If you were to read every article on this blog, you would probably notice that there are only a handful of occasions when I speak about travel or any of the destinations I’ve been to or any of the experiences I’ve had over the years, in a negative manner. This is not some trick and I am not trying to deceive anyone into thinking that travel, or more specifically, long-term travel, is nothing but a never-ending stream of overwhelmingly positive experiences. But I do believe that our own attitude affects our own travels and if we do find the right mindset, we can find the positive in just about any destination we come across.
Of course, while almost 14 years has passed since I first started this journey of mine, my memory is also not so terrible that I can’t remember feeling scared, confused and lonely while traveling around Bangkok and its surroundings back in 1999 and feeling as if travel was significantly more complicated and frustrating than I ever imagined. It was my first real solo travel experience after all and those first few days were tough, very tough.
I couldn’t understand the language, I had no idea about the local customs, I didn’t know which places were safe, which should be avoided, what foods to try, what had a higher chance of making me ill. I didn’t have any friends around, I didn’t know who to trust or how to find out any reliable information and I didn’t even know what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing every day.
So, to say that travel is without its struggles would be misleading. What I prefer to say is that travel has its struggles, but they can be somewhat easily overcome.
How to Overcome the Struggles of Travel
Take a deep breath and start talking. That’s really what it takes. In the end, the only way to learn some of the language, the only way to learn about the customs and where to eat or what’s on the menu or how to find information is to communicate with those around you. Talk to the shop owners, ask your waiter a question, start conversations with fellow travelers (many of whom are wandering around struggling with the same things as you!), rely on the hostel staff for some advice.
Don’t be afraid to make a few cultural errors, to completely butcher some local phrases or to sound like a fool from time to time…we all do it, even experienced travelers! That’s how we learn and as a result, that’s how we overcome the challenges that travel involves.
Who cares if your attempt at saying “hello, can you help me find the train station?” in Turkish ends up sounding like “hello, can shoes eat fried mangoes?”. Chuckle with the local person you asked, who will undoubtedly be chuckling if not staring at you with the blankest face you’ve ever seen. No big deal! Why? Chances are that after that chuckle is over, that same person is going to help you out or they are going to help you find someone else who can help you out. People are overwhelming friendly all over the world, even when you need to find mango-eating shoes.
If you’re at a restaurant and you can’t read the menu. Ask! It sounds so basic but I know that it can be difficult to do when you’re in a foreign land and you don’t speak the language. Ask anyway! Pull out your phrase book and say “Chicken?” in the local language while pointing to a dish on the menu. Look up the word for ‘recommendation’ and ask your waiter to do just that. You’ll see that such interaction will almost always lead to assistance. People will help you figure out what’s on the menu or where that train station is located. That’s just what people do.
And whenever you do meet someone that is willing to help you out, take a moment to ask your other questions. Ask what is acceptable versus rude behavior in certain situations. Ask if a particular area is safe or not. Ask what foods are the best to try. You’re not expected to know everything before you arrive. And the majority of the time you are going to get answers and you’re going to not only walk away with more confidence but with a smile on your face at the interesting interaction that took place.
Another option is to visit websites such as Couchsurfing.org and meet up with locals wherever you are, locals who have a profile on that site simply because they want to meet up with you. This is not just a site to find couches to sleep on. There really are endless numbers of people all over the world who just want to meet travelers for a chat because they enjoy meeting different people. You’ll notice these people very clearly because they have a coffee cup in their Couchsurfing profile. Meet up with some, ask them questions, learn from them and make some friends.
(I am often asked if I am lonely while traveling. It’s actually the opposite. It is hard to have some alone time while on the road, simply because I am constantly around new people everywhere I go.)
Most of the fear we have while traveling is a result of not talking to anyone. We feel alone as we wander the streets, we feel helpless, we feel that there is nobody around us that we can communicate and share our days with. But there are hundreds, thousands, even millions of people around us all the time and all we have to do is open our mouths and start a conversation or two. Once we do that, the entire situation changes and before you know it your worries, along with the challenges that have been so frustrating, will suddenly disappear.
So if you’re out there in the world struggling to enjoy your travels and wondering how on earth others can be on the road for so long feeling so lost and lonely while traveling, just start talking. The more people you talk to, the richer your travel experiences and the fewer struggles you’ll have. In fact, you might end up having so few struggles that you’ll want to continue traveling for a few extra months….or even years.
If you’ve traveled before, do you agree that interaction is the best solution? If you’re traveling now, are you dealing with some of these struggles?