Traveling is an exciting journey of self discovery, of exploring and understanding the world around us. On journeys of trial and error, we've discovered a number of tips and tricks to maximize your time on the road, and to encourage you to make deeper connections with yourself and your chosen destinations. Here our some indispensable tips for your first trip abroad.
Talk to Strangers
While waiting for my turn for a fitting room at the international chain clothing store Uniqlo, inside a glitzy mall in Kuala Lumpur, I initiated a conversation with the staff to bide my time. Commenting on the number of pricey street shops that dot the shopping venues of the city, I asked the Uniqlo staff where they shop at bargain prices. With a smile, they introduced me to the city of Bandung, Indonesia, where I discovered the scores of high street factory outlets a few weeks later.
Against all mothers’ advice, talk to strangers on the road. Just be smart about it, obviously. Locals, expats and fellow travelers alike all have something to share—a piece of knowledge on the destination you're in, a story that reveals the way they perceive the world or an insightful conversation that bonds two random souls in the world.
Be a Local
Seeking out the most popular food stand at an indoor market in Tel Aviv, I spotted a stall manned by a cheerful grandma that generated a never-ending queue. I gazed curiously at the hummus wraps she prepared so carefully and watched as she handed them off to her eager customers in exchange for some shekels. Catching the eye of two young ladies in the queue, I loaded them with questions of the name of the wraps, its contents and how to order one in their local language. One of the ladies shifted her gaze between myself and the wrap she held in her hands, and in an attempt to answer all of my questions at once, spontaneously offered me a bite of her food.
Be a local instead of a tourist on your journeys abroad. Some of the most authentic connections are rooted in engaging with the locals, sampling their foods and showing curiosity towards the local culture.
Document Your Journey
I chuckled as I flipped through the journals I kept during my time as a teacher at one of Jakarta's learning centers for students with special needs. I stopped at an entry on one of my students, Rizky, and reminisced about the day he learned shapes in English. We blitzed through the circle, square and triangle, and when I introduced him to the diamond, Rizky paused, and with a look of recognition, sang the line, "Shine bright like a diamond," from one of Rihanna's hits.
As you collect new memories, the colorful details of journeys past will fade, no matter how vivid in the moment. Document the highlights of your days abroad in the form of videos, photos or just a quick few lines in a journal as a timeless souvenir.
Slow Down and Be Present
I received a scratch map as a Christmas gift one year, and excited to scratch off every country I've visited, I spread the map in front of me, but paused. Though on my first rail journey through Europe I was proud that I visited over 30 destinations in just three months, I realized I had powered mainly through a number of capital cities, checking off just the major attractions in each. Looking at the scratch map, I knew there'd be a number of countries I've technically visited but can't really remove yet. Just because I experienced Rome on a two day journey doesn't mean I "did" Italy.
With limited vacation days from work and school, it's tempting to pack as many destinations into our schedule as possible. But racing from sight to sight in an effort to complete some checklist will have your mind constantly fixated on the next item, preventing you from slowing down and diving deep into a city's culture and history.
Budget Time to Go With the Flow
While couchsurfing in Haifa, Israel, I spent my days sightseeing and planned for my evenings to be at home in the presence of my host. Together we cooked dinner and ate while sharing stories of growing up in our respective countries and engaging in spontaneous activities, like a midnight dip in the enticingly cool waters of a nearby beach and a star-gazing session on its soft sands.
It's inevitable that itineraries change no matter the amount of planning, and adventurers will always meet friends on the road. Leave time in your day to engage in activities with the locals and fellow travelers you cross paths with. It's the relationships with the destinations and their people you develop that's unique to your journey—experiences that no guidebook or blog can ever write for you.