Have you ever told a friend, family member, or stranger where you were headed for your business trip or travels and then regret it once they tell you their thoughts on the place? Maybe it makes you not want to go anymore, or maybe it makes you feel nervous or bored at the thought. We've all been there; "I've heard this happens when you go...", or "You better not try this!", or "It was amazing, but...". When we travel, we develop our own preconceptions of places with which we visit, and sometimes our visions of what we hope that place to be can be skewed by outside opinions: good or bad. I find it very useful to disregard both the good and the bad of people's opinions about a place I'm about to visit, so that I can go in with a completely open mind and form my own, unique experience.
- Leave all preconceptions at the door. Like I said above. Forget the good, the bad and the ugly about what people say to you about a country. We all have our own unique experiences when we travel to a place, so, make it your own, don't limit your thoughts to that of being brainwashed by others. This is your moment of travel and exploration, relish it and have your own opinions.
- Step outside yourself. It doesn't matter how much you believe in what you believe, or how devoted or not you are to a certain religion. It doesn't matter how you were brought up or how you weren't. When it comes to travel and understanding cultures, it's best to take a step outside yourself and all that you're used to so that you can allow room to absorb the culture that you're in. One time, I was in Fiji and there was a blatant American couple sitting there, top hats and all. When they opened their mouth to say, what I thought was going to be "Hello", they said, "Jesus Christ can save you, etc. etc." in a Southern Accent, and went on to tell me all about Christianity and Jesus. They hadn't even said hello or had known my name, but were preaching to me about their own religious beliefs. I looked to my Fijian friend and we both just subtly shook our heads. It all good and well to be proud and devoted to your religion, but when you're in a foreign country, it's best to leave your sermon at the door (unless of course you're on some sort of religious mission). Learn what sort of religion the people in that country are devoted to, and open your eyes to a new form of understanding. There's a time and place for everything in life, and as someone who's traveled to every country, trust me when I say it's best to observe more and talk less. Which brings me to my next point.
- Less talk, more listening. Introverts, you shouldn't have any problem with this one! As one myself, I've always sought solace in observation and listening, rather than talking. You have no idea how much locals want to tell you about the places they love, the cuisine they swear by, and the stories of their friends and families. It's surprising how much one can learn about a culture just by listening to and observing the people there. In France and Spain, I always notice people showing a great deal of physical appreciation or one another whether it's a kiss on the cheek or PDA. In China, however, I've found it to be the exact opposite. It doesn't matter whether or not you know the language, facial expressions and body language can say so many different things. Get immersed in it.
- Find comfort in the unknown. Veer off the beaten path, go where the tourists aren't, accept an invitation for lunch into a local families home, go running down a side street that your intuition is telling you to, try that strange food! Trust me when I say that I know the comfort level of flying business somewhere, then proceeding to stay in a Marriott, only to have your meeting and then fly back, not experiencing any of the local culture. That's easy and that's okay. We travel at different times for different purposes. But if you have a chance, do something your older self will be grateful you did. It doesn't have to be bungee jumping off a building, but just going out to a local hole-in-the-wall for some dive cuisine. Take a picture, and embrace that moment, you may never have a moment that spectacular again.
- Never judge. Let's face it, we're humans and it's our natural tendency to judge others. As women, we always judge when it comes to men within our vicinity to assess how safe we are or aren't. For this reason and a few others, I'd say that there are different types of judging. But for the sake of this post, I'll say that the type of judging I'm talking about is the one where we judge others and their way of life. Whether or not we think they're fat, skinny, rich, poor, pretty, ugly, or whether their religion is terrible or wonderful, whether their living situation is filthy or rustic. Before we open our mouths to say something to someone either directly or indirectly, I think it's important to reassess where these thoughts are actually coming from and whether or not it will help or degrade that persons spirit. If, once you reassess, and realize that your words would only hurt them, then best keep those thoughts to yourself. It doesn't matter whether these thoughts happen online or in the real world, judging people never got anyone anywhere. And when it comes to travel, it's the most limiting factor. Truth is, when people see a foreigner in their country and say, invite them in for dinner, they are nervous, and they feel as though they might be judged based off of their traditions which are foreign to that visitor. On the other hand, the visitor might feel the same way. All eyes on you, because you're "different". The more open and accepting you can be of yourself, the more your vibes will project unto others, and no one will have anything to stress about.