Before you go

Image via the Toronto Sun

Formerly published in The Other Press. Apr. 16 2013

The preparation and apprehension of travelling

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

So you’ve decided to trade in the comforts of home for the adventurous world abroad. Good choice, but there is more to travelling than just hopping into a car or stepping onto an airplane. Sometimes we get so focused on the beaches, foods, and activities we forget that we are not entering a big playground; we are entering someone’s home, natural habitats, and a different functioning society. These are important things to take into consideration before you depart.

While some friends would look at you with envy, others will eye you with trepidation, worried that you might not return. You can spin a globe around as long as you want and never land on a perfect country. Every place has their own unique problems, whether it is poverty, political disputes, natural disasters, or all of the above. It is true we are fortunate to be living where we are, but bad things can happen anywhere at any time. Despite this, it is important we make choices that sustain personal growth. I remember a conversation I had with an older man on a connecting flight in Salt Lake City. I asked him where he was going and he said, “Atlanta, Georgia to visit my family.” Then he asked me the same question and I replied, “Quito, Ecuador, to check it out.” “Check it out? You don’t just go some place to check it out!” He seemed outraged by my response, as if I had irresponsibly booked a flight to the moon. The old man’s disapproval stayed with me for a while, but he was wrong… life is all about checking stuff out.

Now that you have your passport renewed, required visas, vaccinations, traveller’s insurance, plane tickets, and packed bags there are few less tangible necessities that you should consider. Make sure you are physically healthy. I know you are a trooper, but believe me the smallest aggravation can ruin your long-awaited vacation. Any teeth, joint, or head pain should be properly assessed before departure. Your travel companions do not deserve to be your nurse for the length of the trip. And unless you are staying at an all-inclusive five-star hotel, try to get into reasonable shape. You won’t be running marathons, but sightseeing can be a strenuous activity.

Next, you must do some research about the culture. Wherever you end up going, understand that people don’t always agree on the same customs. Tourists often feel immune to the law and plea ignorance, but that is not right. Just imagine someone coming to your hometown and vandalizing your property because it was okay where they grew up. Odds are your bad habits will look bad in any country. Don’t spit, don’t cuss, and don’t fight.

Not all locals enjoy tourists waltzing around their city. Most will gladly help you, but keep in mind that they too have busy schedules. They don’t have all day listening to you fumble with words to communicate. Have a communication strategy if you don’t know the language. Bring a translator or a phrase book and attempt to learn. You might feel like an ignorant fool, but it is part of the process. Plus, you are not as good of a charades player as you think you are.

Boarding time is approaching, and you are anxiously anticipating the trip of a lifetime. Always be aware that the worst-case scenario is just right around the corner—but it probably isn’t, so have fun.

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