As always, our travels have taught us countless lessons. And since we love learning … here are our favorite “Aha! Moments.”
1. Carry very little stuff.
Really, it’s true. Think “minimalist capsule clothing wardrobe” – you know, the “Garanimals” of the adult world – everything’s gotta go with everything. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re lugging your backpack up to the 4th floor by stairs. We’ve developed a morning habit of complimenting each other’s attire (even if you saw it … recently) and asking, “Is that new?” It’s always the first laugh of the day.
2. Learn the 7 key words for each of your destinations.
Mastering these 7 words and phrases in the local lingo will help you enjoy your trip: Hello, Please, Thank You, Goodbye, No Problem, Sorry (or Excuse Me) … plus “I am an idiot” always helps break the tension. (Be sure to point to yourself when saying it so there’s no confusion as to who is the numbskull.) After that, don’t stress about language. Keep practicing, learning, smiling, asking questions, making mistakes, poking fun at yourself, and trying again.
3. Capitalize on “Chance.”
We love to research and plan trips, but we’ve learned that being flexible and open to new ideas will win every time. That means we’ve got to take a chance. When we were in Dubrovnik, Croatia, James looked at a map and said “Hey, we’re only 75 miles from Bosnia. And it looks like an easy bus trip. Wanna go?” You betcha!
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
4. Know what drives you crazy; then prepare for it or deal with it!
For example, we’ve learned that arriving in a new city in the middle of the night is just not a good idea for us … for both safety and sanity. So we try to schedule all our transportation to arrive in daylight hours. We also know that we don’t like to get off a 12 hour train ride and search for someplace to sleep. Consequently, we make a reservation for the first night, and know how to get to the hotel. After that, we can stay there or look for new digs.
5. Break a few rules.
I know, I know, but sometimes you just have to. On Santorini we discovered an abandoned cave house – but there was a fence. We learned that if we were willing to step over a few fences, you may meet the donkey of your dreams!
6. Connect with people.
The sights may be lovely, but it’s the people that make the world go round.
7. Accept that plane travel has become a pain.
I love to fly (James, not so much), but getting on a flight these days has become a true challenge – mostly because of the security process. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that security is a good and necessary thing. It’s the inconsistencies that will drive you crazy … and the actions and attitudes of the security agents. We’ve encountered rude shakedowns, random confiscations of allowed items. and patdowns that went beyond “first base.” I guess the lesson is patience, but it’s sure hard to practice when some TSA Agent has just dislocated your bra!
That leads us to …
8. Keep your sense of humor.
Travel tends to be a comedy of errors. You’re going to screw up, so get used to it. Just keep repeating, “I am an idiot” (in the local language, of course), laugh, and move on.
9. Understand that you will be judged by your country’s actions and attitudes.
We’ve learned that people around the world just want to understand us and our country. One of the first questions we’re always asked is, “Where are you from?” When we answer “USA” the response can go several ways, but it invariably leads to more questions.
We laugh about an encounter we had with an inquisitive Malaysian high school class, at midnight, waiting in a train station in Penang. Their teacher explained that the kids were on a school trip and he wanted them to practice their English. Could they ask us some questions? We said “Sure,” never expecting what was to come.
For the next 3 hours they grilled us about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, Kentucky Fried Chicken’s employment policies (KFC had just opened in their town), and the USA Soccer Team’s poor showing in a recent match. They thought we would have all the answers. Our response to all 3 questions: “We’re as baffled as you are!” In their innocence, they also asked some very personal questions, so we were never so glad to see a train arrive when it pulled in at 3 am.
Our approach is to connect with people, let them get to know us as individuals, and remember that we are guests in their county. We know we represent our country, and our goal is to leave them with a positive impression of Americans.
10. Realize that as much as we love to travel, we also want to have a home base.
Terri and James