When traveling, the places we see may be amazing, but we quickly learn it’s more abut the people we meet. Encounters with locals and making new friends are the memories that last forever. Check out my article for Brave New Traveler on how to spice up your travels and really immerse yourself in your new, albeit temporary home.
One of the biggest reasons to travel is to expose yourself to a new culture, to see how things are done in another place and do your best to join ‘em. As a traveler, you should strive to embrace these differences, not fight them. Try to really immerse yourself, not in your guidebook, but in the place you are at the moment. Stop. Look. Listen. Think about all your senses. Smell those roses and just breathe it all in.
Here is a list of some general “DON’TS” to heed when on foreign soil.
DON’T Hail a Taxi
Stretch your travel budget by avoiding these gas-guzzling, wallet-draining rides as much as possible.
Most cities ‘round the world have some amazing public transportation that is often very clearly marked and easy to understand if you just take a few minutes to become familiar with the system. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to navigate your way through the airport right to the city bus or metro train, join the locals aboard and soak up the view into town.
DON’T change cash at a cash exchange or bank
Nowadays the ATM card is the only way to go.
Before you leave home, make sure your bank card will work in the country your visiting. If you can, get a duplicate spare card and stash it somewhere in your bag just in case you lose your main one. Banks and cash exchanges charge commissions and you will almost always get the best exchange rate by using your bank card.
DON’T find the nearest McDonald’s
First of all, if you must, you can always eat at McDonald’s, KFC, or Starbucks at home.
You are somewhere different—take it all in by indulging in the many tempting treats at your fingertips. From local food stands to gastropubs to sensory-overloading markets, trying local foods can be a cheap, fun, and a palette-expanding experience.
DON’T only go to Irish pubs or expat bars and spend the week getting drunk with other expats
It’s time to immerse yourself in not only the culture of the city, but the people. Meeting locals is one of the very best things about travel. One of the best places to do this is at the local watering hole where the beers are cheap and the people are almost always friendly. It’s a way of embracing our differences and realizing how alike we all are at the same time. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to enrich your trip tenfold.
DON’T just stay and party at your hostel the entire week
Yes, hostels are great.
We all know the amazing benefits and it can be comforting to be around other travelers and your fellow countrymen to vent, empathize and share general travel highs and lows. But don’t let this be all you do. Get out. You are traveling to discover new places and people.
DON’T blather on in English
We are extremely fortunate to speak English and even more fortunate that so many people in the world do as well. But don’t expect everyone to speak English or understand you. Please take the time to learn a few words in the mother tongue of the country you are visiting. Challenge yourself to try and speak the local dialect. Greeting someone with a smile in their language is so easy to do and goes a long way.
DON’T keep your nose in a travel guide (or your phone!)
There is no denying that your dog-eared, coffee-stained Lonely Planet Guide is an extremely helpful amalgamation of maps, tips, and sleep/eat suggestions.
But don’t become too LP dependent. Pick up a local paper. Ask other travelers. Query your inn-keeper where he likes go. Then leave your guide book there and explore.
DON’T keep your eye in the viewfinder
It is the extremely rare traveler that does not have a camera in pocket. We tend to sightsee with one eye looking through a lens or nowadays into an LCD screen. It’s great fun to capture what you’ve seen and take home these precious memories. But take a moment and put the camera away. Focus on the here and now—breathe it all in—the sights, sounds, smells—of this moment.
DON’T expect things to be how they are at ‘home’
Whether you are in Tulsa or Timbuktu or Togo, remember that each place has its own way of doing things. Open yourself up to the idea that just because you grew up learning to do something one way does not mean it is the right or best way.
It all comes down to opening yourself up and exposing all of your senses to this amazing experience of travel. If you do, you will know it is much more than sightseeing and souvenir-shopping. The greatest gifts come from not what you see or buy, but whom you meet and the experiences you share with new friends from all over the world.