Travel properly you dummies!
Whilst this is not something new it’s been coming to my attention that an increasing number of people are travelling each and every year.
Great! Fantastic! Awesome!
Enjoy the world and the plethora of cultural experiences it holds. Open your mind to new experiences and learn, grow as a human being and as an individual. But please, please for the love of all things sweet and sour learn how to travel before you do.
This may seem like a strange concept, learning about how to learn from your future experience. In truth, it’s no different than learning good study techniques and habits.
What’s the point?
Lets be blunt, brusque, crude, direct, curt even a little matter of fact. I know, some liberal use of the thesaurus there. Travel is pretty damn expensive. In my case, since I live in South Africa, exorbitantly so. There are so many expenses to consider when you’re about to travel that sometimes its disheartening just thinking about them all. Is all it worth it?
Without a doubt in my mind!
I wouldn’t trade my experiences in Iceland, Switzerland, Egypt, Australia, Prague, Berlin, Rome and the US of A, to name but a few, for anything in the world. Every trip was unique and special and you can experience it too! At least if you follow a few simple ideas that I truly believe are indispensable.
First of all for you new travellers, don’t ever, and I mean ever, go on a Contiki tour. In theory they are fantastic trips which should promise an all round experience of the world. In my experience, they are nothing more than over-scheduled and incredibly rushed travesty masquerading as travel.
Let me give you an example. In 2012, after completing my degree, I decided to travel around Europe before returning home to South Africa. My first stop was Berlin, an incredibly lively city full of rich cultural experiences and some of the greatest clubs in the world. Whilst in the hostel bar, (I stayed at the Wombats Hostel and I most definitely recommend it to anyone travelling through Berlin) I was warming up for a night on the town, I met a group of Australian students who were part of a Europe-wide Contiki. After a couple drinks and some chatting, meeting people in hostels is interesting, fun and easy (and not at all like the movie Hostel), I looked at their schedule for the trip. They were to spend 2 nights in Berlin, 1 night in Prague, 3 nights in Austria and then 2 nights in Milan. Now any way you look at it these are some of the most phenomenal cities in the world, and this group could only experience 1 night in Prague. I spent 10 days in Prague alone, and I have to say, it’s one of the most beautiful, friendly and amazing places I have ever been to, and I cannot wait to return. Granted I may be a bit prejudiced by my own experience, which was rubbish, but the Contiki Tours that I have seen are, in my opinion, a waste of time and money. That being said, if you are not a confident person who is comfortable with travelling, and you want to travel alone (two very conflicting ideals – but it happens), Contiki is probably the best way for you.
For the rest of you beautiful future travelites. Lets get onto the real business! It sounds obvious but learn a little about where you’re going before you get there. It’s a simple rule but you’d be surprised how few people actually don’t really know much about the cities they visit. Conversely some people study so hard that nothing is a surprise anymore.
LEARN A LITTLE!
Lets look at Rome. Beautiful city, capital of Italy, lots of people very touristy, lasagne and ice cream, Colosseum! and by extension Gladiators!, Piazza’s and Fountains, The Vatican, tonnes of art and, last but by no means least, some very pretty girls. That’s it, everything you really need to know about Rome, as a city, before visiting. Sure you can learn some names and write down some places you’d like to visit, but don’t be one of those people that schedules every last minute. Take the time to really experience Rome and learn at every opportunity, don’t just cross them off a checklist.
Getting lost may sound a little strange but I do this religiously when I go to a new city, so just hear me out. Check into your hostel or hotel, grab the nearest map of the city, ask the desk clerk or concierge to mark the hostel and the nearest public transport links and walk out the front door. Simple, right? The beauty of this is that you don’t have to know where you’re going, in fact that’s kind of the point. Follow any road that looks interesting and walk into any shop that catches your eye. Walk until you feel tired, take a breather and just enjoy the ambiance of wherever you may be at the time. I sat outside Prague Castle listening to a local orchestra band for over an hour, which even today is one of my fondest memories of the beautiful city. Keep walking until you’re dead tired and find your way back to the hostel, make sure to head back before 9:00PM as lots of public transport may shut down by then, depending on the city you are visiting.
“Watch the Fireworks, Don’t take pictures of them.”
I don’t know whether people, in general, can reach a point where they appreciate the things around them. Appreciation is really what we wish to achieve by travelling. An appreciation of beautiful arts and culture, of the theatre and even a movie, of a civilisation and their bizarre rights. Appreciation, I feel is something that really can’t be seen through the lens of a camera. Take a picture for the memory, but look and appreciate things first.
Si Parlo Italiano!
What I find is usually the most daunting thing about travelling in a new country is the accessibility and ease of communication for english speakers. Whilst this may be a little closed minded, expecting to get around with my native language, it’s actually a pretty fair assumption. English is one of the most widely spoken languages and it is also the most universally understood. That being said, whats the point of travelling without learning and improving. I suggest that every traveller should at least learn some basic phrases for use in whatever country they are travelling to. Especially if that country does not contain many english speakers.
Build a buddy
The last thing that every traveller needs is a good friend with whom to share your adventures. Ideally you really don’t want to travel with more than one or two people. Basically it’s too hard to coordinate several people, everything takes longer from breakfast to walking to museums. This is really a negotiable, just be prepared for the consequences of whomever you choose, personally I think three people is the best. Now, keep in mind that these people may be with you for the entire length of your journey and, more than that they’ll probably be sharing everything short of your jocks and toothbrush. That’s what it’s like to be on the road with a friend. So when looking for a travel buddy find someone who is friendly, outgoing, adventurous and pleasant to be around. Anyone stuffy, obsessive is probably not going to be a great partner for travelling. Better yet why don’t you make all new friends on the road. I won’t go into the highs and lows of making new friends, just remember that its easier than you think and who knows you may meet someone who truly changes you life.
That’s all for the moment, so until next time.