“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” Clifton Fadiman
One of the hardest thing for new travelers to do is take that initial step outside their comfort zone. Let’s be honest: the idea of jumping head first into discovering a country whose language, culture, food, religion and practices are drastically different from your own, is scary! The good news is it doesn’t have to be, not for long anyways. The secret? Be the lizard. Not necessarily slimy and green, but able to adapt to your surroundings and blend in with your environment. Over the course of your travels, your frustrations will directly mirror the amount of effort you put into letting go of the old and embracing the brand-spanking new; sound hard? It’s really not.
Here are 3 steps to ensure that you avoid a meltdown once you step off the plane and into a brave new (foreign) world:
Do your research: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of doing your research prior to takeoff. If you’re really time strapped, take a guidebook in your carry on and substitute it for your on-flight entertainment. Read about things that shape a society and a culture; learning a little about everything from religion to agriculture will help you better understand the people around you once you set foot on the ground.
Let go of your assumptions: Forget everything you thought you knew, and I mean everything. Once you make the decision to travel, you are accepting to start from scratch and enter a world that is different than yours. Remember that. The food will be different; hygiene may or may not be an important part of daily life; people may or may not tug at your shorts and shout at you from clothing stalls in order to make a sale. Anything is possible when you travel and that’s part of the fun! Expect the unexpected, and enjoy every minute of it.
Enter into each voyage with an open mind: Whatever you do, drop the judgments. Ethnocentrism is never in style, no matter how you try to accessorize it. Remember that every culture has reasons for existing the way it does; try to understand it, and if you can’t understand it, then simply acknowledge it and carry on! If you are set on making comparisons between your homeland and your travel destination of choice, you will miss out on temporarily experiencing an entirely new way of life.
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be one of the most incredible, blood-pumping experiences you will ever have. I say ‘can be’ because if you do not do your research, let go of your assumptions and keep an open mind, you will leave frustrated, disappointed and swearing never to return. On the plus side, if all goes well you’ll have discovered a natural high that simply can’t be beat.