This is the rest of list of practical thoughts from yesterday on who to travel and expand your view of the world:
- Eat everything--or at least a lot. Do they eat much meat? What kind of animals? What parts of the animal? Is the food spicy, savory, or bland? What are the desserts like? Plus, I think you should eat at foreign McDonald's once. Maybe I'm odd, but I get a kick out of seeing all of the international variations that McDonald's uses to "contextualize" their food to a culture. In Slovenia, they used to have "America fries" in addition to French fries!
- Talk to people. Learn a few phrases. When you find someone who speaks English, ask them to teach you a phrase in the local language. They will laugh when you mess it up. That's ok. Generally people appreciate that you're even trying.
- Find a local market. I love visiting outdoor markets and grocery stores. These are fascinating, and often can give you a great look into everyday life.
Keep an open mind
Yes, I know. Being "open-minded" carries a pretty negative connotation in our conservative, Christian vocabulary. I am not talking about compromising biblical truth or accepting cultural sins. I am saying that we need to learn some flexibility. You can travel to New York City or Singapore or wherever, follow good practical advice, and still come back just as jaded and unexposed as before, if you are not willing to accept that other people do things differently than "back home" and that's ok.
Sometimes this is easy. If you are a coffee-drinker and you visit me someday in Slovenia, you will probably love that Ljubljana is littered with cafe shops, and everyone meets their friends for coffee. Sometimes it's not, especially when it's 11:30pm, and you realized you forgot a key toiletry item. "No problem," you think, "I'll just run down to the local Wal-Mart equivalent." Then you realize that everything but bars are closed by then. Nothing is open 24 hours. Frustrating. Then I remember that just five years ago, my Wal-Mart closed at 10pm too.
Cleanliness is a tough one. Some places in the world, open sewers are more common than trashcans. While traveling, we should obviously take precautions to protect our health, but we should not be obnoxious about proclaiming our own cleanliness. America did not get to where it is at overnight; be careful in thinking the rest of the world will either.
One of tough ones that you should be aware of so that you can be flexible is punctuality. Different cultures in the world have different ideas of what "on time" is. Chill out. I know it's tough, but you are in their culture. Don't spend your entire trip complaining that nothing is on time. Many places in Europe (think Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia) value punctuality a great deal, but other aspects of time are very different. Restaurant service can sometimes be excruciatingly slow, but that's the way they like it. Try to find out why. You may not even after trying, but at least you tried (and hopefully with a good attitude).
Use travel as a way to push yourself. Eat foods that you don't like, and find something new that you do. Learn new words in a language that you will never use again. Realize that almost all of the world doesn't live like you do–and by and large, that is okay for them and for you.