try to suck it up. Whenever I find myself in a challenging situation, I think of the story my dad use to tell me when he was a little boy during Communist China. His family was really poor and so they only ate meat once a year on Chinese New Year.
One year, they couldn’t scrounge enough money to buy a chicken. A chicken in those days was about the size of a fist. It’s not like our hormone-injected chickens. My dad picked up some rocks and threw it at his neighbor’s chicken, put the dead chicken in a sack and carried it home. When my grandmother asked him where he got the chicken, he lied and said he found it on the side of the road. I never had to live the way he did, but it puts things into perspective.
5. Get lost
Really, just get lost. No map? No worries. What does it mean to be lost when you’re in a foreign country? It’s not like you know where everything is anyway. Throw down the map and just go. You’d be surprise to discover some of the more unexpected things along the way. Many of the times, the things I discover when I’m “lost” are the things I remember most about my trip.
6. Don’t forget to look back
We’re always looking forward to our next trip, our next destination, our next adventure. It’s easy to forget to look back and reflect on how much we’ve seen and how much we’ve changed. When it comes to traveling, it’s never about the quantity – it’s the quality. You’ve been to 30 countries? Bravo! Where did you go in those 30 countries? Resorts or villages. What did you do? Lay on the beach or climb a mountain carved with poems by Confucius?
7. Don’t forget to give back
When we travel, we tend to take in everything around – the sights, the sound, the food & the culture. But do you ever think about what you give back besides dollar bills? (Don’t say Euros. You know what I mean.) We take away a lot from our travels so it’s only fair that we spend some time to give back. Spend a few weeks traveling and then a few weeks volunteering. It makes the experience so much more rewarding. Check out the Do Good Thursday column for tips and volunteer programs around the world.
8. Don’t forget to exercise
Yes, there is A LOT of walking when we travel. It’s definitely good cardio but there are other parts our bodies we should not forget – like our back and shoulders. We carry so much with us here and there that it’s good to make sure we take care of our bodies. It’s best to start a routine at a time when you know you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere but when it comes to traveling, there is no routine. You just go. The best tip is to squeeze a bit of exercise whenever you can. Unwind after a long day of trekking by doing some yoga. Do it before you shower. That’s the one consistent thing you do daily.
Or if you’re a stinky backpacker, maybe you can work out right before you blog. It gets your blood running and who knows? It might even spark creativity for your next blog post. What ever it is that you do every single day, squeeze in some exercising right before it. Working out a few few minutes every day is much better than working out intensively for 2 hour every other week. The most important thing for your body is to be balanced and to progress gradually. If you do it consistently, exercising won’t be a chore at all after a while.
9. Don’t forget about your fruits & veggies
Mom’s not always going to be around to nag us about eating our fruits and vegetables. It’s one of the easiest things to forget when you’re busy traveling or if you’re traveling on a budget. However, nutrition is the one thing you shouldn’t skimp out on. It’s absolutely necessary if you want to continue traveling with a healthy immune system. Who wants a lack of Vitamin C to hold them down from climbing The Great Wall of China?