If you want to push yourself beyond your boundaries, it won't be easy. If you want to expand your view of the world and you find international travel easy (Canada is an exception!), you're doing it wrong, or you are incredibly gifted.
No passport, no problem
First, don't think that you have to have a passport. You don't. America is incredibly diverse. If you are from the country or suburbs, spend a few days in one of our large metropolises. If you are from an urban center, head to the middle of nowhere. Southerns should head to New England. Well, you get the idea.
Live like the locals
One of the worst travel mistakes we make is to isolate ourselves from the host culture. I visited a developing country a number of years ago, and I was hosted by a national pastor and church. They did everything for me. They made the experience very easy. They were doing it out of hospitality and experience in dealing with inflexible Americans, but it really detracted from how much I could learn about them and their culture.
On the other hand, I had an American missionary stick me, a college senior, and a high school senior on a public bus in North Africa. No map. No directions. No cell phone. He said, "Go find some people that speak English, and talk to them about Jesus. Be back by lunch." We ended up riding out of town and needing two taxis to make it back. But that was great. We met people. We tried to communicate. We learned that white Americans will be just fine on public city buses in Muslim African countries. You can't buy an education like that.
Here are some practical tips:
- Avoid tour groups. If you are only around other American tourists on a bus, you are going to have less interaction with the host culture. It may be a great trip, but you will experience less. If you are running a short-term missions trip, avoid this mindset.
- Play by their rules. As much as possible, I try to defer to the local culture. If you have to say goodbye every time you leave a shop, then do.
- Stay where the locals stay. You may have enough money to stay at the Hilton, but you will miss out on the local flavor. On my last trip to Slovenia, I had one transit night in Vienna, Austria. Vienna is expensive--really expensive. But I found a single bed room at a locally run inn located in the city center for $45! Sure, I had to walk down the hall to go to the w.c.[^wc] or take a shower, but it was clean, nice, and breakfast was included. Plus I had a much more Austrian experience. When we have travelled to Slovenia, we have stayed in vacation rentals. We experience residential life in Ljubljana, even if only for a week. We save money, we have more space, and we learn more. (Two straight trips I have managed to lock my clothes in a European washing machine!)
- Use local public transit if feasible. This one is tough for many Americans, because we generally use it so little. Often though, it can be more convenient, cheaper, and just as safe as renting a car. I would do some online research (I will post some links in the coming days for reference). For example, I haven't been anywhere in Central and Western Europe (including Croatia) where I wouldn't use public transit. I've told you my N. African story already. I survived just fine. I don't know that I would recommend city buses in Delhi, India. But then again, let me know if you ride one.
Come back tomorrow as we continue the practical tips and finally conclude the series.
Why Americans Should Travel Series
- My Trip to Slovenia - Part 1
- McAloo Tikkis are ok - Part 2
- Kissing the ground - Part 3
- Ride the bus - Part 4
- Chill out - Part 5