This is a 6-part short series on how to be a frequent traveller. This chapter talks about the qualities of a frequent traveller. Travelling will change you, even shape you in a way, that’s for sure. In order to enjoy the experience, you will develop a few qualities, that will help you to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Some situation will be very stressful and frustrating. You have to sleep on the ground at the airport coz all nearby hotels cost 80usd or more? You must spend 35h on a train across China, with no couch wagon, and you know that it is very likely to be 45h and not 35? Let it be. You have to pitch your tent on the roof cause your friend didn’t advise her housemates and they all went mad? Let it be!
Why is that?
First, because complaining generates frustration and stress. It is something you don’t want. Then, because there is nothing much you can do. Finally, the best things happen out of your comfort zone! You never know what you are going to encounter that adventure. If you want a fast-paced, smooth and punctual people, go to Japan, order at the restaurant and take a Shinkansen!
“Don’t fear change, embrace it”.
Soon, you will realize that your best experiences are local ones, the ones you haven’t planned. For example, after flash floods in Laos which damaged many roads, I had to take a 2-day wooden boat ride along the Mekong to reach my destination. After another flooding in Guatemala City, a bridge was destroyed and we had to wait the whole day to cross with a wooden ferry!
Mind cultural gaps! It goes without saying, but don’t behave like a coloniser. Embrace local uses and ways of doing. Don’t ask for forks and knives in Asia. Don’t ask for anything at all when it comes to food in India! Don’t complain about rice every day in Indonesia or about corn every day in Cuba. Try whatever street food you see, even if it looks disgusting. Don’t complain if you don’t have hot water in Guatemala, cause you won’t. Be happy if there is even a shower and not just a jar of cold water and a cup! Don’t ask for an internet connection in the Peruvian Andes area cause there is none on a 50 miles radius! Not showering during 3 or 4 days in a row is not the end of civilization.
When it comes to social interactions there are differences too. How is it like to have a friend in Australia, vs having a friend in Peru? What can you ask without fear, what can’t you? In which countries you can talk freely about religion, sex, money, and politics? Mind that some people, like Asians in general, will never say “no” but rather “yes but” or “maybe you could do that instead”. Reading in between lines is very important!
Before travelling, increase your cultural knowledge with Cultural Awareness 101
Trust Your Instinct
Instinct also matters for personal safety. Once, while in Rio de Janeiro Brazil main train station, I entered a bathroom and I found myself facing four weird looking guys, kind of narco-style with tattoos and everything, staring at me. I stopped, coz it felt awkward, it felt unsafe, so I just went away.
A few months later, I was driving in Johannesburg South Africa, and I found myself in some part of the city I didn’t feel comfortable in. For some reason, it didn’t feel right either, kind of a mix between oppression and excitement, so I just u-turned and went away. I will never find out if I was right or wrong though. A few days after, a South-African friend of mine told me I was right to trust my instinct. He told me that we, as human beings, are the outcome of millions of years of evolution and as such, we still have a hidden survival instinct in our brains.
Locate Yourself in Time and Space
Some people are genuinely good at finding their way no matter where others still get lost in their hometown. Deal with it. Google Maps is by far the best mapping app ever.
For example, if you search for an airport, it will provide you the schedule and booking number of your upcoming flight from and to this airport, along with a link to the online check-in. It will even send you a reminder 24h before when check-in opens, and will even send you a notification a few hours before, to tell you to take train X or bus Y to be there on time, considering traffic patterns at the very hour of your flight. This is brilliant.
I am a big fan and contributor. If not, maps.me is a great alternative, especially when it comes to trekking. However, sometimes Google Maps and Maps.me is not up to date, especially in Tanzania and Myanmar. You can add comments and edit the map so that others won’t have troubles.
Work also your mental computation skills: a dollar to a euro? An Australian Dollar to an Indonesian Rupiah? What’s a Mile to a Km? A Fahrenheit to a Celsius? A Pound to a Kg? A foot or a yard to a meter? A minute in Guatemala vs a minute in Germany? A good weather in Lima vs a good weather in the rest of the world? What’s driving 150km in Tanzania (5 hours) vs 150km in the Australian bush (1h)? Remember that people from different cultures work at different paces, especially when it comes to timing.
Trevellers tips: Before you go, download google maps, maps.me, skymaps, compass and flashlight, along with the offline maps of the countries you’re going to.
Smile and Relax
Whatever happens to you, unless it is a serious health condition or a painful family event back home, you have nothing to complain about! Even if you’re facing a flight cancellation, a temporary close landmark or some stupid law of beliefs that you didn’t know about, you are safe and sound, enjoying your journey halfway across the world, with more freedom, opportunities, and income than most people in the country you are in. You’ve been through worse, haven’t you? Smile, it creates empathy, and worst-case scenario you will look like an idiot, and I bet you it won’t be the first time!
If you’re in trouble with the police for whatever reason, which happened to me a few times, in Egypt (I tried to sneak inside a pyramid), in Singapore (sneak inside Marina Bay Sands), Tanzania (pissing on a tree outside a bus station!) and in South Africa (drove without my driving license on me), don’t forget that you are nothing more than the most idiot dummy tourist they have ever met, with little if any proficiency in English. In my case, “playing the French guy” with the strongest French accent ever like “Aye donte spiike engliche, aye am saw sorri” kept me away from lots of troubles!
Travelling expensively has changed me, even shaped me in a way. I am very keen to share this experience with people, from all backgrounds: people willing to start travelling, or doing it even more often, wiser or in a more sustainable way. I have received more help, friendships and kindness that I would have expected. For me, this is a way for me to give back, to help people in return, to inspire beginners.