Too much of anything can be toxic, including your own culture. When I read stories about hate crimes based on fear of “the other,” I think, “Gee, these folks really ought to get out more!” The antidote to insularity is travel.
Heard the Chinese proverb about the frog in the well? The frog is completely comfortable down there in the bottom of the well and has no desire to explore the world beyond their home. They are sure they know everything worth knowing based on what they can see through the tiny opening above. Their curiosity is dead, their mind closed.
But you are not a frog in the well. If you were, you wouldn’t be reading this. You are reading this because you are interested in travel. You already know there’s a whole world of experience waiting beyond your current cultural portal.
Here are five tips to help you get the most out of your next trip:
1. Pick your Destination Mindfully
If you’re curious about a place or its people, that’s where you should go. Zip-lining across an abyss can be exhilarating, but a week in a small village immersed in a completely different culture is an experience you will value the rest of your life. In fact, it will shape who you come to be.
2. Do some Pre-Travel Reading
Find out a little about your target before you go and you will magnify the benefits of your trip. It might help to know why Nicaraguan lobster fishermen are forbidden to harvest lobsters during lobster breeding season. When you learn how the Spanish mistook the Mayan symbol for their sacred Ceiba tree for the sign of the cross, it will clarify why Christianity so easily took root in Belize. And you won’t be as shocked the first time you see a Chinese toddler in open-crotch pants, if you’ve read about their toilet training methods.
3. Pack Appropriately
Include culturally appropriate clothing in your wardrobe choices. It’ll be much easier to fit in if you aren’t wearing sequins to the beach. Ditto for sandals in the rain forest, shorts on horseback, or mini-skirts in Africa. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know that only hookers show their knees on the Dark Continent.
You’re missing the point if your travel plans involve fast food restaurants. Leave the main drag and wander down the side streets. Follow the locals into their pub or chop house and get a plate of what they’re having. Smell what they smell, hear what they hear. Don’t be the kind of person who flies to Acapulco for a Big Mac.
5. Bring an Unlocked Phone
Before you go, buy yourself an unlocked phone. Many phones are locked into one provider or plan via software code, preventing you from using it with other prepaid wireless carriers. It’s best not to restrict yourself in this way. An unlocked phone makes it easy to stay in touch with your lifelines at home.
We live in a troubled world and I fear we are losing our grip on humanity. Those who gain a better perspective on life through travel return home with a bit more compassion. There are hundreds of ways to live, so many ways to haul water, to birth babies, to eat food. And yet the differences between us shrink when we travel mindfully.
With a little preparation and some bravado, we can enrich our understanding of the human condition, advance our personal growth, and perhaps make the world a better place.